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os9er's picture
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Joined: 2013 Nov 15
Best Linux distro for PowerBook 1400cs

Hi all,

I have recently acquired a Macintosh PowerBook 1400cs, and want to put some sort of Linux distro on it. I've Googled around but haven't found anything that wouldn't involve multiple CD/DVD image downloads; so, I thought I'd see if anyone here had any ideas as to what small Linux distro would run well enough on this machine to be usable. I would also like to find a distro that comes with a basic desktop environment or window manager, as I don't have very much experience with the Linux command-line environment.

Machine specs:

Processor: IBM PowerPC 603e @ 117 MHz
RAM: 48 MB 70-ns DRAM (16 MB on motherboard + 32 MB in RAM expansion slot)
Hard drive: 10 GB 2.5-inch PATA (upgraded from original 750 MB)
CD drive: Apple/TEAC 8x CD-ROM module
Current OS: Mac OS 8.6

Any help would be greatly appreciated Smile

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YYsMG's picture
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Joined: 2009 Aug 19

Had a sniff around the wayback machine and found this old guide to installing Debian on a 1400cs (that you may have already seen). This process however looks incredibly difficult and I cant vouch that all of the tools to do it are still accessible. Others may know better.

https://web.archive.org/web/20080320053051/http://www.icedtrip.net:80/gu...

I'm not so clued up as to how graphical 90s/millennium Linux actually got, but i'm pretty sure if your not confident in it's command line, using it would be very hard indeed, and installing it and then fixing it up to an operational state would be nigh-on impossible.

Best of luck

os9er's picture
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Joined: 2013 Nov 15

I didn't already see that; however, as you say, it looks rather complicated. Also, seeing as the
PB 1400 series didn't have USB, I don't have any way to put the requisite files on it except if I put them on CDs.

MikeTomTom's picture
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Joined: 2009 Dec 7

A popular PPC Linux distro was Yellow Dog Linux, but even as far back as 2002 they were being distributed as multiple CD installs.

My personal favorite from back in those days was LinuxPPC 2000 Q4 (3rd DL on page). It was based on Red Hat 6.x and it installed a (now ancient) Gnome desktop if I recall correctly. Anyway, it comes on one CD and contains many Linux desktop apps of the period.

Keep in mind that if you do install a PPC Linux that you need to have a Mac partition in order to boot into Linux. The Mac partition can be small enough just to hold enough files to boot to. But it would probably better to run a dual boot system anyway and give as much room as you can spare for both systems.

To partition the drive you will need to start up from a Mac boot CD and run Drive Setup. Create perhaps as many as 4 partitions, one for the Mac the others for Linux including a "/" root partition, home and a swap partition size of at least double the size of installed RAM. There will be helpful tips to read, on the Install CD.

I don't have any idea as to the suitability of running an old Linux on a PB 1400/117 (and don't know of any suitable modern Linux's for PPC) so you will need to do some homework before you should proceed.

os9er's picture
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Joined: 2013 Nov 15

@MTT: I tried booting LinuxPPC 2000 Q4 on my PB from a CD I burned a while ago, but it won't boot, even in "ultra-safe" video mode. It hangs at the Linux Kernel "Booting..." screen.

The YDL site you linked to, however, has a few old versions of YDL that came on 1 CD; I'm going to try one of those and see what happens.

MikeTomTom's picture
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Joined: 2009 Dec 7

Yes, I was unable to directly boot from the CD either. I installed it to hard drive instead and that went well. My install Mac was a Beige G3 266MHz, so performance wise at the time, it was fine.

Good luck with the YDL disc tho'.

os9er's picture
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Joined: 2013 Nov 15

I didn't see any method for installing it other than booting directly from the CD; if there is one please let me know. Then again, up until now all my Linux experience has been on PCs Tongue

Also, I put the original 750 MB hard drive back in; do you know if LinuxPPC will install onto that small a disk? (The actual reported capacity is approximately 775 MB.)

MikeTomTom's picture
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Joined: 2009 Dec 7

It's as I mentioned above, you need to have a Mac partition and some Linux partitions. You do need to read the instructions given on the CD. You will need to install a booter program onto the Mac partition and you have to boot the Mac side first in order to run the Linux booter (all supplied on the CD-ROM).

Its not particularly as easy as dropping in a CD and away you go with this. So you will need to do some reading. There are instructions and tips etc on the CD. But whether you will be able to install this onto a 750MB drive, I couldn't say.

However if as what galgot says, then the performance should you get to running Linux on this, will be very slow to the point of being unusable...

I had installed Linux on a faster Mac than this, so my experience was OK at the time.

os9er's picture
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Joined: 2013 Nov 15

All right... I think I'll try it, but if it's as slow as everyone is saying, I might just go straight back to Mac OS. Honestly, I didn't think it'd be that hard to do. Tongue

EDIT: I'm downloading MkLinux DR3, I think I'll see how that does.

galgot's picture
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Joined: 2014 May 7

Managed to install MkLinux on a 1400cs/166 some time ago. You can see the story here :
https://68kmla.org/forums/index.php?/topic/26703-mklinux/?hl=mklinux
But with X11 running , even on a 166Mhz , it's quite slow. Barely usable in graphic mode.
For console , well it works...
Problem : I didn't found how to have network. 3com pcmcia ethernet card is not recognized.
Tried with a PPP connection on a virtual PPP server via the printer (serial) port and adapter, but didn't succeed .
The KDE PPP client doesn't want to make the trick. Will try again later when I have access to my old machines.
Serial console to a modern mac via an adapter works though.

edit: you are lucky to have that 32 MB in RAM expansion .

MikeTomTom's picture
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Joined: 2009 Dec 7

you are lucky to have that 32 MB in RAM expansion .

Gee I'll say. That was one expensive component back in the day and difficult to find today.

Well, if you found the 1400/166 barely useable, I imagine the 1400/117 with no onboard cache will be much slower still, if he tries to run X11 on it...

It is possible to upgrade these books with CPU upgrades like a Sonnet G3/333 with 512 MB cache, which would make for an entirely new experience using this Mac Wink

Finding that Sonnet CPU might be like trying to find RAM for this Mac tho'...

os9er's picture
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I can't help but wonder how one finds out if the CPU has an onboard L2 cache without opening the computer's case, because the System Profiler in Mac OS 8.6 apparently doesn't provide any info on that...

MikeTomTom's picture
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Joined: 2009 Dec 7

No, the PowerBook 1400/117 shipped without L2 cache and there was no way to install any to it. The only option was to swap the CPU out for another with L2 cache on the chip.

As well as 3rd party solutions, it was possible to swap the CPU from a PowerBook 1400/133 with L2 cache, giving a speed boost of approx 25% to 30%

You can check the RAM status etc of your Mac with Gauge Pro

os9er's picture
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Ah, OK. I've been trying to find a CPU upgrade but they're apparently non-existent nowadays Tongue

Troyd's picture
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Joined: 2014 Nov 14

I have a couple of 1400s both upgraded with NewerTech
NUpowr G3 processors, one maxed up to 64MB. It is still meagre hardware for anything other than the MacOS software that was optimised for it. For Linux, I wouldn't bother with anything older than a G4.

Can also vouch for the slowness of the 1400/117.

os9er's picture
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Thanks for the input, Troyd... I might just forgo it altogether, at that. Normally, I get rather frustrated when one of my computers is really slow, especially if it's slow enough as to be practically unusable...

os9er's picture
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Joined: 2013 Nov 15

I'll have to create an account so I can access the page, as soon as I do that I'll have a look.

As a side note, the main problem with my PB is that I don't have a network card to put in it, so I can't access a network server, much less the Internet.

MikeTomTom's picture
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Joined: 2009 Dec 7

the main problem with my PB is that I don't have a network card to put in it, so I can't access a network server, much less the Internet.

For this particular Mac, it is easier to find a Etherlink III PCMCIA card with a 3-COM chip on board. These cards are for PC's and were produced in the zillions. There was a Mac driver made for these cards and they worked brilliantly in the 1400 (I used this in mine when I owned a 1400).

The DL for this is at the bottom of the page "3ComENetDrv.sit" (11K)

os9er's picture
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There may have been a lot of them produced, but that doesn't mean they're not expensive - I just looked it up, best price I found was about $20 USD, and I don't have anywhere near that amount... Tongue Thanks for the suggestion though, if I find the money I'll definitely buy one.

MikeTomTom's picture
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Joined: 2009 Dec 7

Well, there is one here for $7 and free shipping.

Whatever you get it has to be this 3C589C chipset, or 3C589D. They are only 10Mb speed but this is better than no networking at all.

BTW, this seller says "& coaxial cable", but I don't see a picture of it and it is important that it includes the cable. So if this lower price is appealing do make sure you inquire first before purchasing. Separately this could cost an additional $7 or so, on its own...

[Edit] Best prices I could see on fleebay today:
3Com Ethernet Card US$7 - card only ($1.99 + 4.99 shipping)
3Com Ethernet card cable US$7 - cable only ($6.99 + free shipping)
Which all up is $14...

I found mine in a street stall sale for $5, cable included...

os9er's picture
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Honestly, I can't help but wish there were a way to put some type of Wi-Fi card in these machines... However, if Ethernet is all it can do, I'll accept that.

I do wonder, though, if there are any Ethernet cards with a built-in jack that would work with a PB 1400...? I'm asking because I already have so many cables lying around that if I got another one, I'm probably bound to lose track of it.

galgot's picture
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Joined: 2014 May 7

Forgot to mention you need to register to see that page, sorry.
Yes , you need a Pcmcia-ethernet card for a good internet connection. I have that Etherlink III PCMCIA card with a 3-COM, you can find it cheap on heebay from time to time.
Or if you have an old mac printer cable and another mac with ethernet that can make the bridge... but it's slow.

os9er's picture
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Joined: 2013 Nov 15

UPDATE (7:23 AM PST): Just managed to install MkLinux DR3 on my PB last night (after putting the 10 GB hard drive back in). I played with it a little, and was surprised to find that its old version of the K Desktop Environment wasn't unusably slow at all. (That is, it was slow, but not unusably so.) I'm running it alongside Mac OS 9.1. The software is rather old, but I suppose when dealing with such an old machine one has to take what one can get.

MikeTomTom's picture
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Joined: 2009 Dec 7

Say that is good to hear. Congratulations for getting it to work.

galgot's picture
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Joined: 2014 May 7

Congrats ! If you manage to network it , please report Wink
Maybe your 32mb card helps for the speed...