Asahi Linux On The Apple M1: "Usable As A Basic Linux Desktop" Sans GPU Acceleration
Written by Michael Larabel in Apple on 5 October 2021 at 07:22 PM EDT. 102 Comments
APPLE --
The Asahi Linux project that has been working nearly the past year on bringing up Apple M1 support under Linux has issued their September 2021 porting and reverse engineering report.

With the progress made over the past month, "Asahi Linux is usable as a basic Linux desktop (without GPU acceleration)!"

There are many new Apple M1 driver submissions under review for mainline inclusion on Linux, including around pinctrl, I2C driver, ASC mailbox, IOMMU 4K handling, and device power management. CPU core frequency scaling support meanwhile is currently undergoing a clean-up before being posted as a "request for comments" series. There is also development work happening on the RTKit layer, NVMe + SART, and DCP code.

Bringing up the Apple M1 graphics with a kernel DRM driver and the necessary OpenGL/Vulkan Mesa driver code remains the big elephant in the room but progress continues to be made there too.

Asahi Linux developers are also optimistic for the moment that much of their driver work will carry forward to future Apple Silicon iterations, "However, Apple is unique in putting emphasis in keeping hardware interfaces compatible across SoC generations – the UART hardware in the M1 dates back to the original iPhone! This means we are in a unique position to be able to try writing drivers that will not only work for the M1, but may work –unchanged– on future chips as well. This is a very exciting opportunity in the ARM64 world. We won’t know until Apple releases the M1X/M2, but if we succeed in making enough drivers forwards-compatible to boot Linux on newer chips, that will make things like booting older distro installers possible on newer hardware. That is something people take for granted on x86, but it’s usually impossible in the embedded world – and we hope we can change that on these machines."

As for the current desktop usability state, "With these drivers, M1 Macs are actually usable as desktop Linux machines! While there is no GPU acceleration yet, the M1’s CPUs are so powerful that a software-rendered desktop is actually faster on them than on e.g. Rockchip ARM64 machines with hardware acceleration."

The project plans to start providing an official Linux installer for Linux on the Apple M1 hardware once the driver work settles. More details on the latest progress at AsahiLinux.org.
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Michael Larabel is the principal author of Phoronix.com and founded the site in 2004 with a focus on enriching the Linux hardware experience. Michael has written more than 20,000 articles covering the state of Linux hardware support, Linux performance, graphics drivers, and other topics. Michael is also the lead developer of the Phoronix Test Suite, Phoromatic, and OpenBenchmarking.org automated benchmarking software. He can be followed via Twitter or contacted via MichaelLarabel.com.

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