XFE Mint Linux on a MacBook 2008

So on Easter Sunday I was playing around with an old MacBook from 2008 (5,1) that was running MacOSX El Capitan. I was disappointed that it was no longer supported by Apple. Part of this comes from my hoarding nature and part because I’ve always struggled to discard/bin hardware that works just because it is old. As a Cyber Essentials Plus certified company (as well as a certification body) we have to maintain current and supported software across all our IT; its good security practice and our security staff aggressively remove old equipment from operational use.

The specification of the system was

  • a soft key good travel comfortable keyboard
  • an RJ45 socket for Ethernet (no dongle required)2 USB ports (USB2 but I don’t use a lot of external USB storage; this is not a forensics system (any more)
  • 8GB DDR3 RAM – Officially Apple only supported 4GB, but 8GB was possible See here for details and specs of the system I was using)
  • Intel Core Duo 2.4 Ghz

I’d love to say the install was hard but it wasn’t. The most difficult part was finding a DVD to burn the ISO from https://linuxmint.com/download.php Yes I could have used a USB but a, I was too lazy to do the USB burn and the Mac had disk burning software installed (it’s no longer native to MAC OSX well because apple execs didn’t want you to keep that functionality).

So I burned and booted the ISO on the MacBook and in live mode I liked what I saw. The built-in wireless card was not recognised, but I used one of the 10 or so USB ones I carry about for the SANS SEC504 Wireless Lab. (This is the one I used on amazon.co.uk). That let me connect to the internet to do updates after the initial post install boot – which took about 10 mins to complete.

The initial boot Welcome page encourages you to update…

The Driver Manager update brought the onboard WiFi back into play. The nVidia drivers are good to use too

One quick restart and things looked good – door-to-door about 45 mins for the entire process. I was impressed that things like the touchpad, one of the best features of the older Apple devices, was supported in multi-touch mode so I’m all set really. As I don’t like to carry a mouse, I set two finger taps to call up the right click/alt click menu.

Then I noticed that while the screen brightness buttons on the keyboard worked – the screen brightness pop-up dialogue box appeared and a slider moved up and down the brightness didn’t actually change. Some quick googling got me to this page: https://forums.linuxmint.com/viewtopic.php?f=49&t=136574

This gave me the pointer to add the following to the /etc/x11 folder

$ sudo gedit /etc/X11/xorg.conf

Note the file maybe blank if it doesn’t exist (mine didn’t), then just cut and paste the contents below.

Section "Device"
Identifier "NVIDIA GeForce"
Driver "nvidia"
Option "NoLogo" "True"
Option "RegistryDwords" "EnableBrightnessControl=1"

Once done a simple reboot and all was good; the brightness was now adjustable from the keyboard buttons.

That was it, rather simple and stress free really. I’m mainly using web based services, like writing this article, but the local install of Libra Office does 99% of what I need.

I get about 3.5-4 hours battery life and while that’s not super long, this is only the 2nd battery the device has had. Some people asked me about temperature of the laptop and fan control. I didn’t find any problems, but to check I installed lm-sensors and configured it.

$  sudo apt-get install lm-sensors

Once lm-sensors was installed I ran the command below and followed the on screen steps and guidance.

$  sudo sensors-detect

Then, to check the temperature of the laptop or the fan speed I ran the sensors command or linked it to one of my favourite commands watch.

$  sensors
$ watch -d sensors

Every 2.0s: sensors grandpa: Sat May 4 15:21:29 2019
Adapter: ISA adapter
Exhaust : 3312 RPM (min = 2000 RPM, max = 6200 RPM)
TB0T: +36.5°C
TB1T: +26.8°C
TB2T: +26.0°C
TB3T: -128.0°C
TC0D: +60.8°C
TC0P: +55.0°C
TN0D: +59.5°C
TN0P: +51.2°C
TTF0: +56.2°C
Th0H: +58.8°C
Th1H: +53.2°C
ThFH: +55.0°C
Ts0P: +35.5°C
Ts0S: +44.5°C
Adapter: ISA adapter
Core 0: +52.0°C (high = +105.0°C, crit = +105.0°C)
Core 1: +56.0°C (high = +105.0°C, crit = +105.0°C)
Adapter: Virtual device
temp1: +36.9°C

I hope this was useful for someone.

If you do get Linux on your old Mac please tweet me (@nebulator)