13-inch MaxBook Air! / by Brian Lambert

It turns out that perhaps the best Linux Ultrabook-class laptop is a 13-inch MacBook Air. Who knew? I am calling mine my "MaxBook Air".

Last summer I shelled out a bagillion dollars for a new MacBook Air. It's a 13-inch Mid 2013 model (MacBookAir6,2). I got the top of the line unit; I spared no expense.

  • 1.7GHz dual-core Intel Core i7 (Turbo Boost up to 3.3GHz) Intel Core i7-4650U
  • 8 GB 1600MHz LPDDR3
  • 512GB SSD

I bought it mainly for being able to work in coffee shops for hours on end without AC power, and also because it's so small and light.

Performance

The Geekbench 3 test results for this tiny little laptop are really impressive.

Geekbench 3.1.4 for Mac OS X x86 (64-bit) reports:

 3,265 Single-Core
 6,379 Multi-Core

This is within a few shades awesome. Compare this machine with a new Mac Pro (Late 2013) model costing $3,000.

Geekbench 3.1.4 for Mac OS X x86 (64-bit) reports:

 3,369 Single-Core
21,167 Multi-Core

Obviously with more cores the new Mac Pro wins, but the diminutive MacBook Air is within a few shades of it in the single-core measurement. This tiny little machine is unquestionably a processing powerhouse!

And it's beautiful. Check out the teardown of the unit at iFixit.

What's even more impressive than the processing performance of this little machine is the disk performance. With the 512 GB SSD option, it's a screaming demon. Blackmagic's Disk Speed test results are simply insane. Over 700 MB/s.

DiskSpeedTestAir.png

Linux disk speed tests bear out these numbers, or close to them. 790 MB/s read, 493 MB/s write. Whatever the real numbers are, the SSD in this machine is bloody quick. Quick enough for me.

Setup

Setting up the system could not be easier, once you know the secrets.

Here are the steps.

  • Download Ubuntu 13.10 or Ubuntu GNOME 13.10. I use Ubuntu GNOME 13.10, and I downloaded it here: Download Ubuntu GNOME 13.10
  • Make a bootable USB thumb drive. (I used a 16 GB SanDisk Ultra.)
    • On Linux, use usb-creator. Instructions can be found here.
    • Making a bootable USB thumb drive on OS X is a little more challenging, but very doable. Just follow the instructions here. I've tested them and they work.
  • Once you have a bootable USB thumb drive, partition your OS X system drive to make space for Ubuntu. I simply carved my 512 GB SSD into two partitions, ~250 GB each. I used the "Partition Layout" drop-down to do this. It takes the guess work out of the operation.
pm.png
  • Once your disk is partitioned, shutdown OS X and have the machine in a powered off state.
  • Obtain a USB or Thunderbolt Ethernet adapter and plug it into the MacBook Air and your hardwired Ethernet network.
  • Plug the MacBook Air into its power adapter.
  • Insert the bootable USB thumb drive and power on the machine while holding the option (alt) key.
  • When the boot menu comes up, select the USB thumb drive. It will most likely be labeled EFI Boot. This will boot Ubuntu or Ubuntu GNOME from the bootable USB thumb drive.
  • When prompted select "Install Ubuntu".
    • If you prefer, you can select the "Try Ubuntu" option and follow these instructions using the Install Ubuntu program. You'll find it on the favorites bar. This approach will let you play around with Ubuntu before installing it.
  • Select your language.
Screenshot from 2014-02-26 02_36_58.png
  • On the next screen I typically select everything.
Screenshot from 2014-02-26 02_44_16.png
  • Then on the next screen select "Something else" for the installation type.
Screenshot from 2014-02-26 02_45_36.png
  • At this point you will be presented with advanced options for the installation type.
mScreenshot from 2014-02-26 02_47_28.png
  • Do not modify the partitioning. Only modify partitioning in OS X.
  • Find the new partition (/dev/sda3 most likely) and use Change... to select ext4 as the format and / as the mount point. This tells the installer where to install Ubuntu.
    • Be careful not to select the hfs+ partition as this is where your OS X installation lives and, if you do, you will overwrite your Mac OS X installation.
    • Do not select a swap partition. For now, you have plenty of RAM to run the OS and perform the installation, so just install Ubuntu. My next post will cover adding a swap file.
  • Select /dev/sda3 as the install location and perform the installation by pressing the "Install Now" button.
    • Worth saying again! Be careful not to select the hfs+ partition as this is where your OS X installation lives and, if you do, you will overwrite your Mac OS X installation.
  • Let the install complete and reboot.
  • Remove the bootable USB thumb drive.

At this point, Ubuntu will be installed, but OS X will boot. Don't panic! It's there, but you can't get to it yet. All you need is a tool to get it up and running.

When OS X boots, log in and then download and install rEFIt. Here's the link. Follow the instructions you'll find there.

After rEFIt installs, reboot your machine, then reboot it again. You will then see the rEFIt menu when your system boots. On this menu, select the "EFI\ubuntu\grub.64.efi" entry to boot Ubuntu, or the Apple logo to boot OS X.

 Booting Ubuntu.

Booting Ubuntu.

And that's it. Each time you boot, you'll be able to decide whether you want to run Ubuntu or Mac OS X.

// EOF