OS X (Mountain) Lion: How To Boot A Linux Live System From An USB Drive

This guide is about how to achive the following:

  • Boot A Linux Live System From A USB Drive On A Mac Running OS X Lion
  • Update An OCZ SSD’s Firmware On A Mac Running OS X Lion Without Installing Another OS

Interested in installing Linux on your Lion-driven-Mac permanently? Go here. But you didn’t buy a 1000$+ combination of hard- and software just to exchange it’s superior personal-computing software, or did you?

Some Problems I Experienced

  • A Mac uses EFI instead of BIOS to manage bootable devices. I experienced a decent lack of EFI support when I used Linux live systems. Everything crashed or froze or didn’t even show up in the boot menu. A common workaround seems to be rEFIt but it isn’t compatible with OS X Lion and I don’t like to modify system tools. (Update: Things have changed, but I still don’t want to mess around, just to update my SSD)
  • There is no SSD firmware update tool by OCZ for OS X so you’re forced to use a Linux live system unless you want to make changes to your hard drive setup – like using Bootcamp.
  • I replaced my optical drive with a HDD to insert a SSD in the original HDD-Bay – a common modification – but obviously a Mac hates to boot from an external optical drive. As mentioned earlier boot processes crashed or froze.

My Solution How To Boot A Linux Live System

Okay, I found an EFI-loader that has been able to boot nearly every version of Ubuntu and is very easy to setup and it even doesn’t need rEFIt. I found it in a German Mac Forum and it comes with a very detailed description how to use it but this description didn’t work for me. Here’s what I did to boot Ubuntu 11.04 Desktop Edition 64 bit as a live system from an external USB Drive on a MacBook Pro 13’3 early 2011 that was equipped with a 320GB HDD and a 120GB OCZ Agility 3 :

  1. Get the ISO-2-USB EFI-Booter for Mac 0.01 beta and a recent version of Ubuntu Desktop Edition 64bit.
  2. Format a USB drive to provide a single FAT32 partition featuring MBR.
  3. Create the following directories on your USB drive: /efi and /efi/boot
  4. Copy the bootX64.efi from “ISO-2-USB EFI-Booter for Mac 0.01 beta” into /efi/boot on your USB Drive.
  5. Copy the Ubuntu image into /efi/boot/ on the USB Drive, too and rename it to “boot.iso”.
  6. You should have 2 files on your USB drive now: bootX64.efi and boot.iso – both in /efi/boot.
  7. You’re ready to reboot: During the startup of your Mac hold Alt/Option. You should see “EFI Boot” which has a nice little USB Drive Symbol on it in the appearing boot menu. Boot from your USB Drive by clicking on the little arrow below it.
  8. Good Luck!
  9. Ubuntu should be booting now…

Video guide

Additional information

  • The EFI-fiels are precompiled versions of GRUB2 with included configs. You can make your own ones…
  • I didn’t test any 32bit systems. But in case you wish to do so I guess you ought use “bootIA32.efi” from “ISO-2-USB EFI-Booter for Mac 0.01 beta”.
  • This shouldn’t be restricted to Ubuntu. In general you need a distribution that supports loopback. You can check this by browsing their ISO for a loopback.cfg or loop.cfg.
  • I used a generic 2GB USB thumb drive a friend of mine forgot at my place. Nothing special.

Updating an OCZ SSD’s firmware

After you’ve booted into Ubuntu just follow the official guide. Don’t forget to enable TRIM!

Any questions?

Feel free to ask me anything…

Please consider creating a free Dropbox account via this referral link, if you want to say thanks.

224 thoughts on “OS X (Mountain) Lion: How To Boot A Linux Live System From An USB Drive

    • yeah… great post.. i have tried to partite USB disk to several parts. On each of it I created folders efi/boot with .efi files on it. After reboot you should see several USBs to boot from.

      UBuntu works well, also Linux Mint, both 32 – 64 version. I did try GNOME and Xfce and there was no issue. Although, the wifi driver you will have to installl manualy.

      • Bonjour,

        Tails Debian sur clef USB Bootable sur Macbook pro.
        Est-ce possible avec cette méthode ?
        Merci pour votre réponse.
        Cordialement
        Arnaud

  1. hi,
    I tried but unfortunately it didn’t work for me, it freezes right after the boot, I have a macbook air 2011 with lion (latest)
    The problem is I cannot boot non-EFI os, I tried with dd, I cannot boot EFI ok, tried unebootin and tried your procedure :(

    what is your configuration? I tried an SD (but also USB pen) 1 partition, fat32, MBR with latest ubuntu 64 , with refit and just using the osx boot (ALT key)

    • Ya, actually refit didn’t work for me, too.
      Just follow my guide at “My Solution How To Boot A Linux Live System” in this article. I found a workaround that should be 100% compatible with your configuration.

      • I uninstalled refit and tried again with 2 different versions of ubuntu 64bit , I can see the efi sd , it starts booting but after a few seconds it freezes .

        till now I couldn’t boot ANYTHING out of the sd or usb (air late 2011) , let me know if anyone managed to do it!
        The sd card I’m using is a sandisk extreme III 200x

        • hmm, my method was tested on 2 different MacBook Pro configurations, but the EFI of a MacBook Pro and a MacBook Air should be very similar.

          • Your position I would try to use a USB thumb drive instead of an SD card (shouldn’t make any difference).
          • Additionally double check whether your boot drive is formatted in FAT32 with MBR or not.
          • Of course the directory structure is very important too. It should be: “/efi/boot/bootX64.efi” and “/efi/boot/boot.iso”, where “bootX64.efi” its the file linked in my article and “boot.iso” is your Ubuntu 64bit Image renamed.

          If this still doesn’t help you. I’ll take some additional screenshots.

  2. Hi Till,
    I’ve an old macbook at home, I tried using the same USB pen that doesn’t work on AIR on the macbook and WORKED LIKE A CHARM! I also tried to boot from an external DVD on the AIR and didn’t work so either there something wrong on my machine or something wrong an ALL AIR’s 2011 firmwares.

    thanks for your help

      • so it doesn’t work an all the newest sandy-bridge computers and even worse I cannot boot anymore ANY linux liveCd!!!!!! Tried backtrack (non-efi), gparted(efi), ubuntu (non efi) and ubuntu (efi) , I cannot boot osx itself, snow leopard, the app store lion (because my version is higher) the only thing I was able to boot is the lion recovery bootdisk !

  3. So we did a test on a MacBook Air 2011 11’6″ (cheapest configuration).
    It already had the EFI Update released yesterday and we were able to boot Ubuntu 11.10 Beta1 from a Corsair Sandisk Cruzer Contour 8GB.

    Maybe this worked due to a newer SYSLINUX Version in the Beta Builds, but I don’t know anything for sure.

    • negative here, ubuntu 11.10 beta 1 (amd64+mac) EFI update 2.1 on Sandisk extreme III 200x doesn’t work, tried also as live CD burned with a samsung s084d (very common superdrive replacement) doesn’t work

      anyone with sandy bridge can reproduce the success?

  4. Ubuntu AMD64bit 10.10beta2 loads just fine on the Mac mini (mid 2011) unit. No special EFI bootloaders needed. Everything is functional, except the wifi does not work, unfortunately. I was unable to test the ethernet port (perhaps someone with a new mini or MacBook Air can do this).

    We are one step closer to flashing our SSDs on the new generation Sandy Bridge chipsets (minis and Airs)!

    • How did you achieve this? When you say “mid 2011 Mini” do you mean the latest model – without CD Rom drive?

      I cannot get ANYTHING to load on this machine, other than OSX and Windows under bootcamp.

  5. Great it works for me. I loss a day trying with refit and syslinux but it doesn’t work. Now with your instruction i updated my vertex 3 firmware on my macbook pro 2011. Thank you so much.

        • Yeah, that’s confusing…

          A non or slow loading Kernel can be The result of many issues.

          A damaged USB drive, a corrupted ISO…
          I’d start with exchanging these…
          Try using an older Version of Ubuntu or just redownload it.

          I can’t give you a Good explanation…

  6. I’ve just installed today Ubuntu 11.10 on MacBook Pro straight off the official installation CD. I chose to wipeout OS X (Lion) which was already there. That worked well, but I then run into other, software related, issues.
    I also think it installs differently when it recognizes HFS partitions on the HD. On re-install, I run into more hardware issues, such as WiFi not connecting. But even then it booted of EFI w/o a problem.

    Details here: https://plus.google.com/u/0/104936988539783595605/posts/VH77wdgH3KG

    • Nice to see it working on a non-modified MacBook.

      The problem covered in this post was to boot a Linux distribution on a Mac without a DVD-Drive and without changing its harddisk.

  7. Thanks for the video. It was very helpful in installing Ubuntu on MBP 8,1. However, when I restart I get the following message, “No bootable device — insert boot disk and press any key.” I do not know what to do. If I insert the flash drive and hit enter, it takes me back to “live CD”.

  8. Worked for me on an old macbook running snow leopard. Thanks so much to you and the guy that came up with the EFI loader.

    Can’t believe it’s such a pain in the ass to boot a live usb on mac.

  9. I’ve tried this method without any success. I have a 2011 Macbook Pro. I’ve tried multiple USB sticks. It get all the way to the hold on to your seatbelt message, and then it just freezes. I’ve even heard the Linux boot up sound but nothing shows on my display. For those that have gotten this to work on a 2011 Macbook Pro, what did you do?

      • The display shows the text that is displayed after loading the ramdisk which say something to the effect of hold on to your seatbelt. I tried downloading the rescue remix mentioned below, but that did not work…same freeze situation as above. I looked at booting without X, but I don’t know how I would do that since I don’t get the boot screen. Any help would be appreciated.

        • As far as I remember you can get to the boot screen by holding Shift during the boot process – in your case after the seat belt message…

          Unfortunately I don’t expect it working if even the rescue remix didn’t succeed…

          Beside testing a distribution not connected to Ubuntu or Debian I would suggest to try booting when an external display is connected to your Mac. There might be a slightly chance that Linux is unable to talk to the internal display but not to an external…

      • Holding shift doesn’t work. I tried Mint linux with the same result as ubuntu. I hear the boot sound but don’t see anything. I’ve tried fedora and sure linux and get a grub prompt. I try the boot command, and it says there is no linux kernel. I’ve also tried to do it with my external display connected via thunderbolt. It does not work…only my laptop display works. So I guess I’m at a loss unless someone else has any suggestions.

      • Using the IA32 file, the usb drive does not appear as a boot option. I’m assuming it’s because my mac is running in 64 bit mode. I wish OCZ had a mac toolbox.

        • Meh, thy for trying! :)

          It’s a shame… I don’t think porting a command line tool from one Unix to another is too difficult for skilled programmers…

          Since I had serious Beachball Sessions without firmware updates I hope you find a solution soon. I’ll keep this post updated – my next project in this context is trying to boot Windows PE from a live medium…

  10. Ugh! This got me farther than I could with an external CD drive, so thanks. But I tried to boot from USB, it said “Fasten your seatbelts, we are loading the kernel” and then there was some graphic nuttiness and it froze. The graphic stuff was identical three boots in a row – some green blocks and a few fuzzy blue blocks and that was it. Exact same graphic pattern.

    USB stick flashed a few times and then stopped.

    I have a macbook pro 9,2 mid-2010. I also tried using refit to boot from various DMG-on-usb schemes.

    Either booting with alt/opt or letting rEFIt do the choosing, same result.

    Same ISO boots fine on another macbook with an internal optical drive from CD.

    The ISO is ubuntu-10.04.3-desktop-amd64

  11. hey before trying this method i want to know if this completely wipes out the mac os. Because i want to dual boot

    regards

    • This method doesn’t touch your files.
      It’s aim is to provide a Live System to update an internal SSD-Drive.

      You should try your luck with rEFIt.

    • In theory you can put it everywhere. But keep in mind that you have to look for it manually.

      Putting the fwupd file onto your hard drive an loading it from there is much easier and I prefer to simply download the latest fwupd with my live system.

  12. I was able to get the live usb to load using 11.04 amd64 version, but I am unable to start the installer to install ubuntu on a partition. When i click on the “install ubuntu” icon, it just gets stuck at loading(cursor blinking) and doesnt progress beyond that, although the other features of the OS work at the same time.

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    • You’re welcome! :)

      It’s very nice to see, that you found a solution for the black screen issues. I’s really like to know, why most Macs behave that differently…

  14. TRIM Enabler 2.0 with extended Lion support was released: groths.org/?page_id=322

    Don’t forget to activate TRIM support for non-Apple-SSDs!

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  16. I keep getting “command not found” in terminal… I typed sudo ./fwupd /dev/sda
    And yes, I did look at the official guide but it didn’t help much… And I made sure that the files where copied and named properly in place since it booted the system and I was able to do the process till opening up terminal. I think something is wrong with my command line.. Please help me :)

    • First thing: ./command means: do “command” and it is saved exactly where I am, too.
      So maybe you’ve simply downloaded fwupd from the official Website into ~/Downloads (where ~ meas your home directory (temporarily created in your RAM by the live system)). In this case give sudo ./Downloads/fwupd /dev/sda a try.
      Or you copied fwupd onto a USB Drive. In this case copy it into your live systems’s home directory and try it again…

      once you’ve managed this, double check whether /dev/sda is your SSD and not any other drive. An easy way to find out which /dev/sd* is what drive in reality is to use Ubuntu’s Disk Utility…

      Did this help?

    • Trying another ISO proofed to be the best solution for this issue. Apparently some Macs dislike some ISOs. In general if Ubuntu fails, try something like SuSE, which has a grub that its configured differently…

      Good luck

  17. ISO-2-USB EFI-Booter for Mac 0.01 beta appears to actually be grub2 (for Ubuntu) but configured to be an EFI bootloader which then loads an ISO into a ramdisk and boots the ramdisk.

    • Hey there,

      yeah as mentioned in the post I found this in a German Mac Forum, but the person who posted it there didn’t give any credit so all we know is:

      “ISO-2-USB EFI-Booter for Mac 0.01 beta appears to actually be grub2 (for Ubuntu) but configured to be an EFI bootloader which then loads an ISO into a ramdisk and boots the ramdisk.”

      Assuming this is true, I’ll try to do my own preconfigured grub and present it here in the future…

  18. Hi,

    I strictly follow your tutorial, but when a reboot my MacBook Pro 8,2 (2011-end) i see ISO 2 USB EFI Booter working (Loading RAM …) and it’s freeze on the kernel loading !

    Have got an idea to resolve my issue ?

    (sorry for my ridiculous english, i’m french)

    • This seems to be a common problem…

      Double check your setup.
      Try another USB drive maybe a powered one.
      Try a different Linux Distro…

  19. I’m going to try this method because I couldn’t make rEFIt run correctly on my Macbook 5.1 with OSX Lion.

    I know this tutorial is only for running Linux in live mode, but is there any way toI install it in the same pendrive or in another one, and run it from that drive anytime I want to use Ubuntu? Without using rEFIt I mean, because it doesn’t run on my Macbook

    Thanks for the tutorial!

      • Thanks but I don’t want to install Ubuntu on my HDD, I would like to install it directly in a pendrive, and boot from it when I want to use Ubuntu, leaving MacOSX Lion alone in my HDD.

        Is it possible?

        • Okay, I should read things before I answer xD

          Yes this can be done easily – I did it before, but not on a Mac.

          Here’s how you get an USB installation.

          • Boot into Ubuntu on a system of your choice.
          • Use “Create USB start up disk” to create a permanent Ubuntu installation on an external USB drive. There you can choose whether to install a persistent system or a self-resetting one.

          Now the trouble begins…
          As you might have mentioned, the EFI loader I promote is a preconfigured GRUB2 and it only boots anything called boot.iso which your USB installation doesn’t comply with.

          I’ll write my own GRUB loader in the near future and I’ll try to do one for this scenario, too. But until that point you’ve to compile and hack your own…

          Please keep me updated if you’re doing so…

          • Ok, I thought there would be the same problem, it only boots an ISO called boot.iso, it would be great if it could boot a permanent USB installation too…

            I don’t know enough to build a grub, so I would thank you a lot if you can do it. It would be great if you could tell me how do you do it, if you find the way.

            Send me an email or something if you can do it, ok?

            Thanks a lot!

          • I’m not quite sure how to begin, but I’ll definitely try to write an efi grub file like those I’m already offering, which doesn’t launch boot.iso, but another grub launcher…

            This way you could install Ubuntu on an USB drive as mentioned and you’d just have to add a second grub loader, that triggers on EFI Boot. On the other hand I could just reconfig the grub that comes with the USB installation… hmm…

            Anyway I’ll inform you when there is any progress ;)

          • Hi again,

            I could do another step.

            I installed rEFIt manually on a pendrive, and rEFIt just works when I press “Option” button when I turn on the Macbook.

            Knowing that, I did a partition and installed Ubuntu without problems, but when I reboot and run rEFIt from my pen drive, I see the Linux partition, with the penguin icon, but it doesn’t boot, the screen keeps black with the white cursor, and doesn’t run Linux, I neither can see the grub.

            Do you know how could I make it run?

            Thanks for all ;)

          • Oh, should’ve thought about that earlier…
            I don’t know why, but I never liked rEFIt… Time to get more tolerant.

            Yeah I’m excited. Did you install Ubuntu with the default installer or via “Create USB startup disk”?

            That’s very interesting I’ll tinker around with it later today, because I’d love to have a semi persistent Backtrack installation.

          • I created the boot USB with “Penguintosh”, so I could boot this USB as a live Ubuntu.

            I used the installer of Ubuntu to install it in my hard drive, the normal way, just like you would do in another PC. Boot Ubuntu, use the Installing tool that appears on Ubuntu live desktop, and all was fine.

            I think that this would be the same method if you want to install it on a Pendrive.

            I had to do another step more to keep it working, I followed this tutorial, is a very very simple step (it’s in spanish): http://www.elblogdejabba.com/2011/04/problema-con-refit-y-grub-no-bootable.html

            The only thing you have to do is boot Gparted (or use it from Ubuntu live, just as I did), and flag the linux partition with boot too.

            After that, all worked fine, I have Lion and Ubuntu working, I only have to use my rEFIt USB to run the Ubuntu partition when I want.

            I don’t know if I explained it well… (my english is not very good XD )

      • Thank you. I am not sure I understand how that works, being an empty folder and all, but oh well, what do I know about computers. Thanks for the information I cannot wait to try it out.

  20. I am having a problem copying and pasting the bootA32.efi file onto my flashdrive partition. Your video and instructions say nothing about “extracting” or “unzipping” the files first; but are they supposed to be unzipped first and then copied and pasted – or how does that work? Please explain. Thank you.

    • Thank you for your feedback.

      I’m sorry the video didn’t make it clear but yes these files have to be unzipped. I’ll mention this in the next version.

  21. Didn’t work for me, sadly. 2011 Mac Mini.

    Using the 64 bit version, I can see the EFI boot disk and select it to boot off, but it doesn’t boot linux – it just drops me to a Grub> command prompt. If I had a clue about linux, maybe I could do something from there.

    All I want to be able to do is update SSD firmware without having to take my Mini to pieces to do it. Surely it can’t be THIS difficult???

    • Okay, some quick facts: The EFI Loader is basically a preconfigured GRUB Loader named after Apples Standards. It loads everything it can – i.e. a GRUB compatible OS – from /efi/boot/boot.iso

      So what went wrong?
      - Did you name the ISO correctly?
      - Is the ISO damaged (this happens regularly)?
      - Redownload/format everything.
      - Try a different ISO. I had great results with Ubuntu 12.04 recently.

      • Thanks for the reply. Strange thing is, it’s a brand new download of Ubuntu 12.04 that I just tried. I just checked the MD5 hash to make sure it’s ok, and yes it is.

        I assume you used ubuntu-12.04-desktop-amd64.iso?

        I wonder why it is working for you and not me? I have a 2011 Mini, 2.3GHz btw. Running 10.7.4.

        Very odd.

        • EDIT – It doesn’t matter what you call the USB stick, does it? I called it LINUX, but I wouldn’t have thought it mattered?

          • EDIT, EDIT:

            My bad. For some strange reason, I had named the folders EFI and BOOT, not efi and boot. Changed it and now I get much further. I get to the purple Ubuntu loading screen, and then it crashes with some error about the Ubuntu image being bad (or something like that.) I will format the drive and try again.

          • Hmm I See…

            Another reason for giving HFS non case sensitive a try ;)

            Corrupted Image it says?
            A reason for this – excluding a corrupted image since you MD5ed it – could be a too slow USB drive but I hardly think so…

          • I don’t think the Name could cause any Troubles…

            What about the formatting… Did you use FAT and Master Boot Record? Give Apple’s HFS+ (joirnaled, non case sensitive) a try…

  22. Thanks again. Yes, I used FAT and MBR.

    The exact error is ”
    (initramfs)
    Could not find the ISO /efi/boot/boot.iso
    This could also happen if the file system is not clean because of an operating
    system crash, an interrupted boot process, an improper shutdown, or unplugging
    of a removable device without first unmounting or ejecting it. To fix this, simply reboot into Windows, let it fully start. log in, run ‘chkdsk /r’, then
    gracefully shut down and reboot back into Windows. After this you should be able to reboot again and resume the installation.

    Any thoughts?

    • Yeah obviously your partitions are damaged or similar. Calculating in a defect drive I’ll recommend you to try a different USB drive (maybe even an unused USB Harddisk). Use Disk Utility’s “Erase” Method to format it…

      You didn’t use ExFat, or did you?

      • No, that’s not it. I created a bootable USB drive using your instructions, and on my iMac it works like a charm, but on my MacBook Air the boot crashes and i get the exact same error (“could not find the ISO /efi/boot/boot.iso”)

  23. Just one thing… you don’t suppose there’s any chance of a trojan in the EFI booted program, do you?

    The reason I ask is when I restarted my Mac, I noticed a service srlogin running in the background consuming 100% cpu on 1 core. srlogin belongs to Splashtop remote – i.e. desktop sharing software. I do have this installed, but I certain was not running it!

    This has worried me somewhat. I guess perhaps I had launched it by mistake (I don’t see how I could have done). But it consuming 100% CPU is strange as well. When I do run it, it starts up and that’s that. This does look for all the world like the EFI loader has dropped something nasty on my Mac.

    What do you reckon? Do you know whether the author of this program can be trusted? Is the source available?

    • I hardly think so. I ran several tests before I posted this Solution and I couldn’t observe anything suspicious.
      Ubuntus Boot Routine isn’t something I would describe as “stable” neither would the people at Debian do so ;)

      But the fact that more and more errors are occurring drives me to compile GRUB on my own in the near future.
      I’ll post a rewrite of this guide when I’m ready. Expect this to happen in the next week.

      You can subscribe to this posts comments and I’ll make a comment when it’s done.

      • Thanks again

        By the way, I tried formatting the USB stick as Mac OS Extended Journaled and it still fails at the same point, i.e. after the purple Ubuntu loading screen, it then drops out with a can’t find efi/boot/boot.ini error. Very odd.

        • I have now tried 2 USB sticks and 1 SD card. I have tried FAT/MBR and also MAC OS Extended/GUID. As well, I have tried Ubuntu 12.04 and 10.10, and Parted Magic iso’s.

          None of these combinations work for me. All will fall over straight after the purple Ubuntu loading screen with a “Could not find the ISO /efi/boot/boot.iso” error.

          Has anyone actually got this working with a 2011 (latest model) Mac Mini?

        • Investigating this the second day now the results are rather depressing:

          Tried to generate an updated version of these .efi files: no success
          Tried fiddling around with a mobile Version of rEFIt: no success
          Tried GRML: no success
          Tried the official Ubuntu Guide:
          https://help.ubuntu.com/community/How%20to%20install%20Ubuntu%20on%20MacBook%20using%20USB%20Stick
          Works, but they should mention, that the resulting USB drive can#t be booted from a Mac…

          Right now I’m trying some dd magic and working with my self-compiled GRUB2…

  24. Please help.
    I have tried everything.
    I have watched your video and after it “loads linux” and “loads the RAMDisk it freezes. It stays with the fasten your seatbelts and never goes on. I have waited at about 12 minutes at max but not past that. Any ideas? I have a Macbook Pro 15inch mid 2009. Any suggestions? Thank you so much.

  25. you are the great! thanks Till.
    However i am not able to work it. I do every things like you, but when i restart the mac and boot from usb i read very very fast (less that 1 second) :

    Welcome to GRUB!
    error:”prefix” is not set
    Unknown graphic card: 1160
    Unknown graphic card: 6760

    Immediately start your same screen (like your video welcome to the <<ubuntu….) but don't start ubuntu. The Loading Linux work; the same for Ram…. but "the fasten your seat bealt" remain on my screen.
    [It's strange because same times i ear the sound of ubuntu welcome but i see only the screen stop"the fasten your seat bealt" ]

    Have same advice?

    I have try to change all the distribution of ubuntu from 10.10 to 12.04 in 64bit and 32bit.(that don't work).

    I try with two different usb key and two different external usb hd. (fat32) mbr.

    I'm try to update the firmware of my vertex 2 that it's in my macbook pro 15' (2011) with 1 ssd and 1 traditional hd but it's difficult! =)

    I have read a lot of forum and thread and your guide was the best and easiest!

    Thanks for your help! (and sorry for my english)

  26. Thank you so much, it worked. I wish I would have found your page earlier ;)
    MacBook Pro 9,2, Core i7, ssd disk, rEFit (because I installed it before finding your page) and Ubuntu 12.04 (standard amd64 iso).

    Just one thing that could be interesting to other readers:
    1/ The Ubuntu installation was successful, but it crashed during boot. I had to addthe ‘noapic’ kernel option (google it)
    2/ The ontly thing that didn’t work was the wi-fi adapter but googling for Broadcom 4331 helped me fix it.

    • I’m glad it worked.

      I’d love to offer a more stable and maybe even more portable version but Apple and GRUB are giving me a hard time and…

  27. Hey, I am having the same problem as andrea (except for the Fasten your seatbelts thing, I have no idea what that is). I am running a brand new 9,1 MacBook Pro non-retina display.
    I’m going to try the alternate install and maybe try to get into grub rescue somehow (I know how to fix the prefix problem from grub rescue, I’ve done it before). I’ll let you know how it goes.

  28. I tried this method for BackTrack 5 R2, but couldn’t get BackTrack to boot. Is there any workaround for me? I read somewhere, not here, that someone had added BackTrack as a menue to ubuntu, but I can’t find that page again.

  29. Hi all.
    I could boot from Ubuntu(12.04) iso-file on Macmini 2011 fall, no rEFIt, no burned CD/DVD.
    I use the iso-file, “ubuntu-12.04-desktop-amd64+mac.iso” the hash is “b9a8cbb64cc15df0209b68c8494ed5ef”.
    I tried some iso-file of Ubuntu to boot, but Macmini 2011 fall can boot this kernel version only.
    Put the iso-file to /efi/boot/ of USB stick(FAT32), and put below grub configration file to /efi/boot/grub.cfg , then boot it.

    ———— “grub.cfg” below ————
    menuentry “Ubuntu12.04_Desktop_amd64_+mac ISOBOOT” {
    set root=(hd0,msdos1)
    loopback loop /efi/boot/ubuntu-12.04-desktop-amd64+mac.iso
    linux (loop)/casper/vmlinuz boot=casper iso-scan/filename=/efi/boot/ubuntu-12.04-desktop-amd64+mac.iso irqpoll noprompt noeject splash –
    initrd (loop)/casper/initrd.lz
    }
    ———— “grub.cfg” above ————

    You chose EFI Boot, you get grub2 boot menu, then only hit return key.
    Ubuntu may boot.

    # Before here, Anon said “ISO-2-USB EFI-Booter for Mac 0.01 beta appears to actually be grub2″, I confirmed that by this way.
    # Remove or rename /efi/boot/boot.iso, then boot from EFI Boot, the grub2(1.99) prompt shown.
    # It means, “bootX64.efi” is “chainloadable grub2 from EFI”, so we can boot from iso-file to set appropriate grub2 configuration.
    # one more, may boot from another iso-file, not only Ubuntu iso.

    • Trying this on Mac Mini 2011 2.5Ghz i5 with AMD Radeon HD 6630M. Followed general instructions so have 3 files on my FAT MBR USB stick:

      /efi/boot/boot.iso
      /efi/boot/bootX64.efi
      /efi/boot/grub.cfg

      No go. By that I mean I see the “EFI Boot” orange icon at startup but upon clicking it, instead of “ubuntu-12.04-desktop-amd64+mac.iso” booting to Ubuntu, I just see the Apple logo on the normal gray background and arrive at the usual Apple login screen.

      I tried using the unrenamed “ubuntu-12.04-desktop-amd64+mac.iso” also but no go.

      I tried replacing “ubuntu-12.04-desktop-amd64+mac.iso” with “boot.iso” and using the renamed “ubuntu-12.04-desktop-amd64+mac.iso” (renamed “boot.iso”) but here also no go.

      I have only been able to boot into Fedora 16 so far but with Ubuntu it’s a no go. I have Ubuntu 9.10 pre-installed on an external SATA HD and I can boot to that with a USB SATA adapter. But I would like to be able to boot a USB stick with Ubuntu as in “ubuntu-12.04-desktop-amd64+mac.iso”.

      Any suggestion?

      Thank you!

      • Have tried another method. I installed rEFInd (through its install.sh script), formatted my USB stick using Disk Utility’s Partition tool and selecting both GPT and FAT, used Penguintosh to load the iso file. With Penguintosh, my formatted USB ends up with the /efi and /efi/boot/ folders and both boot.iso and bootX64.efi in /efi/boot: I have nothing to copy manually, Penguintosh takes care of that. I then make sure to eject the USB stick and either shutdown or restart my Mac Mini i5/2.5Ghz/AMD. Upon booting, rEFind shows an icon for the system on the USB stick, which I choose. No matter which Ubuntu AMD64+MAC.iso release I pick, I end up seeing the kernel loading, the RAMdisk loading and the “Fasten your seat belts” message followed by the “this may take a while so please be patient” message. The problem is that the process freezes or at least seems to freeze then (I waited several minutes in vain).

        Seeing this I tried 12.04 with the grub.cfg file above, using “boot.iso” in it or not, but no change in the end result. Randomly I was able to access the GRUB menu and so a command line if needed. But I am stuck there, unable to see the purple Ubuntu startup screen or any Ubuntu sound. What could I try next? Buying the Apple-branded superdrive and burn a CD? That’s ~80 undeserved dollars for Apple that is making all this way too complicated for us IMO!!! BTW, am running OSX Lion with all Apple updates. This is very frustrating. Would looove to hear of a way to make Ubuntu boot on USB on such Mini!

      • Hi maximini.

        My Macmini is “MC815J/A”, not “AMD Radeon HD 6630M”.
        But, I think, Radeon macmini may boot it.
        I wonder, did you press alt/option key at bootup?
        (the key press start timimg is at startup-sound just gone, and keep press till EFI Boot Icon appears.)
        More, in this way, I suggest that NOT use the name “boot.iso”.
        The iso-file name “boot.iso” may set to default.
        By this, setting by grub.cfg can set any filename.
        so try another filename you like, “Ubuntu.iso” or another.
        And more, check this.
        If you set your-like filename to iso-file, change the lines of grub.cfg.

        (line3)
        loopback loop /efi/boot/ubuntu-12.04-desktop-amd64+mac.iso
        (line4)
        linux (loop)/casper/vmlinuz boot=casper iso-scan/filename=/efi/boot/ubuntu-12.04-desktop-amd64+mac.iso irqpoll noprompt noeject splash –

        for example, if you set the iso-file name to “moof.iso”, change these two lines like this.

        (line3)
        loopback loop /efi/boot/moof.iso
        (line4)
        linux (loop)/casper/vmlinuz boot=casper iso-scan/filename=/efi/boot/moof.iso irqpoll noprompt noeject splash –

        Booting w/ alt/option press, Get EFI Boot ICON, Choose EFI Boot, Get grub2 menu, then bootloading stage cleard.
        If you cannot proceed more, It’s linux matter.

        please check these, and try again.
        I wish you get.

  30. Hi,
    it works for me on my brandnew macbook Air with OX S X Lion 10.7.4 (Intel Core i5). But it doesn’t work with Gentoo+syslinux or Archlinux, only with ubuntu-12.04-desktop-amd64.iso. .
    Thank you so much.

  31. THANK YOU!!!! Now I’ve got Ubuntu up and running on a USB Drive, but I have one simple question. Is there a way to make it Persistent? I’ve got a 16GB Drive, 5 of it is set up for this, and the remaining 10 are for random stuff. Is there a way for me to make this USB installation persistent? I can (obviously) save files inside that 10 GB partition, but I can’t save settings. Do you know how I can? Thanks.

  32. Good day!

    I can’t download the ISO-2-USB EFI-Booter for Mac 0.01 beta from tutorial.

    Could somebody please provide this file to me?

    Thanks a lot!

  33. I’m going completely mad.

    I have a 240Gb OCZ Vertex Plus SSD drive that just Will Not Work with my A1226 model MacBook Pro, and NOTHING seems to make it want to update the FW!! I think I’m on “Plan 65″ or something by now.

    I followed your guide however, and managed to boot an Ubuntu distro from USB. By far the most promising path so far.

    But the “official guide” on how to proceed to actually update the FW is gone/not accessible!!

    Please please just tell me what to do!

  34. Hi Till,

    I was able to install Ubuntu 12.04LTS 64bit successfully after booting from USB thumb drive. However, my MBP (9,1 non retina) fan does not work at all and it gets really hot. I’m not able to load applesmc module and then can’t get temperature information. Do you have any luck with this? My coworker tell me to use Virtual Box on Mountain Lion and I can’t accept that!

    Thanks in advance.

    YJ

  35. How do I specifically choose Master Boot Record when I erase? I only see it as an option if I click on Partition, not Erase.

    • Seems like they’ve moved some options around with introducing fusion drive. However just use the “Options…” in partition and select “1 Partition”.

      • Thanks. Just tried it twice and only get the Grub prompt. Each time I completely erased the USB and redownloaded all files. Any ideas? 2009 MBP with ML 10.8.2.

        • hmm, which version of Ubuntu did you try? Do not download the “Mac” version.
          As mentioned I was successful with Ubuntu 11.10 and 12.04

          • My fault. I should have been more specific. I’m actually trying to use a program called PartedMagic. They give instructions to use unetbootin, but that program cannot create a live boot cd for Macs, only PCs. Someone on that forum linked me to this article and said it worked for him. I did everything you suggested, but instead of the Ubuntu iso, I renamed the PartedMagic iso to boot.iso.

          • Understood :)

            The method described in this post will only boot an OS that has a loopback.cfg compatible with grub for booting ISOs. In general this means every OS has to be prepared for this special scenario. Ubuntu comes shipped with everything necessary. An alternative to PartedMagic (that works with Ubuntu) might be gparted.

      • You can certainly rehost the GRUB 2 source code. FYI, since GRUB is under the GPL, maybe someone should inform the author that he needs to post any modifications.

        I’m attempting to duplicate this for my program Mac Linux USB Loader. I’m gotten pretty far, including with an embedded GRUB config, but the problem is that it says it can’t read from my USB drive: it’s a FAT drive, and GRUB detects it, so I haven’t a clue why GRUB can’t read from it.

        Anyone who can read German or somehow knows how to get this working – your help would be extremely appreciated!

  36. I,ve tried this on my macbook pro 8,2 (late 2011 i believe) and it just hangs after i get the “fasten your seatbelts” message. did you encounter this at any point?

  37. wasn’t able to boot the usb properly!
    here’s what o tried so far:
    prepared this usb via unetbootin: stopped at the ubuntu loading sceen (waited for about 20mins to boot the kernels)
    made a bootable ubuntu usb via linux inside virtualized parrallels: it just boots the kernels and stops
    copyed the efi file together with the boot.iso to a hd partition; nothing seems to work
    tried booting with and without rEFit. no success there

    any ideas how i might approach this?

    specs:
    macbookpro 5,2, snow leopard, busted optical drive

    • Don’t forget that Unetbootin doesn’t support booting FROM a mac yet!
      This is wired Unetbootin can only be used to PREPARE a linux live system ON a mac.

  38. I followed your instruction on both ubuntu and linux mint 14. Both failed. For both, the first time the prompts say fasten seat belts and so, but they all finally crushed. And now, when i select the drive, the majority part of the screen is black and the rests are pieces of colours. For the first time i ran, it prompted that there was a graphics problem. I’ve been trying different approaches for a few days till now, and i’m super frustrated. Need some help, please.

  39. i follow your post ,but no work
    shows message “ok,fasten your seat belts now,we are booting thew kernel….”

    i used ubuntu 12.0

  40. Mmh I followed your steps exacly but I don’t even get the efi boot screen, is there any reason that could cause this? I’m on a 2009 macbook pro and I tried with the 64bit version of ubuntu 12.04LTS

    • Recently I had similar issues with some 2010 models. Try to boot backtrack R5 subversion 3 – the latest.

  41. I work in Ubuntu for software development, on a 12.10 (64 bit) vm (vm fusion 5), running on a MBP (late 2011). I am testing parallel code before putting it on a cluster (linux).

    So, I use 4 ‘processors’ of the 8 available. To help move things along, I installed Ubuntu 12.10 (64) on a 32 GB usb (3.0) thumb drive, This works fine on a borrowed computer. I like this approach!

    But I would like to do the same thing on my MacBook Pro or an even newer/faster IMac.

    Will this procedure halp me boot my Ubuntu 12.10 OS on my thumb drive?

    Just to be sure – as nomenclature seems to be inconsistent between forums/blogs:
    Will this discussion even help with a ‘persistent’ live usb?

    Thanks,
    Tim

    • I’m Sorry this won’t work with any persistent Installation. Unfortunatelly there is no documented way for persistent installations.

      Anyway try this:

      1. Clone your VM
      2. Inside the cloned VM create GRUB for EFI
      3. Move grub.efi to /boot/efi together with the zimage
      4. Copy this VM’s hard drive onto an USB drive
      5. Good Luck

      This method worked once for me. I have no idea why I can’t reproduce it. Please report back if this worked for you. And there is always the chance that rEFIt might work for you!

      Good Luck

  42. Will this work on a mid-2012 Macbook Pro with Retina Display 15 that is operation on Mac OS 10,8.3? I am bit weary of doing this for fear of an issue.

    • Unfortunately I don’t have any experience with Apple’s new Retina line-up…
      There is no reason why apple should have changed it’s EFI implementation again so just give it a try…
      If you follow my guide you don’t touch your Hard Drive so there are no consequences to fear ;)

      Please report back whether it worked or not.

  43. I’ve tried this with both Ubuntu-12.04.2 and the current Tails iso on mid-2014 Macbook Pro. In both cases I get a grub2 cli prompt. Not having any luck figuring out how to manually boot from there. I’m thinking that getting a grub2 cli prompt must suggest something like a grub config file is not being found?

    • I don’t know about DVDs but via USB and the descriptions above you should be able to boot Backtrack5 which is Ubuntu based…

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  45. Hi Till,

    I have a late 2009 Macbook with OSX Mountain Lion on it. I followed every step of the procedure, but instead of Ubuntu I’m trying to install BackTrack 5.

    When I old the Alt/Option key only the Macintosh HD and boot camp shows up. Any tips for me please?

    Thanks!

  46. Let me start by saying this has gotten me farther than anything else I could find. However when I boot to it I get a grub2 command line. I am not able to get it to boot from there. Any help?

    • Well I don’t want to bring you down but unfortunately this is no good sign. During boot GRUB lost connection to the USB drive. Try a different drive or a faster booting iso (sounds like Vodoo?!).

  47. Hi, I’ve followed what you wrote and I created a boot usb stick where I put the 32-bit version of Ubuntu (renaming it with boot.iso) with the appropriate efi file in /efi/boot but when I boot my MacBook Pro (it’s a 3,1 MBR with 4Gb of RAM and Mountain Lion) holding alt it doesen’t show the stick. One month ago I also tried with unetbootin and rEFIt but he said that my mac couldn’t boot a different OS, what should I do?

  48. Hello,

    I have a headless raspberry pi but fucked something up. I can’t acces it anymore using vnc, ssh or any other method. My idea was to acces it by booting it in my macbook pro, since i don’t have any hdmi screens. The problem is, there is no boot.iso file there are all kinds of different files in on the sd card.. Is it still possible to boot into it with your way?

    • Hey there, nice question!

      In theory this would be possible, but in reality there are some impossibilities. First: All Macs sold in the last 5 years are x86 and amd64 based, but the raspberry pi is arm based. Binaries for one cpu architecture don’t run on the other. Second: raspberry pi uses its sd card for a persistent installation which isn’t covered in this tutorial…

      But don’t be disappointed, you can either connect to your raspberry pi by ssh if you use raspbian http://elinux.org/RPi_Remote_Access or you could emulate an raspberry pi with qemu: http://blog.bolkin.net/2013/03/raspberry-pi-emulator-on-osx.html

      • Not to mention that, besides the processor incompatibilities, I do not believe the Raspberry Pi has EFI support to begin with. If this were possible, you could hook up the pi’s SD card to your Mac and option-boot into it, but in lieu of serious EFI support in the pi project and this tool’s real inability to be flexible in specifying Linux kernel options I would suggest doing as the previous comment suggested and using QEMU. I have found it to be reliable, both in testing EFI executables but also for booting pi images and ARM-based OSes in general.

      • Damn, i didnt think about the architecture problem. I just assumed that, wheezy being debian distribution it would work on most computers, but since it has to run from a very small drive (in my case a 2gb sd card) it couldn’t possibly hope to contain support for all those architectures and still be able to actually save something on the drive. En plus, it would probably be slower to have that extra support.

        Thanks for the tip! ill check out qemu later today!

        Yes, i used to enter my raspi using ssh but i accidentally changed some permissions (i think). I dont remember exactly what error it returned, but it was crying about sockets or something.

        Anyway, thank you both!

  49. The problem with these images is that GRUB 2 is under the GPL v3, which technically requires the author to give out the source code to any modifications. This would, by definition, include the embedded configuration file. I am the developer of a tool called Mac Linux USB Loader (mentioned above) which uses these images and I recently had someone request the code to these them. I’m not really sure what to say, as the author never released the code as far as I am aware…

    • Well I’m not sure. A GRUB2 file isn’t really compiled or is it? You write your grub.conf and run update-grub…

      I did this many times. Only once I compiled my own GRUB2 from their ftps…

  50. hm does not seem to work on a MacBook 5.1 :-( … used my ext. HDD … it boots into the grub but then does not find a kernel to boot into … tried Ubuntu 13 and 12LTS

    • This is because Ubuntu recently changed its ISO configuration around a bit, and this tool is quite inflexible. It looks for specific files in specific places and if they aren’t there, it fails. If you’re interested in seeing exactly how this is configured, I’ve extracted the config file used and uploaded its contents to PasteBin: http://pastebin.com/qQxqF7dS

      • so in theory …If I want Ubuntu to be my only OS on the mac … could I just boot the installer and tell Ubuntu to use the entire disk … will it boot successfully? … cuz I have tried a few times to run the installer and install it to an ext. HDD but never could boot from it … just wanted to see how well the Mac hardware runs under Ubuntu … never tested this on the internal disk …

        • Don’t do this. In most cases you’ll end with an unbootable system.

          The recommended way is to keep a OS X partition for firmware updates and a boot camp partition for Linux…

          • but this will cause EFI to emulate BIOS to Linux which will result in performance loss especially with the graphics … that’s why I never liked rEFIt etc … they all will just simply force EFI to emulate a BIOS and then Linux will boot from that … getting a felling that booting Linux natively from a Mac is just not a really working thingy … it will work sure but you will loose a lot to it …

          • Hi Niels Schmidt could you be more specific how is that some programs like rEFIt, rEFInd, Boot Camp and so on, cause troubles with the performance of my Macbook (specially with my card graphics)???

            I´m trying to install some Linux distros without using boot manager multiple like rEFIt and then GRUB (example) ´cause you said about a awful graphic performance with that, but explain why or post a link where we could be read about it please.

            P.D.: quiroz0110@hotmail.com this is my email if you be able to contact me, i have found some information may be help you install ubuntu as you need

            Thanks so much

  51. i had a problem when i try to boot from the flash it gave me a black screen with few white lines in the middle and when i typed “boot” it gaves me a meesage saying “error:no loded kernel”

    please help

    • I’m sorry I didn’t encounter this kind of problem before. Feel free to browse the comments. In general: try another Ubuntu Version, double check formatting or create your own GRUB file…

    • Ubuntu recently re-structured the ISOs, and this tool hasn’t been updated to use the new locations. I believe 12.10 will work, but 13.04 and anything based on it will not.

      • Exactly. But ou can easily create your own GRUB file by adjusting the config to the new image structure, though I don’t recommend it, since 12.04 seems to be a better choice when you’re looking for a long term “solution”. http://www.supergrubdisk.org/wiki/Loopback.cfg
        Remember that running linux in live mode on a mac isn’t recommended in any way, since a lot of mac specific settings aren’t included in the usual live distros. I’ll only use it to upgrade my SSD’s firmware.

        • Unfortunately this tool appears to be patched, as it cannot read my FAT-formatted USB drive when I compile my own GRUB with the very config file I extracted from this tool. I set it up exactly the same but the results are different, so there’s got to be a source modification going on here… So it’s not just as easy as creating your own GRUB file by adjusting the config to the new image structure.

          Actually, you certainly can run Linux in Live Mode on a Mac, BUUTT the compatibility problems like this make it somewhat not worth it. However, it is possible and I’ve never had any issues with it.

  52. Hey Till,
    thanks for your ongoing support over the last 2 years!
    I have a Macbook Pro Retina and just found a way running Backtrack. I heard the internal WiFi (BCD43xx) supports Packet Injection that’s why I don’t want to run it through Parallels.
    I want to direct your attention to the following instructions on how to get Kali (the successor of Backtrack) up and running as a Live USB on a rmbp.
    You’ll need the bootx64.efi and you’ll have to creat a grub.cfg with a startup script:

    http://forums.kali.org/showthread.php?271-How-to-EFI-install-Kali-Linux

    • Dear Chris,

      thank you very much. This is an awesome resource. Kali Linux is becoming more and more sophisticated.

      When I have the need of aircrack I use VMware fusion with an Alfa USB nic. A very might combo as u can use your build in WiFi in Mac is for wither scanning or internet access while the USB interface is injecting.

      • Hey Till, thanks for your quick reply. I have an AWUS036NHR myself which works pretty nice even natively on the mac.
        I guess I just want to see if I can get kali running :)
        It could also be good for situations when you forgot your alfa usb at home and need aircrack..

  53. For my MacBookPro-9,1 the above method did not work. But it was even simpler to partition, format, and then just extract all the files from the live linux iso (I was using the latest Clonezilla Ubuntu alternative) onto the small FAT partition. I used Disk Utility under 10.8 to create two partitions, both FAT. The first named “Clonezilla” the second “Data”. The clonezilla partition could probably work fine if only 1GB in size (since Clonezilla uses only about 420MB).

  54. Great tutorial Till – very nicely laid out :)
    I have a Late 2009 27″iMac running OS X 10.8.5
    I followed your instructions to the letter, using an SD card combined with a USB adapter as my “flash drive” (I’ve only recently learned this is actually possible – d’oh!). Managed to get it to show up in the Boot options (after a second try, I accidentally named the “efi” folder as “/efi” so it wouldn’t show up lol).
    Clicked the USB drive to boot from, and this is what I got:

    Welcome to Grub!
    error: “prefix” is not set.
    Unknown graphic card: 94881002

    Then it just freezes on that until I use the power button on the back of my Mac to force it to reboot back into OS X. What went wrong, and how can I fix it?

    • Hey Nerdsauce,

      I recently started recommending Fedora. They have a tool (for windows) that creates a perfectly bootable USB drive – even with persistent storage, that runs on every Mac I’ve met:

      https://fedorahosted.org/liveusb-creator/

      If you don’t have any windows computer near you try emulating one in VMWare Fusion or Virtualbox. You can plug in an usb drive into your Mac and decide, whether it should be used by OS X or the virtual Windows.

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