FreeBSD on 11″ MacBook Air 5,1 (mid-2012)

This tiny machine has been with me for a few years now, It has mostly run OS X though I have tried OpenBSD on it. Besides the screen resolution I’m still really happy with it, hardware wise. Software wise, not so much. I use an external disk containing a zpool with my data on it. Among this data are several source trees. CVS on a ZFS filesystem on OS X is painfully slow. I dislike that builds running inside Terminal.app are slow at the expense of a responsive UI. The system seems fragile, at the slightest push the machine will either hang or become unresponsive. Buggy serial drivers which do not implement the break signal and cause instability are frustrating.
Last week whilst working on Rump kernel builds I introduced some new build issues in the process of fixing others, I needed to pick up new changes from CVS by updating my copy of the source tree and run builds to test if issues were still present.
I was let down on both counts, it took ages to update source and in the process of cross compiling a NetBSD/evbmips64-el release, the system locked hard. That was it, time to look what was possible elsewhere. While I have been using OS X for many years, I’m not tied to anything exclusive on it, maybe tweetbot, perhaps, but that’s it.
On the BSDnow podcast they’ve been covering changes coming in to TrueOS (formerly PC-BSD – a desktop focused distro based on FreeBSD), their experiments seemed interesting, the project now tracks FreeBSD-CURRENT, they’ve replaced rcng with OpenRC as the init system and it comes with a pre-configured desktop environment, using their own window manager (Lumina). Booting the USB flash image it made it to X11 without any issue. The dock has a widget which states the detected features, no wifi (Broadcom), sound card detected and screen resolution set to 1366×768. I planned to give it a try on the weekend. Friday, I made backups and wiped the system. TrueOS installed without issue, after a short while I had a working desktop, resuming from sleep worked out of the box. I didn’t spend long testing TrueOS, switching out NetBSD-HEAD only to realise that I really need ZFS so while I was testing things out, might as well give stock FreeBSD 11-STABLE a try (TrueOS was based on -CURRENT). Turns out sleep doesn’t work yet but sound does work out of the box and with a few invocations of pkg(8) I had xorg, dwm, firefox, CVS and virtuabox-ose installed from binary packages. VirtualBox seems to cause the system to panic (bug 219276) but I should be able to survive without my virtual machines over the next few days as I settle in. I’m considering ditching VirtualBox and converting the vdi files to raw images so that they can be written to a new zvol for use with bhyve. As my default keyboard layout is Dvorak, OS X set the EFI settings to this layout. The first time I installed FreeBSD 11-STABLE, I opted for full disk encryption but ran into this odd issue where on boot the keyboard layout was Dvorak and password was accepted, the system would boot and as it went to mount the various filesystems it would switch back to QWERTY. I tried entering my password with both layout but wasn’t able to progress any further, no bug report yet as I haven’t ruled myself out as the problem.
Thunderbolt gigabit adapter – bge(4) and DVI adapter both worked on FreeBSD though the gigabit adapter needs to be plugged in at boot to be detected. The trackpad bind to wsp(4), left, right and middle clicks are available through single, double and tripple finger tap. Sound card binds to snd_hda(4) and works out of the box.
For wifi I’m using a urtw(4) Alfa adapter which is a bit on the large side but works very reliably.
A copy of the dmesg is here.

4 thoughts on “FreeBSD on 11″ MacBook Air 5,1 (mid-2012)

  1. Bryan

    “As my default keyboard layout is Dvorak, OS X set the EFI settings to this layout. The first time I installed FreeBSD 11-STABLE, I opted for full disk encryption but ran into this odd issue where on boot the keyboard layout was Dvorak and password was accepted, the system would boot and as it went to mount the various filesystems it would switch back to QWERTY. I tried entering my password with both layout but wasn’t able to progress any further”

    I had the same problem. If I recall correctly, I think I was able to unlock my system with a serial cable after uncommenting the line to enable it at boot.

    I’m not sure what the problem is or how to solve it. I gave up on FDE on FreeBSD because of this.

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