Linux is now “usable as a base desktop” for Mac M1



After almost a year of planning to port Linux to the M1 Macs, the news looked better than worse. At the end of June, Linux Kernel was available for Macs with Apple’s proprietary processor, and now the creators of the project say Linux is now “usable as a base desktop”.

According to the September progress report, Asahi Linux is performing better than ever, although it still lacks GPU acceleration on M1 Macs as the team neared software version 5.16.

The team was able to merge some drivers such as PCIe links, PCIe drive, and USB-C PD drive. Princtrl Drive, I2C Driver, ASC Mailbox Driver, IOMMU 4K Patches, and Device Power Management are still under review.

“On typical SoCs, drivers have intimate knowledge of the underlying hardware, and they hard-code its precise layout: how many registers, how many pins, how things relate to each other, and so on. This is indeed a requirement for most SoCs, as the hardware tends to vary widely from generation to generation, so drivers always require changes to support newer hardware.

However, Apple is unique in its emphasis on hardware interface compatibility between SoC generations – the M1’s UART hardware dates back to the original iPhone! This means that we are in a unique position to be able to try to write drivers that will not only work for the M1, but could also work – unchanged – on future chips. This is a very exciting opportunity in the ARM64 world.

According to the blog post, the team will still have to wait for the launch of the M1X / M2 chips to ensure that they succeed in making enough backward compatible drivers to boot Linux on newer chips.

For now, Linux on the M1 Macs remains promising as the operating system becomes faster on these machines, thanks to the new drivers:

With these drivers, the M1 Macs are actually usable as desktop Linux machines! While there’s no GPU acceleration yet, the M1’s processors are so powerful that a software-rendered desktop is actually faster on them than on, say, Rockchip ARM64 hardware-accelerated machines.

While there are certainly a lot of rough edges and missing drivers, getting to this point allows development to be self-sustaining and developers to eat their own dog food. This is exactly what Alyssa did, using her Mac M1 running its own kernel as the daily driver.

If you want to read the full report on Linux progress on M1 Mac, click here.

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