Best (Linux) OS for MacBook Pro 8.1 in 2024

I have a MacBook Pro 8,1 from 2011 that has been laying in a box for two years after being replaced with a new MacBook Air M1.

This MacBook was last supported by High Sierra, which was last updated in 2020. However the OpenCore Legacy Patcher can bring new versions of macOS to it. I had some limited success (not happy with perforamance) with that on another MacBook Pro a few years ago.

I decided to give Linux a try on this MacBook Pro 8.1.

The computer is a bit upgraded: it has 16GB of RAM and 1TB combined SSD/HDD hard drive. The 2.3 GHz i5-2415M (2nd generation i5) is still there.

Debian

First i installed Debian 12. Perhaps I should have used another installation method but the Wifi did not come up. I plugged the laptop to an ethernet switch and installed the packages firmware-b43-installer, and Wifi works.

Despite Gnome looks kind of modern it runs quite smoothly on this old laptop. I got curious about other more minimalistic desktop envirnonments and tried Xfce and Lxde with mixed results. Also, Wifi with b43 was not entirely stable, so I decided to try something else.

ChromeOS Flex

Google is making ChromeOS available from non-ChromeBooks as ChromeOS flex. I used to have a Chromebook and a colleague of mine just got a new ChromeBook so I thought I’d give it a try. Making a ChromeOS bootable USB is very easy with the ChromeOS recovery plugin for the Chrome browser. Installing ChromeOS Flex on this MacBook Pro 8,1 was easy and hazzle free. I activated Linux in CromeOS and unfortunately found that it was much slower than it had been in Debian. The same workload could take 2 minutes instead of 30 seconds, and for this already old and slow machine that was a price I was not willing to pay. Linux does run in some kind of container on ChromeOS and perhaps on an old machine and ChromeOS Flex this is not optimal. So I decided to try something else.

Lubuntu

My experimenting with different desktop environments on Debian made me curious to try Lubuntu with LxQT preconfigured. Also on Lubuntu, it was needed to install firmware-b43-installer manually. But, unless Debian, Wifi is completely stable on Lubuntu. It is not fast (about 10Mbit) but I don’t really care.

I have to say LxQT is my new favourite Linux Desktop Environment now (will write a separate post about it), it is easy, stable, functional, fast and very respectful of your screen space. I think it looks good too! (Like Windows 95 I know).

Conclusion

I am writing this article on my MacBook Pro 8,1 with Lubuntu, and everything works very nice. The computer does get warm and slow when watching youtube, otherwise the 2nd generation i5-2415M is doing fine.

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