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[Guide] Mac OS X Lion: How To Boot A Linux Live System From An USB Drive & How To Update Any OCZ SSD’s Firmware [Updated]

So 14.08.2011

For the most recent version of this guide visit my new blog tillmail.de. You can leave comments there.

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

  • 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“.
  • Your USB Drive should be able to carry 4 partitions in MBR, but I tried to evade any confusion.
  • This shouldn’t be restricted to Ubuntu, but I never tried another Distribution as I was veeeeery glad that at least one thing worked.
  • I don’t know where „ISO-2-USB EFI-Booter for Mac 0.01 beta“ comes from… Maybe it is extracted from rEFIt oder even elilo. Please keep me updated.
  • This whole „/efi/boot“-thing is pretty straight forward and seems to be part of EFI specifications but I can’t prove this.
  • I used a 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 and please say hello if you are the creator of the tools behind „ISO-2-USB EFI-Booter for Mac 0.01 beta“ you saved my life. :)

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

For the most recent version of this guide visit my new blog tillmail.de. You can leave comments there.

From → Guides

72 Kommentare
  1. guesswork permalink

    Brilliant! Many Thanks.

  2. mario permalink

    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)

    • Till permalink

      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.

      • mario permalink

        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

      • Till permalink

        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.

  3. mario permalink

    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

  4. mario permalink

    I can confirm this procedure does not work on ALL the newest apple computers , from AIR/macmini 2011 on..

    • Till permalink

      Oh, Apple…

      • Till permalink

        Thinking about the issue I’m not sure whether to blame Apple or the Developers of SYSLINUX…

  5. I’m on a 2011 Macbook Pro and it doesn’t work. Freezes when loading the Kernel.

    • Till permalink

      I’ll make a Video about it…
      Unfortunately I start to believe Apple doesn’t like their users To Even Boot Linux on their products…

      • mario permalink

        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 !

      • Till permalink

        Seems so :D
        I’ll ask a friend with a MacBoor Air to test it ;)

  6. Till permalink

    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.

    • mario permalink

      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?

  7. cksum permalink

    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)!

    • Till permalink

      When I did my SSD’s Firmware updates on 2 MacBook Pros I used the Ethernet Port because I had the same wifi issues.

  8. It works like a charm! Many thanks man!

  9. Kyle Pointer permalink

    Thank You.

  10. How did you get the boot not to load the nvidia drivers :p

      • agnosticnixie permalink

        That’s the problem – I know how to do these things, the main issue is that I don’t even get a grub menu, it just boots immediately

      • Till permalink

        In earlier Versions of ubuntu I used to hold down the Shift-Key to enter the boot options…

  11. 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.

  12. Using a Late 2007 Macbook Pro and I’m still waiting for it to get past booting the kernel … how long does it usually take to boot the Ubuntu kernel?

    • Till permalink

      I’ve finally added a video showing the boot process. All in all it should take some seconds only…

  13. Tabasko permalink

    well it “ tried“ to load the kernel for 3 hours then i quit

    got any ideas? its a macbookpro 3.1

    • Till permalink

      Maybe a 32-Bit Version of Ubuntu and The IA32 EFI file might work?

      • Tabasko permalink

        but the macbook pro 3.1 is a santa rosa processor isent it 64 bit?

      • Till permalink

        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…

  14. Thanks a lot buddy. You’ve made my day! :D

  15. Big Boy permalink

    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

    • Till permalink

      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.

  16. Try the below link, easy to understand….

  17. Emilia permalink

    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“.

  18. 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.

  19. 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?

    • Till permalink

      You even heard the StartUp Sound?
      So your distribution is running but your display isn’t showing anything…
      Booting without X might give you all the (text-based) tools to update an OCZ’s firmware anyway:
      See here: https://wiki.ubuntu.com/X/NonGraphicalBoot

      • 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.

      • Till permalink

        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.

      • Till permalink

        „As the CD boots, the user can gain access to the advanced page and its options by pressing any key when the small logo appears at the bottom of your screen“

        Another suggestion: Did you try a 32bit version, minding that it needs the IA32 EFI file?

      • 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.

      • Till permalink

        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…

      • Till permalink

        Which reminds me of BootCamp which is an easy way to get Windows on your Mac and update your SSD… It can be uninstalled easily…

  20. 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

  21. David `Fofana permalink

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


    • Till permalink

      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.

  22. Christopher Warden permalink

    Where do i put the fwupd file on the usb drive?

    • Till permalink

      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.

  23. Zebra permalink

    My mac does not show any other device when booting how do I fix this.

    • Till permalink

      Double Check partitioning or use another external drive…

      My Last tries with external HDDs were very successful…

  24. 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.

  25. thanks for the write-up, pointed me straight to the right direction booting ubuntu from USB on my macbook 4,1. For the people above who mention the black screen, I experienced the same but got around it using the minimal cd. I wrote down the steps in my blog http://www.joop.in/Archive/multibooting-osx-lion-ubuntu-linux-on-macbook-41-without-cd/

    Thanks again Studyblast!

    • Till permalink

      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…

  26. Till permalink

    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!

  27. Vincent permalink

    Tnx a lot for this tutorial!

  28. Christopher Warden permalink

    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 :)

    • Till permalink

      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?

  29. Not sure how old this thread is but I’m going to try this tactic. One question, is the Linux install persistant?

    • Till permalink

      It’s still works and no, this is no permanent installation…

  30. Apparently it doesn’t like me. I get dropped into a grub command window it never tried to boot the iso.

    • Till permalink

      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

  31. HowTo Boot live-ubuntu virtual-cd (just an iso file) on 2012 MacBookPro8,1.

    Actually, you do not need USB if you have a few gig available for FAT32 partition after the first or 2nd EFI partitions.

    That is, below is a variation on above method that seems to works even on 2011-2012 macbookpro without needing any of these tricks: no USB, no rEFIt. And without burning any cd/dvd. Just a few gig of disk-space needed.

    YMMV. At least this worked for me on new MacbookPro8,1 Intel Core i5 with 10.7.3 as of March 2012 (with EFI 2.7 update).

    In DiskUtility, Shrink your LION or other boot partition by at least 2-3gig, and add a MS-DOS partition.
    Below mine is named WINDOWS and is 35gig. You may want to exclude it from darned Spotlight.

    $ df -h
    Filesystem Size Used Avail Capacity Mounted on
    /dev/disk0s2 291Gi 37Gi 254Gi 13% /
    /dev/disk0s4 35Gi 702Mi 35Gi 2% /Volumes/WINDOWS

    In /Volumes/Windows create a „efi“ folder, and in „efi“ create a „boot“ folder.
    In the boot folder put at least the two files bootX64.efi and boot.iso, as described at:

    In example below, the boot.iso is really renamed ubuntu-11.10-desktop-amd64.iso and I have a few extra files from the ISO-2-USB EFI-Booter for Mac 0.01 beta as well.

    In disk-utility, „Repair“ the WINDOWS disk, which will update boot menu. If you then boot holding down the „option“ key, you’ll see a disk named „EFI“. When I select „EFI“, it boots the live ubuntu iso very fast… I get to a desktop much faster than I can with mac os-X. No wireless, but wired internet a-ok!

    $ ls -lR /Volumes/WINDOWS/
    total 64
    drwxrwxrwx 1 ttsadmin staff 32768 Mar 9 13:44 efi

    total 64
    drwxrwxrwx 1 ttsadmin staff 32768 Mar 9 13:47 boot

    total 1431104
    -rwxrwxrwx@ 1 ttsadmin staff 731164672 Mar 9 13:29 boot.iso
    -rwxrwxrwx@ 1 ttsadmin staff 372224 Mar 9 13:33 bootIA32.efi
    -rwxrwxrwx@ 1 ttsadmin staff 614400 Mar 9 13:33 bootx64.efi
    -rwxrwxrwx@ 1 ttsadmin staff 480768 Mar 9 13:47 bootx649.efi

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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