Installing Arch on a Macbook Pro (5.5)

I recently got a 13″ Macbook Pro (5.5) and of course need to install Arch Linux on it. So here goes a log of my install experience. I am not going to cover everything, as there is already basic instructions on the Macbook page in the Arch Wiki and all over the net.

The basic specs are:

  • 2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
  • 4GB (2x2GB) 1066MHz DDR3 SDRAM
  • 500GB Serial ATA; 5400 rpm

More details as I deal with getting individual components working…

Installation: The install went fine using the latest test iso (2010.04.19-core-i686). The only “trick” was to change the partition table from GPT format (to msdos) before entering the installer. Luckily, parted is included on the install CD so this was simple. Also, install GRUB on the partition holding /boot instead of /dev/sda. There was no need to do anything with rEFIt as many guides prepared me for, but I think that is because I did not dual boot.

The final stage is to boot the OSX install CD and run:
bless --device /dev/disk0s2 --setBoot --legacy --verbose to speed up the boot time before you get to GRUB (3s vs 20s).

Video: This has a NVIDIA GeForce 9400M card, so a pacman -S nvidia and nvidia-xconfig then we are basically good to go.

Screen Brightness: There is mbp_nvidia_bl in the kernel, so you think that would work but no… Any changes made to the backlight level appear to be registered (and gnome-power-manager gives me a nice on-screen indicator that changes are being made) but the brightness stays the same. The Mactel PPA for Ubuntu contains a nvidia-bl kernel module which does the job. Grab the PKGBUILD here.

Keyboard Backlight: Using pommed is supposed to make this work and it did to an extent. The only issue was roll over from almost completely dimmed to fully on that made disabling the keyboard backlight impossible. Instead, I am just adjusting it manually using:
echo 255 > /sys/class/leds/smc::kdb_backlight/brightness(TODO: write a script using this to bind the adjustment keys to.) In OSX, this would automatically come on in low light conditions but I have no idea how to approach that.

Touchpad: This “works” out of the box, although is completely broken as far as I am concerned. I quickly found out that a major touchpad use is to click with your thumb and then use a finger to select text or move/resize a window, etc. That does not work as touching your finger after the click with the thumb is interpreted as some sort of multitouch event. A patched bcm5947 module fixes this (but is a hack and is unlikely to be included upstream…). Grab the PKGBUILD here.

Wifi: It has a Broadcom BCM4322 802.11a/b/g/m wireless card. That does not work with the b43 driver, so requires broadcom-wl driver. Grab the PKGBUILD here.

Suspend to RAM: Worked out of the box. I was only required to tell xfce4-power-manager to use it.

Webcam: Used the isight-firmware-tools package to extract the firmware from the file that I remembered to grab from OSX before wiping (or perhaps used google to find…) and restart.

Sound: Installed alsa, ran alsaconf and everything worked. Shortcut keys required setting up.

Keyboard: Ignoring the lack of Home/End/Page Up/Page Dn keys, the thing that most annoys me is that to by default the “action” functions take preference over F1-12. I use F1-12 a lot more that the action keys. So these need to be swapped (TODO: do this…)

Bluetooth: Untested. I have no real use for this at the moment…

Apple Remote: TODO

3 thoughts on “Installing Arch on a Macbook Pro (5.5)

  1. Hi Allan,

    I did the same a few months ago and wrote a blog post about it:

    The main difference is I’m using nouveau and pommed is able to adjust the screen backlight directly. Otherwise the webcam works out of the box, and I have some information on configuring the remote on my blog.

    Thanks for the touchpad and keyboard backlight tips! As for the keyboard, Fn+arrows does Home/End and page Up/Down. And you can swap the F1-12 with the action keys by looking at the ‘fnmode’ parameter in /etc/pommed.conf


  2. Allan, Thanks a bunch for the trackpad patch ! Even though I had gotten used to the lack of multitouch, it’s good to have it back – at least part of it. (btw, I have a 17″ 5.2)

  3. I’m doing a Install Log about the same Machine (MBP 5,5) in Spanish, There’s a few links to you’re PKGBUILD’s and I’ve taken the liberty of linking you’re website and uploading the PKGBUILD’s to my own site in case Armageddon smite’s down your’s.

    Cheers. Your guide did help me.