Apple M1 Performance On Linux: Benchmarks Better Than Expected For Its Alpha State

Written by Michael Larabel in Processors on 23 March 2022 at 01:00 PM EDT. Page 1 of 7. 50 Comments.

Last Friday the crew at Asahi Linux led by Hector Martin released the first alpha release for running Linux on Apple Silicon hardware. I eagerly loaded up Asahi Linux on an M1-powered Apple Mac Mini knowing the various early limitations of the Linux kernel support that is still settling. Overall the Apple M1 Linux performance ended up exceeding my expectations for the performance in its early alpha state. Here are some benchmarks.

Linux running bare metal on an Apple M1 Mac Mini!

The Asahi Linux alpha release allows those with Apple M1 hardware (except for the recent Mac Studio support still being worked on) to run an Arch Linux based distribution on the hardware natviely. The Asahi Linux installer is triggered from within macOS 12.3+ via a script in the Terminal.

The Asahi Linux install script allowed for successfully setting up the Linux environment on the Mac Mini while preserving the dual boot support to macOS 12. It worked well and was almost entirely automated except for needing confirmation of actions, etc.

Not the most helpful error message for indicating not enough disk space...

One initial issue encountered was I had over-estimated the amount of free space on the Mac Mini... The Asahi Linux installer didn't provide a useful end-user message with that case over lack of storage. But when hitting the Python error and thinking through the possibilities, I realized the lack of storage space was likely the issue. Indeed after wiping away excess files, the Asahi Linux installer proceeded without issues.

The Asahi Linux install experience was quick and easy on this 2020 Mac Mini. There are various known limitations right now of Asahi Linux and the upstream Linux kernel support, such as around the speaker handling, flaky headphone jack, and other features on MacBook. Most notable though is the lack of any 3D/graphics acceleration right now for the Apple M1 GPU. That is being worked on by Alyssa and others but still will likely be some time before their OpenGL Gallium3D driver is squared away as well as mainlining of their DRM kernel driver. Plus there will be the need for a Vulkan driver too after that. So for those depending upon graphics acceleration, this is a major blocker at the moment if wanting to use Asahi Linux as your daily driver but is being worked on the community crew. LLVMpipe though with KDE Plasma did work out fairly robust on the Mac Mini.

The M1 Mac Mini used for this macOS/Linux Apple Silicon benchmarking.

Besides the lack of GPU acceleration, another notable area still being worked on is around the M1 power management and performance state handling, including not yet having any CPU boost states working. Some users have also reported their M1 MacBooks running rather warm under Asahi Linux, but that is less of a concern for the Mac Mini or with regard to battery life. In any even with the known limitations for this early alpha release, I was still rather impressed by the M1 Linux performance at this stage.

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