Installing Arch on a MacBook Pro (8.1)

My earlier post about installing Arch Linux on a MacBook Pro 5.5 is one of the most accessed posts on my site, so I figured I should write an update for the newer model.

The basic specs of my MacBook Pro 8.1 (13″) are:

  • Intel Core i7-2620M @ 2.7 GHz
  • 8GB (2x4GB) 1333MHz DDR3 SDRAM
  • 750GB SATA @ 5400 RPM
  • Intel HD Graphics 3000
  • Broadcom BCM4331 802.11a/b/h/n

Installation: I have gone for a pure x86_64 install this time. The initial install was “fun”… So much so, that I would have probably abandoned Arch altogether if I did not have a vested interest in it. The latest official Arch Linux install CD (2011.08.19) does not even boot so I had to grab a testing iso. The install is fairly routine as far as a single OS install on a MacBook Pro goes. I followed the same strategy as my previous install and changed the partition table format and blessed the partition /boot was on for a faster boot-up. I could have tried GRUB2 with its EFI support, but I just stuck with what I knew worked. But “worked” is a funny term as the current Arch Linux installer will only allow you to install GRUB on the hard-drives MBR and not onto an individual partiation (which is required on MacBook Pros). So I did my first manual GRUB installation and everything booted fine!

Video: Just pacman -S xf86-video-intel and everything works.

Screen Brightness: Worked out of the box.

Keyboard Backlight: I recommend learning to touch type… but I read it works.

Touchpad: Sort of worked out of the box using xf86-input-synaptics-1.5.99.902 (see my previous post about what I consider “bugs” in synaptics finger distance calculations). That includes two/three finger right/middle clicks and two finger scrolling. Also, click with thumb and drag with finger no longer required a patched kernel module.

Wifi: Requires b43-firmware from the AUR.

Suspend to RAM: I set xfce4-power-manager to suspend on lid close it worked fine.

Webcam: Worked out of the box.

Sound: Use alsamixer to unmute the speakers.

Keyboard: Screen brightness keys worked fine. Needed to add shortcuts to XFCE for volume control and disc eject.

Fan: Appears fine out of the box, but I need to test it under more variety of load.

Anything else (bluetooth, thunderbolt) has not been tested because “meh”.

Overall, this install took me far less time to do compared to installing on the 5.5 model. There were no patched modules for the touchpad or screen brightness control and no compiling a proprietary module for the wireless. In fact, after the initial dramas with the installation media, everything basically just worked. I guess some of the reason for that is that the 8.1 model I am using was released some time early in 2011, so many of the issues people may have faced early on appear to have already been fixed.

6 thoughts on “Installing Arch on a MacBook Pro (8.1)

  1. Allan, thank you for the update and sorry again for bothering you about old posts. :-)
    Meanwhile everything is running here, too. But I had no issues with installing grub to the MBR at all.

    The only thing not working yet is the german mac keyboard layout. I use a custom .Xmodmap now to get german Umlauts and other special characters by pressing caps-lock+key. Works fine.

  2. It’s a pitty I still can not use Arch in my 27″ Imac just due to the screen brightness (even in the darkest level it’s better to have sun glasses ;-)). Why I had to buy just the only non-compatible version of IMac out there?

    Thanks for the updated info, anyway! :-)

  3. You’re right about issues getting better over time — having installed Arch on an MBP 8,2 almost a year ago, I envy your smooth experience. b43 did not support the wireless chipset at the time and synaptics’ handling of the single-surface trackpad was a cruel joke.

  4. I’ve installed my Arch for a year, broadcom chipset became full functionnal with kernel 3.3 (with B43-firmware), before, i have to use compat-wireless (from AUR too). For the touchpas, i use xf86-input-mtrack-git (AUR again)

    Thanxx Alan to share your experience.

    @Arvid : in /etc/X11/xorg.conf.d/10-evdev.conf if got this for my keyboard (a french macbook keyboard)

    Section “InputClass”
    Identifier “evdev keyboard catchall”
    MatchIsKeyboard “on”
    MatchDevicePath “/dev/input/event*”
    Driver “evdev”
    Option “XkbModel” “macbook79″
    Option “XkbLayout” “fr”
    EndSection

    I’ve changed the “XkbModel” and “XkbLayout” to have a full functionnal keyboard. Maybe you can change the “XkbLayout” to “de”