My new Macbook Pro is at least four years newer than the old one but by their looks I wouldn’t be able to tell them apart. That is on the outside, of course. The inside is probably different, but that judgement is based solely on its specifications. For all I know, Apple could have shipped the old one with firmware that deliberately slows it down, makes the memory appear half its size and shrinks the usable disk space to a tenth of what it actually is, only to sell us a new model with higher specs. But let’s assume the insides have actually changed and I now have a 64-bit dual core i5, 8GB of RAM and some 750 GB of disk space.
The OS-X that comes with it is a new version as well. I don’t intend to use it a lot but it’s good to keep the firmware updated. That said, I need to make my machine dual-boot, or triple-boot, as my intention is to run Linux on it.
So let’s get to business. I will describe here why it took me over a day to get Linux to work on the new Macbook Pro and how you can do this in half an hour.
The main reason it took me so long to get this thing working is that the Macbook Pro 9,2 refused to recognise Linux boot loaders. On my Macbook Pro 5,3 I was used to press the ALT key during boot, which brings up a menu of bootable devices. On the 9,2 machine it only shows OS-X partitions and bootable DVDs.
Here is my recipe for installing Ubuntu 12.04 LTS and Ubuntu Studio 13.10 on the Macbook Pro 9,2.
Download the Ubuntu flavour of your choice, like Ubuntu, Xubuntu or Ubuntu Studio and burn the iso image on a DVD. I use the AMD 64-bit versions, which are good for Intel as well.
It may be possible to create a bootable USB drive, which will save you a DVD, but I didn’t manage to get the Macbook to recognise it. Maybe this will work after installing Refit but I didn’t try.
In OS-X, go to Applications/Utilities and find the Disk Utility. Use this to partition the hard disk. Shrink the OS-X partition to a reasonable size. I left 100 GB for OS-X, which on my drive means I have 650 GB left for several Linux installations and a shared data partition.
Boot into OS-X, get a Refit OS-X disk image (DMG) from Sourceforge.net and install it. If you have a fresh OS-X you’d have to go to the privacy settings in the Preferences menu first to allow it to install programs you didn’t get in the Apple Store.
Put the Ubuntu media (DVD or USB drive) into the Macbook and reboot while holding down the ALT key. Refit will offer you several boot options. Pick the one with the Ubuntu media and choose ‘Install’.
The Ubuntu install process gives you the opportunity to partition the free space you created on the hard disk by shrinking the OS-X partition. For this, you need to tick ‘Something else’ when you are asked how Ubuntu will be installed. Don’t go for the recommended ‘Install side by side with OS-X’ or something similar!
You will now partition the hard disk. I created two Linux partitions of 25 GB. One will be formatted as ext4 and be used as ‘/’, the root partition. The other is unused for now and will be available for e.g. another Linux install.
Create a large enough partition to hold your home folder, format as ext4 and have it mounted as ‘/home’.
Create a swap partition and a partition you will format as VFAT or something to serve as a means to exchange data between OS-X and Linux.
Continue the install process and install the boot loader in the root partition, something like /dev/sda4 or /dev/sda5. Refit will make it possible for the chain loader to find it there, later on.
The boot loader install always failed. My solution is to go to https://help.ubuntu.com/community/Boot-Repair and follow the instructions, which basically removes and re-installs grub and does some other tweaking. I assume you’d have to be running a live system of the same version as the in the boot partition you want boot-repair to install the boot-loader in. I’m not sure this is necessary but better be safe than sorry.
!!Note carefully in which root partition you let boot-repair position the boot loader! You can indicate this in the advanced menu!!
You’re now ready to reboot, hold down the ALT key and boot into your new Linux.
Good luck and if you have a better way, e.g. without having to install Refit, I hope you will share it with us.