Booting a vintage iBook G4 from a USB flash drive

I love vintage macs, especially the PPC era macs like the iBook G4, and the Powerbook. For many years I always thought that booting from a USB stick was impossible on these systems, but alas it is very possible and not even that hard! You just have to do things a certain way.

  1. When you’re creating the Mac image on the USB stick, it has to be done in a very specific way. You cannot use a USB 3 stick, nor even a USB 3 port! You must use a USB 2 (or 1) drive and port.
  2. You need to create the USB stick on a Mac, or with Transmac for PC. On a mac use Disk Utility and the restore disk image feature to create the USB drive. In Transmac, open it in administrator mode, then right click the drive you want to put the image on, and select ‘restore from image’. Transmac gives you a 15 day trial, which is plenty long enough to burn Leopard or whatever Mac image you plan on restoring.
  3. Put the usb drive in the iBook, then turn it on and hold down ‘apple key, option, O and F keys right after you hear the mac chime. This will get you to the open firmware screen.
  4. At the command prompt, type: boot ud:,\\:tbxi   If that doesn’t work try boot usb0/disk@1:,\\:tbxi or boot usb1/disk@1:,\\:tbxi
  5. At that stage you should see mac os installation boot starting, if none of those above commands work, you can still try all of the other troubleshooting steps at This is the blog post where I got the firmware instructions from to begin with and is probably the best documentation online.

I’m guessing this should also work on later Intel Macbooks in the 2006-2010 era, but don’t have mine anymore to test it, so I’m not 100% sure.

Good luck!

2 thoughts on “Booting a vintage iBook G4 from a USB flash drive

  1. tpouget

    Actually there is a way to find the correct identifier for the usb port, here is how :

    Insert the Fienix USB drive and power on the system.
    Immediately after the system powers up, press and hold: command + option + O + F
    -on a PC keyboard press and hold Super + Alt + O + F (Super is the Windows key)

    This will log into Open Firmware (OF), which looks like a command prompt on a white screen.
    First, enter:
    dev / ls

    This will generate a list of all the hardware on the system. Look through the list (press space to scroll) for a USB entry with a subsequent disk entry under it.
    For example:

    This is the Open Firmware Hardware ID of the USB port (usb@b,1) and the Fienix disk (disk@1). Make note of the hardware IDs.

    Next you will need to find the alias for the USB port. Enter:

    This will generate a list of aliases. Look for the USB section of the list, then find the entry that ends with the same hardware ID as the USB port. In the example, the USB port hardware ID is “usb@b,1”, so the devalias list should contain a line that ends in “b,1”, such as:
    usb3 /ht/pci@8/@b,1

    The alias in this case is “usb3”. Make note of it.


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