Apple M1 Linux performance: Better than expected benchmarks for its alpha state review


Last Friday, the Asahi Linux team led by Hector Martin released the first alpha build for running Linux on Apple Silicon hardware. I eagerly loaded Asahi Linux onto an M1-powered Apple Mac Mini, knowing the various early Linux kernel support limitations that are still setting in. Overall, the performance of Apple M1 Linux ended up exceeding my performance expectations in its initial alpha state. Here are some benchmarks.

Linux running bare metal on a Mac Mini Apple M1!

The Asahi Linux alpha release allows those with Apple M1 hardware (with the exception of recent Mac Studio support being worked on) to run an Arch Linux-based distribution on the hardware in a natural. The Asahi Linux installer is triggered from macOS 12.3+ via a script in the terminal.

The Asahi Linux installer script successfully set up the Linux environment on the Mac Mini while preserving macOS 12’s dual-boot support. It worked well and was almost fully automated except for confirmation shares, etc.

This is not the most useful error message to indicate that there is not enough disk space…

A first problem encountered was that I had overestimated the amount of free space on the Mac Mini… The Asahi Linux installer did not provide a useful message to the end user in this case due to lack of storage. But upon encountering the Python error and thinking about the possibilities, I realized that lack of storage space was probably the problem. Indeed, after deleting the excess files, the Asahi Linux installer went smoothly.

The Asahi Linux installation experience was quick and easy on this 2020 Mac Mini. There are currently various known limitations of Asahi Linux and upstream Linux kernel support, such as managing high- speakers, the flaky headphone jack, and other features on MacBook. Most notable however is the lack of 3D/graphics acceleration for the Apple M1 GPU. It’s being worked on by Alyssa and others, but it’s likely to be a while before their OpenGL Gallium3D driver gets squared as well as their DRM kernel driver integration. Additionally, a Vulkan driver will also be needed after that. So for those who depend on graphics acceleration, this is a major hurdle at the moment if you want to use Asahi Linux as your daily driver, but are working on the community team. LLVMpipe however with KDE Plasma worked quite robustly on the Mac Mini.

The M1 Mac Mini used for this macOS/Linux Apple Silicon benchmark.

Besides the lack of GPU acceleration, another notable area still being worked on is M1 power management and performance state management, including not yet having boost states. CPU working. Some users have also reported that their M1 MacBooks run rather warm on Asahi Linux, but that’s less of a concern for the Mac Mini or when it comes to battery life. Anyway, even with the known limitations of this first alpha release, I was still quite impressed with the performance of M1 Linux at this point.


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