viva PowerPC

Do things really end?

Two years ago, in my last post on this very blog, I said, that my brief PC journey ends and I'm back on PowerMac. How did it end up?

Okay, I tell you the bad news right now: I'm publishing this from a Core i5 based HP EliteBook, which is at the moment my main computer. The G5 wasn't used to do anything useful at least for six months, in fact it's collecting dust in a shelf. But don't stop reading here, let's go back to January 2017 for an explanation...

Back then I really moved back to PowerMac G5. I sold the HP desktop I had since December 2015, moved all data created on it to the G5 and simply started to use it daily as if I never left.

As I mentioned in previous post, even before the move back to the G5, I replaced the failing Radeon 9800 (flashed PC version) with perfectly good Radeon 9650 (Mac version). The 9800 served me well for over eight years, but one day it displayed only weird artiefacts on the screen and it was over. Problem was probably caused just by leaky capacitors, but I've got the 9650 for free, it had two DVI ports and more video RAM, so I just swapped cards and went on.

After I moved back, I also had to replace my iPhone 5s with an Android phone, because iOS 9 wasn't really working well with the old Mac OS X 10.5.8, every single time I tried to import photos made with iOS camera, it made the iPhoto crash. The geolocation information was in different format, than iPhoto expected and all the crashes even corrupted my iPhoto library at one point.

PowerMac G5 desktop, August 2017

Soon everything was running smoothly and I was quite happy with the state of things. I even discovered, that the good old G5 is the only computer in our household, that allows me to buy and update maps for my car navigation.

What went wrong, you ask?

The machine became more and more noisy, week from week, month from month. Since I bought it in 2009 and discovered the problem with funny chirps in the sound output when running on automatic power management, I used the G5 in the low-power mode, switching it manually to high-performance only when necessary. That means, it's underclocked from 2.0 GHz to 1.3 GHz, consumes a bit less power, but what's more important it consumes the power more constantly, so the power supply doesn't have to sing its sad song directly to my speakers. But it also means, that the machine is more under load, because CPUs are running slower than they could, so fans run on more RPM than on automatic. And as all those fans are from somewhere between 2003 and 2005, they started to tell me, they want their retirement.

If I wanted to use the G5 daily any longer, it would mean to disassemble it again after 5 years, replace all the fans (special, not available in generic next-door PC store, nearly impossible to find in a new or at least good condition), solve somehow the old problem with thermal difference between CPU0 and CPU1 and probably replace both hard drives as they are as old as the G5 is. So I needed to replace or repair half of the machine just to keep it going in a way it could be used by a person sitting in the same room. As much as I love PowerPC architecture, I'm still partially sane, so somewhere around September 2017 it was decided to look for something else and retire the machine after something else is found.

My first try was a 1st/2nd generation MacPro, but it simply didn't happen. I wasn't willing to pay the amount of money sellers blinded by Apple logo wanted. In the end it's just an old PC, even though it has a familiar shape.

My second try was a 1st gen MacBook, which I've got for free in October 2017. After I convinced it to run on full CPU speed even without battery, I decided to keep it for a while as my main machine, save money to buy a new MacBook Air and retired the PM G5 on 2017/12/31.

But then two things happened:

  1. Rumors about Apple future transition to ARM appeared.
  2. Raptor CS announced and then delivered Talos II.

The first made me scrap my plans for the Air acquisition, change my primary OS from Mac OS X back to Linux after almost 11 years and buy an older EliteBook for one third price of MBAir, but with the same computing power and even better port/slot equipment. The main reason I stayed on Mac OS X was iPhoto - I have all my photos since 2003 in iPhoto Library and there is no iPhoto on ARM and never will be as iPhoto is a dead product. So I would have to either change the software for photo management or emulate an Intel or PowerPC Mac to run iPhoto - I can do both on a generic PC laptop, just much cheaper way.

The other thing made me believe, that POWER/PowerPC is maybe not as dead as I thought. Before Talos there were just two groups of PowerPC users:

  1. Mac users - some of them still on Mac OS X, some of them already running Linux.
  2. Amiga users - Amiga OS 4, Morph OS - they all run on PowerPC machines, even on some Mac models, but their predominant user base is not that from first group.

Both groups are more or less stagnating as there hasn't been any new hardware in the first group since Apple left PowerPC in 2006 and all the new hardware in the second group is not even on par with last generation of PowerMacintoshes, even though it's usually pretty expensive.

But Talos II (and Blackbird in the future) changed this. The hardware is not exactly inexpensive, but it offers computing power far beyond everything people from mentioned two groups ever had. And it's open sourced, well documented and made from workstation-grade components that are right now in production so i can attract (and it does!) new people, not just those who are trying to replace their failing PowerMac.

And that's why I decided to keep my EliteBook as my primary machine for now and save money to buy Blackbird at some point in 2019/2020. As I have family and don't want to spend money from my primary income on this, I save just the side money I have from publishing on local IT servers and $1275 (just for board+CPU+heatsink; add to that 20% local tax and the price of all other components) will probably take some time. Therefore I put a G4 Mini on my desk as a secondary machine and now I'm trying to catch up what happened in PowerPC Linux/BSD world during my absence.

So yes. Some things end, some other things start. Then they end as well. And again, there is a fresh start. Isn't it nice?

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