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I triple-booted on an 8-years-old MacBook Pro (and OS's comparison)

patarapolw profile image Pacharapol Withayasakpunt Originally published at polv.hashnode.dev ・3 min read

So, I got my hands on an 8-years-old MacBook Pro (mid 2012), with 4GB RAM, 500GB SATA HD, and Core i5 CPU.

Good thing about this, is 500GB is very large. (Compared to nowadays usual small (but faster SSD) 128GB - too small to dual boot.)

My MacBook Pro is too old to reformat, and start from scratch, but there is a way out

The first thing I do when I received an old MacBook Pro from my sister, knowing that free Apple support is long gone, I Command+R into Recovery mode, and format the hard disk.

However, I cannot install macOS -- reason is internet connection is required, and Apple Inc won't allow it. It's too old, therefore no more support.

After some hopelessness (because I can no longer boot into anything), I found a solution - How to install macOS Big Sur or Catalina on an older Mac or MacBook. (Catalina is already latest, Big Sur is beta.)

  • BE WARNED! You are running macOS only low hardware. You should consider do everything to make macOS faster, including disabling FileVault.

Installing only one of Windows or Linux is easy, but not both

Installing Windows is easy, via Boot Camp, but this has to be done from inside properly installed macOS only, and latest Windows only (that Boot Camp supports).

If you try to install Windows via any other ways, you will get a GPT error.

Best solution I have found, is to

  1. DO NOT pre-partition disk space for Windows and Linux, even if you know how to.
  2. Install Windows first, via Boot Camp. If you have any other partitions, you will have to "uninstall Windows" (i.e. delete partitions via Boot Camp) first.
    • Prepare enough disk space in Windows partition to install Linux as well.
  3. Install rEFInd. I had to use USB boot into macOS recovery mode. (Command+R hangs for some reasons), and open Terminal prompt, then csrutil disable; then install rEFInd inside macOS.
  4. Install Linux. Shrink Windows partition using GParted inside Linux Live CD (Xubuntu, in my case).
  5. You might have to boot into macOS, and reinstall rEFInd, then reinstall Windows; just to restore Windows bootloader.

rEFInd theme Regular

As for rEFInd theming, I use this Regular theme. (With a little tweak, actually.)

  • There will be too many choices in the boot menu. Press - (minus) to delete choices.

Comparison of macOS, Windows and Xubuntu on low and old hardwares

  • macOS is unsurprisingly slow on low hardwares.
    • Disabling FileVault helps speeding up a lot.
    • Another reason I consider Linux, rather than macOS is Docker is slow on macOS.
  • Windows 10 is surprisingly fast and less demanding.
    • However, I hate Windows Update. It might be good for security, but it is blocking at unpredictable times. When that happens, it delays rebooting cycle; both on starting up and shutting down.
  • Xubuntu is without doubt fast, but hardware support is never perfect.

My Xubuntu

Discussion

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Mike Bybee

It always makes me sad to see people install an XFCE-based distro when modern KDE has similar performance with infinitely more features and configurability. I check in on XFCE every few years, and check out again immediately when I see that Orage is still as crappy as ever.

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Pacharapol Withayasakpunt Author

I have rarely tried KDE and it was long long ago. Only have experiences with Mate, GNOME 2,3. Tried LxQt for a while (Lubuntu), but didn't like it.

It depends on advertising / blogs, I guess.

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Mike Bybee

LXQT is way too bare bones to justify the miniscule RAM savings. Mate is a fork of GNOME 2, just with GTK 3 integration. If it weren't still so buggy and didn't still have so many visual issues (applet transparency inconsistencies, etc.), I might use it, as I hated KDE 3 and loved GNOME 2.

Since KDE 5, though, no other DE comes even remotely close IMO. It even allows me to configure some of the things I miss about Unity (which I wish had been built on KWin and Plasma instead of Compiz and GNOME 2-3), but in a much more configurable way.

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Jochen Gererstorfer

Well done!

I made a Chromium book with my even older MacBook.
You can find more about it here: j0e.org/chrome-os-auf-dem-macbook-...
But, sorry only German article...

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Pacharapol Withayasakpunt Author

NVM, I can translate with Google.

So, you can upgrade the HDD to SSD. Did you do it yourself? If I had to do it, I would have to ask a non-official notebook shop, and that still also depends on their response...

I am a little tempted to try Android x86 or related OS's as well; although I don't see whether it will benefit. (Maybe play Bluestack games? Never tried...)

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Jochen Gererstorfer

Yes I changed the SSD myself. The new SSD is from Amazon.
You just need a screwdriver. It was really easy.

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Mike Bybee

SSD is the single most important upgrade you can make (even on the older SATA interface). You'll be very happy if you upgrade the RAM too, since 2012 is the last MBP that makes it possible.