Friday, January 29, 2016

What To Do With An Old iMac

My last post was about something that we all deal with, this one, well, it's kind of arcane.  That's the way this blog is going to be.

Our old iMac couldn't keep up anymore.  It had served us well since 2009 but now it cried out for more memory, a faster disk (time for an SSD) and perhaps a larger monitor.  As lovely as the iMac is, it's really not made to upgrade.  Yeah, I suppose we could have added more memory, but that wouldn't have addressed the other issues.  So we bought a new iMac.  It's better in every way.

What to do with the old machine?  Well, there's a huge supply of used Apple gear out there.  If I was lucky, the computer would have fetched $100 on eBay.  I really didn't want to part with that machine for that amount.

I decided to try my hand at redeploying the iMac as a linux computer.  My home network now includes two primary elements, a typical collection of home computers and a not so typical computing lab.  These days I focus on virtualization technology -- more on that later.  So while I've played with linux systems since linux first came on the scene, my linux computers were, at that juncture, all virtual machines running on VMware ESXi hosts.

I thought it might be fun to try and get linux running on the old iMac and use that glorious display to monitor network activity.  While the iMac was advertised as only accommodating 4 GB of memory (we had been using 2 GB) various web sites gave me the sense that the computer would handle 8 GB.  Those sites were correct.  (It makes me wonder if that change would have been enough to bring enough spark back to the old iMac to keep us from purchasing a new one.)

The current popular linux distributions all struggled to handle the Apple magic mouse and trackpad.  Linux bluetooth support for those two devices is spotty at best.  On the other hand, my USB wireless Logitech mouse worked right away.

Some linux distributions handled the old wired ethernet adapter in the iMac.  Some did not.  But finding the right patches for those distributions was relatively simple.  On the other hand, none of the distributions supported the wifi adapter in that particular iMac.  This is a topic that is well covered on the internet.  In the end, with more than a little struggle, I was able to tweak the two distributions I was considering, Debian and CentOS to solve that problem.

Debian proved to be unstable on my hardware while CentOS 7 has been rock solid.

With a very small investment in additional memory that old iMac has a new life and I've got a spectacular way to monitor traffic and devices on my home network.  It's nice to get a much better sense of how bandwidth is being used and where capacity is really becoming an issue.

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