How to revive an old Mac with Linux

Quick guide on how to install Linux alongside MacOS on your old Mac, and make it more useful.

You’ll need:

  • 1 modern Linux distro
  • 1 USB key (2GB at least)
  • 1 free software (Refind)
  • 1 Macintosh

Prepare your Linux distro

1. Get an ISO

We’ll use the last LinuxMint 16.04 distro, in the Mate desktop flavour: one of the most reliable Ubuntu-based distro today. Higly polished and equipped with the necessary drivers so your Mac will be up and running from the start.

Download the distribution ISO on your Mac.

2. Burn the ISO on USB

You may do it the easy way by installing and using UNetbootin, or the fun right way by using a few command lines: just follow the steps. A modern Linux distro is around 1.5 GB, keep that in mind when chosing your USB key.

Prepare your Mac

We won’t erase the MacOS partition of your Mac, there’s no point in that. We’ll dual-boot Linux in addition to MacOS so you can choose what to run when starting up the computer.

1. Shrink the Mac partition

Dual-booting implies to get some free space for the new system coming alongside MacOS.

Run the Disc Utility tool on your Mac, select the hard drive, go to the “Partition” tab and shrink the MacOS partition to create free space for Linux: between 50 and 100 GB will do for a standard installation.

mac
Partitions display – once Linux is installed

2. Install a boot manager

You’ll need a boot manager in order to choose which system to launch at startup: install rEFIt or  rEFInd (a forked alternative for newer computers) to get an option screen at startup. I’ve always used rEFIt on my 4,1 Macbook..

Once rEFIt is installed, reboot your Mac twice.

Install Linux

  • Backup your documents (any wrong move and the disk will be wiped out), and shut down the computer
  • Plug the Linux USB key
  • While pressing the
    alt
    key, start the computer
  • A boot menu appears: select the USB device
  • The Linux boot menu appears: select the first line “Start Linux Mint Mate 64-bit”

A few seconds later, the Mint desktop welcomes you.

mint01
Linux Mint Mate default desktop

Connect the computer through an Ethernet cable to simplify drivers installation during the process. If your forget this step or can’t get any Ethernet connection, use a smartphone with USB tethering / cable connection to install the Wifi drivers.

Execute the Install Linux Mint program and follow the steps. When asked for the installation type do not choose “Install alongside MacOX”, it will mess the computer boot sequence. Choose the last option : “Something else” and use the free space to create 2 new partitions :

  • A swap area of 4GB
  • A unique system partition (mount point /) that uses every space left
mint03
The 2 partitions needed (the screenshot doesn’t display the MacOX partition)

Press next and complete your personnal information. When the installation process is over, eject the USB key and shut down the computer.

Boot into a new system

Each time you start you computer and want to choose between Linux and Mac, press the option (⌘) key while booting.

Complete your installation with drivers, softwares, drivers, customizations etc.

05
Mint-Y and Aqua theme with Plank dock

Mpbfan

The Mbpfan program controls the fans speed more accurately. Follow the guide provided by its author to install it on any Ubuntu base distro.

Make sure the required modules are launched at startup:

sudo nano /etc/modules
applesmc
coretemp

Get your fans min and max values:

cd /sys/devices/platform/applesmc.768/
cat fan*_min
cat fan*_max

Install dependencies:

sudo apt-get install build-essential

Download the source, unzip the archive, get inside the folder. Then:

make
sudo make install
sudo make tests

Open the configuration file using a text editor (like Gedit) with root access.

sudo gedit /etc/mbpfan.conf

Replace the first two values with the ones you detected:

min_fan_speed = 1800    # default is 2000
max_fan_speed = 6200    # default is 6200
low_temp = 63           # try ranges 55-63, default is 63
high_temp = 66          # try ranges 58-66, default is 66
max_temp = 90           # do not set it > 90, default is 86
polling_interval = 7    # default is 7

Start the service and reboot:

cp mbpfan.service /etc/systemd/system/
sudo systemctl enable mbpfan.service
sudo reboot
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