Installing Ubuntu Linux on the Beige G3 Mac

About the machine

Beige G3 Mac The Beige G3 Mac is a desktop computer with a 300MHz PowerPC processor. It was the last of the so-called "Old World" Macs, designed to run older MacOS versions but not MacOS X. It was available in either a flat desktop case or a mini-tower case, both of which were in beige plastic, hence the name. The LowEndMac write-up for it is here. Later G3 Macs were capable of running MacOS X and became known as "New World" Macs. They also had brightly coloured plastic cases.

PowerPC Mac systems use Open Firmware, a FORTH-based command line system for loading and booting an operating system. However, older Mac implementations of Open Firmware are notoriously buggy and limited in functionality.

The disks in the Beige G3 can be either IDE or SCSI. My machine arrived without a disk, so I had to install a new one and ask a friend to help me reinstall MacOS 9.1 on it. This went OK, but of course the real challenge would be to get a Unix system installed — either Linux or NetBSD. To begin with, I chose a Linux distribution that supported the PowerPC Mac: Ubuntu. I happened to already have the Ubuntu 5.04 "Hoary Hedgehog" CD set, from a local Linux User Group meeting.

Installing Linux

In general, one can install Linux from floppy disk, CD-ROM, or via a network. Ubuntu Linux comes on a CD-ROM, and the Mac has a functioning CD-ROM drive on the IDE bus. But, Old World Macs cannot boot from the Ubuntu CD, so I had to work out a way around that limitation. Fortunately, the newly installed MacOS could happily read the Ubuntu CD, even if it could not be booted.

I read about the methods that NetBSD uses to boot on PowerPC Mac hardware, directly from the disk using Open Firmware. After a while, I realised that I didn't need to do any complex messing about with Open Firmware, because I had a functioning MacOS 9.1 system, and there's a handy program called BootX. BootX is a MacOS program that can be run either as an application or as an extension, that is, as an add-on to the MacOS that loads into memory at boot-up time. BootX works by loading a Linux kernel and RAMdisk just as if they had been loaded on a New World Mac. The kernel file and the RAMdisk file must be located in a folder on the MacOS disk. There's a GUI with a few controls that we can use to specify which kernel image and which RAMdisk to boot, as well as to supply Linux kernel command-line options.

I had a number of resources available, including other Linux machines and spare hard disks. So, I chose to install a second disk to put Linux on, which would hopefully allow me to make the machine dual-boot. I also connected up the ethernet, although I didn't attempt to boot the Mac from the network.

Getting Ubuntu onto the G3

First, I grabbed a copy of BootX from here (scroll right down to the bottom). But that put it on a Windows PC, so I transferred it to a handy Linux machine (on my local network) with FTP, then to the Mac with FTP. For this second step, I used the FTP capability of the Internet Explorer browser.

A quick perusal of the Ubuntu installation CD revealed both a Linux kernel and a RAMdisk file. I copied both of those onto the MacOS disk, in the System Folder, in a sub-folder called Linux Kernels (BootX needs them to be in that folder). The kernel was called vmlinux and the RAMdisk was called initrd.img. I ran BootX as an application and selected the kernel that I'd just copied and then clicked on the "Options..." button to select the RAMdisk file. Pressing the "Linux" button on the main BootX window gave me a text-mode display with the familiar Linux boot-up sequence. Success! Or so I thought.

The Ubuntu installer worked normally and I was able to partition and format a spare drive (SCSI in my case), set up a Linux file system and install all the software from the CD. The only step that didn't work normally was the installation of the Linux boot code. As usual with Linux installations, the install CD rebooted the machine at the end of its sequence of operations. This should have rebooted into the newly-installed Linux system, but couldn't because boot code hadn't been installed. No problem, I thought, just tell BootX to boot up the same kernel as before, but this time leave out the initial RAMdisk and specify the SCSI hard disk as the Linux root filesystem (/dev/sda2 in my case).

Didn't work. The kernel booted, but could not mount the hard disk as the root filesystem, which caused a kernel panic. Now, at this point I wondered what could be wrong with the installation, but after a bit of web searching, I found that Ubuntu uses a 2.6 kernel, and that requires a RAMdisk at all times (just for startup). But the RAMdisk I had on the MacOS disk was an installation disk, which would start up the installer and so on. I needed the actual kernel and RAMdisk files that had been put on the Linux disk by the Ubuntu installer. So, how to get those files off the Linux filesystem and onto the MacOS filesystem?

FTP again. I re-ran the Ubuntu installer until I had the network configuration set up, but I stopped before the step where the disk is partitioned and formatted. I dropped out of the installer into a shell (this is one of the options provided by the installer's menu). Now, I had a shell running on the Mac Linux system with just a tiny RAMdisk and almost no utilities — certainly no FTP program. I made a mount point and mounted the already-installed Linux disk:

mkdir /mnt
mount /dev/sda2 /mnt
All the usual files and directories of Linux were there, including of course, the FTP program (netkit-ftp). But it wouldn't run because it needed all sorts of shared libraries that weren't in /lib on the tiny RAMdisk. Time for some subterfuge.
cd /mnt
chroot .
By running chroot, I had a new sub-shell running with its root directory set to the old /mnt. Now, all the shared libararies were in (apparantly) the right place, and the FTP program would run:
The two files I wanted were in /boot, so I FTPed them onto that handy Linux machine again. They were vmlinux-2.6.10-5-powerpc and initrd.img-2.6.10-5-powerpc. Be sure to transfer them in binary mode! Then, I dropped out of the chrooted sub-shell with control-D and unmounted the SCSI disk:
cd /
umount /mnt
Now, back to MacOS by rebooting the Mac and selecting the other option in BootX. I used Internet Explorer again to FTP the two files back onto the Mac, this time onto the MacOS disk. I re-set the options in BootX to select the two new files and added a Linux kernel command-line argument to tell it where to mount the root file system:
Once again, BootX booted the Linux kernel and RAMdisk, but this time we were in the normal running kernel with the normal start-up RAMdisk. The kernel mounted /dev/sda2 as the root filesystem and then everything worked! The Ubuntu system took about 45 minutes to finalise the installation of all the packages that were on the hard disk. Then, I got a graphical login screen and was able to log in with the username and password that I'd set up way back in the install phase.

The Result

I have a handy Linux machine running on a PowerPC processor. I was more than a little disconcerted to find that there's no C complier on the Ubuntu system! But, GCC is available as a package that you can select and install, so I suppose that's a good compromise to get the installer down to a single CD. After all, programmers will know where to find GCC, whereas non-programmers would never need it and the disk space could be better used for other things.

The machine runs at 598 BogoMIPS, which is about right for a 300MHz PowerPC. Here are the results of cat cpuinfo and dmesg:

processor	: 0
cpu		: 740/750
temperature 	: 43-45 C (uncalibrated)
clock		: 300MHz
revision	: 2.2 (pvr 0008 0202)
bogomips	: 598.01
machine		: Power Macintosh
motherboard	: AAPL,PowerMac G3 MacRISC
detected as	: 49 (PowerMac G3 (Silk))
pmac flags	: 00000000
L2 cache	: 1024K unified pipelined-syncro-burst
memory		: 384MB
pmac-generation	: OldWorld

mem_pieces_remove: [31d000,771000) not in any region
Total memory = 384MB; using 1024kB for hash table (at c0800000)
Linux version 2.6.10-5-powerpc (buildd@adare) (gcc version 3.3.5 (Debian 1:3.3.5-8ubuntu2)) #1 Tue Apr 5 12:44:32 UTC 2005
Found a Heathrow mac-io controller, rev: 1, mapped at 0xfddff000
PowerMac motherboard: PowerMac G3 (Silk)
Found Grackle (MPC106) PCI host bridge at 0x80000000. Firmware bus number: 0->0
nvram: OF partition at 0x1800
nvram: XP partition at 0x1300
nvram: NR partition at 0x1400
On node 0 totalpages: 98304
  DMA zone: 98304 pages, LIFO batch:16
  Normal zone: 0 pages, LIFO batch:1
  HighMem zone: 0 pages, LIFO batch:1
Built 1 zonelists
Kernel command line: ramdisk_size=8192 root=/dev/sda2
System has 64 possible interrupts
PID hash table entries: 2048 (order: 11, 32768 bytes)
GMT Delta read from XPRAM: 0 minutes, DST: off
via_calibrate_decr: ticks per jiffy = 16708 (1002505 ticks)
Console: colour dummy device 80x25
serial8250_console_init: nothing to do on PowerMac
Dentry cache hash table entries: 65536 (order: 6, 262144 bytes)
Inode-cache hash table entries: 32768 (order: 5, 131072 bytes)
Memory: 380800k available (1820k kernel code, 1200k data, 184k init, 0k highmem)
Calibrating delay loop... 598.01 BogoMIPS (lpj=299008)
Mount-cache hash table entries: 512 (order: 0, 4096 bytes)
checking if image is isn't (bad gzip magic numbers); looks like an initrd
Freeing initrd memory: 4432k freed
NET: Registered protocol family 16
PCI: Probing PCI hardware
Registering pmac pic with sysfs...
Thermal assist unit using timers, shrink_timer: 2000 jiffies
audit: initializing netlink socket (disabled)
audit(1135029234.158:0): initialized
devfs: 2004-01-31 Richard Gooch (
devfs: boot_options: 0x0
Initializing Cryptographic API
PCI: Enabling device 0000:00:12.0 (0086 -> 0087)
atyfb: using auxiliary register aperture
atyfb: 3D RAGE PRO (Mach64 GP, PQFP, PCI) [0x4750 rev 0x7c]
atyfb: 6M SGRAM (1:1), 14.31818 MHz XTAL, 230 MHz PLL, 100 Mhz MCLK, 100 MHz XCLK
atyfb: monitor sense=73f, mode 6
atyfb: setting up CRTC
atyfb: set primary CRT to 640x480 PP composite N
atyfb: CRTC_H_TOTAL_DISP: 4f006b
atyfb: CRTC_H_SYNC_STRT_WID: 80059
atyfb: CRTC_V_TOTAL_DISP: 1df020c
atyfb: CRTC_V_SYNC_STRT_WID: 301e2
atyfb: CRTC_OFF_PITCH: 14000000
atyfb: CRTC_GEN_CNTL: b000200
atyfb: atyfb_set_par
atyfb:  Set Visible Mode to 640x480-8
atyfb:  Virtual resolution 640x9804, pixclock_in_ps 33566 (calculated 33566)
atyfb:  Dot clock:           29 MHz
atyfb:  Horizontal sync:     34 kHz
atyfb:  Vertical refresh:    64 Hz
atyfb:  x  style: 29.26586 640 720 784 864   480 483 486 525
atyfb:  fb style: 33566  80 640 80 64 39 480 3 3
debug atyfb: Mach64 non-shadow register values:
debug atyfb: 0x2000:  004F006B 00080059 01DF020C 000301E2
debug atyfb: 0x2010:  01F90000 14000000 00000023 0B000200
debug atyfb: 0x2020:  005806B3 00780675 00000000 00102848
debug atyfb: 0x2030:  00000000 00000000 00000000 0000C000
debug atyfb: 0x2040:  00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000
debug atyfb: 0x2050:  00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000
debug atyfb: 0x2060:  FFFFFF00 00000001 00000008 07FF07FF
debug atyfb: 0x2070:  00000000 00000000 0000377C 00000800
debug atyfb: 0x2080:  00001F30 00000000 00000000 00000000
debug atyfb: 0x2090:  00A63003 40000000 02008000 00000000
debug atyfb: 0x20A0:  7B23A050 00000000 00000000 65130C01
debug atyfb: 0x20B0:  00751A79 00010000 00010000 00000000
debug atyfb: 0x20C0:  00FFEE00 86010182 00000000 00000000
debug atyfb: 0x20D0:  00000188 00200170 00000000 00002042
debug atyfb: 0x20E0:  7C004750 0080001D 00000000 800384B0
debug atyfb: 0x20F0:  00008387 00000000 000001FC 00000000

debug atyfb: Mach64 PLL register values:
debug atyfb: 0x00:  ADD51F14 D80381B8 8E9E8101 A61B0000
debug atyfb: 0x10:  00008000 10ABCC10 00000000 00000000
debug atyfb: 0x20:  ADD51F14 D80381B8 8E9E8101 A61B0000
debug atyfb: 0x30:  00008000 10ABCC10 00000000 00000000

Console: switching to colour frame buffer device 80x30
atyfb: fb0: ATY Mach64 frame buffer device on PCI
MacOS display is /pci/ATY,mach64_3DUPro
Generic RTC Driver v1.07
Macintosh non-volatile memory driver v1.1
serial8250_init: nothing to do on PowerMac
pmac_zilog: 0.6 (Benjamin Herrenschmidt <>)
ttyS0 at MMIO 0xf3013020 (irq = 15) is a Z85c30 ESCC - Serial port
ttyS1 at MMIO 0xf3013000 (irq = 16) is a Z85c30 ESCC - Serial port
io scheduler noop registered
io scheduler anticipatory registered
io scheduler deadline registered
io scheduler cfq registered
fd0: SWIM3 floppy controller 
elevator: using anticipatory as default io scheduler
RAMDISK driver initialized: 16 RAM disks of 8192K size 1024 blocksize
divert: not allocating divert_blk for non-ethernet device lo
MacIO PCI driver attached to Heathrow chipset
input: Macintosh mouse button emulation
Macintosh CUDA driver v0.5 for Unified ADB.
Uniform Multi-Platform E-IDE driver Revision: 7.00alpha2
ide: Assuming 33MHz system bus speed for PIO modes; override with idebus=xx
adb: starting probe task...
adb devices: [2]: 2 5 [3]: 3 1 [14]: 14 c0
ADB keyboard at 2, handler set to 3
Detected ADB keyboard, type ISO, swapping keys.
input: ADB keyboard on adb2:2.05/input
ADB mouse at 3, handler set to 4
input: ADB mouse on adb3:3.01/input
adb: finished probe task...
ide0: Found Apple Heathrow ATA controller, bus ID 0, irq 13
Probing IDE interface ide0...
hda: MDMA, cycleTime: 120, accessTime: 75, recTime: 45
hda: Set MDMA timing for mode 2, reg: 0x00211526
hda: Enabling MultiWord DMA 2
ide0 at 0xd9016000-0xd9016007,0xd9016160 on irq 13
ide1: Found Apple Heathrow ATA controller, bus ID 1, irq 14
Probing IDE interface ide1...
hdc: ST34311A, ATA DISK drive
hdc: MDMA, cycleTime: 120, accessTime: 75, recTime: 45
hdc: Set MDMA timing for mode 2, reg: 0x00211526
hdc: Enabling MultiWord DMA 2
ide1 at 0xd901c000-0xd901c007,0xd901c160 on irq 14
mice: PS/2 mouse device common for all mice
NET: Registered protocol family 2
IP: routing cache hash table of 4096 buckets, 32Kbytes
TCP: Hash tables configured (established 32768 bind 65536)
Restarting tasks...<6> Strange, kswapd0 not stopped
RAMDISK: cramfs filesystem found at block 0
RAMDISK: Loading 4432KiB [1 disk] into ram disk... done.
VFS: Mounted root (cramfs filesystem) readonly.
Freeing unused kernel memory: 184k init 4k chrp 32k prep
NET: Registered protocol family 1
SCSI subsystem initialized
mesh: configured for synchronous 5 MB/s
mesh: performing initial bus reset...
scsi0 : MESH
mesh: target 0 synchronous at 5.0 MB/s
  Vendor: QUANTUM   Model: XP34550S          Rev: LXY1
  Type:   Direct-Access                      ANSI SCSI revision: 02
SCSI device sda: 8890760 512-byte hdwr sectors (4552 MB)
SCSI device sda: drive cache: write back
SCSI device sda: 8890760 512-byte hdwr sectors (4552 MB)
SCSI device sda: drive cache: write back
 /dev/scsi/host0/bus0/target0/lun0: [mac] p1 p2 p3
Attached scsi disk sda at scsi0, channel 0, id 0, lun 0
Stopping tasks: =|
Freeing memory... done (338 pages freed)
Restarting tasks... done
kjournald starting.  Commit interval 5 seconds
EXT3-fs: mounted filesystem with ordered data mode.
Adding 220728k swap on /dev/sda3.  Priority:-1 extents:1
EXT3 FS on sda2, internal journal
divert: allocating divert_blk for eth0
eth0: BMAC at 00:05:02:0b:9e:da
hdd: ATAPI 24X CD-ROM drive, 128kB Cache
Uniform CD-ROM driver Revision: 3.20
hda: max request size: 128KiB
hda: 8418816 sectors (4310 MB) w/80KiB Cache, CHS=14848/9/63, (U)DMA
hda: cache flushes not supported
 /dev/ide/host0/bus0/target0/lun0: [mac] p1 p2 p3
hdc: max request size: 128KiB
hdc: 8452080 sectors (4327 MB) w/256KiB Cache, CHS=8944/15/63, (U)DMA
hdc: cache flushes not supported
 /dev/ide/host1/bus0/target0/lun0: [mac] p1 p2 p3 p4 p5 p6
device-mapper: 4.3.0-ioctl (2004-09-30) initialised:
md: md driver 0.90.1 MAX_MD_DEVS=256, MD_SB_DISKS=27
cdrom: open failed.
ts: Compaq touchscreen protocol output
usbcore: registered new driver usbfs
usbcore: registered new driver hub
ohci_hcd: 2004 Nov 08 USB 1.1 'Open' Host Controller (OHCI) Driver (PCI)
USB Universal Host Controller Interface driver v2.2
NET: Registered protocol family 10
Disabled Privacy Extensions on device c025bf5c(lo)
IPv6 over IPv4 tunneling driver
divert: not allocating divert_blk for non-ethernet device sit0

Return to BeeJay's Computer page

Return to BeeJay's home page

Copyright © 2005 by BeeJay. All rights reserved.