Asahi Linux, along with better support for virtual machines, makes Apple Silicon more attractive to developers – DEVCLASS

In November 2020, Apple introduced the M1 processor – an Arm-based chip marking the start of the transition from Intel processors to Apple Silicon. Apple M1 machines can be good value for money despite the high price if it saves developers time, and the combination of excellent performance and high efficiency – leading to a long battery life. battery for those on a laptop – is a strong attraction. A high-end Mac Studio running the M1 Ultra chip has a maximum power consumption of 215W, according to Apple’s specs – modest for a system that is among the best performing workstations on the market.

Windows on Arm running on Mac M1 via UTM (qemu)

There are a few issues with Intel’s remoteness, however. Rosetta 2 is a translation layer that allows x86 applications to run on macOS, but while it works well for many macOS applications, the M1 is not suitable for running x86 virtual machines. Virtualization is important for developers because it is ideal for testing and debugging applications in an isolated environment.

VMware lamented last year that “Rosetta 2 does not support virtualization” and added that “there isn’t exactly a lot of business value compared to the engineering effort that is required. Running x86 operating systems on Apple Silicon is not something we plan to ship.”

That said, the story is looking up for the virtualization of Arm-based operating systems – whether they are systems based on the open source qemu project or commercial systems such as VMware Fusion (in public preview) or Parallels Desktop (which supports Windows on Arm for M1). Performance is good according to reports like that, which reported a virtualization penalty of 6.7% for single-core and 27% for multi-core when running Arch Linux under emulation. However, there are still some frictions, especially when going the open source route, with additional configuration steps required.

A compelling option

One option worth looking into is Asahi Linux – a port of Arch Linux that runs natively on the M1, released in alpha last month. Alpha builds are not recommended for production use, surprising a report by Jason Eckert (Dean of Technology at triOS College in Ontario, Canada). He mentioned that he installed the Asahi Linux alpha as soon as it was released and describes it as “incredibly fast… and although it lacks a few features that will be added soon (GPU acceleration, Bluetooth, sound), it’s otherwise very neat and 100% production ready, plus it runs my software much faster than macOS on the same hardware. half the time of macOS”.

The main barriers Eckert faces are “proprietary apps that don’t have an arm64 version (e.g. Slack), as well as Electron and Chromium-based apps (e.g. VSCode, Chrome, etc.) due to the size of 16kb page from the M1 which apparently will be patched shortly with a new linux kernel, luckily it’s happy with the vim editor instead of visual studio code, it’s also worth noting that GPU acceleration isn’t not yet supported.

Testing compilers on Asahi Linux, Michael Larabel at Phoronix found that “GCC 11.2 was leading by about 13% over Clang.”

Asahi Linux is still in its infancy, and developers are worried about whether the Mac M1 might become a closed system at a later date – although there’s no evidence that Apple is planning this. . However, combined with the emulation options, the M1 Macs are compelling to developers and free from Windows annoyances like mysterious slowdowns or creepy UI ads.


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Steven L. Nielsen