MacBook Pros released in 2011, 2012 and early 2013 were plagued by defective hardware, that caused the discrete GPU to either fail or work intermittently. It was so bad to the point that Apple had a recall program to fix the issue. Unfortunately, Apple didn’t fix the problem, as many users had the same complaints after a few months.
Nonetheless, the Mac community did a magnificent job coming up with solutions to fix these issues. Most of these solutions focused on disabling the discrete GPU through software or hardware, however, they required some technical knowledge to execute. Not to mention, some important features such as sleep-wake functionality, screen brightness controls and HDMI output can be lost when the discrete GPU is disabled.
But what if I told you, you can have a fully operational Macbook with the discrete AMD/Nvidia GPU disabled, without having to tinker with anything. Say goodbye to the infamous black screen. But there is a catch and you might not like it. The catch is you’ll have to lose Mac OS. Let me explain!
Meet Zorin OS 16
Ladies and Gentlemen, meet Zorin OS. A Linux distribution that is robust, visually beautiful and hands down one of the most user-friendly operating systems that is easy to install for the average user.
I know what you’re thinking; Linux is garbage, Linux is ugly, Linux is a waste of my time. Well, prepare to be amazed because Zorin OS will revive your Macbook. Not only will it disable the discrete GPU, but you might also notice improved performance and battery life.
How to install Zorin OS on a MacBook
If your Macbook has a black screen every time you boot up, boot into single-user mode (Command + S) and type in this command
This will force the computer to use integrated graphics on boot. However, if the screen still works, and the discrete graphics card is not causing too much trouble, skip this step.
Step 1: Backup Data
If you have important data, make sure to back it up before installing Zorin OS.
Step 2: Downloan Zorin OS 16
There are 3 versions of Zorin OS. A lightweight version for slower computers codenamed Zorin OS light, a normal version known as Core and a paid version known as Pro. Unless your computer is really old, Zorin OS Core should suffice. The Pro version doesn’t have unique features to justify the price, but it’s a great way to support the developers. You can download Zorin OS here.
Step 3: Download BalenaEtcher
If you’re on Mac OS, use BalenaEtcher to create a bootable USB drive. You can download the program here.
Step 4: Create a bootable USB disk
When you launch the app, select the Zorin ISO you downloaded on step 2. Make sure you have a USB drive that is at least 4Gb.
Step 5: Restart the computer and boot the USB installer
When your MacBook restarts, hold the option (alt) button to choose the USB disk. This will boot the installer and a few options will be presented. Make sure to click the first option “Try or Install Zorin OS.” Do not select “Try or Install Zorin OS (modern NVIDIA graphics)” because the whole point is to avoid installing dedicated GPU drivers.
Step 6: Explore Zorin OS
The UI will load and there will be an option to explore the OS. This is a great way to see if you like the OS. Once you’re done exploring, click install. Everything after this is straightforward.
Step 7: Installation options
Tick “allow third-party drivers” but do not use the internet during installation. This is to ensure that the OS will not download dedicated graphics drivers. (Note: Linux always has a bunch of drivers preloaded, but for some reason, when I connected to the internet during installation, the OS would sometimes default to discrete graphics.)
Step 8: Restart
Once installation is done, click reboot and remove the USB drive.
Step 9: Check if the OS is using integrated Graphics
Once the OS loads, head on to settings>About and check to see what graphics are in use. If you see integrated graphics in use, then you don’t need to worry. I noticed that this will be permanent. Sleep-wake functionality and screen brightness controls work as normal. If you do decide to use discrete graphics, open the Additional Drivers app and configure GPU drivers.
Step 10: Set up Wifi
WiFi should work right out of the box. But in case it doesn’t, open the “Additional Drivers” app and configure WiFi drivers.
Step 11: Install updates
Check for any updates by opening the Software Updater app.
Step 12: Customize
Zorin OS has a lot of cool layouts and themes. The OS looks great and is highly customizable. You can make the desktop environment look like Mac OS, Windows or Linux. Did I mention that it also has a dark mode and impressive multitasking attributes?
In addition, if you’d like to download apps, open the “Software” app and search.
Note: If you created the Zorin OS USB installer on a different computer, you can eyeball it and access the installation with a Mac that boots with a black screen. The integrated graphics will kick in and the display will work when the Zorin installer loads because Linux tends to prefer integrated graphics (I call it the Zorin magic.)
What are the symptoms of a failing discrete GPU
- Black screen.
- Computer doesn’t wake from sleep.
- Computer freezes.
- Vertical and horizontal lines on the screen.
- GPU panic.
What if you really need Mac OS
Linux might not be for everyone, and that’s okay. There are other ways to disable the discrete GPU. I’ve compiled useful links that have different solutions below. But if you don’t want to tinker with things, you could try to install gfxCardstatus or gSwitch to manually switch between discrete and integrated graphics. But this always doesn’t work and Mac OS will switch back to dedicated graphics when a power-hungry app requests it.
Some useful resources to get your Mac fixed.
Are there any advantages to disabling the discrete GPU?
- Improved battery life.
- Less heat
- Less fan noise
Can you fix the issue at a hardware level?
Yes, for 2013 MacBook Pros with GPU issues, the problem is not the discrete GPU but the u8900 v-core chip that supplies power to the dedicated GPU. To fix the issue you would need to resolder this tiny chip. Checkout this video of someone doing this. (Note: For other years, the GPU itself might be the culprit. Make sure to properly research the year and model of your Mac before attempting any repairs.)