VOGONS


First post, by xjas

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I posted about this in the “What Retro Activity” thread but thought I’d write the whole thing up for the benefit of anyone else who wants to play with one of these. I’ll try to link to relevant info in ‘stable’ locations (e.g. Archive.org) because a lot of this is disappearing off the internet FAST. Also, I did most of this project late at night so I apologise in advance for the shit quality low-light photos. Anyway, story first...

A while ago I picked up this first-gen AppleTV from a rather well-known hopelessly overpriced and clueless Mac shop here in town (they didn’t understand what a “PowerPC” was and I had to explain Rosetta to them. Nevermind...)

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They’d apparently had no luck selling it for their $99 sticker and so slashed the price by 50%, which was enough to make me interested. Even at that I managed to haggle another ten bucks off.

As the sticker on the box proclaims, it wasn’t running the stock AppleTV OS. ONOZ! SHOCK! HORROR! I suspect that’s the only reason they were selling it off cheap, seeing as the same damn shop has had another one listed for at least six months for $99 again with no sign of a buyer. Guys, if you’re not selling something maybe your price is wrong. Just a hint.

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This is the only AppleTV revision which has this array of analog ports

What it was running was a broken, out-of-date install of XBMC+Crystalbuntu (I’m still not sure how all these media center projects fit together, i.e. what is a “distro” of what.) I had it for more than a year and a half but never found much of a use-case for it, aside from well,

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...stupid stuff.

It’s got a pretty neat configuration of hardware - a 1GHz Pentium M, IDE HDD, and a GeForce 7300 Go chip, as opposed to later AppleTVs which are ARM-based and have more in common with an iPhone. Also unlike later models, it has a completely unlocked bootloader with no jails to break(*), so you can boot anything you want from the USB port or internal HDD. Well, sort of.

(* Basically it needs a specific partition map and looks for some files from the original OS in order to boot, but if you have those you’re golden. Very similar to how OS/X boots in fact. You can simply put the right bootloader on a flash drive/HDD and go. Some sites call this “jailbreaking”, but it’s not.)

I always meant to get some kind of OS going on it and see what it could do, but never got around to it until now.

The biggest hardware drawback is it only has 256MB of RAM and it’s soldered to the board, so whatever you want to run has to be OK with that. The wi-fi card is in a mini-PCIe slot; a lot of these around will have that replaced with a Broadcom HD video decoder chip (stock hardware is not capable of 720p playback) but I guess in theory other upgrades are possible.

It’s pretty easy to open (unlike a same-era Mac Mini), just a few torx screws and it comes straight apart.

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Above is the “bottom” of the motherboard, i.e. the part that you see from ‘underneath’ if you open it. Note the IDE header & PCIe slot on this side. Despite the fan being on the bottom, the CPU, GPU & RAM are actually on the top:

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Reply 1 of 10, by xjas

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So we’ve got the hardware, and it’s cool, but let’s see about getting some software on this. There are a few options:

- Stock Apple TVOS. It sucks and is useless. Moving on...
- Various open media center OSes, which can do a ton more than Apple’s limited crapware. These are almost all Linux based.
- Theoretically any desktop i386 Linux or BSD should run, as long as it’s happy with 256MB of RAM, no PAE flag & no SSE3.
- OS/X Tiger, Leopard, or Snow Leopard. Despite the RAM limitation, all three of these have been shown to run on it. Setting them up takes some work though...

Obviously options 3 & 4 are what I was most interested in, although I ended up going with option “2.5”. More on that later.

OS/X

Whatever version of OS/X you choose needs to support Intel architecture and not require a 64-bit CPU. That leaves 10.4-10.6 or Tiger, Leopard, or Snow Leopard (I don’t think I’d want to run anything newer than that anyway.) Note that I won’t put links in this section for obvious reasons.

To get OS/X to run on one of these you’re essentially doing a Hackintosh install. The EFI boot is similar to what “proper” Macs already do, but you need a modded kernel with SSE3 emulation & a way to bypass any minimum RAM check. When I wrote in the “retro activity” thread,

xjas wrote:

Tried again to install something useful (OS/X, Linux, etc.) onto my 1st-gen Apple TV. This requires navigating the frozen remains of 2011's internet and I'm starting to think it's no longer possible. Broken links, inactive torrents, Google Code projects that got robo-copied to Github without any of the documentation, files hosted on dodgy downloader sites that no longer exist, instructions on dead forums that required logging in, sites that never got archived because of robots.txt... The list goes on.

There are websites around from the '90s that still work fine, but it seems 2008~13 is now a wasteland. What the fuck are we doing??

...this is what I was referring to. A lot of the information and tools to build a Hackintosh based on Tiger or one of the Leopards have fallen right off the internet. That’s really unfortunate.

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Tantalizingly, just a few years ago you could download prebuilt Leopard (OS/X 10.5.5 or 10.5.8 ) images that already had the boot sequence done, hardware sussed out (working audio support was a big deal!), a ton of tweaks done for low mem, etc. There are even tech articles around about how easy it was to set up based on one of those. But either the torrents are no longer being seeded or they were hosted on sleazy “download sites” (Rap*dsh&re, etc.) and some of the parts are just gone. I spent hours searching around and hit dead-end after dead-end, but seemingly no one has these anymore. If anyone’s used one of these images or installed OS/X on one some other way I’d love to hear from you (PM me!)

(Note: I own boxed retail copies & install discs for all three of these OSes. If you’re going to complain that what I wanted to do violates Apple’s licence agreements somehow & therefore is immoral and wrong blah blah blah, let it be known that I don’t care.)

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It should still be possible to “roll your own” from a retail disc; there are guides out there but by-and-large they are for Hackintosh distros like iDeneb or iAtkos32. Try finding working downloads for those today. AFAIK they were never really pursued or shut down by Apple, they were just left to die out of apathy. Apparently the Hackintosh community only care about installing the latest “macOS” on brand new hardware.

At this point I completely ran out of steam for wanting to get OS/X onto this thing. I saved what I could find & might still pursue this later. I do think it’s possible based on what’s still around out there but the “easy mode” options are long gone.

Last edited by xjas on 2018-02-21, 04:39. Edited 1 time in total.

twitch.tv/oldskooljay - playing the obscure, forgotten & weird - most Tuesdays & Thursdays @ 6:30 PM PDT. Bonus streams elsewhen!

Reply 2 of 10, by xjas

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Linux

OK! This should be better right? Without living in the slightly grey area of Hackintosh land, there’s no need for any torrents or login firewalls or java-based “download managers”... People figured out almost immediately how to get Linux onto one of these in a flurry of activity when they were current, so even if it’s ‘old’, all the stuff they put out there should still be there, right?

Well, this side of things was made needlessly hard again for a few reasons, the big ones being:

1) most of the projects were hosted on Google Code (2009-11 being the peak of ) and when Google shut it down and shovelled everything over to Github, only the code went without all the overlying documentation, wikis, instructions, etc. This is inexcusable IMHO.

And, (2) Google searches were simply failing to provide relevant results. The info was out there, it JUST. DIDN’T. SHOW. UP.

So in short, this is hard to do now, and it’s mostly Google’s fault. It’s 2018, their search engine is broken and it’s taking the useful internet down with it. But that’s a rant for another day.

FOR EXAMPLE, a lot of the install guides you find out there will drop a link to ATV-bootloader. This is exactly what it seems to be, a Linux-based bootloader for the TV. Except this is a trap! If you follow that link you get the Github page, but if you dig up the Google Code page on the internet Archive you get everything. A ton of documentation & most of the downloads.

That page will give you instructions on how to create a bootloader on a USB stick, which sounds like a solid starting point, but it also links to ATVUSB-creator which is a desktop app that does it for you. SAME STORY, use the Archive’s Google Code page instead of the Github page or you get nothing.

You also need a copy of the stock TVOS so it can extract boot.efi. Monumentally surprisingly, you can download a couple different versions of it straight from Apple, which is completely legal and within the terms of any licence agreement you can think of (if you own an AppleTV), but the direct links are well-buried, so you have to go to a 3rd party site to find them (search for that.) Make sure the link is directly to Apple's own update server, mesu.apple.com.

But there’s another caveat: I couldn’t get the latest version of ATVUSB-creator to run on anything. I tried the beta-13 Mac version & the 3.0 Windows version under WINE and under XP on Virtualbox. No go. (There’s no native Linux version.) I thought it was because I’m running Mavericks which is several years newer than anything on that page, so I even went out of my way to put a fresh copy of Snow Leopard on my (formerly-)FreeDOS Mac Mini but still no dice. It turns out I had to roll back a few years to version 1.0b10 and it worked fine! Thankfully the download for that still works.

Note that you need to enter the .app from the terminal and run the executable (atvusb-creator.app/Contents/MacOS/atvusb-creator) directly with Sudo, if you just click on it from the desktop it won’t work.

You COULD roll your own boot-stick from the instructions I’ve linked to here, but ATVUSB-creator is much easier and does the same job.

AFTER ALL THAT, I had a working Linux bootloader on a USB stick! Yay! Now what?

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I wanted a desktop Linux, specifically a reasonably popular distro so I could have a working package manager. My first thoughts were Lubuntu, Debian, AntiX, or Puppy. I also thought Lakka would be interesting to try once I had the method down. Any of those should run depending on the window manager; I bet Antix would fly with its native Fluxbox. Lubuntu says it needs 512MB of RAM but I’d bet it would go fine anyway. DSL should also work but it’s getting pretty dated.

Targeting a HDD install (sort of) left Puppy out, although you can totally do that anyway even if they don’t “officially” endorse it. The big issue is Pup uses a sort-of nonstandard way of booting and I didn’t feel like working out how to make it work.

Once you’ve got your USB boot-stick there are explicit instructions on the atv-bootloader project page for how to install Linux. Nice!

UNFORTUNATELY (how the hell many times am I gonna start a sentence with that in this writeup?) they are for old as shit or virtually dead distros. Ubuntu Gutsy or Hardy. That’s like versions 7 & 8 (current Ubuntu up to version 17!) Gentoo or Knoppix; not really what I wanted. XBMC is what I’d already replaced.

Note that following these instructions verbatim with a modern distro will run you into trouble. E.g. they provide a patch for parted to deal with Apple’s nonstandard GUID, but modern parted probably won’t work with their patch, so you need to figure out how to deal with that. Blah blah blah, caveat or hiccup after hiccup.

At this point I was running out of steam again for getting Linux onto this thing. This is why it sat in my closet for a year after the last time I tried.

(I’m also running out of steam for finishing this post, so I’m gonna cut out a lot of the detail. I’ll flesh out everything I found if I get a ton of enthusiasm.)

To cut to the chase, I gave up on “rolling my own” custom Linux install onto it. Google completely failed to deliver me to this project, but OSMC (Open Source Media Center) is still being developed, still supports the AppleTV, and has been refined to the point that it’s the best, easiest option for getting a modern distro going.

On another Linux workstation I just added their PPA to my system and installed ‘osmcinstaller’, but they provide packages for OS/X and Windows too. (Or you can download the USB images and dd them onto a flash drive yourself. It doesn’t matter.) The installer installs an installer onto a USB stick ... umm, it creates a USB stick with a setup program that either configures OSMC on the stick itself or installs it onto the ATV’s internal HDD depending on which version you choose.

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Incidentally before I set up OSMC I restored the drive back to the last version of TVOS (3.0.2) just to make sure I had some firmware updates that revision included. Then I almost immediately nope’d it off there once I realized how sucky it was.

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It installed without a hitch and I played with it for a while, but for obvious reasons I called it a day and went to bed.

Neat piece of software though! Although the TV doesn’t really have the horsepower to drive a media app like this at 1600x1200, it can get a bit sluggish. Using the “classic” skin might help but I haven’t tried.

But yeah it was running great, and has some cool add-ons and packages that Apple wouldn’t even dream of providing. Gonna have to plug this one:

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Last edited by xjas on 2018-02-21, 04:53. Edited 1 time in total.

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Reply 3 of 10, by xjas

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The hardware is limited but fully supported:

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And fortunately you can totally get a Linux desktop. What you have when you install OSMC is a really nice frontend (Kodi) running on an up-to-date Debian backend, with apt-get, sudo, and a recent (4.2x IIRC) kernel. Keyboards & mice work, the Apple remote works, and it even has SSH installed so you can log into it in case you don’t have a keyboard & mouse directly attached. I actually tried that:

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...although it’s not necessary as you can get to a console the normal way by hitting ctrl+alt+F4 (Kodi lives on Ctrl+alt+F2 BTW.)

Anyway, you can just sudo apt-get install whatever desktop you like, or you can follow this guide to disable the Kodi Media Center and make your desktop start on boot. (That link does not come up on the first page of Google results no matter what I search for. This is what I mean about searching failing to provide the relevant info. There are so much junk and useless sites out there it’s breaking the internet...)

When you’re “outside” of Kodi it’s a little like starting from a super-bare, console-only system and rolling it up the way you want. Kind of nice. LXDE installed with a single apt-get and pulled in all the dependencies. I grabbed NetSurf for a lightweight web browser (which is amazingly snappy if not overly compatible with all sites) and OpenCubicPlayer just to mess around with it. Worked fine (including sound from OCP) and was completely painless to set up.

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I also gave a shot at the ‘Awesome’ window manager, which is, well, awesome but doesn’t really agree with me. Runs great on this thing though. Fluxbox should go really well too.

With Kodi still running in the background, I had well under 100MB free RAM and I don’t know how much it’s using for swap space (there’s no SWAP partition so I assume it's using a swapfile.) That said I don’t want to disable Kodi completely because ... I can actually see myself using this thing as a media center? What??! I know! In reality I already have a bunch of machines running desktop Linux so using this thing for a purpose vaguely related to how it was originally intend will actually fill a niche in my setup.

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Last edited by xjas on 2018-02-21, 04:59. Edited 1 time in total.

twitch.tv/oldskooljay - playing the obscure, forgotten & weird - most Tuesdays & Thursdays @ 6:30 PM PDT. Bonus streams elsewhen!

Reply 4 of 10, by xjas

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Anyway, hope you had fun reading, and if you have one of these & are trying to mess around with it, I hope this helps you out somewhat. It literally took me dozens of hours and hundreds of browser tabs of the most boring shit imaginable to suss all this out.

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I did download copies of everything I could find that looked useful, so even if all this falls off the internet in a couple years, I can figure out a way to make it available again. Fortunately OSMC works great, and is still supported and upd... uh oh. Well, shit. Er, it's still there for now.

ANYWAY, so I've done Linux on a PowerMac G5. I've done OS/X on a Thinkpad. I've done DOS on a Mac Mini. And I've done Linux on an AppleTV. What's next?

I tried to restore it... I tried to sell it... I tried to trade it... None of that 'took'... it's time to tackle THE G4 CUBE.

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(dramatic musical stab)

Last edited by xjas on 2018-02-21, 05:05. Edited 1 time in total.

twitch.tv/oldskooljay - playing the obscure, forgotten & weird - most Tuesdays & Thursdays @ 6:30 PM PDT. Bonus streams elsewhen!

Reply 5 of 10, by Dominus

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Great write up! Thanks

Windows 3.1x guide for DOSBox
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Reply 6 of 10, by retrojim

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Apologies all - Old thread rebirth.

XJAS - I can't PM you, not enough posts, so hopefully you pick this reply to your thread up...

Many years ago I put OSX Tiger on an ATV1. I'm no longer as geeky as I once was and I can't remember the entire process, but I did keep that ATV and I've just dug it out and it still booting into OSX fine. Also I think I also have saved some of the install files you were struggling to find on my server too. I realise 2 years have past since you wrote this, but maybe, with the working example & files I have we might be able to scratch enough together to revive the procedure from the brink of internet extinction?

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JLT

Reply 7 of 10, by xjas

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No worries, thanks for chiming in! My ATV is put away right now, but I'm still interested in making this work available for future users of the hardware. I downloaded & saved a LOT of stuff during this project including both files & screenshots/pdfs of websites and documentation. If you're interested in setting up some kind of a repo I'd happily contribute (although since I started so late in the game, most of what I have is probably from the Wayback Machine.)

A while ago I looked into what it would take to get Win98 or XP to run on one of these, as the hardware config would make a neat little retro game box if you could get it to work. You'd have to dig up one of the pre-Bootcamp EFI-BIOS shims developed by the early Hackintosh community, but I have no idea if any of those ever got to a useable state and they largely seem to have fallen off the internet. That'd be another project worthy of some archaeology, IMHO.

twitch.tv/oldskooljay - playing the obscure, forgotten & weird - most Tuesdays & Thursdays @ 6:30 PM PDT. Bonus streams elsewhen!

Reply 8 of 10, by Solplay

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That was 'XPOnMac' and it only worked for Windows XP SP2 and SP3. Anything older than that is a crapshoot, as you're likely to run into issues with the xomdd.sys driver. Windows 2000 SP4 might work however, seeing as it is somewhat similar to XP.

It did, I've tried it on my A1212 MacBook Pro 17.

Reply 9 of 10, by Bruninho

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@xjas: have you checked the MacRumours forums? There are sections for early intel Macs, Older OSX... maybe you had better luck searching there.

I was interested in a such project some years ago - where I would try running any linux distro similar to macOS (such as elementaryOS) or an old version of OSX Server or any Windows Server version (for stuff like security cameras @ home).

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Reply 10 of 10, by Soli

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Hi guys.

I came over this thread by accident. Check out Kinos2, my Kodi/Retroarch release for the Apple TV1. It makes a great retro machine. It's basically plug 'n' play since I did all the hard work 😀
https://forum.kodi.tv/showthread.php?tid=363320