I've a MacBook Air that has burned out three hard drives from OWC. The original drive is gone somewhere, and it no longer makes sense to purchase a replacement. The rest of the hardware is in good order.

My question is, is there a linux disto that I can boot off of a usb (or an sd)? I'm not dual booting (there's no hard drive) and reFit isn't an option either.

Most of what I've read assumes that a local hard drive is available. There isn't in this case.

Starting to answer my own question now. I've got reFit booting from a USB, now I'm wondering what needs to be done for reFit to boot a linux distro from another USB. (Or, should the single USB contain both? refit and the distro?)

1 Answer 1


I think it may be possible. I only have 2x iMac's, and I don't really want to pull the HDD out of either of them to test. However, that being said, a Mac system uses EFI rather than BIOS so you would need a Linux distro that has support for EFI.

I am a hardcore Debian user, so this would work with both Debian and Ubuntu.

Some things to decide:

  1. Are you using 32-bit or 64-bit version of Linux?
  2. Does your preferred version of Linux support booting from EFI?
  3. Does the Linux distro you want have LiveCD or LiveDVD versions?

Once you have decided this, fill in the blanks with what you need:

  1. Format a USB to Fat32 with MBR record
  2. Create /efi/boot directory on this drive
  3. Download either the 32-bit EFI or 64-bit EFI file and put it in the /efi/boot directory
  4. Download the LiveCD or LiveDVD version of the Linux OS you want to run
  5. Move the ISO file to the /efi/boot directory and rename it to boot.iso

Reboot your Mac with the USB in and hold down Alt/Option key when booting and you should be presented with a USB drive to select to boot from.

  • Thanks, I've not tried Ubuntu yet, but it's next. I've been using Puppy. The refit running on one usb is finding the linux on the other usb, but the boot ends up hanging on the black screen with the blinking cursor. My iMac has that issue from time to time and requires draining all power to get it to boot. I'm going to try removing the battery from the MBA to see if it'll help, but I'm not optimistic. Commented Sep 30, 2013 at 15:47
  • 1
    It's also worth noting that you might already have a grubx64.efi file if you are using a ready, installed version of Linux. This applies especially to Debian based distros. If that is the case, then you should rename grubx64.efi to bootx64.efi to make it detectable on Macs.
    – Todd
    Commented Dec 21, 2020 at 6:58

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