Help me run a live linux distro off a usb key on my Macbook Pro.
December 17, 2008 9:18 PM   Subscribe

My MacBook Pro is broken. Or, more precisely, its cd drive and hard drive are kaput. Repair of either of these parts is not an option. I'd like to not replace them, and simply have it run a live linux distro off of a usb drive. Possible?
posted by dkleinst to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Totally possible. Personally, I'd get two of those little super-teeny drives that just stick out past the edge of the USB port, and use one as the boot drive, and one as a /home directory. Config the boot drive to know that, and you've got persistent files and settings.

That does use up 2 of the 3(?) USB ports, though. Which could be a dealbreaker for you.
posted by god hates math at 9:44 PM on December 17, 2008

Response by poster: I guess I should be more specific and say that I'm not entirely sure how to go about getting a linux distro installed onto a mac bootable usb drive. I'm not too familiar with Macintosh, but I know this would be fairly easy on a windows machine.
posted by dkleinst at 10:00 PM on December 17, 2008

I've run my MacBook Pro (and my Powerbook G4 before that) off an external drive when the internal drive was on the fritz. If you hold the option key on your Macbook during bootup it'll present you with a screen to choose an alternate boot disk. Select the external disk with a bootable system and you're good to go.

In both cases where I've tried this, it was temporary and I used a Firewire drive with an installation of Mac OS X. Not sure what the implications are for trying this with USB and Linux or for trying it long term, but Firewire and Mac OS X worked fine for the limited time it took to repair/install the drive. Of course, it's kind of a drag being tethered to an external drive, so I can see the allure of a USB stick.

You're probably going to have to rely on another computer to install the OS on your external disk. Normally, you'd just set that external disk as the target during installation. If your own computer isn't working, you can't run an installation.
posted by Jeff Howard at 10:10 PM on December 17, 2008

I looked into this earlier, I think it's possible.
Here's a HOWTO on installing and booting Mac OS X on a flash drive. If you want Linux, just do the "preparing the drive" stage. That will give you a bootable USB flash drive you should be able to put any OS on.

Then, instead of a regular Linux Live CD, you might like a PortableApps setup instead. You can get a bunch of useful apps that might not otherwise come on a standard Live CD.
posted by todbot at 12:01 AM on December 18, 2008

Just FYI, it is entirely possible to replace the hard drive yourself for about $50.
posted by designbot at 9:01 AM on December 18, 2008

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