Running Arch Linux on Macbook Pro late 2013 (13 inch)
Wednesday, Aug 17, 2016
All My Macs are now on Linux
Two weeks ago I reinstalled my iMac late 2013 and put Arch Linux on it. It’s been running quite nicely and after a while I decided to reinstall my Macbook Pro. I did it, and after using it for two weeks I think it’s more than just “usable”.
Now all my Macs are running Linux, and more precisely, Arch Linux.
I now have:
- iMac late 2013 running Arch Linux, Gnome desktop, ZFS, Full disk encryption
- Macbook Pro late 2013 running Arch Linux, Gnome desktop, xfs, Full disk encryption
- Macmini (bought late 2013, not sure about the model) running Arch Linux, no desktop, xfs, Full disk encryption
They are all running quite nicely!
Installation on Macbook Pro
I would recommend you read my previous article about the iMac, as they are pretty much the same process. I did not choose to run ZFS on this Macbook because I have only 8GB of RAM here, and I just don’t feel like it’s able to handle ZFS that well.
There were two things that made me quite uncomfortable during the installation process:
- You better to have a USB to Ethernet adapter, or Thunderbolt to Ethernet adapter when you boot up the installation disk, otherwise it’s likely that your Wifi will not work. I used the Apple Thunderbolt adapter, which works out of the box with no configuration required.
- If you have a Retina display, it will screw you up slightly. I think the problem is that the resolution is so high and the Arch Linux console can only show the top left section, meaning on the far right side and bottom you will have some text always beyond the border of the screen that you can’t see. This will stay even after everything is working, so as long as you are in a console environment, some text will be beyond the border. Desktop environments seem to be okay.
A lot of things need to be done after the installation, but most of the things work out of the box. Few things that I can confirm it works that people may worry (I am in Gnome so it may be different for you if you are not):
- Screen brightness: works just fine, keyboard function key works
- Keyboard backlight: works just fine, use the keyboard function key
- Media playback/volume: works just fine
- Suspending: works just fine, when you close the lid the computer goes to sleep, no battery consumption
- Battery: around 6 hours normal usage, not as efficient as macOS but that may be because my machine is 2 years old already
Few things that do need some configuration/tweaking
- Wifi and Bluetooth: you do need to install a few packages from AUR to get the Broadcom chip working, check the Arch Linux wiki for the packages
- Screen resolution / HiDPI: this is a tricky one. If you go full Retina resolution Gnome will automatically recognise it and give you 2X scale, but that gives you something similar to 1280x800 resolution, which is too inefficient for me. There is no easy way to do 1.5 scale, which is mentioned on the Arch Linux wiki. I decided to run on 1920x1200 resolution, works fine for me and I can’t seem to see anything looks blurry.
- Fan: you need to install a package mbpfan to get it working better, otherwise the fan will just stay at minimum
There are maybe other things I never paid attention like TRIM on SSD, and also the speaker/headphone creates trouble for me all the time. However, as a programmer I am happy because I can get my work done so much faster and more efficient. When the speaker doesn’t work, it’s time for my phone to play YouTube. Camera doesn’t work out of the box either, I think there are drivers available, but I haven’t tried as I don’t have the need for the camera. Again, I have a phone!
I think I’ll keep tweaking them, and because Arch Linxu is rolling I have to constantly make decisions about what I should do and what I shouldn’t. For example Arch has been asking me to install Linux 4.7.1 for a while, but because ZFS on Linux requires 4.6.x, I can’t do the upgrade, so my Nvidia driver cannot get update either. They are not big problems for me, but you do need to pay attention to what you are doing all the time, otherwise you may risk not able to boot after a full system upgrade.
When I say risk it’s not really a lot, the worst case would just be a ZFS rollback.
May next challenge is to look into running them on FreeBSD. What’s the main reason? I think it’s for ZFS, and also the BSD philosophy. I don’t thinks this would be easy, but it will definitely be fun. Also there’s not much to worry about, as I can send my ZFS pool to another computer, try FreeBSD, and if it doesn’t work, ZFS receive…
Finally, I think I am going back to ThinkPad X series, or Dell XPS 13!