Debian/testing on Macbook Pro 11,3

I have used Debian/testing on my new Macbook Pro for a few months now. Here is what works, what doesn’t and what tweaks I applied.

Generally speaking, the best resource is the Arch Wiki so below I’ll only cover what isn’t covered there.


Install kernel ≥ 3.13 and most things just work™. I run NVIDIA’s proprietary drivers.

Switching between X and console when using NVIDIA’s driver

NVIDIA’s proprietary drivers do not support changing the backlight and switching back to the console, this sucks. (Update: setpci -v -H1 -s 00:01.00 BRIDGE_CONTROL=0 does the trick)

The consoles run at native resultion using efifb. While NVIDIA did add initial support for switching between efifb and X in 319, this does not support displays yet which are connected via Display Port. Well, that’s how my Macbook Pro connects the display to the graphics card.

With the Nouveau drivers it works, but won’t resume from suspend properly. Nouveau is also quite slow as it does not support frequency switching yet.

Screen Backlight

Doesn’t work with the NVIDIA driver. People made the same card work but I had no luck so far. Using Nouvea works. (Update:

Intel GFX

To get the Intel card to work you need to patch grub and run gfxCardStatus under OSX which disables the NVIDIA card. See the ArchWiki for details. I can confirm this works, but you’ll loose your external monitor if you run the Intel chip as the display port connectors only connect to the NVIDIA card. Also, I don’t seem to be able to actually disable the NVIDIA card, so power consumption was still bad (4h maybe).

To locally patch grub under Debian see Raphael Hertzog’s intro to patching Debian packages.


No driver yet, apparently.


If your computer suspends but wakes up after a few seconds it seems some device sends a rouge wakeup signal. Disabling wakeup from USB via

echo XHC1 > /proc/acpi/wakeup

fixes the issuefor me.


The main issue with setting up Debian/testing or any GNU Linux on Retina Macbook Pros is dealing with that gourgeous hidpi screen.


I really liked my Helvetica bitmap unscaled menu fonts on my old device. This is a no-go for Retina displays. For now I’m using “Arial 6.5” but it’s a tad bit too fat for my liking. Anyway, I spent too much time playing with fonts already, so “Arial 6.5” it is.


To set the in buffer fonts for emacs, add

    (add-to-list 'default-frame-alist
                       '(font . "DejaVu Sans Mono-6"))

to your  ~/.emacs. To set menu and tooltip fonts edit ~/.config/gtk-3.0/settings.ini with something like:

gtk-font-name=Arial 7


The standard recommendation is to set


in about:config. This will also increase the size of tabs and other UI elements, including ugly scaled icons. You can install a theme like FT GraphiteGlow theme to deal with that.

Alternatively, and this is what I do, you can use the NoSquint add-on to set the default zoom level to something like 150% or 200%. This way, UI elements are unaffected.


Chrome hardcodes the size of tabs. You can make it scale websites (they look beautiful) but you cannot scale the tabs. Very annoying, M35 might provide a fix.

6 thoughts on “Debian/testing on Macbook Pro 11,3

  1. I’ve always wondered if it’s already possible to go with Mac hardware and Linux distribution as an OS. It appears that the answer for now is no — it’s not usable. Thanks for the post though, it was the last drop to give up wanting to buy a Mac 🙂

    1. Well, I haven’t booted OS X in a few weeks so it’s kinda usable. It’s really down to the NVIDIA driver sucking, you can avoid this issue by getting a model with an Intel card only.

  2. had running a macbook pro 11,3 with Kali 2.0 … no refit, no worries, thou the fan had me scratching my head of a second but macfanctld fixed it right up

  3. Hey, I haven’t setup Debian, but do have Arch setup dual boot and ran into a bunch of issues, some of which you’ve already mentioned. The one thing that keeps me from actually booting Arch regularly is just how much hotter it runs under linux, its 20-30 degrees (C) hotter under Arch even with the Intel Iris Pro enabled instead of the Nvidia card. I’ve followed the Arch guide(s) and have mbprofan and all the other laptop tools installed. The other thing that drove me nuts was a ACPI shitstorm of events that were causing the entire system to run even hotter the first time I installed it. This was sort of corrected by blocking some ACPI events but the system still does run quite hot. How has your Debian setup been running temperature wise?

      1. Sounds about right, not considered too bad, but compared to OS X (10.12.5) running between 42 and 50, its a pretty big difference. I currently have AppCode, Xcode and Emacs open, not to mentioned Slack, browser, terminal etc. I’ve seen Arch spike up to 90 degrees just having a single IntelliJ instance open and indexing a project.

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