Installing Fedora 32 on a mid-2009 Macbook Pro - Part One, WiFi

A series of posts documenting the installation of Fedora 32 onto a mid-2009 15" Macbook Pro. In three parts; Part One describes the initial installation of Fedora and necessary updates to detect the internal WiFi hardware, Part Two describes configuring the window manager i3wm, and Part Three details the installation of the applications that I use daily. As is usual with Linux installations, forewarned is forearmed. Prepare for the lack of internal WiFi capability in the base Fedora install. And, if you use the i3 Window Manager, there is additional work to allow the MacBook to return to active mode from standby when the lid is closed and subsequently re-opened.

Things to Consider Before Switching to Fedora

  • Linux power management, at least in Fedora 32 and on this Macbook Pro, sucks. Don’t expect to be able to use the laptop on battery power for any length of time. Even under idle load and with a new battery, the power drain is something to behold. powertop reports the main cuprits as dbs_work_handler, tick_sched_timer and hrtimer_wakup, eclipsing even firefox in mW usage. These conspire to cause the Macbook to run hot; you really don’t want to place this thing on your lap for any length of time. There does not seem to be a workaround available but hopefully this will be addressed in a future Fedora update. I plan to try Pop!_OS[1] at some future stage as it has built in support for AMD and Nvidia GPUs and apparently a power management package from Intel Clear Linux.[2]. In the meantime, I’ll have to digest the Fedora _Power Management Guide_.[3]

  • When the lid is closed the default power management behaviour causes the Macbook Pro to transition immediately to standby/suspend mode. Subsequently opening the lid does not trigger a return to active mode, forcing a reboot. As a workaround I used xfce4-power-manager and changed the action on lid close setting to to simply turn off the display. But this means that using the laptop as a laptop isn’t feasible as the machine runs at full tilt regardless.

  • I much prefer tap to click than having to actually press and click the trackpad. xfce4-mouse-settings allows this and other mouse/trackpad settings to be modified, but any modification seems to be ignored by i3wm — the Xfce window manager does respect the user’s choice. So for now I’m stuck having to click the touchpad.

  • Expect to have to install the proprietary Nvidia graphics drivers to support an external monitor. Not a big deal but it is something else that needs to be done.

Why Move from OSX to Linux?

Why run Linux when Apple does a decent job of supporting their hardware? Apple officially only supports OSX "El Capitan"[4] on this mid 2009 Macbook Pro. El Capitan is old enough that even Homebrew has dropped support for it, and that’s a problem as almost all the software I use I install using Homebrew. As much as I like Homebrew it does tend to compile many packages from source. Rust, for example, can take hours to install or upgrade on this hardware. While on Fedora, precompiled packages are installed using sudo yum install <blah> in a few seconds. This makes the decision to switch that much easier as all the software I use is also available on Linux — even Spotify and Zoom!

Macbook Pro Overiew

  • Apple MacBook Pro 15-Inch "Core 2 Duo" 2.66 (SD)

  • Identifiers: Mid-2009 15" - MB985LL/A - MacBookPro5,3 - A1286 - 2325

  • 8 GB RAM

  • 500GB 3D NAND, WD Blue SSD

Requirements

  • Fedora 32 Xfce Live Image[5] — just because it integrates well with i3wm[6] — installed onto a

  • USB Flash drive. I used a 64GB device from PNY.

Use a USB flash drive. Do not use an SD card inserted into the SD card reader on the left side of the Macbook as the Macbook is unable to boot from the SD reader.
  • A wired Ethernet connection to complete the installation, or

  • A USB WiFi dongle having driver support in the base Fedora installation. I chose a "Panda Wireless" dongle having a chipset supported by the Raspberry Pi. I started by searching Amazon for devices having the AR9271 chipset.

Expect that the Macbook internal WiFi will not work. The internal Bluetooth interface worked — for me — so I was able to tether the Macbook to a mobile Bluetooth hotspot — my iPhone — but a Bluetooth connection is slow and not as reliable as I would have liked. I was unsuccessful in tethering the 2009 MacBook Pro to my 2012 MacBook Pro.

Procedure

  1. Power down the Macbook.

  2. Insert the USB flash drive containing the Fedora 32 Live image into a free USB port on the left side of the MacBook Pro.

  3. Power up while depressing the OPTION key until the connected bootable devices are displayed.

  4. Choose to boot from the USB flash drive containing the Fedora 32 Live image.

  5. After successfully booting into Fedora, run the Fedora installer and install to the internal drive.

  6. When the MacBook reboots, log into the Xfce desktop and connect to the Internet using wired ethernet, USB WiFi dongle, or bluetooth tethering.

    1. The faster the Macbook’s connection to the Internet the less time the steps in Section Setting up the internal WiFi will take.

Setting up the internal WiFi

Install the Dynamic Kernel Modules, update Fedora, and reboot
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sudo dnf -y install make dkms
sudo dnf upgrade
sudo reboot
Install the Broadcom dkns firmware
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sudo dnf install broadcom-wl-dkms

The system should now recognize the internal WiFi adapter.

  • If unsuccessful then Internet searches will be required as this post covers only the "happy path".

  • If successful then the WiFi dongle (or Ethernet cable, or Bluetooth hotspot) may be removed and the internal WiFi adapter configured.

Changing the Hostname

My Fedora install sets the hostname to the generic localhost.localdomain. Lets change that;[7]

To query for the current Hostname
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$ hostname

localhost.localdomain
or,
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$ hostnamectl

   Static hostname: localhost.localdomain
         Icon name: computer-laptop
           Chassis: laptop
        Machine ID: ff9d8caadacc46c7872dafe65f5b7840
           Boot ID: 9d634fa9edc34fab96881e7115809558
  Operating System: Fedora 32 (Thirty Two)
       CPE OS Name: cpe:/o:fedoraproject:fedora:32
            Kernel: Linux 5.7.17-200.fc32.x86_64
      Architecture: x86-64
To change the Hostname
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$ sudo hostnamectl set-hostname <new-name>

The above will set the static, dynamic, and pretty hostnames to the same value. To set each hostname to a different value use the following options to hostnamectl:

  • --transient Only set transient hostname

  • --static Only set static hostname

  • --pretty Only set pretty hostname