Debian Etch on the mac mini (G4/powerpc version)

This is about the G4 mac mini (with powerpc processor), not about the x86 one.

I’ve decided I wanted to dualboot Debian Etch (4.0) and OSX Tiger (10.4) on my 2005 Mac Mini.
Not that many linux distro’s support the powerpc architecture, some that I considered were:

  • debian: has official support for powerpc
  • ubuntu: no more official support, community support only
    I don’t know the implications of community-only support in practice, didn’t investigate this further.
  • yelllow dog linux: rpm based distro specifically targeted at the powerpc architecture. Didn’t look into this further.

I chose debian for the official support and because I wanted to get more familiar with it for professional reasons. William Sowerbutts wrote an excellent guide on installing Debian Sarge (3.1) on the Mac Mini.

The installation procedure went smooth and I got a working desktop environment without any special interventions. The dual boot setup was automatically taken care of, at boot you can choose l for linux and x for osx.

Most hardware seems supported. A debian Etch installation has these mostly minor issues after the out-of-the-box installation:

  • internal wireless nic doesn’t work
  • soundcard doesn’t work
  • doesn’t auto-recognize my widescreen, so aspect ratio is wrong (too small)

The wireless network was easy to fix. Since broadcom is apparantly not very open-source-minded, you need to download a piece of closed firmware to get the wlan supported. This firmware file is called wl_apsta- and the useful parts have to be extracted with bcm43xx-fwcutter. I downloaded both files on an usb stick, installed the bcm43xx-fwcutter dpkg package, than did this as root:
bcm43xx-fwcutter -w /lib/firmware wl_apsta-
Than reload the driver:
modprobe -r bcm43xx
modprobe bcm43xx
The wireless interface showed up as eth2 on my machine. This is all described for ubuntu here but it’s the same for debian.
One last pitfall: in the gnome networkmanager applet I had to paste an encoded pasword instead of the plaintext one. You can obtain the encoded password with this command:
wpa_passphrase <network_ssid> “<yourpasswordhere>”.

Installation notes:

  • It’s possible to repartition your mac mini disk to make room for debian, while maintaining the original system. I did it with the free utility superduper and OSX Tiger installation disk 1. First create an image of your system using superduper, save it to an external disk. Then boot from the OSX disk (hold c while booting), don’t go through the installation wizard but choose disk utility from the menu bar at the top. Here you can repartition your disk. If your superduper backup is good, you can safely erase your existing osx partition. Create new partitions for you debian system (free space) and a new, smaller osx partition, as discussed in the guide. Possibly you’ll have to reboot from the installer cd again to be able to see/manipulate the new osx partition in the disk utility.
    Select the new smaller osx partition, click the restore tab, here you can specificy your superduper image as the source and target the osx partition. When you reboot now, it should boot from your new, smaller osx partition… In my case it didn’t,maybe it had something to do with the boot loader that was overwritten. After some trial and error I got it to boot my original system restored from the sueprduper backup. I guess the trick was first to do a clean install osx and than overwritting it with the superduper image from the OSX install livecd.

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One Response to “Debian Etch on the mac mini (G4/powerpc version)”

  1. links for 2008-09-03 | The Days Says:

    […] Debian Etch on the mac mini (G4/powerpc version) دبیان پاور پی سی ها رو ساپورت میکنه و این یعنی شما یه مک بخر کنار خود مک یه دبیان نصب کن و حالشو ببر 🙂 (tags: مک addthis_url = ‘’; addthis_title = ‘links+for+2008-09-03’; addthis_pub = ”; […]

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