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Linux on an Apple Powerbook G4

By Jochen Voss, last updated 2012-02-18

This text describes the adventures I encountered while installing Linux on an Apple Powerbook G4 (15″ version, 1.67GHz). It seems that with Apple's numbering scheme the machine is a PowerBook5,6. If you have questions or additional hints, feel free to contact me.

The page was originally written in spring 2005, when the machine was new on the market. After a while I got bored by the many difficulties connected to running Linux on the machine and I switched to using MacOS X. Recently I reinstalled the current Debian/unstable distribution on the machine and was happy to notice that Linux support has significantly improved.

Contents

Summary

I was able to install Debian GNU/Linux on the machine. The laptop has the hardware configuration Apple introduced in February 2005.

component hardware identification status
core components MPC7447A CPU (1.67 GHz)
Apple UniNorth 2 chipset
IDE hard disk
works +
graphics card ATI RV350
(Mobility Radeon 9600 M10)
works
(no 3D accel.)
+-
display 15.2″ TFT
1280×854 pixels
works +
keyboard internal USB works
needs keymap
+
track pad internal USB works
sometimes hangs a bit
+-
Ethernet Controller Sun GEM works perfectly +
WLAN Broadcom BCM4306 802.11b/g works +
sound Snapper works +
external USB works +
PCMCIA slot works +
bluetooth ??? see below +-
modem ??? not detected -

Table 1. This table summarises the hardware support for Post-February-2005 Apple powerbooks under Linux. A plus sign in the last column indicates that the component works out of the box, plus-minus indicates that it can be made to work by applying kernel patches etc. or that it partially works, and a minus indicates that I did not manage to make the component work at all.

Some information about my setup:

Installation

Nowadays Debian Linux can be installed on the machine from the usual installation media. Initially, when the machine was still very new, I followed the steps described at William R Sowerbutts' Linux on the Mac Mini page. I used the Debian Sarge installer RC2 netinstall image, and the basic installation worked without any trouble.

Keyboard

The Powerbook keyboard needs getting used to: there are no keys for page-up, page-down and the hash mark. Since I was unhappy with the provided key-bindings under Linux, I finally wrote my own ones, aiming for as much MacOS X compatibility as possible.

Originally the kernel produced key press events for the fn key, thus allowing it to be bound in the X Window system. For some reason (which I never understood) this feature was removed in later kernels.

The keymaps in the remaining part of this section are from the time when fn could still be bound in keymaps. Nowadays they will probably be less useful:

Some notes about the key bindings:

Bluetooth

BlueTooth does not work out of the box. I do not own any bluetooth devices, so the following is unchecked. According to Johannes Berg's message to debian-powerpc the following error messages are related to bluetooth support. In the posting he also explains how to get bluetooth working.

...
usb 2-1: new full speed USB device using ohci_hcd and address 2
hub 4-0:1.0: USB hub found
hub 4-0:1.0: 2 ports detected
usb 2-1: device descriptor read/64, error -71
usb 2-1: device descriptor read/64, error -71
usb 2-1: new full speed USB device using ohci_hcd and address 3
usb 2-1: device descriptor read/64, error -71
usb 2-1: device descriptor read/64, error -71
usb 2-2: new full speed USB device using ohci_hcd and address 4
...

Error -71 above stands for protocol error (EPROTO), error -5 for I/O error (EIO).

Other Problems

References

Copyright © 2012, Jochen Voss. All content on this website (including text, pictures, and any other original works), unless otherwise noted, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.