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Old Jan 26, 2013, 01:16 PM   #1
ravenvii
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External hard drive for booting Linux on the Mac

Okay, here's the deal. Right now, I am triple-booting OS X, Windows and Linux on my iMac. With its 320 GB hard drive, space isn't really an issue. However, the partition table gets really messy (one partition for OS X, one partition for Windows and five (yes, five!) partitions for Linux). It can get really weird, too.

Recently, when I reinstalled Linux, OS X somehow got moved to the Linux partition (?!) and free space got divided up into two parts and I was unable to merge them into one block. Like I said, messy and weird.

I'm considering buying an external drive and devoting that to the Linux install. Right now, my iMac is old, and doesn't have USB 3.0. However, it is to my understanding that USB 3.0 drives work just fine via USB 2.0. I plan to upgrade at the end of this year and will presumably have USB 3.0 by then.

My question is, is this a good idea? I mainly use Linux for development. No games or anything fancy like that. Would a USB 2.0 hard drive be usable as a primary boot drive?

(And before anyone brings that up -- Fedora 18 supports EFI natively, so it should be no problem getting it to boot via USB. I've booted the LiveDVD via USB stick with no problems)
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Old Jan 29, 2013, 01:59 AM   #2
RedCroissant
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Originally Posted by ravenvii View Post
Okay, here's the deal. Right now, I am triple-booting OS X, Windows and Linux on my iMac. With its 320 GB hard drive, space isn't really an issue. However, the partition table gets really messy (one partition for OS X, one partition for Windows and five (yes, five!) partitions for Linux). It can get really weird, too.

Recently, when I reinstalled Linux, OS X somehow got moved to the Linux partition (?!) and free space got divided up into two parts and I was unable to merge them into one block. Like I said, messy and weird.

I'm considering buying an external drive and devoting that to the Linux install. Right now, my iMac is old, and doesn't have USB 3.0. However, it is to my understanding that USB 3.0 drives work just fine via USB 2.0. I plan to upgrade at the end of this year and will presumably have USB 3.0 by then.

My question is, is this a good idea? I mainly use Linux for development. No games or anything fancy like that. Would a USB 2.0 hard drive be usable as a primary boot drive?

(And before anyone brings that up -- Fedora 18 supports EFI natively, so it should be no problem getting it to boot via USB. I've booted the LiveDVD via USB stick with no problems)
I think you have to instal rEFIt to make it work to boot from Linux, but I also don't know how many partitions the iMac will recognize as bootable even if they are formatted correctly. I think it's a good idea, but what iMac do you have? If it's a standard 320GB HDD, then do you have a 2007-2009? If so, I have a 2009 20" iMac and even though it's four years old now, it still runs great. I also run Linux via VirtualBox(installed Ubuntu 12.04, Mint, and Fedora 18). I also run XP and Vista via VirtualBox(even though Vista absolutely sucks my RAM away when it's running). Would running the OSes through virtualization be as effective as booting from them or is your older Mac too limited on RAM?

And no, usb 2.0 would not be a good idea for a primary boot drive. It seems like it at first, but then you notice the speed issue and then it gets annoying. I know this because I was originally booting my iMac from an external where I have all my cloned Mac OSes and really any of the MAC OS X iterations did not run the way I wanted them to.

If you can afford an external HDD, then I would recommend instead removing the ODD and installing a secondary HDD or even a SSD to boot Linux. You can make the ODD work over usb 2.0 and probably not even notice the speed difference there( and the superdrive will not use as much energy as an external would).
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Old Jan 29, 2013, 01:30 PM   #3
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Thanks for the reply.

I've already tried VirtualBox. I use it all the time for experimenting with distros. However, I would never use it if I need reliability, which I do. VirtualBox has always been buggy and problematic for me. With Fedora for one, it likes to freeze up from time to time -- freezing the whole OS, not just VirtualBox. Maybe Parallels and/or Fusion will fare better, but I'm not interested in buying any of those.

Opening up my iMac and messing around is out of the question -- I plan to sell it at the end of the year, so I'm not going to a) put work in upgrading/modifying it, or b) risk messing it up, unnecessarily devaluing it.

As for rEFIt, I don't think I need it -- Macs do boot OS X off an external, right? Then it should be able to boot Fedora, since Fedora does support EFI booting (including Apple's idiosyncratic version of EFI).

I decided to go ahead and give USB 2.0 a try. Got a 2.5" external enclosure for $8, and a 60 GB 2.5" drive for $10. Will set it up this weekend.
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Old Jan 29, 2013, 02:15 PM   #4
RedCroissant
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Originally Posted by ravenvii View Post
Thanks for the reply.

I've already tried VirtualBox. I use it all the time for experimenting with distros. However, I would never use it if I need reliability, which I do. VirtualBox has always been buggy and problematic for me. With Fedora for one, it likes to freeze up from time to time -- freezing the whole OS, not just VirtualBox. Maybe Parallels and/or Fusion will fare better, but I'm not interested in buying any of those.

Opening up my iMac and messing around is out of the question -- I plan to sell it at the end of the year, so I'm not going to a) put work in upgrading/modifying it, or b) risk messing it up, unnecessarily devaluing it.

As for rEFIt, I don't think I need it -- Macs do boot OS X off an external, right? Then it should be able to boot Fedora, since Fedora does support EFI booting (including Apple's idiosyncratic version of EFI).

I decided to go ahead and give USB 2.0 a try. Got a 2.5" external enclosure for $8, and a 60 GB 2.5" drive for $10. Will set it up this weekend.
Yes, Macs do boot from externals, but depending on the type of Mac, some externals will not boot them. For example(which you might already know) you can't boot a PPC Mac from usb; only firewire. Intel Macs, however, can be booted either from firewire or usb. You might also run into some problems on certain drives. Some drives cannot be used to boot either Intel or PPC Macs and I found this out the hard way when I loaded up my PPC OS clones onto an external firewire drive that would never be able to boot the machine.

Let me know how it works for you if you feel like it because I'm interested to see how you find the speed over usb. I had the same problems with Fedora in VB and ended up just deleting the VM.
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Old Feb 1, 2013, 10:19 PM   #5
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Let me know how it works for you if you feel like it because I'm interested to see how you find the speed over usb. I had the same problems with Fedora in VB and ended up just deleting the VM.
Got the external drive, installed Fedora 18 on it. All works perfectly. Boots without issue. Acts just as it did on the internal hard drive. No fiddling or messing around to get it to work -- it just works.

It boots slightly slower, and apps (and elements not loaded into RAM) loads slower, but not by much. Once it's in the RAM, it works just the same as it did when installed on the internal drive. Definitely very usable.

Awesomesauce.
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