Is it possible to install Linux on an Apple Silicon Mac M1?

Is it possible to install Linux on an Apple Silicon Mac M1?

Not everyone buys a Mac exclusively for the purpose of running macOS. The bad news is that native Linux support on Apple Silicon is not yet possible as of November 2021. However, progress is being done, so let’s take a look at the current state of the Linux on Apple Silicon tale.

An Uphill Battle for Linux on Apple’s Silicon

Prior to November 2020, Apple’s Mac computers all used 64-bit x86 Intel processors. Most commercially available Windows and Linux PCs have the same architecture as these. Boot Camp, which allowed dual-booting of macOS and Windows, and native support for x86 Linux distributions were among the advantages.

Apple, on the other hand, opted to go all-in on a new sort of architecture in the later half of 2020, similar to the one used in its smartphones, tablets, watches, and smart speakers. The results were clear: the M1 chip, which debuted in the MacBook Air, Macbook Pro, and Mac mini, outperformed previous-generation Intel Macs in both benchmarks and real-world performance.
Apple Silicon is built on a completely distinct design. It’s built on ARM, which has a different instruction set than x86, therefore software written for x86 won’t run on it natively. Apple resurrected the Rosetta transpiler for native Mac software, which translates and builds x86 apps for the new architecture.

Apple made the switch for a variety of reasons, including increased performance and a lower power-to-watt ratio. They also lost the ability to run commercially available x86 operating systems in the process. Because Apple Silicon is based on the ARM architecture, it borrows substantially from it, but the software has be tailored particularly for it.

These distinctions, in classic Apple form, are secret and closely guarded. Many of the innovations Apple has managed to cram into its latest Mac models are based on them, but this poses a problem for Linux support. There are existing Linux distributions for “real” ARM-based chips, but Apple Silicon is a unique beast that necessitates a fresh approach.

Apple Silicon Isn’t a Mac-Only Device

The good news is that unsigned kernels are not prevented from starting on Apple silicon. The kernel is the most important part of every operating system. It’s always running in the background, regulating how hardware and software interact with one another. Kernels that are not signed by Apple are known as unsigned kernels.
This indicates Apple has chosen not to bind the hardware to a particular sort of software. The bootloader, which runs before the kernel, can load unsigned kernels, which came as a pleasant surprise to many when the M1 chip first appeared.

This is in stark contrast to Apple’s tight control over its devices and tablets. Unsigned kernels aren’t allowed to execute on the iPhone and iPad, and Apple could have done the same on the Mac. They could still do so in future iterations or firmware updates.

Apple Silicon is “open” in the sense that anyone can port a custom kernel to it. Unlike iOS and iPadOS, defeating Apple’s walled garden does not necessitate a “jailbreak.” If no code from Apple’s software is used, the operating system

Of course, this does not imply that Apple is assisting with the porting of Linux to the platform. So far, the corporation has shown no resistance, which explains why efforts to enable Linux to run on the new platform are going well.
Apple Silicon is supported by the Linux kernel.

The official Linux kernel introduced support for Apple’s M1 chip in June 2021. This enables the kernel to run natively on the processor that powers the MacBook Air, Mac mini, and iMac in 2020 and 2021.

Getting the kernel to run was a critical first step, but many more drivers are required to handle the many controllers and processors that power Apple Silicon devices. All parts of typical functionality are controlled by these, including USB support, audio, power management, and the ability to control CPU scaling, among others.

The journey from basic kernel support to a fully functional desktop environment is long, but because to the efforts of a few determined and experienced programmers, Linux on Apple Silicon is quickly approaching reality.

Take a look at the Asahi Linux Project.

The Asahi Linux Project is a group of people working together to introduce Linux to Apple’s new desktop platform. The project hit a significant milestone in September 2021. Apple laptops with the M1 processor may now run Linux on their desktops. The announcement was made on the Asahi Linux blog in a blog post.

The work done thus far is detailed in the blog post, which shows that various essential and low-level drivers have been merged into Linux kernel 5.16. While no GPU support has yet been enabled, “the M1’s CPUs are so strong that a software-rendered desktop is actually faster on them” than equivalent 64-bit ARM processors, according to the post.

Only an alpha installer is available right now, and it’s intended firmly at developers. The Asahi Linux Project intends to produce an Arch Linux ARM version for anyone to try in the future. The first target is Apple’s M1 processor, but the Asahi Linux Project states that “we are in a unique position to be able to test building drivers that will not only work for the M1, but may also work for other Apple chips.”

This could be wonderful news for MacBook Pro customers with the enhanced M1 Pro and M1 Max chips, but in any case, the Asahi Linux Project appears to be determined to getting Linux to as many Apple Silicon devices as possible.

Apple M1 Pro and M1 Max Apple M1 Pro and M1 Max Apple M1 Pro and M1 Max Apple
Keep in mind that this project is led by a group of exceptionally talented and dedicated volunteers who are working on a passion project. If you’re interested, you can donate to the Asahi Linux Project or contribute your time directly to the project if you’re so inclined.

Today, use virtualization to run Linux.

Even if you can’t run Linux natively, you can use a virtual machine to do so (VM). UTM is a free and paid (Mac Program Store) app that lets you imitate a huge number of different processor architectures.

This comprises ARM64 processors running at near-native speeds and x86-64 processors running at substantially slower speeds. For the best performance, stick to ARM64 versions; for more information, see our guide to running Linux on Apple Silicon in a Virtual Machine.

Consider purchasing a laptop that already has excellent Linux support.


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