Sagar Behere

I doubt, therefore I might be

Boot Linux from USB drive on a Macbook pro

This post shows how to boot recent Ubunt based Linux distributions from a USB drive, when using an early-2010 Macbook pro 5,5.

Booting live Linux images from a USB drive is a fairly straightforward process. However, this process becomes notoriously difficult on Apple Macbook laptops because

  1. Recent Apple computers do not have a BIOS. Rather, they use something known as EFI
  2. Apple's EFI implementation is a bit.. special, shall we say?.. so even though most modern Linux distributions are capable of booting using EFI, they may not boot on Apple computers

Given the two limitations above, it is nevertheless desirable to have a method to download the .iso CD/DVD image of a Linux distribution you wish to try out, dump it to a USB stick and boot off that stick from your Macbook pro. This post describes the process to do exactly that.

This approach has been tested with elementaryOS (Luna), Linux Mint 17 KDE and Bodhi Linux 3.0 RC1, all of which are based on Ubuntu. At the moment, debian and debian based distributions (incuding Linux Mint Debian Edition) DO NOT work with this method. Debian based distributions will drop you to a GRUB prompt right after boot, instead of proceeding to boot the live image.

The steps below should be carried out on a computer running Linux.

Step 1: Prepare the USB drive


We need a bootable usb drive with a single fat32 formatted partition and a Master Boot Record. To make such a drive, we use the parted tool

  • Invoke parted for the USB drive, e.g. parted /dev/sdi (replace sdi with the appropriate device on your system)
  • Display the current partitions with the command print, which should produce an output similar to
(parted) print                                                            
Model: Generic Flash Disk (scsi)
Disk /dev/sdi: 2076MB
Sector size (logical/physical): 512B/512B
Partition Table: msdos

Number  Start   End     Size    Type     File system  Flags
 1      16.4kB  2076MB  2076MB  primary  fat16        boot

  • Remove the original partition with rm 1
  • Create a new partition with mkpart primary fat32 0 2076MB. The last value is the size shown by the print command in the previous step.
  • Create a VFAT(32) filesystem with the command mkfs 1 fat32
  • Mark the partition as bootable with the command toggle 1 boot.
  • The partition table shown by print should look like
(parted) print                                                            
Model: Generic Flash Disk (scsi)
Disk /dev/sdi: 2076MB
Sector size (logical/physical): 512B/512B
Partition Table: msdos

Number  Start  End     Size    Type     File system  Flags
 1      512B   2076MB  2076MB  primary  fat32        boot, lba

  • Exit parted with the command quit

Step 2: Add the efi loader and Linux

  1. Mount the newly formatted drive, for example under /mnt
  2. mkdir -p /mnt/efi/boot
  3. Copy bootX64.eif to /mnt/efi/boot
  4. Copy the Linux .iso to /mnt/efi/boot/boot.iso

Step 3: Boot

Insert the USB drive in the Macbook and power it on while holding the Alt/Option key. Choose the option to boot from the USB EFI drive and hopefully, your Linux image will start booting.