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I recently got a PowerBook G4 17" with a 1.67 GHz PowerPC CPU, 2GB of RAM, 100 GB of hard drive and running under OS X 10.5.8.

These computers are actually getting more and more obsolete, and this computer must be up to date concerning the software for a proper use (Mac OS X 10.5.8 can’t support the latest software since years).

I decided to install FreeBSD 10.1, which has a PPC version on this Mac. As I have no bootable CD’s, I decided to create a bootable USB key for installing the OS. To do so, I must burn the ISO into the USB key using software like UNETbootin; this software doesn’t work with the old Mac because of its architecture so I had to use another computer to create my bootable USB key.

The problem is that I learned that PowerBook G4 does not accept USB booting, but I know you can install an OS directly from your computer using software like UNETbootin, but I have problems with software because of the Mac.

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If you can’t use UNETbootin because your system is out of date, instead of using UNETbootin—or similar packaged “Make a bootable USB” tools—you can create a bootable USB flash drive right from the command line in Terminal as explained here. I am reworking those instructions because there are a few unclear/out-of-date things that should be ironed out. And why not clear that up here?

First, download the appropriate Free BSD ISO from here. For this example I am downloading the FreeBSD-10.1-RC3-powerpc-memstick.img version of the image (which is the version tailored for USB flash drives) and saving it to the ~/Desktop.

First, let’s open up the Terminal and go to the desktop like this:

cd ~/Desktop

Now, with the USB flash drive plugged into the computer run this command to get the filesystem name of the USB device:

df -h

For this example, let’s assume the device is named disk1s1. Now we’re going to unmount the USB flash drive from the command line like this:

sudo diskutil umount /dev/disk1s1

Okay, with disk1s1 unmounted, run the dd command to copy the contents of FreeBSD-10.1-RC3-powerpc-memstick.img to the USB flash drive on /dev/disk1s1:

sudo dd if="FreeBSD-10.1-RC3-powerpc-memstick.img" of="/dev/disk1s1" bs="10240"

Now wait for it to finish copying. And when that is done, you will have a bootable USB flash drive with FreeBSD-10.1-RC3-powerpc-memstick.img on it.

And with that said, I realized that your PowerBook does not formally allow USB booting. So that alone won’t work, but advice in this answer as well as on this page will help. And it boils down to following these two steps after creating the bootable USB flash drive:

  1. Boot in the PowerBook OpenFirmware (the bootstrap that loads before Mac OS X) by pressing the Apple+Alt+O+F keys at the same time right after you switch on the machine (before the chime sound).
  2. Once in OpenFirmware enter this command: boot usb1/disk@1:,\\yaboot. If that somehow doesn’t work, you might be designating the incorrect usb[x]/ path so try this one with 0 for usb: boot usb0/disk@1:,\\yaboot. The machine should reboot and you should be now booting off of the USB.

And if none of that seems to work, the later page referenced above seems to be a more succinct answer starting from item 4 in the list of instructions. Reproducing them here for clarity, formatting and reference:

  1. Then you boot in the PowerBook OpenFirmware (the bootstrap that loads before Mac OS X) by pressing the Apple+Alt+O+F keys at the same time right after you switch on the machine (before the chime sound)
  2. Type dev / ls and try to find something like /disk@1 next to an entry named USB (in my case usb@1b,1)
  3. Type DEVALIAS in the command prompt and locate the short name of the USB entry you just found using dev / ls (in my case usb0)
  4. Make sure your USB key holds a file called BootX with the tbxi attribute by listing the directory. In the following command, disk@1 should be replaced by what you found in Step 5, also every character is important (this includes colon, forward slash, etc.). Type: dir shortname_found_in_step_6/disk@1:partition_number_found_in_step_3,\System\Library\CoreServices (in my case dir usb0/disk@1:3,\System\Library\CoreServices)
  5. If BootX is found with an attribute called tbxi then you’re all set and you can instruct OpenFirmware to boot from the USB drive: boot usb0/disk@1:3,\System\Library\CoreServices\BootX
  6. Hit enter and you should be booting from the USB drive. You can then install the operating system as you would with a DVD.
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    Thanks a lot for your instructions. The first 2 steps were OK for me. But I had to replace disk1s1 (in fact disk2s1 for me) with disk1 to flash my whole USB stick with a debian PPC image. And now my 2004 powerbook G4 is starting with a debian distro.
    – user519467
    Nov 8 '15 at 22:04

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