Lightweight linux distro for MBA 2015?

Discussion in 'MacBook Air' started by Payload, Jun 24, 2017.

  1. Payload macrumors newbie

    Payload

    Joined:
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    Beijing
    #1
    Hello all,
    Which Linux distro would you recommend for a Macbook Air 2015 with 8 GB of RAM?
    I am considering the following factors:
    - Decent battery life
    - Low RAM usage (because I'm going to do resources-intensive work with a game engine)
    - Hardware compatibility (keyboard/screen backlight, sleep/suspend, and don't worry about the wifi- cards stuff for now)
    - Generally Secure & stable (doesn't have to be extreme secure like Tails or Qubes)
    - *Generally* easy installation process (not like installing Arch Linux)

    So far, I tried out these distros:
    - Arch: had loads of problems with partitioning, network interface, and configuring the bootloader
    - Ubuntu: wifi-card worked but have trouble with suspend and wifi-connection. Drains the battery fast (4 hours)
    - Debian 8: won't even show up in the apple's boot manager (option-key). I guess it doesn't support EFI?
    - Debian 9: boots, but there is a CD-ROM error and debootstrap error which means I can't even install it
    - Mint: In my opinion, this is the best one so far, but I had a lot of problems with the screen backlight and it drains the battery even faster than Ubuntu.

    Any suggestions would be appreciated! Thank you!
     
  2. MultiFinder17 macrumors 68000

    MultiFinder17

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    #2
    Is running your favorite distro in a VM an option?
     
  3. sracer macrumors 603

    sracer

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    #3
    Elementary OS would look great on that Macbook Air.
     
  4. Osty, Jun 25, 2017
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2017

    Osty macrumors 6502a

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    #4
    Ubuntu Mate is my go-to lightweight (boots with 400MB of ram utilised) but fully functional Linux distro. Add the GTK and Circle Icons from Numix and you have a great looking, stable and very functional system.

    Avoid the following environments:

    * GNOME -- too ram heavy and gimped by design unless you add a tonne of extensions
    * KDE -- too ram heavy, too much configuration, unstable sound system
    * Unity 7 -- It's EOL, the next version of Ubuntu is moving to GNOME

    Elementary is a good choice if you like design, however I find that only the core apps looks good and as soon as you start loading up others they look jarring. Also, I find it quite opinionated - for example I never figured out how to move the dock to the left like I prefer.
     
  5. Payload thread starter macrumors newbie

    Payload

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    #5
    I would say no because I am getting tired of OS X and want to dual-boot a nice Linux system for me to work in. :D

    I'll take a look at Ubuntu MATE and see if it works well. How long can the battery last before having to re-charge again when running MATE?
     
  6. Osty macrumors 6502a

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    #6
    It won't be as much as macOS but depending on the state of your battery, your usage habits and packages installed I reckon 6 hours give or take.
     
  7. Fancuku macrumors 6502a

    Fancuku

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    #7
    Battery life in Linux will suck no matter what distro you use. Been there, dine that.

    Mint XFCE is supposed to be light but I never liked its GUI. Always preferred Cinnamon.
     
  8. Payload thread starter macrumors newbie

    Payload

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    #8
    Ubuntu MATE lasted around 24 hours and I just said "*** it" and went back to Mac.
    Pro Side:
    - fast install, good support for firmware (wifi, screen light, keyboard light, etc)
    - nice looking user interface

    Con Side:
    - Have the exact same problem as the official Ubuntu release: about 12 hours after the install, system problem reports will just pop up like crazy every half a minute and the wifi will not connect anymore, no matter what I do (restart the router, restart network-manager, restart dhcpcd, restart computer, ip link, etc.)
    - Cannot wake from suspend! I configured it to suspend the computer when the lid is shut, but when I open the lid again no matter what I do the computer just doesn't wake again. I have to shut it down by holding down the power button and restart it.
    - The fan doesn't seem to be working as well, because during the installation my computer gets very hot, but I can't even hear the slightest noise coming from the fan. The fan worked properly under Mac (e.g. when I play Borderlands), but it dosen't under MATE.
     
  9. Osty macrumors 6502a

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    #9

    * Are you using the broadcom proprietary drivers?
    * Yes, that's a problem
    * Install macfanltd package

    Honestly though, I gave up battling Linux last year after two years of trying to make it work. I still use it in my day job, but when I use it at home I do so on an old PC and a Raspberry Pi
     
  10. Payload thread starter macrumors newbie

    Payload

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    #10
    Yes I am using a broadcom wifi card, but the MATE installer automatically loaded the brcmwl-kernel-sources (is that the correct name?) firmware by it self, and I had no problem connecting to wifi the night I installed it. But the next morning, I booted into MATE and all the "system problem detected" message just started to pop up on my screen.
    Does this have anything to do with dual-booting OS X with MATE? Is it possible that the Mac system interfered with the wifi card and caused error when MATE is booted? I had this idea because this problem didn't occur when I restarted my laptop and booted directly into MATE without touching OS X, but before I sleep I booted into Mac to do some work, and the next morning, this happened.
     
  11. Osty macrumors 6502a

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    #11
    @Payload best place for tech support for specific issues will be the Ubuntu Mate team and community. You'll find them over on G+ or https://ubuntu-mate.community/

    Last time I ran Linux on a Mac was on a 2011 Mac mini. I use Ubuntu Mate daily, but on my work laptop (Lenovo X260)
     
  12. Payload thread starter macrumors newbie

    Payload

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    #12
    Thanks for the link Osty!
    Anybody got any other distros they would like to show?
     
  13. WhiteKnightMac macrumors newbie

    WhiteKnightMac

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    #13
    I personally use the new KDE neon distro, it's not too RAM heavy and looks fantastic.

    Elementary OS is as close to the Mac environment that you are likely to get if you are looking for a clone.

    The lowest RAM heavy OS that I can think of is Lubuntu, not the most elegant of OS's but will get the job done for the minimalist amount of RAM and system resources.
     
  14. KawaiiAurora macrumors 6502

    KawaiiAurora

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    #14
    The joys with Linux are that you have to fix stuff yourself.

    Make sure that the CPU is switching between P states properly so that the battery time doesn't evaporate into thin air.
     
  15. dogslobber macrumors 68020

    dogslobber

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    #15
    Have you tried Windows 10 with bash shell installed? You get all the power of Linux running under Microsoft's care.
     
  16. Lotta Lumina macrumors newbie

    Lotta Lumina

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    #16
    Unfortunately Linux distributions generally have worse battery life, you'll find that across the board anywhere in computing/laptops, and Macs generally have extremely good battery life when running MacOS because they are so well-optimised. I think there may be ways to improve the battery life through terminal commands in Linux, but it will never reach the same result as MacOS.

    If you want a lightweight distro, look for something that will work with XFCE, which is less lightweight than LXDE but (in my opinion) looks a lot better and works extremely well. I found it extremely easy to get used to, while using Xubuntu, however you mentioned you tried that and it had a few problems (which may be fixable with some tweaking if you ask at the Ubuntu Forums or somewhere like that...) that I also experienced when using it on a MacBook Air.
     
  17. Isamilis macrumors 6502

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    #17
    OP, just curious, what makes you feel more comfortable in Linux than OSX. OSX is UNIX anyway and you can install tools that you have in Linux and run it without problem. IMO, OS X offers best of productivity like in Windows and stability like in UNIX.
     
  18. Osty macrumors 6502a

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    #18
    I second this as some that spent two long years trying to shift away from macOS to Linux. I gave away my Mac went all in an Android. I bought PC hardware and effed around with every major distro worth mentioning. I drank the FOSS coolaid and watched all the Richard Stallman and Jupiter Broadcasting videos I could find.

    I kept waiting for desktop Linux and Android to get better in material and productive ways that I care about.

    It never happened.

    I was so miserable that my wife bought me a new Mac for my birthday and gave me her old iPhone. I've not looked back since. For the reasons @Isamilis highlighted the Mac is the ultimate productivity tool. UNIX underpinnings. Bash and Python preinstalled. A great package manager (Brew) that's easy to install and is better than APT. Plus you have a wealth of GUI apps from major and minor vendors that are vastly superior to the unpolished FOSS turds written in Electron, GTK or QT.

    All that in a hardware package that's beautiful, reliable and from a company that offers good, physical retail coverage and warranties in my country.

    Never again. I'll go all iOS or even Windows before I touch Desktop Linux again. Leave Linux on the server or cheap embedded devices where it belongs.
     
  19. Fancuku macrumors 6502a

    Fancuku

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    #19
    [​IMG]
     
  20. Bart Kela, Jul 12, 2017
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2017

    Bart Kela macrumors 6502a

    Bart Kela

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    #20
    Here were my desktop Linux pet peeves when I ran it on dual boot Linux-Windows desktop boxes:
    • Crappy device drivers (that would include today's notebook power management features as others have mentioned)
    • Resource pig
    • Appallingly bad or simply non-existent end user documentation
    • Excessive system administration load (and generally speaking, zero technical support)
    • Ugly and/or poorly implemented user interface
    I did the dual-boot thing for about five years, then finally gave up and switched to an Apple notebook running OS X. Instantly, my system administration load was cut by, oh, let's say 97%.

    The year I gave up desktop Linux and switched to OS X? 2002. I kicked Linux back to the curb fifteen years ago.

    That's right, desktop Linux has under-delivered for over twenty years.

    If you are truly keen to subject yourself to this pain, I like the suggestion of running Linux in a VM. That way, when you get fed up with it, you can simply drag it into the trash and wipe your hands clean. Also, this gives you the option of making easy copies of the VM, just in case you do something that blows up your Linux configuration. Because it will happen. Easier to just copy back over the archived "previously good" VM from some other drive rather than rebuilding the Linux installation from scratch.

    We didn't have freebie VMs like VirtualBox back in 2000. Sure would have been nice, but don't think for a moment that it will make desktop Linux any better. It just saves you from flushing a few hours of your life down the toilet every time Something Goes Bad(TM).

    Anyhow, good luck.
     
  21. Osty macrumors 6502a

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    #21

    Amen, mate. The time you spend trawling through obscure forums to fix your system when **** breaks (and it will break) is time you'll never get back.

    Go Linux:

    * When you want to spend more time fixing stuff than being productive
    * If you like swearing at your computer
    * If you love seeing your videos tear when they playback
    * If you don't plan on editing 4k video with anything less than a GTX 1080
    * If you want to see your multi-touch input reduced to two fingers (if you get it working in the first place)
    * If you want 10-12 hours of battery life reduced to 3 in real-world usage
    * If you love the idea of swimming through the Snap, FlatPack, AppImage cesspit when you want something outside your repo
     
  22. Payload thread starter macrumors newbie

    Payload

    Joined:
    Jun 24, 2017
    Location:
    Beijing
    #22
    Thinking back, I actually have no clue on why did the idea of using Linux popped up in my mind :D
    These could be some possible reasons:
    - Bought a Raspberry Pi and read about Linux
    - The word "GNU" pops up everywhere (in some cmd line tools)
    - Clicked a few links on Wikipedia and ended up on pages about Linux
    - Friends were talking about it
    - Concerned about security (recently looking up Tails, LPS, and Qubes haha)
    - trying to hack :DDDD
    But I think the most important reason is that I liked the concept of open source software and I respect all the work that the contributors put in, and I wanted to show it by getting out of the comfort zone of OS X and use Linux.

    Anyways, thank you guys for all of your suggestions & help! I decided to stick with dual-booting Linux Mint and use Kali in Virtualbox. Might possibly look into Arch in the future when I learn more about Linux.
     
  23. Bart Kela, Jul 13, 2017
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2017

    Bart Kela macrumors 6502a

    Bart Kela

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    #23
    You say that you are "getting tired of OS X" [sic]. Are you just playing with the operating system?

    At this point, it seems it is time to review what an operating system is.

    An operating system is a big complicated program that lets other big complicated programs co-exist peacefully on the same system.

    People don't really buy a computer to use the operating system, they buy it because that operating system will let them run the various programs necessary for them to accomplish things: write an e-mail, work on a spreadsheet, edit photos or videos, compose music, design 3D objects, etc. Each person has a different usage case. For some people a wimpy $200 Chromebook will do everything they need. Others might need a professional-grade 3D graphics system.

    It is noteworthy that today's operating systems now have cloud services built-in, so there is some notion about choosing an operating system based on what cloud services you might prefer to use. Some of these cloud services will run on computers as well as mobile devices. In some cases, some of these services run better on certain operating systems than others. The three big consumer cloud service players are Google, Microsoft and Apple.

    Lack of integrated, reliable, and well-support cloud services is one of the newly emerged weaknesses of desktop Linux, a complaint that didn't exist when I dumped Linux way back in 2002.

    Let's say you set up a new computer running Linux in 2017. How much effort will it take for you to configure and synchronize your calendar, contacts, notes, reminders, browser bookmarks, online password vault, mail, and photos? And have it all synchronize to your phone, tablet, and another computer? How about some text documents, a few spreadsheets, a couple of presentation slideshows?

    Pick up your phone, add a new event to your calendar, edit a contact's phone number, and take a photo. Now go to your desktop Linux box. Will the changes you just made be there?

    Cloud services is one of the biggest change to personal computing in the past 25-30 years (another being mobile computing). Once you bring up the cloud services aspect of contemporary computing, all of a sudden the desktop Linux proponents fall utterly silent.

    Now ask yourself: "how much fun is it running desktop Linux in 2017?"
     
  24. Isamilis, Jul 17, 2017
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2017

    Isamilis macrumors 6502

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    #24
    Actually I still use Linux on some occasions. First, when I want to be refreshing, tried install the new version of Linux distro, i.e. new LinuxMint, or Slackware, or even get my hand dirty installing some platform, i.e. Ghost, Hadoop or JIRA. It gave me some kind of excitement or sense of accomplishment personally when I can install them and configure properly until it run well. Usually I did this in virtual machine - using my MBA with El Capitan.
    Second, I have to use linux because I host my blog in DigitalOcean. All VM they have are all Linux, but still... I use terminal in Mac to ssh over there :)
    IMO, Linux is fun to refresh your memory on command line and look some progress such as Gnome, KDE, etc. But, using it in daily basis for your daily and personal work will require some knowledges and patience (time) to tweak and make it intuitive and familiar for your workflow.
     
  25. Payload thread starter macrumors newbie

    Payload

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