Installing Debian on a Mac Mini G4 via USB drive
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foxhead128's avatar
By foxhead128   |   
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I bought a used Mac Mini G4 to install Debian on. As it turns out, the unit I obtained has a dead optical drive, forcing me to boot via USB. I found a bunch of conflicting directions regarding how to go about this matter, none of which actually worked in my case. I ultimately combined a few different solutions together, which resulted in the following solution that worked for me.

1: Use dd to put the Debian disk image onto a flash drive.
2: Plug the flash drive into the Mac Mini.
3: Power on the Mac Mini and hold down Command+Option+o+f (Windows+Alt+o+f for a PC keyboard) to enter OpenFirmware. Hold down until the screen goes white.
4: Type and enter the following commands:
dev usb0

5: If you don't see something like "disk@1", repeat step 4 with usb1 instead of usb0. If you don't see it there either, the flash drive is either faulty or you're boned.
6: Enter the following command (use usb1 instead of usb0 if applicable):
boot usb0/disk@1:,\install\yaboot
7: Debian should now boot. Proceed to install as usual, and remember to use the 32-bit kernel since you're dealing with a G4 CPU.

Hope this was helpful to someone.
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hopebringer-jem's avatar
hopebringer-jemHobbyist General Artist
XD Nice to see you're still doing your civic duty sir.
foxhead128's avatar
foxhead128Hobbyist General Artist
Same as always. :)

I'm surprised by how well Debian runs on the Mac Mini, actually. I thought it would be a colossal mess, especially since it's a single-core PowerPC machine, but I underestimated Linux once again. Provided I keep my expectations reasonable and stick with sufficiently lightweight programs, it's actually pretty smooth. Unfortunately, Openbox seems to be horribly optimized. Specifically, although applications run fine, moving windows around the desktop is laggy. I'll probably swap it out for a different window manager, maybe Xfwm.
hopebringer-jem's avatar
hopebringer-jemHobbyist General Artist
I'm not surprised the PowerPC processor was fairly powerful. BSD works well on them usually so I can't say I'm shocked that Linux does too.
foxhead128's avatar
foxhead128Hobbyist General Artist
Huh, interesting. I wouldn't have guessed, to be honest. Goes to show my lack of expertise with the architecture. XD

Now comes the question of what to do with the machine after getting Debian to work. :P
WonderlandRevisited's avatar
Debian on PPC is as close to bullet-proof for web browsing as it gets. Good machine for online shopping, banking, etc. Of course some guys would just use it for malware-free porn browsing.