Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Using an Apple Powerbook G4 in 2011

Having recently acquired a 667Mhz "TiBook" Powerbook G4, I set about bringing it up to date, software-wise. The previous owner has already maxed out the RAM to 1GB and installed a faster, 60GB, hard drive. Most Tibook's have a DVD ROM or combo drive, but mine has the optional CD writer. It arrived with OSX Panther installed, so using a Firewire DVD writer, I did a fresh install of Leopard using Leopard Assist to get around it's 867Mhz minimum requirement. It tricks the Open Firmware into reporting 933Mhz to the OS. Once complete, this can be reset by resetting the PRAM and NVRAM.

It's surprising how usable how this 9 year Powerbook is for every day use. I mainly use it for general web browsing and with MIDI music software. Native Instruments B4 (Hammond organ emulator) works perfectly with no lag using a USB (1.0!) MIDI keyboard with the onboard audio (on a PC, with Windows, I had to install a Creative Soundblaster Audigy2). The only problem these days is finding apps that still work with PowerPC Macs, thankfully there are quite a few free and/or open source apps around, here's the main free apps I use:

Web Browser: TenFourFox
For web browsing, Firefox and Opera no longer support PowerPC Macs. Luckily, there's TenFourFox, an upto date version of Firefox for older G3 and G4 Macs, of course there's still Safari, however although it's quick, I don't find it as useful and my favourite add-ons are not available for it.

E-mail: Thunderbird
I'm not that keen on Apple Mail, I prefer Mozilla Thunderbird. Since the latest version does not support PPC, I'm using version 3.1.15. I've also tried Eudora but I find Thunderbird easier to use.

Instant Messenger: Adium
Adium uses the libpurple core of Pidgin to support multiple IM networks. I also use Skype which still currently supports PowerPC Macs.

Twitter Client (Updated): YoruFukurou (NightOwl) Twidget
This was the hardest thing to find. Since the last Authocalypse, there are very few Twitter clients left standing that still run on PowerPC Macs, particularly native clients. I had settled on Syrinx donation-ware, and i found it thanks to this blogpost. However due to lack of RT or Retweet in the app, I've been looking for alternatives and I've now found YoruFukurou which is a much nicer, more usable app. Unlike Syrinx, NightOwl has real time updates, multiple accounts, it's what you'd call fully featured! Update 31/12/12: Alas Yorufukuru seems to have lost PPC support so I'm without a full Twitter client, as I can't find a working free client (with a gui at least) for PPC Mac, apart from Twidget which is useful for a quick check but a bit uncomfortable to use for some serious tweetage.

YouTube: MacTubes
Probably one of the best YouTube viewing/downloading apps I've used, MacTubes is a very useful app (especially if/when Flash on PPC becomes unavailable in the browser).

Video Player: VLC
Quicktime stutters with downloaded YouTube videos, that play perfectly in VLC Media Player which also happens to pretty much play anything!

iTunes Alternative: Vox
iTunes is OK on OSX, but for when I need a quick, lightweight music player there's Vox which can play much more than iTunes, including FLAC, Musepack, Monkey's Audio, OGG Vorbis, and many others. It can even export to AAC, AIFF, Apple Lossless, NeXT/Sun and WAV.

VNC Client: Chicken Of VNC
Chicken Of VNC is a fast, lightweight VNC client for OSX.

Music Player Daemon Client: Theremin
For accessing music on a server, Music Player Daemon or MPD is very useful and has plenty of clients. My favourite client for OSX is Theremin (named after the groovy hand-waiving instrument).

CD Ripper (Updated 31/12/12): X Lossless Decoder
I used to prefer Max, but I've since discovered X Lossless Decoder (XLD) which is a much more capable app, especially as I have recently had trouble with Max not downloading CDDB info. XLD is very much like a Mac version of Exact Audio Copy, and ideal for those who appreciate quality audio rips.

Mp3 tag Editor: MusicBrainz Picard
Picard is one of the only tag editors I could find that still supports PowerPC with a Universal Binary.

Office Suite: LibreOffice
LibreOffice is the free open source cross-platform office suite based on OpenOffice, I also considered NeoOffice although their latest PowerPC version is not as upto date as their Intel Mac version.

Audio Editor: Audacity
Audacity is possibly the best free audio editor available for all Mac, Windows or Linux and there is a Universal binary available for OSX.

Overall, I'm rather pleased with my Powerbook, it's just about quick enough for most basic stuff and I've been using it as my main laptop since I got it. It's lighter, thinner, more comfortable and has a nicer screen than my other main workhorse laptop, my 1.6ghz Dell latitude D505. I also like the way the Powerbook suspends and resumes perfectly. Don't get me wrong, I still love Linux and I love my Ubuntu desktop machine! I'd almost consider dual booting with Linux on the Powerbook if it wasn't the lack of flash browser plugins for PPC Linux. Also I still miss Hotot which is only available natively in Linux or as a Chrome/Chromium app (which won't run on PPC OSX).

Update 31/12/12

I now have a later 1Ghz Tibook with 1GB of RAM and it runs much nicer with 1GB of RAM (it came with 512MB). I'm dual booting with Leopard and Xubuntu 12.04 and both run very well. I'm using it more than my main laptop (Dell Latitude D430) as I prefer the larger screensize and keyboard of the TiBook, though I often end use my tablet for YouTube. The Tibook is fine for general browsing (Facebook, G+, Twitter web etc). I can't decide which I prefer using on it, Linux or OSX, as they both work well, OSX still has (an old version of) Flash but at least on PowerPC Linux there are proper Twitter clients I can use like Turpial.

Monday, 12 September 2011

A HP dc7800 And A Stubborn Card Reader

Since my home-built PC's cheapo Asrock Alive VSTA AM2 motherboard seemed to be dieing a slow death (one of it's 2 RAM slots having already failed) I needed a replacement. Not having enough money to replace the motherboard and/or CPU, I chanced upon a bargain, an ultra low priced HP dc7800. Although it's not brand new, this machine is still a beast, built solidly and is powerful enough for my liking. It has an E6750 Core 2 Duo CPU (2.66 GHz, 4 MB L2 cache, 1333 MHz FSB) and can take up to 8GB of RAM in it's 4 slots. Since my old boards one remaining slot supported only 4GB and I only had 2GB DDR2 sticks, this was a nice upgrade. So I installed all the DDR2 I had, 2x 2GB and 2x 1GB, for an awesome 6GB of RAM, this machine runs Ubuntu much smoother and gives me enough oomph for some VirtualBox virtual machines. Also, unlike my old board, this has plenty of PCI/PCI-Express slots.

I installed my Nvidia 8400GS graphics card (connected to 19" 16:10 Acer and 19" 4:3 HP monitors), along with the 1TB SATA and 200GB IDE hard disks from my old rig. I also added an 80GB SATA too for extra space. I had to use adapters in the optical drive slots, since I only have one set of "isolation mounting" screws for the two quick change hard drive bays. I also needed to enable VTx and VTd in BIOS. This can be found hidden away in Security, System Security, enable VTx and VTD. Press F10 to save and we're done.

Naturally, once I set the right boot devices in the bios, Ubuntu 10.0.4 (64 bit) booted straight away without any real problems, I just had to do 'sudo sensors-detect' to get lm-sensors to find the new temperature monitors onboard this new rig.

I've been using an external USB card reader for awhile and wanted a tidier, internal reader instead. Having had one lying about in spares for awhile I thought I'd fit it into my 'new' HP dc7800. This turned out to be easier said than done! The floppy bay on the dc7800 only locks a drive in place if the screw holes are in the right place, and the ones on the card reader are nowhere near the right place. After a lot of swearing and sliced fingers, and having accidentally got the reader stuck too far back several times and having a nightmare removing it again, I had a MacGyver moment! I had to put something between the first locating screw and one of the metal guides and found this weird metal ring that was just the job, using the spare screws nearby to lock it in place.

Then I connected the reader to internal USB connectors. After I put everything back together and licked my sharp-PC-case-related wounds, I tried it out with my 4GB SD card from my camera. Nothing. Turns out this card reader was made before the introduction of SDHC cards! Typical! I think I learnt a vital lesson here, fully test a component before MacGyvering it into ones PC's case! I'm still very pleased with this machine and it should serve me well for awhile. One day I'd like to max out the RAM to 8GB and install a decent card reader!