Install Arch Linux on a 2015 MacBook Pro

January 18, 2020

Last year I decided to install the latest Arch Linux ISO onto my 2015 Retina MacBook Pro. While the installation was relatively painless configuring the system utilities and configuring the retina screen was not.

The Arch wiki has loads of information if you get stuck. It also includes loads of other helpful guides written by other authors which may help you fix a problem. Some that I used are: 1 and 2. What you need for this tutorial are:


Download the latest ISO from Arch Linux. Use dd like this:

dd if=archlinux.iso of=/dev/sdx bs=4M status=progress && sync

the status=progress option was added in Coreutils 2.81 so check you’re using an up-to date version of Coreutils before trying this command. Also dd overwrites anything on the drive. Plug your USB drive into your Macbook and restart your computer. While the computer restarts hold down ALT on the keyboard to bring up Apple’s EFI bootloader. Once Linux has booted you’ll be at the shell, this is where you’re going to setup your disks. Only having Arch installed is not recommended because Apple release firmware updates via the OSX App store, these could contain crucial bug fixes or security patches so it’s important.

Create the partitions, this can be done in OSX with the disk utility wizard, this guide though uses fdisk.

Enter fdisk -l at the shell to list all the disks. Remember the number your disk uses. Setup these partitions:

/dev/sda5 [100MB] Apple HFS/HSF+ "Apple boot"
/dev/sda6 [250MB] ext4 "boot"
/dev/sda7 [rest of SSD space] ext4 "/ root file system" 

This file system layout assumes you’re installing Arch Linux along side OSX. Installing OSX, Arch and Windows is left as an exercise for you to figure out. Now format the partitions with mkfs like:

mfks.ext4 /dev/sda6 && mkfs.ext4 /dev/sda7 && mount /dev/sda7 /mnt && mount /dev/sda6 /mnt/boot `

The next step sets up pacman, Arch Linux’s package manager, Pacman is similar to Debian’s/Ubuntu’s apt-get. Read the man page to find out more information. pacstrap and chroot are used to ‘chroot’ into the new OS. pacstrap /mnt base base-devel

genfstab -U -p /mnt >> /mnt/etc/fstab

Obviously fstab is used to mount the disks. On bootup, the mount commands reads the fstab files and mounts the disks.

Use your favourite editor (I use vim) to edit the fstab created above.

vim /mnt/etc/fstab

/dev/sda7   /   ext4    defaults,noatime,discard,data=writeback 0 1

/dev/sda6   /boot ext4  defaults,stripe=4   0 2

The discard and noatime are used to lengthen the SSD’s life cycle. noatime does not write write the time and date it was accessed, this reduced the wear and tear on an SSD.

arch-chroot /mnt /bin/bash
echo your_host > /etc/hostname
passwd your_username
ln -s /usr/share/zoneinfo/Europe/London /etc/localtime
hwclock --systohc --utc
pacman -S sudo

The user created in the code block above has to be added to the sudoers. On Linux all sudoers are part of the wheel group. So simply add your user to the wheel group (done above) and write to this file:

echo '%wheel ALL=(ALL) ALL ' >> /etc/sudoers.d/10-grant-wheel-group


This commands in this section are the same no matter where you live, what language you speak or the keyboard you are using, the arguments do change though.

vim /etc/locale.gen

A comment in this file beginning with #, uncomment the local you use.

echo LANG=en_GB.UTF8 > /etc/locale.conf

The locale you’re using needs to defined as a variable in bash so other programs launched at the shell can read it. Some windows manager like i3WM do not startup if this variable is not defined.

export LANG=en_GB.UTF-8

Setup the initramfs (if you have setup an encrypted volume include this here):

mkinitcpio -p linux

EFI Setup using grub

The standard version of GRUB (1) does not have EFI included, instead GRUB_EFI has to be installed.

pacman -S grub-efi-x86_64

Edit GRUB’s global config file:

vim /etc/defaults/grub

Special parameters have to be passed to the kernel to get the Macbook Pro to boot Linux. GRUB passes these parameters to the kernel.

GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT="quiet rootflags=data=writeback libta.force=1:nocq"

And on a seperate line add


to fix the grub menu on startup

grub-mkconfig -o /boot/grub/grub.cfg 
grub-mkstandalone -o boot.efi -d usr/lib/grub/x86_64-efi -O x86_64-efi --compress=xz boot/grub/grub.cfg

Exit Linux and copy the boot.efi created above. Or alternatively upload the file using git to Bitbucket as they offer free private repos.

git init
git add boot.efi
git commit -m 'boot.efi'
git push -u origin master


Boot into OSX, remember to hold down ALT to bring up the EFI bootloader. Use git to clone the repo you pushed the boot.efi file to.

git clone repo_name

Setup the following directory structure:

cd /Volumes/disks05
mkdir System mach_kernel
cd System
mkdir Library
mkdir CoreServices
cd CoreServices
vim SystemVersion.plist

<xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
	<plist version="1.0">
			<string>Arch Linux</string>

Make the boot disk loadable

sudo bless --device disk0s5 --setBoot

Apple has included system integrity Projection on OSX. To disable this restart OSX and load up the last EFI option displayed in the Apple bootloader. Navigate to Terminal and type:

csrutil disable

Setting up X, i3wm and power management

pacman -S xorg-server xorg-server-utils
pacman -S xf86-video-intel 
pacman -S powertop

Calibrate powertop using:

powertop --calibrate && powertop --auto-tune && sudo service powertop.service restart

Now install i3 (my favourite wm):

pacman -S i3 dmenu
echo "exec i3" >> ~/.xinitrc
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