I recently realized it’s past time to replace my second hand Core i5 ThinkPad T470s, processor can’t seem to handle modern PackageKit, battery is toast, display and sound are just depressing. After a successful multi-decade career as a software engineer, I reasoned it’s probably ok to get some decent hardware for myself for the first time in my life.
I am very drawn to the current MacBooks, Apple silicon looks and sounds amazing. After roughly 25 years of nothing but Linux though, with literally no exposure to MacOS and a healthy dose of anti-Apple sentiment I’ve harbored for years, this was going to be a tough migration.
Initially I stuck to my guns and ordered a ThinkPad X1 Carbon with Fedora pre-installed. (which still blows my mind) I love the X1, had one from work and it was the best machine I’d ever owned. Wonderful keyboards, great Linux support, build quality, and a great form factor. But then Lenovo pushed the delivery date back several weeks and I started to weaken. The Apple store was calling. They had MacBook’s in stock, all I had to do was drive 15 minutes…
I caved and gave it a shot, picking up an M3 Pro Macbook Pro (16GB / 512TB). I lasted two days. Using it was actually not bad, I was slowly getting used to MacOS, it felt clunky but I could do everything I wanted. Then I tried to dock it over thunderbolt to my aging monitor and got an eyeful of blurry fonts. Turns out I kinda need a new monitor and this, combined with some discomfort with the cost of the Macbook Pro, pushed me over the edge and I returned it.
I came home ready to re-order the X1 Carbon, only to see a new model listed. (but for a lot more money) Just a few days ago it seems Intel released their new Meteor Lake CPUs, exepected to at least start getting them into the ballpark of Apple silicon in terms of power and efficiency. With this knowledge, there’s no way I could order a new X1 now, so it was going to be a waiting game for prices to come down and I disappointedly returned to my T470s clunker.
And then I saw this:
As it turns out, Asahi and the Fedora remix have made huge progress and the distro is highly usable already. Scanning the support list I could see the M3 system I had wouldn’t have worked yet, so I started thinking M2. I found refurbished M2 Pros for a good price with great specs, but they have the cursed touchbar and I’d rather avoid that. Then I checked M2 Air and lo and behold it was back to the Apple Store for the third time in a week. I snagged a 13" M2 Air with 16GB and 1TB for ample space for the two operating systems.
Installation was “easy”, though if you’re not a technical person there are parts that will sound pretty scary. You run a command in the MacOS terminal to execute the installer script. It asks a few questions, most notably how much space on your drive you want to assign to each OS and then churns away setting up disk partitions and downloading the OS.
You’re then given very clear instructions on how to reboot, but basically you fully shut the machine down, then press the power on button holding it down for 10 or so seconds. (this is the same process you’ll use to switch back to MacOS) This loads a nice graphical screen with Fedora and MacOS logos, just click the one you want and press continue. Asahi will be the default (by default) after this install, you can reportly change that by holding the Option key when selecting which one to boot. (haven’t tried this yet) Everything is well explained by the installer script.
After that there’s not much to it, it’s Fedora, exactly as I’ve come to know and love. Fast as hell and battery seems comparably insane (good insane) to MacOS. Suspend resume works great, the display is beautiful, trackpad and keyboard, bluetooth, for normal day to day use you’re in pretty good shape.
From what I’ve read, Asahi devs say these machines cannot really be “bricked”. The worst case scenario if the machine becomes unbootable is a full Device Firmware Update, which you’d need another MacBook for or possibly an Apple store. There was an unintentional bug in November on Apple’s side that rolled out with a MacOS update which could put systems with Asahi into this unbootable state. Communication seemed fast and very clear on the Asahi Linux sub-reddit. I’ve also seen comments indicating Apple’s EULA for AppleCare does not get voided by installing another OS, it’s easy and common for Apple to do this DFU process.
All told the process feels reasonably safe, especially for anyone familiar with installing Linux on their devices.
Now for the downsides. There is no support for external displays yet. It doesn’t sound like it’s coming anytime soon, and this comment seems to indicate it’s largely because Linux USB-C subsystem itself is in hard shape and needs a lot of work. Corporate interests don’t seem to overlap here in the general sense, and there’s not really anyone able and willing to do the work right now. This is unfortunate for me as I can’t work on a laptop for very long due to wrist and neck issues. Until then I’ll likely be using MacOS a fair bit, or propping my laptop up on a stand a connecting mouse and keyboard via Bluetooth.
Additionally related to the USB-C thing above, you cannot get USB 3 transfer speeds. I did connect a dongle to my Macbook Air that let me connect a USB drive, but it was getting USB 2 speeds. This made getting my data onto the machine a little more tricky.
There is also no support for fingerprint reader / TouchID (also doesn’t sound like it’s coming soon), and the installation does not use an encrypted disk by default. You could likely hack it up to do so, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this was implemented someday in the near future.
In case anyone is wondering, you cannot mount the MacOS partition from Linux, it’s encrypted and Asahi does not undo that. MacOS remains as secure as it was originally.
The progress the Asahi devs have made is astonishing and I’m genuinely thankful, this really helped me feel comfortable making the switch to this hardware I really wanted in my life. Flexibility to boot Linux solved all my problems, real and imagined.
A message to Apple (because I’m absolutely sure Tim Cook reads this blog), Asahi devs sold another Macbook for you. There may not be a lot of us, but there are some. Just don’t make things hard for them please. Meanwhile the EU hounding you with iOS requirements is dragging you kicking and screaming towards a point where I might actually be able to switch to iPhone.