Feeling slightly generous, I thought I’d do my mother a favor and get her back onto the ‘net as she hasn’t been on in 8 or so years. That by no means says I’m going out and getting her a cutting edge Alienware server-on-your-desk kind of machine so she can browse the web and check email. ( 🙂 ) I’m also a little calloused by my experiences with Intel-based (or rather, CISC-based) older hardware as it has a bad tendency to degrade quickly. Now, that doesn’t mean the current hardware of Intel’s is like that – there’s been a massive change in chip design since the days of Pentium-100, and they’re by no means fully CISC any longer. That being said, on I go with the conversation here.
So after sitting down and thinking, I decided since I didn’t want to have to worry about hand-holding her Windows installation and glueing it back together every so often, I was going to go another route: Apple. (before Linux guys and gals get their panties in a bundle, I’ve done Linux with her before and it worked great 8-10 years ago, but that would require the Intel hardware in order to be non-Apple) I thought about it a bit: Should I do an older Mac Mini with the G4 chip in it? Nah, I’d have to pick up a monitor also, which would bring the price up. Should I get her a used powerbook laptop? Nah, not easily user-maintained hardware-wise. Then I remembered the one that was kinda cute, and is now the thing that most people think of when you say Apple (Besides iPod or iPhone): The iMac. Of course that name’s been out for over a decade now, and has gone through mannnnny incarnations. I then found out that there was an educational version of the iMac called the eMac. The main difference is that the jelly-belly gummy bear colors are missing, it doesn’t contain a Harmon Kardon speaker system (it contains another brand unknown to me), and was originally only sold to educational facilities. (after a while, they were sold to the public for a short stint) Well, luckily, I ran across a batch of teacher eMac (I refuse to have the plural of eMac be eMacs…) that were being decomissioned and I snagged one in pretty sweet condition. 1.25GHz G4 processor, 512MB ram, 3 USB, 2 Firewire, 1 mini-displayport, 40GB harddrive, DVD-R/CD-RW, with OS/X Leopard 10.5.6, MS Office X, and a partridge in a pear tree, Apple keyboard/Microsoft four-button Intellimouse. Only $150, can’t complain about that.
Having never touched a real PowerPC (or m68k for that matter) other than a work powerbook, it’s a WHOLE new world for me. I quickly learned that you can indeed fit 50 lbs into a very small area, and I also learned that living on the second floor about 1/8 mile from my parking spot is not a good idea.
With a little TLC, she cleaned up nicely, and remained shiny white and purdy. The CRT monitor is about as clear as you can ever imagine for a CRT… side by side with my 27″ Cinema display (LED) iMac, it almost looks the same. No, let me reword that, the CRT looks crisper. (smaller at 17″, but crisper.)
Being the system administrator/engineer that I am, naturally I had to do the usual lockdowns/system updates/etc… the updates took all night, I could hear that poor harddrive rattling away as stuff was downloading to it and running install scripts/etc. Afterwards, I had her side by side with mine and they were nearly cousins. Of course there’s a speed difference since I need to increase the RAM to 1GB a little later, but that aside.
I was worried about not finding software for the PowerPC processor since Apple has all but foresaken it… not to worry. With so many fans of the chipset, there are lots of open source applications and even shareware/freeware softwares. There are some universal-apps compiled to run on both PowerPC & Intel Macs as well, I found out. (impressive…) There’s even a virtual machine emulator called ‘Q’ that I have used for many years, and it’s available for the PowerPC processor… and it will run m68k, PowerPC, x86,x86-64, and Sun operating systems. Now, keep in mind this machine is not for a techie, which makes it’s that much more awesome since it exceeds her needs. I’m close to wanting one of these for myself as a hobby machine to tinker around…
So, tonight I finish up the clean-up and get the software necessary for her use onto it. After that, get a Gentoo-PPC livecd and boot/backup the harddrive. I do want to make some alterations to it a couple months from now, which includes a variable-speed fan regulator to quiet it down, 2x512MB ram modules, & a 160GB harddrive to max out it’s capabilities.
I decided it’d be nice to have a PowerPC machine as a “server” (a headless device in this case) for home, so I picked up an older Mac Mini G4 off of EBay of the same spec as the machine I got for my parents. I’ll plug a 1Gb ram module in it, and look at firewire enclosures for SATA harddrives. (MUCH cheaper than a firewire external harddrive sold today…) Interesting, you remove the CRT from the mix, and it’s not much larger than an AppleTV unit.
EDIT/ADDITION 5/26/2011: What I ended up doing is purchasing a 1TB USB 2.0 harddrive and plugging it into the back of a Mac Mini. Of course I had to blast it and format it to the proper filesystem, but that’s normal. It boots off of the internal harddrive, and shares the USB drive across the network. Makes it nice to not be forced to use an internal standard like SATA, or something more expensive like Firewire. I have a Firewire harddrive, but I have it as a tool/emergency disk since it’s easily bootable.