Ten years ago, I wrote about the different ways
you could put your old mac to work. Well, as you can imagine a lot has changed
in that decade:We've seen OS X mature from something than ran slowly on your
beige Power Mac G3 in version 10.0 to something that absolutely screams on the
latest quad core consumer based iMacs running version 10.6. We've seen iTunes go
from being little more than Apple making the people who paid money for SoundJam
MP feel like idiots to becoming a huge stream of revenue for Apple ... in a way
most of us thought impossible back in 2001. We've also seen the iPod go from a
Mac only firewire device grow into its own unique subplatform of OS X with the
iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad. Frankly, none of these things seemed to even be
within the grasp of my imagination back in June of 2001. So, with this in
mind, I think it's time to write a follow up.
Another interesting change to keep in mind is this - Apple has put more UNIX
based systems into the marketplace in the last ten years than any other hardware
or software vendor. With that in mind, there are still tons of perfectly
serviceable machines out there. If only to cover the ten years worth of hardware
that has now found its way into basements, closets, attics, thrift stores, and
the trash pile of some random person in a neighborhood. Yes, I actually do
rescue old Macs from the trash.
The original article covered the 68k era
hardware and early PowerPC based Macs. 68k era Macs are awesome and all, but
frankly there are dozens of articles and write-ups about how you can set up an
SE/30 to run as a web server. While I love my amped up SE/30 with 128mb of RAM,
2gb hard drive, Ethernet, and A/UX loaded on it - it's more of a curiosity
piece, a token of Apple's history - their first, albeit failed, foray into
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A/UX for more info). I wouldn't actually mess
with it and try to make it do anything else - the machine is over 22 years old.
For the intents and purposes of this article, I'm going to cover the G3 era and
later Macs. I won't include the Intel based macs as those can pretty much run
any current software out there. (yeah, I know 10.7 won't support the Core Duo -
but even running 10.6 - these machines are still going to be primary machines
for a while longer)
I'll start by touching on the obvious thing
most people think with older hardware - Can I run Linux on it? The answer is
yes. There are Debian builds that will run on all of the PowerPC based Macs
(yes, even the early ones). For info - go to this link
http://www.debian.org/ports/powerpc/inst/install . Frankly, at this point, I
wouldn't be surprised if there were Debian Linux ports that would run on the
toaster I have in my kitchen. I'm not really going to go into more detail with
Linux - as that's not really the point of this article. I just wanted to get it
out of the way - as I know that it is a question I often get from people I give
old Macs to. Heck, if you look hard enough, there's probably a recent build that
will run on 68k hardware.
For the purposes of this article, and the sake
of brevity I will refer to machines by their era. To know which machines fit
into which era, refer to the chart at the end of the second part of this
article. The three eras are the PCI era, the Firewire Era, and the Aluminum era.
I will include a breakdown of these at the end of the article.
Now, let's look at the machines that can still
work as perfectly serviceable machines for most end users as is - note the
limitations that impact them. Everything from the Aluminum era is imminently
still very very serviceable, even if the latest build of Flash cut support for
PowerPC. As long as things like going on youtube and Netflix streaming aren't
all that important to you then these are still incredibly useful machines. With
these machines the best you are going to get browser wise is going to be Safari
4.1 on 10.4, and Safari 5 comes with 10.5. Firefox, sadly, killed PowerPC
support with version 4, with 3.6 being the last version that will run. MS
Office, up to 2008, will run without issue on these machines. Office 2011,
however requires an Intel chip. Adobe Creative Suite, including Photoshop, up to
CS3 will run on a G4 based mac,CS4 on G5's, and CS5 requires a multicore Intel
chip. Odds are, however that you aren't going to be putting the latest software
on an older machine as it probably already has the software that was being used
still on it. A handful of the firewire era machines can run 10.5, but across
the board I recommend 10.4 on all for the best balance of performance and
backwards compatibility (Classic support was killed off in 10.5.)
Perhaps, you've made the jump to an Intel based
Mac, and with the impending demise of Rosetta in OS X 10.7 - you are going to
end up losing the ability to run some PowerPC based software. Well, by digging
up a PowerPC based OS X machine, hooking it up to you network, and setting up
VNC - you'll be back in business. In fact the performance of Rosetta on Intel
based Macs, on average, is slower than a 1ghz iBook G4 with a 4200rpm hard
drive, so this may actually prove to be an upgrade of sorts.
( For a good VNC application - check out
Chicken of the VNC
http://sourceforge.net/projects/cotvnc/ , despite the name, it works great)
Back Up Server
Backing up data can get expensive. Not as
expensive as recovering data, but perhaps you don't want to plunk down the money
for Apple's time capsule.
If you have an old Power Mac G3
or G4 laying around - you've got something handy you can use to set up a server.
The G3's only have 10/100 (except for the beige), the G4's range from 10/100 to
gigabit depending on model so network performance won't be so bad - depending on
your network. What you need to know before starting is what series machine
you're dealing with and it's limitations.
Any Power Mac introduced after
June of 2002 can handle hard drives larger than 128 gb, anything older than that
maxes at 128gb on the internal ATA bus. There are workarounds, but with how
cheap old macs are getting - I won't go into them. For a backup server, the
ideal mac to use is going to be a Power Mac G4 Mirrored Drive Door or better.
These machines have support for large ATA drives - 500gb PATA drives are
relatively inexpensive - and these machines can handle 4 hard drives internally.
You also have firewire 400 on all of these machines so external firewire drives
have NO limits to the size you can use. Some vendors still have firewire on
their external drives, though LaCie tends to have the best selection of firewire
You have a few options here
Set up an older version of Retrospect Server (can be had online with a
little hunting for not too much $$) on the "server", install the client on your
client machines, and set a schedule through the console on your server.
- Set up a
share on your "server" , mount it on the client computer, and run a desktop
version of retrospect (can be had cheaply online) with the backup going to the
share. Or you can use LaCie's freeware SilverKeeper http://www.lacie.com/silverkeeper/?CFID=82575452&CFTOKEN=20274786
- Using the
share concept from the first bullet point, just drag stuff to said share.
Be sure to check out part two, where we will look at additional uses for that