The PowerPC Bows Out

Well the event was inevitable, but with the release of Mac OS X 10.6 “Snow Leopard” Apple has officially ended Operating System development for PowerPC Macs. There will be Security Updates and other patches issued for 10.5.8 “Leopard” for some interim period, but even those will eventually stop by the time Mac OS X 10.7 “Name Your Big Cat” arrives.

PowerPC6100Apple’s move to Intel processors has been a major business success, but longtime Mac users have a fondness in their hearts for the older models. PowerPC G3, G4 and G5 systems running Mac OS X 10.3 “Panther” or 10.4 “Tiger”, along with Mac OS 9 in Classic mode, can run a wide variety of Mac software, from (some) 68k progams to many current OS X applications. For users on a budget, those still needing to run old software, or inheritors of hand-me-downs, the later PowerPC systems have years of useful life left.

G3 and G4 Macs are generally very reliable and cheap these days, often under $100. The iMac, eMac, PowerMac (beige and colored) and PowerBook models have held up well over time. Unfortunately G3 & G4 iBooks have had a variety of video and motherboard failures, so I’d avoid this series. My personal favorites are the iMac G3 DV (Ruby), iMac G4 17″ “iLamp”, PowerMac G4 “Digital Audio”, PowerMac G4 Dual 1.25GHz “MDD”, PowerBook G3 “Wallstreet”, PowerBook G3 “Pismo”, PowerBook G4 “Titanium”, and the 12″ PowerBook G4.

G5 Macs tend to cost a bit more – but hey, these were current until only a few days ago! Alas their reliability record is spottier as they age. Air-cooled G5 PowerMacs and XServes hold up well. Early G5 iMacs (particularly the 17″ model) frequently suffer from power supply and motherboard failures, and liquid-cooled G5 PowerMac towers sometimes tend to leak (also causing motherboard failures). Personal favorites are the 20″ iMac G5 and the Dual 2.3GHz G5 XServe.

OS-wise, if you need Classic (Mac OS 9) support, go with Mac OS X 10.4 “Tiger”. If you don’t need Classic, 10.5 “Leopard” will be most useful down the road (supported on 867MHz or faster G4 and all G5 systems). For sub-300MHz G3 models or anything older, I recommend Mac OS 9.

One unique thing about G-Series PowerPC Macs was their ability to Boot into Open Firmware, the BIOS of the day. Open Firmware allowed you to thoroughly zap PRAM, eject stuck CDs, and other support tricks. Intel Macs do not have these options, as they use EFI as the boot loader.

In the Vintage Mac Museum “Leopard” will be the last OS officially included, installed on one or two G5s when they eventually join their older brethren in the collection (currently I don’t have any G5 models). The Intel Macs that I use for my consulting work will move on to Snow Leopard.

So here’s to the future – but a hearty thanks to the PowerPC for all it has done, and will still do, for the Macintosh World!

One response to “The PowerPC Bows Out”

  1. Adam Rosen says:


    Simon Royal said…
    Long live the PowerPC. I for one shall keep my TiBook for as long as possible.
    August 30, 2009 at 8:50 PM

    azisman said…
    Of course, just because they aren’t supported by the ‘software de jour’, older hardware doesn’t become instantly unusable. As long as a user continues to make use of an older model, it isn’t ‘obsolete’ for her or him.
    August 31, 2009 at 1:44 PM

    Adam Rosen said…
    I completely agree. In fact as a consultant I find it frustrating that Apple stops selling the old OS on the day the new OS comes out, lots of my clients are using PowerPC Macs and some need to upgrade from Tiger to Leopard. Apple’s terms of “obsolete” and actual use in the real world are not equivalent!
    August 31, 2009 at 2:15 PM

    Anonymous said…
    im afraid the dual g5 is the end of the apple line for me.
    why did they abandon the powerpc chip ? look what its doing these days.
    August 31, 2009 at 11:22 PM

    Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield said…
    Long live the PPC. As a music college major (98-02) I spent more time fixing and playing with PPC macs than I did doing music practice. I think I’ve probably owned, fixed or restored and sold every PPC out there.

    The PM 6100 was a complete dog, but I did love it’s case so. Aaaah the 601 chip. But at the end of the day, the PPC chip just couldn’t keep up with the speed and power requirments. It was only a matter of time until they killed the PPC mac support.

    Never mind, our G4 eMac has just got the latest version of Ubuntu and is living again in supported software land. And our G4 emac will get similar treatment for use as our car mac. Our first gen MacPro will be safe (for now) with SnowLeopard, while our two MBPUnis enjoy the love of the SL familypack!
    September 1, 2009 at 2:08 PM

    macprohawaii said…
    My Quicksilver G4 tower continues to serve me well 8 long years after I bought it brand new… I have an iBook G3 which I have had for at least 4 to 5 years now… works fine… both running Mac OSX…. with OS9 classic mode installed… and my oldest Power PC Macs are a 9500 tower and Powerbook 3400 running Mac OS8.6. Good for games or opening up old files created with old software.

    Alas I will be moving on soon to Intel and a MacBook Pro of some type.
    September 1, 2009 at 2:29 PM

    Anonymous said…
    Current until just a few days ago? It’s scary but it’s been 4 years already.
    September 2, 2009 at 3:07 AM

    Adam Rosen said…
    In this case I use “current” in the sense of actively supported by Apple with the current Operating System and for AppleCare issues. Yes, it’s amazing that the Intel systems have been around for so long already!
    September 2, 2009 at 9:14 AM

    Paulus said…
    I recently acquired a 12″ G4 Powerbook in full swing. Second hand of course, but with the original Tiger DVD’s. I deliberately choose this model because of my project: supporting elderly people with their old (fruit color) iMac. There is the need for running Mac OS X (for the internet browser) and the Classic applications, where the budget to buy new application software is not available.
    October 23, 2009 at 11:31 AM

    Jeremiah said…
    I just got a “new” iBook G4 (returning to the Mac world of computing after a four year visit to Windows land). I love it, but I have always loved Macs since my brother brought home the Powerbook 100 back in…uh..a long time ago…It is quirky, but is running great, none of it’s quirks seem to be quite the same as what I have read thus far…

    I can’t believe it’s been over four years since Apple switched to Intel! I remember feeling like Apple betrayed all Mac users with that move. But it was the best thing to do. It seems like half the guys at my seminary use Macs. I always joke that it they’ve jumped on the bandwagon, because when I was using a Mac before Intel-Macs came out, I was made fun of and mocked, but they get off easy! LOL! I have been constantly looking for good priced iMac G4s but I don’t think my wife would let me get one!

    Thanks for a great site to look through!
    January 5, 2010 at 10:42 PM

    Laraine said…
    I still have a PowerBook 150. As far as I know it works. It certainly did last time I turned it on! As for the rest, I use a second-hand G5 1.8 tower. I do sit and wonder if my next Mac will be another G5, though it will have to be a dual-processor or duo-core, or a nearly-obsolete Intel one. It will definitely be one or the other.
    February 2, 2010 at 6:35 PM

    Anonymous said…
    I just acquired a G4 PowerBook (1.67 ghz) because I want to keep an “old school” Mac around. It’s still fantastic! It has become my work laptop (also have a new MacBook at home). The Al PB still gets the glances in wifi cafes.
    February 14, 2010 at 3:08 PM

    Kent said…
    I have a G4, Dual 533 MHz. I am currently on 10.3.9. What is the latest OS that I could run with this system. And…where do I find it? This Mac doesn’t have a DVD drive. I really only need it for Internet and MS Word work, and it will probably be fine as is, but I am starting to see some issues with Internet sites.
    March 16, 2010 at 11:02 AM

    Adam Rosen said…
    Kent, you can run Tiger (up to v10.4.11) on your G4. Info about obtaining and installing on older systems can be found in this article I wrote last year: Challenges in (Re)Installing Mac OS X Tiger
    March 16, 2010 at 3:40 PM

    Kent said…
    Thanks, Adam!
    March 17, 2010 at 10:44 PM

    Drew May said…
    I’m currently using an iBook G3 (the fruit colors kind) as my University laptop. It’s the SE model, with 467Mhz of power and the DVD drive. I’ve installed a 160Gb hard drive, stuffed it with RAM, and am running Tiger, Safari 4 and Office:mac 2008. It’s not a spring chicken, but it handles the daily rigors with aplomb. It also gets a lot of attention; most of the people on my campus think it’s either a new Mac or didn’t know you could still find these things. :) As a portable writing machine, it’s not obsolete yet!
    October 7, 2010 at 3:42 PM

    JT said…
    I am still a huge fan of many older Macintoshes. The odd thing is, I have a fondness for what Low End Mac called “Road Apples”. My favorites are the Classic II, Color Classic, and the Power Macintosh 5200/75 LC. While the 5200 and Color Classic were upgraded to a 5500 and a LC 520, these little systems still rock! The Power Macintosh 5200 is a music server. Now that I have SoundJam, it will most likely go back to the 5200/75 LC it once was. The Classic II is my file server, and the Color Classic is a all around good e-mail/IM computer.
    February 6, 2011 at 12:05 AM

    Justin said…
    I refuse to “upgrade” to any intel mac, or any x86-based machine at all. I bought/built my last x86 9 years ago, and since then I’ve acquired 4 PPC macs, which I’ll keep until they die completely, then I’ll likely move to ARM based machines. Still waiting for the new Amiga, too.
    August 12, 2011 at 11:43 AM

    Brent said…
    Let’s see 17 years and I’ve owned 2 computers (6100 and Mirror Door). I blame Apple for making them so backward comptible and well built.
    December 28, 2011 at 4:14 PM

    jrbt said…
    As owner of a dual 1.25 GHz PowerPC G4 MDD FW 400 who needs System 9.2.2 because of custom software created for it in 1993, lately I’m noticing “extra” sounds from the internal hard drive which means it won’t last very much longer.

    Any recommendations on a good source for buying a “new” dual 1.25 GHz? I wish Adam were a seller himself because he’s the one I’d want to buy from! It should have 9.2.2 and 10.4.11 already on it; preferably 1gb ram and 80gb or more internal hard drive; preferably should also have the Apple fan upgrade for noise reduction; and also I’d like to buy an external hard drive for use with it.

    Since it’s likely inappropriate to make specific recommendations here, could anyone email me with suggestions at jrbt [at] eclipse [dot] net.
    January 1, 2012 at 10:44 PM

    Anonymous said…
    jrbt, have you thought of just getting a new hard drive, cloning the old one onto it and using your existing machine? Better the devil you know with computers, and if your original HDD’s lasted this long, you can probably expect to get a similar lifespan again.

    Or use an SSD to boot from and two larger drives to store data on…
    January 23, 2012 at 11:06 PM

    Anonymous said…
    I still use my G4 MDD that I bought brand new in 2003. It was at Best Buy sitting on a top shelf of “overstock” or where stuff goes that is not selling. It was marked down from $1299 to $1199 and I couldn’t resist. I was in the market for a MacOS X Mac anyway. It was a single processor 1.25GHz with 80GN HD and 256 RAM.

    It was my main computer until 2010 when I bought a Intel iMac core i5. But during the 7 years I use my MDD it received numerous upgrades. It now has an extra 160GB HD internal, 2GB RAM, an ATI Radeon 9800 PRO 128MB (replacing the Radeon 9000 64MB–which still works), and a processor upgrade. At the time it was very expensive to buy a G5 and spending about $500 on my G4 MDD was within budget. I purchase the Sonnet MDX Dual processor CPU upgrade using the 7447A chips. It is clocked at 1.83GHz with 512k L2/CPU. It required a flash of sorts from Sonnet to work and needs at least 10.3.5 as a minimum to boot.

    Everything still works and I use 10.4.11 today on that G4. I do have to say that it is very fast with that upgrade and I surf the net, play Diablo 2, send email and other games without a hitch. I can’t watch too many vids online but that’s due to a flash issue, not my computer.

    But I love it and as long as it works, I will keep it running. If the power supply gives up, I will likely replace it with a working one and keep going. I even wrap it in the middle (top to bottom) with a towel to prevent accidental scratches or bumps under the desk. Yes, it’s louder than my iMac, but it has the “quieter” set up from Apple and I don’t care. Its and MDD and that’s all that matters.

    My Mac never gave up on me, so I plan to return the favor until death do us part.
    March 24, 2012 at 2:11 AM

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