Linux – How to one create a bootable Linux USB key that works on Mac (Intel 64 bit CPU) hardware


I'm trying to create a bootable USB key with Linux (debian) and that can be booted on Macintel hardware.

I have read that MAC's EFI can only boot GPT GUID formatted disks. I'm desperately trying to find a good tutorial which explains how to create such a key.

Here what I have done so far:

  • create a GUID partition on te key using Linux GNU parted
  • create a HFS+ or ext3 partition on the key, with the boot flag on
  • install a Linux .iso with unetbootin

While all steps were successfull and in some cases I could even boot on a PC, the step of booting on Macintel software failed (on a macbook).
I need to precise that I holded the "alt" key while booting the mac and the only visible bootable disk was the hard disk.

PS: I have tried with rEFIt as well. In one case I had a "Windows" icon but it then failed to boot with a message like "no system found"

Edit: This is a rather old question, I haven't tried for a while, maybe today it is just a matter of running dd to copy the iso, but it did not work 5 years ago. I'm going to try with a recent macbook and linux iso

Best Answer

From Boot Linux from USB on MacBook Pro 17″ :

It works! Can now boot Linux on an unmodified MacBook Pro (5,2) from a single USB stick (or external hard drive).

I created a small 25MB partition as the first partition, formated it as Mac OS X Journaled and installed rEFIt to it, then followed that partition with a 100 MB boot partition, and then a root partition on a thumb drive (if using an external hard drive you could create swap as well, but I don’t do that on thumb drives so they don’t get worn out).

Install linux normally (debootstrap is how I do it) onto the second and third partitions. Make sure Grub is installed to the MBR of the drive and points to the /boot partition as the second partition. Then take the USB drive to a MacBook Pro and insert it.

Turn on the MBP and hold down the Alt/Option key until you see a boot menu offering Mac OS X or rEFIt. Choose rEFIt. After that you’ll be give a menu to choose OS X again or Linux. Here, choose Linux.

Tada, now comes the Grub boot screen and then on into the Linux of your choice. Congrats and enjoy…

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