Installing elementary OS on my late 2006 MacBook 2,1

In January 2007 I bought my first OS X MacBookdevice, a white 13.3-inch MacBook, running OS X 10.4 Tiger on a 2.0Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, having 1GB of RAM. Along the way I upgraded it to 2GB RAM and gave it a fantastic boost by replacing the HDD by an Intel 320 Series SSD. I also upgraded OS X to 10.5 Leopard, 10.6 Snow Leopard and in the end to 10.7 Lion. At the same time YouTube started (2008) offering 720p HD videos. Now almost all videos are available in >720p format. What always frustrated me a bit is that this MacBook wasn’t 100% capable to show 720p YouTube videos. It was viewable, but with annoying frame-drop here and there.

Lately I stumbled upon this “Linux Sucks” YouTube video, which showed the enormous growth of elementary OS on distrowatch.com in the past years. I was interested. Normally I use Debian with i3 or sometimes Gnome3. But I was interested in this lightweight Ubuntu based OS to replace OS X on my MacBook.

I’d like to explain how I installed elementary OS on my MacBook including full disk encryption.

Creating a MacBook compatible bootable USB stick

First of all I downloaded the 32-bit ISO of the latest elementary OS release (Freya). To be able to boot this ISO from a USB stick on a MacBook, you have to create FAT32 formatted USB stick which contains an EFI/BOOT/ folder, with 2 files in there:

Installing elementary OS

Now you can boot from the USB stick. After a minute or 2 the live CD is started.

elementary1

Start the installation by clicking the bottom-right CD icon and follow the wizard.

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When you get a question about unmounting /dev/sdb, just say “No”. /dev/sdb is your USB device. At the “Installation type” screen choose “Something else”.

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The interesting part starts now. This screen shows the partition layout of the recognized devices. /dev/sda here is the internal harddrive. In my case it also says INTEL SSD at the bottom. Again ignore /dev/sdb, this is your USB device.

When OS X is installed you have a couple of partitions on the internal harddrive:

  • /dev/sda1: EFI partition, required for booting
  • /dev/sda2: HFS+ partition containing Mac OS X
  • /dev/sda3: An optional ~650MB recovery partition (since OS X 10.7 Lion)

Remove /dev/sda2 and /dev/sda3. Now create 2 new partitions on /dev/sda:

  • a 256MB ext2 partition, this will be the /boot partition
  • fill up the rest with a partition that will be used as “physical volume for encryption

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The installer tries to be smart now, by marking sda3_crypt to be formatted as ext4. Change this partition and configure it to not format it. After that “Quit” the installer.

We just quit the installer, because we want to create 3 partitions in the encrypted sda3_crypt for the root partition (/), swap partition and home partition (/home) using LVM2. This is not possible to configure this via the installer.

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Open the terminal App. As you can see /dev/sda3 is encrypted and referred to as /dev/mapper/sda3_crypt. Now execute the pvcreate, vgcreate and lvcreate commands. We’ll create a 10GB root partition, 4GB swap partition and the rest is for the home partition. You’ll see it also created some device symlinks in /dev/mapper.

Now run through the installer once again. At the “Installation type” screen choose “Something else” once again.

Now you see that the installer sees the partitions we just created. Configure the partitions:

  • /dev/mapper/apple-home: btrfs partition mounted at /home
  • /dev/mapper/apple-root: ext4 partition mounted at /
  • /dev/mapper/apple-swap: swap partition
  • /dev/sda2: ext2 partition mounted at /boot

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Continue clicking “Install Now” and click “Continue” to confirm to write the changes to disk.

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Follow the wizard until it starts installing elementary OS and wait for a while.

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It will fail to install the bootloader. Continue without a bootloader. After that the installation from the wizard is complete. Choose “Continue Testing” here.

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Now we have to fix the bootloader manually. Open the Terminal App. Mount the required partitions and chroot into the new elementary OS installation. Install grub-efi-ia32 and run grub-install. Copy a grub.mo file to /boot/grub/locale/en.mo and run grub-mkconfig to generate the grub configuration.

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To make the initial RAMdisk (/boot/initrd.img) aware that /dev/sda3 is an encrypted partition. Put the desired configuration in /etc/crypttab and update the initial RAMdisk.

You can now reboot the MacBook. The funny thing is that elementary OS is snappier then OS X on this MacBook. And it now plays 720p videos flawlessly. 😀

16 thoughts on “Installing elementary OS on my late 2006 MacBook 2,1

  1. greenboy59

    Thank you for this help!
    I want to install Elementary OS on my macbook 2,1 since a long time 😉

  2. Rafael Rigues

    Just came across this post while researching ways to put Elementary OS on a spare iMac (Al, 2007) at home. Installation went fine, but I’m having trouble booting the system afterwards: I get the “blinking folder” icon, meaning that the system hasn’t found a bootable volume.

    I did follow your instructions for manually installing the bootloader, and there were no errors during the process. Tried both grub-i386 and grub-amd64 (since the machine is 64-Bit capable), the OS itself is the 64-Bit flavor. The only differences from your article is that I did not setup encryption. The partition layout is sda1 on EFI (left the original partition), sda2 as boot, sda3 as swap (4 GB) and sda4 as / (rest of the volume).

    Did you find something similar while researching the article, or do you have any ideas on what might be happening? I double-checked the bootloader install procedure (in fact, ran it twice) just in case I overlooked something important, but everything seems fine.

    Thanks for your attention,

  3. Kyle

    I have also installed, following your directions exactly. I also have the blinking folder icon. Would love to get elementary set up. If you have any input, that would be awesome.

  4. hugo

    Hi, thank you for this info. I do have a question however : why don’t you overwrite the EFI partition ? Elementary OS cannot boot by itself ??? Unless you want to make a dual boot (macOS/Linux) I don’t quite understand why you keep it ?

  5. EelCapone

    Thank you for this tutorial, very nice!
    You can skip the first part of the installer, where it sets up the encrypted container. After booting the live CD go directly to the prompt and type:

    cryptsetup --cipher aes-xts-plain64 --hash SHA512 --verify-passphrase --key-size 512 --iter-time=5000 luksFormat /dev/sda3
    cryptsetup open /dev/sda3 sda3_crypt
    

    The default hashing protocol used by cryptsetup is SHA1, but is it deprecated. By using the manual command above you can use the newer SHA2 hashing protocol. In this example I chose the SHA512 variant.

  6. haho

    Thanks for this tutorial, very helpful!
    I used it to install Elementary OS Freya alongside Mac OS X (MacBook early 2008, 4 GB RAM, 250 GB HDD), using an old Windows 7 partition for Freya.
    So I can choose the OS at startup, although Mac OS’s startup manager still shows “Windows” as the other system available. I don’t mind as I like the new windows Freya displays much more than the MS stuff being really slow on my machine.
    I didn’t encrypt in the end, because there was a reading failure during install which resulted in no Freya on the harddrive at all.
    So I happily used your instructions to set up the various partitions. Fortunately I was able to do so using Freya’s installation assistant without leaving it and the installation went through in a rush, leaving me with a very usable OS in the end.
    If you happen to be fond of say Lyx and LibreOffice and some other stuff, just make the /root-partition bigger. I’m just now resizing it using gparted.

  7. Yusuf Mohammed

    Hi,

    I am trying to use this awesome tutorial to install xubuntu 16.04 on macbook 2,1 late 2006

    I followed all the instructions without a problem, until I reached the step that installs the: grub-efi-ia32 package, it seems like this package has been deleted from ubuntu 16.04 repositories, any way I found a .deb file of this package on some site and installed it, also installed grub-efi-ia32-bin package from official repositories, but when trying to run grub-install …. etc it says, this doesn’t seem like an efi partition or something like this.

    How can I overcome this ? what did I do wrong ?

    please note that I have exactly the same partition layout as you have.
    I have refind installed on my efi partition.

    please help!

  8. Chriss

    Damn I can’t get to work.

    I get info from grub thsy my EFI id not EFI partition. Can you redo the tutorial for someone that instals this on blank Macbook. Thanks

  9. Mark Rushton

    I think we need more info on the USB drive preparation. A standard FAT/32 formatted USB drive with the /BOOT/EFI/ subfolder and two files ain’t cutting it. The computer (in my case, a MacBook Pro 1,1 (early 2016) won’t recognize the USB as a boot device. Mind you, I’ve been trying all day to create USB drives with various Live CD formats of elementaryOS (the 32-bit version) have failed.

    I *can* boot from a set of grey MacBook (non-Pro) specific disks, which I already knew would not allow for installation on a Pro, but it gets you into Disk Utilities, System Profiler, Startup Disk, etc. I think the issue is simply, a la System 9 and before it, we need a way to “Bless” the USB drive….

  10. Cram

    I have the same model macbook as the OP but this does not work for me… the USB is not recognised during restart, I have only the original HDD and recovery as options but no USB. I’ve tried both the 32 and 64 bit versions and neither even showed the USB on start. This is well frustrating.

  11. Pingback: Installing Ubuntu 16.04 alone on a 2006 MacBook | Video/Linux Facts and Hacks

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