Is it possible to turn an old iMac into an Ubuntu computer?
February 22, 2017 9:58 PM   Subscribe

I have an old and problematic OSX iMac that Apple no longer support so there is no way to fix it unless spending big money somewhere. Besides I can get into safemode and do and see stuff fine there, nothing is working right (frozen startup and weird display). Back to my question, since the hardware seems working so I am thinking about turning it into a Ubuntu computer. Is it possible?

I actually tried to boot the live DVD and USB while still figuring what's going on with it but once I hit enter at the “Try it / Install” menu, the screen goes black. I hear computer doing something but I can't see anything on the screen. Is it still possible and how do I install differently to make it work?
posted by lanhan to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
How old? Is the processor Intel or Motorola?
posted by hwyengr at 10:11 PM on February 22, 2017

Response by poster: Forgot to mention, it's a Snow Leopard (or Leopard), and the processor is Intel Core 2 Duo. Thanks!
posted by lanhan at 10:42 PM on February 22, 2017

There are at least a dozen different Core 2 Duo iMacs from the Leopard/Snow Leopard era with (I assume) various levels of Linux driver support. Have you tried googling "[model number] ubuntu"?

What makes you so sure it's not a hardware problem? A weird display and black screen are classic signs of a failing GPU, but it could be anything. What do you mean by "no way to fix it unless spending big money somewhere?"
posted by lozierj at 12:33 AM on February 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

At least some of those Core2Duo iMacs had awful problems with their GPUs IIRC (the infamous NVidia heat problem leading to the GPU partially seperating from the PCB is just one of them).

You could try using the text-mode Debian installer & see if that gets you any further, but your iMac may be toast - in which case sell it for parts on eBay if you like, or toss it.
posted by pharm at 2:54 AM on February 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

(If you stick up the model number, I can probably poke about & tell whether it’s likely to be supported or not. No guarantees though.)
posted by pharm at 2:55 AM on February 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

This forum thread is about Linux Mint, which is Ubuntu-based. There may be some useful hints in here. I'm not sure whether Mint offers better hardware support than Ubuntu but it would not surprise me if it does.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:56 AM on February 23, 2017

I’ve had an “Early 2008” MacBook (also a Core 2 Duo) running Ubuntu 16.04 LTS since it came out last spring. Ubuntu worked fine in its default install on that hardware, but i also jumped through the hoops needed to get the proprietary webcam driver installed and also macfanctld for better, Macbook-specific fan control (not intended for iMacs).
posted by D.C. at 3:03 AM on February 23, 2017

Best answer: Recommend downloading, burning and booting into an Ubuntu install ISO image. If it boots successfully, you will be presented an initial option to install or run Ubuntu in live mode. Choose live mode. This enables Ubuntu to entirely in memory without affecting OS X system installed on the machine. (It doesn't touch the drives.)

The advantage of this is that it allows you to check for hardware compatibility issues. If something is not working in live mode, it almost certainly will not work after an installation unless you can locate and install a driver that makes it work. Typically, the Linux kernel is very good at identifying hardware components and loading the appropriate driver.)

Here's a useful link: Ubuntu Desktop. Go to the download page and scroll down to find instructions for burning the ISO on Windows and MacOS. Note that running live mode off a DVD is pretty slow.

Also recommend staying with the 16.04.02 release shown there, not the 16.10 release that's also listed. The 16.10 release is supported for only 9 months.

Use "About This Mac" on the Mac's menu to discover the specific model number of your machine (the hardware, not the version of OS X) and the graphics cards. Google on both re: Ubuntu/Linux to see if you can find howto's that were successfull or horror stories of failure. Hardware changes from one Mac release to the next can make a big difference in the odds Linux can be installed and used.

The graphics card and fan/temperature control may be the most likely problem points. If the video is fine but the fan is maxed out all the time, the Linux kernel is telling you, in effect, "I can't regulate this fan so instead I'll run it at top speed all the time so your machine doesn't melt". Search, then, for addon tools for fan control, like the macfanctld D.C. suggests.

Mint is the most prominent of a good many Linux distributions based on Ubuntu. These typically use the core Ubuntu base while changing the interface and using a different mix of user applications. Mint, like others, draws drivers, etc., directly from Ubuntu's repositories. (E.g. when you install a driver on Mint, you are downloading it from an Ubuntu server.)
posted by justcorbly at 4:53 AM on February 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Consider giving Elementary OS a try (assuming your hardware isn’t completely toast). It’s Ubuntu under the hood and the support for Mac hardware seems pretty good.
posted by bcwinters at 5:49 AM on February 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Don't toss it. Apple stores will take it back for recycling.
posted by spitbull at 7:53 AM on February 23, 2017

Besides I can get into safemode and do and see stuff fine there, nothing is working right (frozen startup and weird display). Back to my question, since the hardware seems working...

I fix computers for money, and I'd bet some of it on that hardware not being working.
posted by flabdablet at 8:28 AM on February 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

Aside from the possible hardware problem, if it's a late 2008 spec iMac you can likely run Sierra on it, with a little bit of patching. You may also be able to put in more RAM than Apple says is possible.
posted by scruss at 8:50 AM on February 23, 2017

Response by poster: Thank you guys. Since Apple told me that they only fix their computers within 4 years so I will go seek for help from private repair shop and see if nothing works out. I will try some more my own and see, I am just not sure if the hardware parts would be compatible. Recycling is a good option, too! Thank you guys!
posted by lanhan at 6:24 PM on February 24, 2017

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