Friday, Oct 08, 2021, 16:59 Mac: Software

Run Linux on M1 Macs – With Asahi Linux

If you want to use Windows or Linux on a notebook or desktop from Cupertino, you can install and use the operating system on an Intel Mac without any problems. The situation is different on iMac M1, Mac mini M1, MacBook Air M1, and MacBook Pro M1: On the computers with Apple's in-house ARM SoC, the alternative systems can only be run virtualized. According to Apple, this is also the only officially supported approach.

"Simple Linux desktop" for M1 Macs is ready for use
On the other hand, the project called "Asahi Linux", which was launched quite a few months ago, has set itself the goal of creating a native version of the open-source operating system for M1 Macs. However, the way there is anything but easy, because Apple does not document the hardware of the devices and consequently does not supply drivers for the numerous components that are contained in the computers. Now, according to the developers, they have reached an important milestone: they have an operational version of "Asahi Linux" for Macs with Apple Silicon. According to the project's latest progress report, this can be used as a "simple Linux desktop", although as yet without graphics acceleration.



Major progress in driver development
The attention of the developers was mainly on the driver development in the past weeks. In this respect, "Asahi Linux" made great progress. Thanks to reverse engineering, the open source operating system now supports almost all essential components of the M1 Macs, with the exception of the GPU. For example, the drivers for PCIe, the USB-C ports, the power management and the frequency control of the processor work largely without problems. Parts of the software have also already been integrated into the official Linux kernel 5.16. Sometimes the developers could use existing drivers, since individual hardware components are also used by other manufacturers. However, profound adjustments were necessary in many cases because Apple uses modified variants of the chips, for example in the USB controller. It is remarkable that Apple uses some "old acquaintances" in the M1 Macs. The chip for the I²C bus, for example, is a component that was already used in the AmigaOne X1000 in 2010.

Setup process requires good Linux knowledge
Those who want to try "Asahi Linux" have to be prepared for a relatively complicated setup process and have good Linux knowledge. An installation routine that is easy to use for everyone is not yet available. The creators of the project want to make this available when they consider the kernel they have adapted to be mature. However, the most important task in the coming weeks is the development of the GPU driver to provide the operating system with a powerful graphics acceleration.

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