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I would like an extra machine to do basic webbrowsing on. I have for example an old PowerBook Pro 3,1 with a 15" screen available. Mostly for ecological reasons I would like to use old hardware while it is still working. Firefox is not supported anymore and webbrowsing is practically impossible.

  • Could I install elementary OS on it to use supported version of a webbrowser?
  • Preferably on dual boot. There is a specific old Mac application on it that needs to run occasionally.

Specs:

Intel Core 2 Duo 2,2Ghz 4Mb level 2 cache 800Mhz bus speed BootROM version MBP31.0070.B07 SMC Version 1.16f11

Samsung SSD 250Gb 840 EVO (suprise to me too, I was wondering where this SSD was)

Currently with MacOS 10.5.8

The DVD drive didn't work the past decade. I must have some USB-sticks lying around I could use and I have a Timemachine backup of this Mac on an external USB-drive. It doesn't work on a battery anymore, has died years ago.

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First, you should take into account whether you have enough RAM to meet the minimum system requirements of 4 GB. Trying to run on less than that, particularly with a web browser, may be a bit much for your machine. Assuming the RAM is sufficient, elementaryOS should be a good fit for your use case, albeit installing Linux on older Mac hardware with Nvidia GPU's can be quite involved. A query of the MacbookPro3,1 on linux-hardware.org shows that people have been able to get Linux running on your specific model which bodes well. There is also a Macbook3,1 Debian Wiki page which may come in handy.

There's an important consideration for older Macbooks, which is indicated in this blog post for installing Linux on a MacbookPro3,1. For the graphics drivers to work properly, you may need to install so that Linux boots in legacy BIOS mode as opposed to EFI, which most modern Linux installers will use by default. It looks like someone was able to install Ubuntu in Legacy BIOS mode alongside a macOS installation according to this AskUbuntu answer. Another alternative is to use a hybrid MBR / EFI partition to keep macOS installed while booting Linux in legacy BIOS mode but this appears to be very difficult to maintain and fragile.

Alternatively, I've had success installing elementaryOS on a 2010 Macbook such that it boots in legacy BIOS mode but at the cost of removing macOS entirely. To do this you'll need to manually partition the disk during installation and make the first partition a Legacy BIOS partition 1 MiB in size. Make sure not to create an EFI partition even if the installer warns you that the machine may not boot. You'll need to create a root partition and if you like, a swap partition, at the minimum. To still have access to macOS if you choose this route, you might just use your existing hard disk for macOS and a separate hard disk for Linux. You'd have to physically swap your disks whenever you want to switch of course.

Before doing any kind of partitioning or installation, I recommend creating a backup installer of macOS on a spare USB drive in case you need to reinstall macOS from scratch. Instructions for doing this are provided by Apple here. You'll also want to double-check your Time Machine backups are valid and that you'll be able to access them from another functional Mac if necessary.

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  • Thank you very much. Good to have all this documented online now, also for others after me. In short, some things to check, some considerations to make, some risk involed which requires a backup installer of macOS. Top on the list is finding bigger memory modules instead of the two of 1Gb currently... I vaguely remember that this kind at the time were quite common.
    – rrustema
    Feb 6 at 15:10
  • You're welcome! I managed to get some nice RAM for a 2010 Macbook from macsales.com. Here is a page listing their Macbook RAM upgrades. I see they have an option available for the MacbookPro3,1.
    – jwillikers
    Feb 6 at 17:45

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