Reviving a 2012 MacBook Pro with Linux

Before-and-after snapshots showcasing the transformation of a 2012 MacBook Pro using Linux

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A late bloomer when it comes to computers

I did not grow up using computers but distinctly remember in the mid-80s that my friend across the street had an older brother who had a computer. I had no idea what he did with it. It was totally beyond my comprehension.

In college, I had a 486 computer that was used mostly for playing Castle Wolfenstein and writing mediocre papers for class. A few cheap desktop computers later, I finally purchased my first laptop computer in 2004. The Toshiba Satellite laptop was the cheapest one you could buy at Best Buy, probably around $700 at the time (after a $100 rebate of course). I quickly realized that the 128MB of RAM and the 5400 RPM hard drive it had were two bottlenecks to the performance that I could change. That’s when I developed a specific interest in computer hardware and took on my first challenge of cracking open a laptop case to swap out the memory and hard drive. It was an empowering experience that taught me skills I still use to this day like replacing computer parts and reinstalling operating systems. That was the same time in my life when I taught myself the ins and outs of how to build websites. Ultimately, that season of tinkering led to developing skills that led to a career change that has brought me to where I am now, a senior program manager at Red Hat.

My first MacBook

In 2013 I started a job at a digital agency and was issued a 2012 MacBook Pro which I used for several years before getting upgraded to a newer MacBook Pro. At that time I was able to purchase the older MacBook from my company for a couple of hundred dollars. My wife used it throughout her three years of seminary, and we finally retired it from daily use in the summer of 2019. Since then, it’s pretty much just gathered dust in the closet and at some point made its way to the garage. I never got around to wiping the data off of it and donating it.

More recently I’ve been wanting to tinker with various Linux distributions and was considering buying an old laptop for that purpose. Then a few weeks ago it hit me: I have a laptop that might have some life left in it yet! The 2012 MacBook Pro in the garage!

Reviving a 2012 MacBook Pro with Linux

With the images and descriptions below, I’ll walk you through the steps I took to breathe new life into this 11-year-old laptop. Maybe you have an old computer lying around and this post will inspire you to do something new like update the operating system or replace some aging components. Those things can be daunting if you’ve never done them before so hopefully seeing some screenshots will take the mystery out of the process for you.

How to replace macOS with Linux (Pop!_OS)

My first attempt to get better performance from this old laptop and scratch the itch of testing out a new Linux operating system was to replace the macOS 10 with Pop!_OS. This model of MacBook stopped receiving macOS updates a long time ago. While there are ways to get around that, the newer macOS versions probably don’t fare too well on older equipment. However, it’s common for older computers to be able to run various Linux distributions with little or no problems. There are more detailed explanations of this elsewhere on the web so you can just trust me or Google it. 🙂

Note: If you prefer to keep macOS, skip to the hardware upgrades below and install macOS from macOS Recovery.

I chose Pop!_OS because several YouTubers I subscribe to love it and it looks sort of Mac-like, which to me is a plus. I use a Mac every day and love the interface so the familiarity of the Pop!_OS interface seemed like a good place to start with my endeavor to tinker with Linux.

Feb 23 – I woke up this morning wanting to install Pop OS on my 2012 Macbook Pro that was sitting in the garage. Why not?! #Linux #PopOS (inspired by @vkc!)

1 – Back up your data

The first thing I did was back up the Photo Library to an external hard drive. I probably have done this before, but just in case I didn’t and there are photos that we want to keep I did it again.

Screenshot of backing up the Photo Gallery on a 2012 MacBook Pro

2 – Prepare a flash drive

Using a program called balenaEtcher, I created a flash drive with the Pop!_OS iso on it. You can see how to do this at

3 – Boot into the flash drive

With the Pop!_OS flash drive inserted into the laptop, I restarted the computer and held down the Option key.

Rebooting the 2012 MacBook Pro from the original OS while holding the option key to load a boot menu

Holding the Option key allows you to select which drive from which to boot. I chose the one on the right which was the flash drive. Booting from the other one would have logged me into the macOS already installed on the laptop.

Rebooting the 2012 MacBook Pro from the original OS while holding the option key to load a boot menu. Option is given to boot from the thumb drive that is inserted in the laptop.

Rebooting the 2012 MacBook Pro from the original OS while holding the option key to load a boot menu. Option is given to boot from the thumb drive that is inserted in the laptop.

The moment of truth: the Pop!_OS install screen appeared!

Reviving a 2012 MacBook Pro with Linux. The thumb drive was flashed with the PO! OS iso file so I'm presented with the option to install POP! OS.

This part makes me feel like Matthew Broderick in War Games. So hackerish.

2012 MacBook Pro with a thumb drive inserted is displaying the terminal window while installing POP! OS.

I find that watching the installation progress bar is exhilarating. This is your first glimpse into the sleekness of the operating system and also the time when you can feel some level of comfort that you have not totally borked your computer.

POP! OS installation progress screen displayed on the 2012 MacBook Pro while installing the OS.

The nearly finished product: a fully installed Pop!_OS! The only challenge at this point is to find the drivers for the old Broadcom wireless card.

POP! OS fully installed on the 2012 MacBook Pro

4 – Install wifi driver for Broadcom wireless card

A known issue to overcome after installing a Linux distro on an old MacBook is that the operating system won’t see the wi-fi adapter out of the box. You have to install the proprietary driver to get wi-fi to work. This was cumbersome at first, but now that I’ve installed Linux a few times on this particular MacBook it’s become a simple process. For this particular OS, this video walks you through installing the Broadcom driver required for a 2012 MacBook Pro.

To get through these steps, I unplugged the ethernet cable from our TV and plugged it into the MacBook so I could run the command line prompts to install the Broadcom wireless drivers.

Immediately after installing POP! OS on the 2012 MacBook Pro, you have to download Broadcom wireless card drivers in order to connect to Wi-Fi. Computer screen shows that the wi-fi is not connected.

At this point, I had wi-fi working on the 2012 MacBook Pro running the latest version of Pop!_OS.

Success! Wi-Fi drivers were successfully installed and now the 2012 MacBook Pro running POP! OS can connect to Wi-Fi!

The fresh install of Pop!_OS made a noticeable difference in the performance, and the look and feel were similar enough to macOS that I didn’t feel lost. It’s a beautiful and responsive Linux distribution. But after spending about three weeks noodling around with it I wanted to see if I could make it faster. Hint: I could!

Read Reviving 2012 MacBook Pro with Hardware to discover how I increased its performance even more with upgraded internals.

Are you convinced?

Tinkering with old computers can be a fun and rewarding experience. With a little bit of knowledge and patience, you can breathe new life into an old device that might have otherwise been forgotten. In this case, the 2012 MacBook Pro was given a new lease on life with the installation of Pop!_OS, a Linux operating system, and a few simple fixes to get everything up and running smoothly. Hopefully, this post will inspire you to take on similar projects and discover the joys of upcycling old computers, expanding your knowledge of Linux, and stretching your comfort zone a little to learn a new skill.

Leave a comment below to let me know what dusty old computer is waiting to be rehabilitated.


2 thoughts on “Reviving a 2012 MacBook Pro with Linux”

  1. Hi Rob,
    I’m using a Macbook pro M1 for work (it’s a company laptop) but wanted a backup laptop for bad things that can happen. Eg. my homebrew installation is broken and i cannot update is without completely remove the old installation . So i wanted to use my own old Macbook Pro 9.1 for that. I read about Pop!_Os and wanted to give it a go.
    Installed some basic things and installed Valet Linux+. I’m a laravel developer so wanted an easy way to run my webbased projects.

    I must say: wish i discovered Pop!_Os sooner. What a delight to work on a Macbook with linux on it. It has only 8Gb of ram and a resolution of 1440px but works great.

    Don’t know if i should buy eg. a Thinkbook because i hear a lot of people is using that, but hey.. i love the keyboard of my old macbook and if it is running fine, why should i replace it.

    Love to read that you also like Pop!_os. We will see what their new desktop will look like.

    Thanks for your article.

    Conrad Maaijen

  2. Pingback: Revive Your Old Apple Laptop: Creative Uses –

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