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Taming Lubuntu on my PowerBook G4

About a year ago I adopted a MacBook Pro and a PowerBook G4. The MacBook Pro now happily runs OSX, when we turn it on (mostly MJ uses it for photo processing). In spite of being quite the nice machine for 2004, the poor PowerBook G4 had been long abandoned by Apple due to it’s PPC nature and this made me quite sad. My plan had been to load it up with Lubuntu, use it here and there and help out with ISO testing. Then 2013 happened. New job! Wedding! I was much busier than anticipated, after loading up Lubuntu 12.04 on the PowerBook I didn’t have a whole lot of time to spend with it.

This week I pulled my PowerBook G4 off the shelf and loaded up Lubuntu 13.10. I quickly learned that it’s one of the more finicky PowerBooks when it comes to sound, and my initial cleverness during install led me to have some graphical pain. Here’s what I had to fix:

First up, when I loaded up the Lubuntu LiveCD the graphics were a mess. The installer advised that if problems existed you could try passing the LiveCD a video option of “video=ofonly” which I did and then happily ran the installer. Unfortunately this later caused my installed system to lock up pretty quickly after booting it. Sad. I got my clue to what I should be using for video via this page. I made a quick change to /etc/yaboot.conf to swap out the video option:

append="quiet splash video=radeonfb:1024x768-32@60"

Ran `sudo ybin` and rebooted. Voila! No more crashes.

Now wifi.

elizabeth@r2g4:~$ lspci | grep Network
0001:10:12.0 Network controller: Broadcom Corporation BCM4306 802.11b/g Wireless LAN Controller (rev 03)

That’s a job for the firmware-b43-installer package. Easy enough. I now had wifi!

The trickiest part of this install was audio. It turns out that most PowerBook G4s have sound working out of the box, but I got unlucky.

elizabeth@r2g4:~$ alsamixer
cannot open mixer: No such file or directory

And no /proc/asound at all. That won’t do!

Back to the wiki, PowerPC FAQ: Why do I have no sound?

After a whole lot of trial and error, I learned that this bug was indeed my culprit. I had to remove the snd_aoa entries from /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist.local.conf and then edit: /etc/modules

Removing: snd_powerbook

And adding: snd_aoa_i2sbus

I had manually rmmod & modprobed the modules to test and was finally able to run alsamixer to adjust the volume settings. Then a reboot to confirm all was well. Hooray, sound!

I was pretty happy at this point, but I had to go a bit further, the backlight for the keyboard wasn’t working! The island-style keyboards are the bane of my existence, I hate that all laptops have gone to them. But this old PowerBook G4? Beautiful keyboard, aside from the awkward placing of the alt key, it’s a pleasure to type on.

Backlit functionality would be the icing on the cake, fortunately for me it was as easy as:

sudo modprobe i2c-dev

This made my Mac hotkeys work and the keyboard backlight. Winner! I added the module for /etc/modules for persistence.

The system isn’t exactly zippy, but with a gig of ram it’s quite usable, particularly for writing. I’m happy to learn that sensitivity problems I encountered with the touchpad in 12.04 have been resolved and I’m looking forward to loading it up with tests this cycle so maybe less manual labor will be required for the 14.04 release.

17 Comments

  • jedijf

    Awesome work. Thanks for documenting the journey.

    PPC. Wow. Maybe I should…..

  • Eric Lucas

    Thanks, this is great info! I have an old “Titanium” G4 sitting on my shelf and now I’m inspired to load Linux on it.

  • linuxnewbie

    Thank you SO MUCH… Trying to bring a PowerBook G4 (Sept. 2003 model) back to life with Lubuntu… you got the sound to work. All the other common fixes did not work, but this configuration did. So awesome. Wish I could have found this 3 hours ago… but WOOHOO.

  • joop

    typo @ append=”quiet splash video=radeonfb:1024×786-32@60″

    append=”quiet splash video=radeonfb:1024×768-32@60″

  • Donny

    I have an iBook G4, 14 inch, 1.42GHz with a Radeon 9550 card. I had to use:

    append=”radeon.modeset=1 video=radeonfb:1024×768-32@60 radeon.agpmode=-1″

    to stop the crashing. Took quite a while to unravel. Kept trying the solution outlined here; would continue to crash. Finally found this page:

    http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=2308523

    which lead me to the solution.

  • Alex

    Installed lubuntu 14.4 succesfully on my old powerbook, so far so good. But now where do I find for example this:
    /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist.local.conf
    (this is where you fixed the Backlit issue)?

    • pleia2

      The removal of snd_aoa from the blacklist.local.conf was to address a sound issue.

      For the keyboard backlight I *added* i2c-dev to the /etc/modules file.

      • nubuntubie

        Any chance you can elaborate how and where to get i2c-dev from and how to add it to the /etc/modules file please? (For a complete newbie).
        TIA

        • pleia2

          I believe you just need to install the libi2c-dev package.

          sudo apt install libi2c-dev

          Then use sudo with your favorite text editor (nano? vim?) to edit and save the /etc/modules file.

          • nubuntubie

            Thanks for your help, but in my impatience I upgraded from lubuntu 14 to 16 and that introduced several problems. Nevertheless, I persevered and followed your instructions, but sadly it did not work. There seems to be some error message on boot as well that mentions i2c and after the installation others were evident.

            For now I am going to start afresh with 14 and maybe give it a go from there. It is not a deal breaker anyway, more of a luxury really. The main issue I had was no WiFI, but managed to sort it, so anything else was extra.
            Thanks once again.

  • Seth

    Man I still can’t get sound to work.

    I’ve added all the modules specified that I needed and unblacklisted them as well as removing snd_powermac from my modules file and adding snd_aoa_i2sbus. Nothing really seems to work. do you have any advice?

    • pleia2

      The instructions vary based on the default chipset you ended up with in your PowerBook, so it sounds like yours is just different than mine. Unfortunately it’s been 4 years since this post and Ubuntu has changed a lot in that. My PowerBook no longer works and I haven’t played with another in a couple years.

  • pfeifp

    Hi

    Many thanks for this, this worked fine for me to bring back my old PowerBook G4 PPC from 2005 to life! It is working again with dual boot OSX10.4 and Lubuntu 16.04.

    WIFI works, Bluetooth and sound!

    WELL DONE on this one and many many thanks!

    pfeifp

 




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