Do more with your old MacBook

Have you got an old MacBook that Apple doesn’t support any more? Can’t install the latest and greatest version of Mac OS X on it because the CPU is too old? You’re probably seeing a warning from Chrome that Google has discontinued support for Mac OS X 10.5.3 or whatever is on that ancient beast? It’s the same with Firefox.

Flash isn’t updated either and when you go to Youtube to watch a video Chrome shows you an ugly warning that it’s outdated. Frustrating isn’t it?

What’s more, you’re probably leaving yourself open to exploits by nasties on the Internet. Problems and bugs are found in Flash all the time. Browsers and operating systems are the same too but if that software isn’t actively updated then you’re out of luck. I discovered Opera browser is still built for these old machines and it’s fast but Flash was still a problem and I needed a better solution.

As unlikely as it may seem on an Apple computer, it’s Linux that came to the rescue!

I didn’t think I could put Linux on the MacBook as there was no Bootcamp to dual boot the machine. Thanks to I found the MacBook help pages for Ubuntu which pointed me towards rEFIt, a “boot menu and maintenance toolkit for EFI-based machines like the Intel Macs.” Even on an old MacBook 4,1 I could install Linux!

Installing rEFIt was simple enough, just run the package installer when I mounted the .dmg file. However the boot menu didn’t appear, even after several reboots until I pressed down ALT while rebooting.

Partitioning was a problem. I used the command line diskutil tool as suggested here but ran into problems because it couldn’t do a live resize. It would report that it ran out of space or there were too many deep links. Luckily the Ubuntu install CD comes with Gparted and after booting into the live CD I ran that and freed up 40GB of space for my new Linux install. A couple of reboots later to verify everything was working and then on to Linux!

Thankfully I didn’t run into the problems a recent Ars reviewer of Ubuntu Linux 12.10 came across. Linux installs are getting simpler and simpler. I told it to install alongside Mac OS X and let it set up partitions.

The WIFI adaptor in the Macbook requires a proprietary driver and after hooking the laptop up to an ethernet cable I started updating packages. While doing that I looked in the System settings and discovered that Ubuntu had installed the right driver without my prompting! I’m not sure when that happened but WIFI has been rock solid since.

Time to install Opera, the restricted packages (mp3 and dvd playback, etc), Java for Minecraft and finally Minecraft. Getting a Minecraft icon for Unity was a pain and I can’t find the script I used now but some quick Google-fu will find it.

Linux on the MacBook is nice and fast, even with Unity on there. I may replace that with a lighter window manager if it becomes a problem but it’s much improved on older releases. If you have an old MacBook and you don’t need some proprietary software that isn’t available for Linux then you should definitely put Linux on there. You’ll have the security of using updated software and a nice new desktop and apps to play around with!

10 thoughts on “Do more with your old MacBook

  1. Thanks for the write up Donncha – looks easy enough :s I’m going to wipe an old macbook pro and only install linux (along with git, sublime text, ruby/rails, minecraft) – hopefully this’ll mean no partitioning problems.

  2. Well you mentioned mac book 4,1 which i have runs 10.7.4 with all browsers , although i bought it for IOS development it runs xcode completely , i even tried windows 7 with boot camp all the drivers got installed since mac book 4,1 is C2D and 2 gb by default i find it running good and asphalt 6 plays good on its OSX 10.7.4 , i should say lucky me to have intel mac but sooner or later Apple will take of its support , my trick is to switch to window with boot camp and later to linux or partition and put all of them together!

    1. KK – that’s interesting! I was under the impression that the purely 64 bit OSes wouldn’t install on it because the hardware wouldn’t support it. I Think I even tried the install disc that came with my newer MBP and it stopped with an error message.

      Still, I have no regrets putting Linux on there. Users of the machine don’t depend on any Mac OS X only apps so it was a no-brainer upgrade.

      1. before i upgraded to osx 10.7.4 i was on 10.6 and system automatically picked up 10.7 Lion OS , also i remember i upgraded its efi or something like bios in windows machines it was some tiny firmware then i installed 10.7 and activity monitor shows all 64 bit processes , but on a 10.7.4 my upgrade option now only shows me 10.7.5 and not 10.8 ( which is Mountain Lion) ,means i can still use xcode to develop iOS apps under 10.7.5 (which is Lion) , it could be the firmware which i updated due to bad battery made its eprom set to fresh 64bit configuration. but thanks anyways Ubnutu is my all time favorite too. – @kamalneet on Twitter

  3. Its good to have Ubuntu as a spare OS but since Apple keeps stopping the support to previous machines Ubuntu friendship is even better , great help for me through this post!

  4. I replaced Unity with LXDE as it’s a lot lighter on resources. Unity wasn’t that bad but it made sense to put something light on there.

    sudo apt-get install lubuntu-desktop

  5. Nice write up! I’m writing this from my original macbook, soon to have a custom flavor of Linux running on it. It’ll be nice to have a beater laptop that is useful for carrying around town and doing some light work without lugging around my newer laptop. It amazes me how little Apple seems to care about supporting their still functioning hardware with updates. Everything’s functional on this macbook, but lack of software updates mean no flash (youtube, hulu), and no Chrome! Might be time to start a business reselling used Apple hardware with Ubuntu installed for the 80% of people who just want a cheap laptop to websurf, write documents, and watch videos.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this:

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.