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LinuxPPC 2000 on a Dual Boot G4

by Michael J. Norton
10/27/2000

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About 5 years ago, I started playing around with a little operating system called Linux. I was working in an IS department supporting HPUX minicomputers. One of the administrators there got me hooked. Over these past couple of years, I have seen Linux evolve from a practical little OS into what is now a true phenomenon.

What was once a Unix-geeks operating system is now drawing attention from people in all corners of computing: from those developing massively parallel computing architectures at universities to senior citizens at home wanting to get a handle on this Internet revolution. Among this diversity I've noticed that a noteworthy segment of users are attempting to install LinuxPPC 2000 on their PowerPC G4s. Because I happen to share the opinion that the G4 hardware is very appealing, I'm going to describe in laymen's terms how to perform a LinuxPPC installation on a Macintosh PowerPC G4.

Sure, documentation currently exists for this type of installation, with one caveat: You must wipe your curent hard drive. This wasn't too appealing to me since I need my Mac OS to play Quake Arena and Unreal. I preferred a more stable approach, and that was to set up LinuxPPC on a secondary ATA drive. This would leave my primary drive free, and I could still use Mac OS 9 to get out on the Internet and retrieve information as I ran into installation problems.

The approach of this article is that you can sit down and perform the entire install on one Saturday afternoon, or you can break up the install into incremental steps. I recommend taking incremental steps if you have never set up a LinuxPPC workstation before. This article breaks up the installation of a second ATA hard drive, partitioning the drive, and then installing the LinuxPPC 2000 software. Breaking the tasks up into these three steps helps relieve any frustrations you may encounter along the way. Take one evening to install a second ATA drive and get your system to boot properly. The next evening, partition and format the drive. And finally, install the LinuxPPC 2000 software. I gathered as much information as possible to minimize the onset of any unnecessary grief.

What you'll need for a G4 installation

Many popular flavors of LinuxPPC exist on media and on the Internet. My example will walk you through the installation of LinuxPPC 2000, available from linuxppc.com. A full install version is available for download from the LinuxPPC.org (not to be confused with linuxppc.com; both urls exist) ftp server. I strongly encourage you to purchase the LinuxPPC 2000 CD set for a mere $20 from the linuxppc.com secure site. An OS install CD is great to have in the event of installation problems or hardware failure. What could possibly go wrong?

A detailed How-To article on LinuxPPC installation for G4s is available on the LinuxPPC.com site. This is a fairly exhaustive explanation of installing LinuxPPC on the hard drive that came with your computer. This installation requires that you re-partition your hard drive and re-format. In a nutshell, this is a clean installation on your hard drive. All data and files will be wiped out and re-installed. Like most users, I wasn't that excited about wiping out my hard drive. A more subtle approach is to add a secondary drive to your G4 for LinuxPPC installation. I will walk you through the setup and configuration of LinuxPPC on a secondary ATA drive.

Adding a second ATA drive

Hard drives under 20G storage capacity are relatively cheap. I picked up a Quantum Fireball Plus LM Ultra-ATA 10G drive from outpost.com for $99.95. A 10G drive would provide the flexibility I needed to add two operating systems, Virtual PC Windows 2000 and LinuxPPC 2000, to my Macintosh G4 system. The additional drive also provided the means for installing and experimenting with other operating systems while not having to worry about my Mac OS 9 20G boot hard drive and the files I have on it. If any installation problems should occur, at least my system would still boot under its native OS. This is the bottom line reasoning for going with a second drive. A strong word of caution: I highly recommend that you back up all of your important files before you proceed with this endeavor. Your Zip drive and the stuffit utility should be sufficient for this task.

Popping open the G4 case

Apple should be complemented on the layout of the G4 case. I actually waited an entire week after receiving my hard drive before I installed it. Based on previous experience with other hardware upgrades, I determined that the wisest thing to do was to set aside one evening during the week to attack the problem of the new hard drive installation. I anticipated an evening of cursing and fighting my way through tangles of cables to install the new hardware. This was not the case. On the right hand side of the G4 case is a button. You press the button, and the whole right side of the case folds down and opens out. Every component in the G4 is easily accessible. I strongly advise you to open the manual, "Setting Up Your Power Mac," that was included with your G4. There is a section in there that clearly outlines how to disable the power to the G4 before attempting to open the case. The article titled "About Internal Storage Options" describes which bay the second ATA drive should be installed in. What isn't covered is how to configure the master-slave mode jumpers on your new ATA drive. You must configure your new ATA secondary drive as a slave drive. Hard drives typically ship in master configuration as default. Two master hard drives in your system will cause conflict, and your Macintosh will not be able to boot.

Configuring the ATA drive slave jumpers

Reference guides for your new hard drive are available online from the manufacturer. For my Quantum Fireball Plus LM 10G drive, I used the jumper settings at Quantum's website. Again, this is the jumper setting for a Quantum Fireball Plus LM drive. If you decide to use a Seagate or IBM drive, consult the manufacturer's site for the exact make and model. For the Quantum Fireball Plus LM installation, the document instructs you to remove all jumpers to place the drive in slave mode. Once you have set the jumpers accordingly, install the drive as instructed in the "Setting Up Your Power Mac" guide from Apple.

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