Linus Torvalds doubts Linux will get ported to Apple M1 hardware

Enlarge / It would be great to see Linux running and fully operational on Apple M1 hardware like this Mac Mini, but it seems unlikely.

In a recent article on the Real World Technologies forum – one of the few public websites that Linux founder Linus Torvalds is known to visit regularly – a user named Paul request Torvalds, “What do you think of the new Apple laptop? “

“I would love to have one, if it was only running Linux,” Torvalds replied. “I waited for an ARM laptop capable of running Linux for a long time. New [MacBook] The air would be almost perfect, except for the OS. ”

Torvalds, of course, can already have an ARM-based Linux laptop if he wants one — for example, the Pinebook Pro. The unspoken part here is that he would like a high-performance ARM-based laptop, rather than a budget-friendly but extremely limited-in-performance design like found in the Pinebook Pro, Raspberry Pi, or a bevy of others. expensive. gadgets.

Apple’s M1 is exactly that: a high-performance system for desktops and laptops that delivers world-class performance while retaining the hyper-efficient energy and thermal characteristics needed in the world of phones and tablets. On paper, an M1-powered MacBook Air would make a fantastic laptop for Linux or even Windows users, but it seems unlikely Apple would share.

In one interview with ZDNet, Torvalds explained the problem:

The main issue with the M1 for me is the GPU and the other devices around it, as that is probably what would prevent me from using it as it wouldn’t have any Linux support unless Apple did. open … [that] seems unlikely, but hey, you can always hope.

Torvalds is almost certainly right that Apple won’t provide enough details about the M1 system on a chip (SoC) for Linux kernel developers to create first-class support. Even in the much better understood Intel world, Macs haven’t been a good choice for Linux enthusiasts for several years, and for the same reason. As Apple increasingly brings its own hardware stack in-house, open source developers are getting less and less information about port operating systems and writing hardware drivers for the platform.

We strongly suspect that by the time enthusiasts can reverse engineer the M1 SoC enough for first-class Linux support, other vendors will realize the value of bringing high-performance ARM systems to the laptop market, and it will be considerably easier to work. with the more open designs that many will use.

Until now, ARM-based laptops and miniature PCs have attempted to disrupt the market by pulling little on the budget, rather than high performance. Examples include, but are not limited to: $ 200 Pinebook Pro laptop, the $ 100 Raspberry pie Model 400, and the $ 99 Nvidia Jetson.

Now that Apple has proven ARM’s value in performance as well as budget space, we generally expect competitive systems using the high end Snapdragon and similar processors to enter the market over the next several years. Such systems would not need to beat, or even match, the outstanding performance of the M1; they would simply need to compete strongly with the more traditional x86_64 systems in terms of performance and price, while dominating them in terms of power consumption and thermal efficiency.

It’s also worth noting that while the M1 is shamelessly awesome, it’s not the last word in System on Chip desktop or laptop designs. Torvalds mentions that, if given a choice, he would prefer more and more powerful hearts, which is certainly possible and appears to be a request likely to be granted soon.

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