If you select "USB" and "Mac" on this download page, it gives a series of command line instructions to make a USB key which the MacBook will boot into Ubuntu from.

I've followed them to the letter two or three times on different USB keys, and it doesn't work. There's a very great deal of technical discussion about EFI etc. but this set of instructions seems to suggest it should just work, but it doesn't.

Help? I'm increasingly unhappy with the more locked-down approach Apple is taking, and I'd quite like to start using Linux with a view to transitioning over to using it as my main operating system, but booting from the CD takes forever, runs slowly and I'm really hoping to get it moving off USB.

Can anybody help me?

  • I'm not sure you can. I haven't heard any success in doing so. Have you considered making your Macbook dualboot instead? I run a triple-boot Macbook with rEFIt and it's fantastic. Commented Feb 28, 2011 at 22:42
  • Easiest way is to use the bootcamp utility. Here you can insert the Ubuntu CD instead of the Windows one.
    – c0de
    Commented Jan 2, 2012 at 11:37
  • It's not possible. I've tried it all (askubuntu.com/questions/251958/…) Forget about it.
    – cyphunk
    Commented Feb 21, 2013 at 13:21
  • 1
    Maybe I'm not completely sure what you're asking, but after installing the Ubuntu iso (v12.04) onto a USB stick from a windows computer, I just held alt on the Mac on boot to choose a different boot option, and the drive appeared as Windows. I booted from that, and it came up fine.
    – Codesmith
    Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 18:17
  • The "locked down approach" is why I bought an Android phone to replace my old iPhone, and I never regretted it.
    – Rolf
    Commented Dec 27, 2016 at 12:47

8 Answers 8


Short answer: You can't. Apple doesn't want you to boot an OS other than OS X off USB. If your Mac has a working optical drive, use it. It will save you pain. If you have a newer Mac (64 bit), just remember to use the Mac iso(amd64+mac), not the regular amd64 iso. (See this for an explanation of the difference)

Longer answer: (Ok, I lied above.) You can, but "it's complicated". One method that has worked for a number of people is to dd the bootable USB key to its own partition on your hard drive and then boot off that partition. The basic method is explained nicely here.

This doesn't always work, even on the same hardware. In particular, if you have a MacBook Air, which doesn't have an optical drive, then the forums are filled with posts of trying the dd-to-a-partition trick and failing. For MacBook Air owners, it is strongly advised to obtain a MacBook Air SuperDrive (no, a regular USB CD/DVD drive does not suffice) and then use that to install through the usual CD route (using the Mac iso for a 64 bit install).

Lastly, this USB method actually worked(!) to install 11.10 onto my MacBook Air 3,1 (late 2010 model). However, I expect some modification is needed to work on other versions of the Air, not to mention other Macs.

  • 4
    The dd method has never worked on my 1) Macbook 3,1 2) Macbook Pro 3,1 3) Macbook Pro 8,2... Any yet they claim in works. I feel betrayed!
    – user24668
    Commented May 9, 2012 at 12:07
  • The dd method I refer to in the longer answer is not the same as the "official" instructions. It seems to work alright on a fair number of MacBook models, but not the Air. Commented May 10, 2012 at 9:10
  • 2
    did not work on a macbook aluminium circa 2010. Ubuntu look like fools leaving up this obviously very unreliable FAQ's and instructions for using USB. Considering that most macbooks these days do not have CDrom drives Ubuntu should serious focus on this a bit more or write off a large majority of laptops from their user base.
    – cyphunk
    Commented Feb 21, 2013 at 13:18
  • what about ubuntu.com/download/desktop/create-a-usb-stick-on-mac-osx
    – jokoon
    Commented Sep 25, 2013 at 18:08
  • 1
    The long method, which is somewhat more up-to-date for people finding this now at lifehacker.com/5934942/…, works. However, even if you go to all the trouble of getting this installed via USB or otherwise, you'll still have a lot of work to do in configuring the OS at the low-level (better be familiar with the terminal) for the trackpad and other things to function as you expect them to; much reconfiguring. Shame they haven't tuned it more for the Macbooks by now.
    – rcd
    Commented Nov 21, 2013 at 23:50

How to create a bootable USB stick on OS X / macOS

  1. You will need:

    • A 4GB or larger USB stick/flash drive
    • An Apple computer or laptop running macOS
    • An Ubuntu ISO file. See Download Ubuntu Desktop for download links.
  2. To ensure maximum compatibility with Apple hardware, first blank and reformat the USB stick using Apple's "Disk Utility", but this step can be skipped if you intend to use the USB stick with only generic PC hardware.

    • Launch Disk Utility from Applications -> Utilities or Spotlight search.

    • Insert your USB stick and observe the new device added to Disk Utility.

    • Select the USB stick device (you may need to enable the option View -> Show All Devices) and select Erase from the toolbar (or right-click menu).

    • Set the format to MS-DOS (FAT) and the scheme to GUID Partition Map.

    • Check you've chosen the correct device and click Erase.

      enter image description here

    Warning: Disk Utility needs to be used with caution as selecting the wrong device or partition can result in data loss.

  3. Install and run balenaEtcher

    To write the ISO file to the USB stick, use a free and open source application called balenaEtcher. After downloading this and clicking to mount the package, balenaEtcher can either be run in place or dragged into your Applications folder.

    By default, recent versions of macOS block the running of applications from unidentified developers. To side-step this issue, enable App Store and identified developers in the Security & Privacy pane of System Preferences. If you are still warned against running the application, click Open Anyway in the same pane.

    enter image description here

  4. balenaEtcher configuration

    balenaEtcher will configure and write to your USB device in three stages, each of which needs to be selected in turn:

    • Select image will open a file requester from which should navigate to and select the ISO file downloaded previously. By default, the ISO file will be in your Downloads folder.

    • Select drive, replaced by the name of your USB device if one is already attached, lets you select your target device. You will be warned if the storage space is too small for your selected ISO.

    • Flash! will activate when both the image and the drive have been selected. As with Disk Utility, balenaEtcher needs low-level access to your storage hardware and will ask for your password after selection.
                enter image description here

  5. Write to device

    After entering your password, balenaEtcher will start writing the ISO file to your USB device.

    The Flash stage of the process will show progress, writing speed and an estimated duration until completion. This will be followed by a validation stage that will ensure the contents of the USB device are identical to the source image.

    When everything has finished, balenaEtcher will declare the process a success.

    Congratulations! You now have Ubuntu on a USB stick, bootable and ready to go.

    enter image description here

    Warning: After the write process has completed, macOS may inform you that 'The disk you inserted was not readable by this computer'. Don't select Initialize. Instead, select Eject and remove the USB device.

  6. Boot your Mac

    If you want to use your USB stick with an Apple Mac, you will need to restart or power-on the Mac with the USB stick inserted while the Option/alt key is pressed.

    This will launch Apple's 'Startup Manager' which shows bootable devices connected to the machine. Your USB stick should appear as gold/yellow and labelled 'EFI Boot'. Selecting this will lead you to the standard Ubuntu boot menu.

    enter image description here

Source: Create a bootable USB stick on macOS

  • 2
    This doesn't answer the question. This answer is how to create a bootable usb key while currently running OS X. The question is how to create a USB that can boot a Mac. I have followed these instructions. I can boot a PC with the resulting USB key, but the Mac doesn't recognize it as a bootable device.
    – chrish
    Commented Jan 6, 2016 at 0:26
  • 3
    I just successfully did this, but at first the USB key wouldn't show up in the list, I had to re-plug it and then it appeared as a EFI startup disk
    – Keith M
    Commented Apr 3, 2016 at 2:13
  • 1
    Worked fine for me for a Macbook Air (~2012 and Macbook Pro mid/late 2009). Note that this will only work on a drive with 1 partition. "dd-ing" the file over to 1 partition of 2 didn't work for me in terms of showing up at the mac startup manager. A blog post on this with same steps is also here: business.tutsplus.com/tutorials/…
    – DynamicDan
    Commented Jan 21, 2017 at 23:06
  • Correct me if I'm wrong but this'll just give you a live-CD esque boot, right? not a persistent installation.
    – Alex Hart
    Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 1:52
  • That is correct, this will give you a live CD-esque boot.
    – karel
    Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 4:44

With this four steps I installed Ubuntu 13.04 on my Macbook Air mid 2011:

  1. Create a new partition using Disk Utility

  2. Install latest version of rEFInd on your Mac

  3. Download the Mac ISO of Ubuntu and create a bootable USB stick with UNetbootin

  4. Restart your Mac select boot from USB and install Ubuntu

  • Alternative [Tested on an iMac.2013] 1. install refit 2. download the latest ubuntu iso (13.04 at this point) 3. create a live usb with "Usb Startup Disk Creator" (comes default with all ubuntu installations) 4. connect usb disk to iMac 5. restart iMac 6. hold option or command (alt or super) (i forget which) 7. select efi×Comments may only be edited for 5 minutes×Comments may only be edited for 5 minutes×Comments may only be edited for 5 minutes
    – airtonix
    Commented May 17, 2013 at 9:28
  • 1
    As of 3/2019 This answer worked on MacBook (circa 2008) and I was able to put ubuntu 18.04. Thanks
    – Chad
    Commented Mar 19, 2019 at 20:58

After a LOT of trouble with various methods i finally got ubuntu 13.04 32bits working on a macbook 2,1 (mid 2007). My DVD drive is broken so i really needed a live USB.

(DISCLAIMER:)I´m no programmer but after setting things up the following way it worked like charm.

  1. Install the latest version of rEFIt.
  2. Download Mac Linux USB Loader from this page: https://github.com/SevenBits/Mac-Linux-USB-Loader/releases/tag/v1.1
  3. Download the source code from the same link. You will need the bootlA32.efi file located in the "EFI" folder.
  4. Insert your USB flash drive, and format it to FAT 32 using disk utility.
  5. Open Mac Linux USB Loader and select the .iso file you want to boot.
  6. Click on Create Live USB and follow the instructions, it's a pretty straight forward process.

  7. My macbook model just refused to boot on efi64, so i had to do some tweaking here:

  8. Go ahead and open the USB drive. Go to the "efi" folder and then the "boot" folder. Inside you should see a file named bootX64.efi

  9. Erase it and place the bootlA32.efi file instead.

  10. Now just reboot and from the rEFIt menu choose to boot from the USB drive.

I Hope it helps somebody out there!


This is a FAQ in the Ubuntu Forum: http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=1046568

It does not work directly, but requires some special handling with GRUB http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=995704

Added: The information on the Download page shows how to build a USB key that is bootable on PCs, but not on Macs.

  • 11
    Those forums are horrible for trying to grok any sane information from. :(
    – hendry
    Commented Apr 22, 2012 at 4:25

I have the following old iMac:

Late 2009 iMac 27" Intel Core i7 2.8ghz

model identifier: 11,1

model: A1312 (EMC 2374)

Order: MC507LL/A

OS: macOS High Sierra (last MacOS version supported by this model)

GPU: AMD Radeon 4850

My superdrive is dead so bootable CD/DVD is not possible.

None of the methods described above worked for my Mac:

  1. The Ubuntu instructions (as mentioned above in other posts) say to use Etcher to flash the USB drive - my mac will NOT boot off a ISO flashed USB.
  2. UNetbootin also seems to flash an ISO which isn't bootable.

What did work:

  1. Boot into MacOS > Open Disk Utility.app > I added a second partition to my main internal drive, Erase/format this partition as MS DOS (FAT) with a GUID partition table
  2. Insert your USB drive and also Erase/format it as MS DOS (FAT) with GUID partition.
  3. Download Ubuntu Desktop (NOT Ubuntu Server - everytime I booted off the USB loaded with ubuntu server the screen flickered and went black because I think it can't load the GPU driver for the Radeon 4850). There does appear to be a workaround though.
  4. Follow these instructions to flash the USB the proper way for MacOS boot screen (basically convert the ISO into a DMG)
  5. Follow these instructions to install the rEFInd as your boot loader.
  6. Reboot the machine with flashed USB plugged in
  7. Pick the EFI boot device
  8. It will load the installation program but be quick and make sure you hit up/down arrow to cancel the auto run timer. I had to pick the "Installation (Safe Graphics)" option in order for the installer to load up (again because the "normal" installer is throwing an error about the Radeon 4850 GPU).
  9. proceed thru the install as normal however when you get to the "Installation Type" where you choose the partition, make sure to set "device for boot loader installation" drop down to the disk partition, not the root of the disk (for example /dev/sda2 not /dev/sda since this would overwrite rEFInd boot loader with GRUB boot loader).

LifeWire has a good tutorial albeit I don't think all the steps are necessary so above is a shortened approach as of July 2021.


Download Ubuntu and then make one bootable USB learn more which works with Macbook, iMac and Mini etc.. (2011 and later versions).

Requirements: 1. 2GB USB drive 2. Ubuntu System with net access.


Try to get a machine with Ubuntu already installed, a PC, notebook, whatever, maybe from a friend, and then get an ISO image of Ubuntu 12.10 amd64. Using Ubuntu, open the "Startup Disk Creator" utility, select the ISO image of Ubuntu, the USB device and create the disk.

Hold the option key while the Mac is booting and select the USB drive to boot from and you're done. I've done it, and it works.

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