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Ubuntu 14.04 Now Runs Well On The 2013 MacBook Air, Beats OS X 10.9 In Graphics

Michael Larabel

Published on 19 March 2014
Written by Michael Larabel
Page 1 of 3 - 19 Comments

While last year I wrote how running Ubuntu is messy on the 2013 MacBook Air, when trying out Ubuntu 14.04 LTS on the Intel Haswell-based MacBook Air with HD Graphics 5000, it's a very different story. Not only is Ubuntu Linux now running on the MacBook Air without show-stopping issues, but its OpenGL performance can even beat Mac OS X 10.9.2.

Last year in trying out Ubuntu on the MacBook Air shortly after it was released, the WiFi didn't work, there were frequent graphics issues with the HD Graphics 5000 adapter, and other problems. It was a mess.

When trying out Ubuntu 14.04 LTS last week on the same hardware, the experience went much better. When booting Xubuntu 14.04 LTS off USB, the system quickly booted and the Xfce session started up straight away without running into any problems using the Haswell HD Graphics 5000. The first problem run into though was the Broadcom 802.11ac WiFi adapter not working... The problem comes down to the firmware for the BCM4360 not being present on the Ubuntu image. Fortunately, it's an easily correctable problem (both last year and now) by installing the bcmwl-kernel-source package from the Ubuntu archive. As soon as that was installed, the wireless network was working flawlessly, while until then I was using a USB wired network adapter due to the MacBook Air's lack of Ethernet. There were no other immediate issues and I was moving on to installing the Xfce version of the Ubuntu "Trusty Tahr" on this Apple hardware.

After the install and rebooting, the system continued to boot into OS X and when forcing the boot mode at start-up, the Ubuntu partition wasn't to be seen. Fortunately, that issue was easily corrected by installing rEFInd. Once this UEFI boot manager was installed, at boot time it was easy to select between booting OS X or Ubuntu Linux. When booted into (X)Ubuntu 14.04, no other pressing issues were encountered after overcoming the Broadcom BCM4360 802.11ac WiFi and Apple boot issue! This is much better than last year when kernel panics and other graphics-related problems were present, etc.

In this article I have some OpenGL gaming benchmarks to share between OS X 10.9.2 and Xubuntu 14.04. Besides testing Xubuntu 14.04 in its stock configuration of Mesa 10.1 with the Linux 3.13 kernel, I also did a second run when upgrading to the Linux 3.14 Git kernel and Mesa 10.2-devel code to see the very latest Intel Linux graphics driver for this HD Graphics 5000 GPU. For those interested in battery life and other non-graphics tests, that will come in another article now that the 2013 MacBook Air Linux issues are resolved.

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