Reviving my old G4 PowerMac with OS X 10.5 Leopard

Funny or sad, what once was a high end machine today often sits in a corner and collects dust. Likewise my beautiful Power Mac G4 Quicksilver, which was build around 2002. In my opinion, this was the gilded age of Apples design. Not alone by means of the look, but also in terms of usability. The accompanying Apple Cinema Display uses one single cable for the picture, power and USB, and you can turn on the computer with a touch on the display.

I still have some tasks for the Quicksilver to perform regularly. For example encoding the CD with the sermon from our churches Sunday service for the sermon podcast (german only), using Audacity.
The other thing is, what my new Macs actually can’t do in the same way, because of software restrictions: combining individual audio files to a audio book with chapter marks using “Join Together” from Doug Adams. Old versions of the software utilised the Quick Time Player for joining the audio bits. Dough had to rewrite the app due to changes in iTunes, Quick Time and to keep up with Mac OS updates. The UI didn’t change much, and it works with good performance on newer Macs, but it lacks this one feature of adding the chapters.

Now, the latest officially supported OS on this 800MHz Power Mac is OS X 10.4 Tiger, which was a great OS, but nowadays the software that it is able to run is quite old and really outdated, like iTunes, which ran in version 9 only.

Officially, OS X 10.5 Leopard can run on G4 machines with a processor speed from 867MHz upwards. Based on this article from LowEndMac I first tried the “easy way” of using the LeopardAssist tool, that has a shiny GUI and does all the fiddling around with open firmware for you. To make it short: It didn’t work out for me. When my Mac rebooted and tried to execute the “boot cd:,\\:tbxi” command, it said “can not find cd:,\\:tbxi”. I was able to manually issue the “mac-boot” command and boot normally. The higher processor speed was set, but the Mac booted from his internal hard disk again. Unfortunately the faked processor speed setting does not survive another reboot.

About 100 reboots later I had checked out how to do it: Open System Prefs, set your start volume to the installer DVD, press reboot. When the boot chime sounds, immediately press the Cmd-Opt-O-F keys and hold them until the open firmware command line prompt appears. Then enter the following sequence, press enter at the end of each line:

dev /cpus/PowerPC,G4@0
d# 867000000 encode-int " clock-frequency" property
mac-boot

If the command is properly typed and interpreted correct, Open Firmware will confirm with an “ok” at the end of every line.
The “mac-boot” command will then cause booting from DVD as defined before. Installation took an hour or so. Updating the OS and the Apple apps to the latest version took even longer, but now I have Leopard 10.5.8 and iTunes 10.6.3 running.

In comparison to Tiger, I think the system is even running a bit more snappy now, and I’m asking myself if I should update my Powerbook Pismo as well (which usually is a G3 machine, but mine sports a G4 550MHz CPU upgrade).

Leopard running on my PowerMac G4 Quicksilver