FreeNAS USB boot on 2006 Mac mini

Discussion in 'Windows, Linux & Others on the Mac' started by jdryyz, May 9, 2014.

  1. jdryyz, May 9, 2014
    Last edited: May 9, 2014

    jdryyz macrumors regular


    Jun 12, 2007
    I would like to use my old 2006 Mac mini (4GB RAM, 2.0GHz Core 2 Duo CPU) for the purpose of running FreeNAS. The latest instructions I found say it is best to install FreeNAS on a small USB thumb drive since the OS will utilize the entire hard drive space. The 320GB internal HD will keep its OS X intact for now. I plan to use external storage for the NAS file sharing.

    Even with the current FreeNAS 9's minimum hardware requirements being higher than they once were, I believe this Mac will do fine to, at the least, properly evaluate if FreeNAS will be suitable for my media sharing needs. I do not expect it to be able to use RAID volumes with ZFS or run any fancy plugins. The testing setup will be very basic.

    I downloaded the FreeNAS .iso, burned it to CD, booted from the CD, and installed it to a 4GB USB thumb drive successfully. The Mac mini will not boot from the USB drive, though. Just to see if the installation was actually working, I connected it to my Windows 7 PC and it booted fine there. I also connected it to my 2012 Mac mini. It too sees the drive and boots fine. I have two other older minis (2009 and 2010 models) that will not boot from it either. I thought all Intel Macs would be able to boot from non-Mac partitions just fine as they do in support of BootCamp.

    What makes the 2012 mini model different from the previous models? The firmware obviously supports it.

    I know about rEFIt and rEFInd. I installed both and they did make identifying all the available partitions more obvious but did not make booting from the USB FreeNAS installation work. It just ends up booting to a DOS-like screen with an error message.

    I came upon a couple of instructions for booting unix/linux from a USB drive on a Mac, so perhaps this is what I need to do. FreeNAS is also available as an "image" file download.

    Here is what I found:

    (even though this is dated, I believe it still applies)

    and then there is this which sounds like the same solution (I have not watched it all the way through)

    So will I need to follow what is said here or is there a way to make the native FreeNAS .iso USB installation boot from the 2006 mini as is?

  2. Aaand macrumors newbie

    May 12, 2014
    Hi jdryyz,

    I am trying to accomplish the same thing for a MacPro1,1.
    Unfortunately it turns out that it is not so simple.

    The issue is that the images provided by the FreeNAS project only support legacy (MBR) booting.
    The two links you posted create perfectly fine MBR-bootable drives, but certain Macs (maybe those with 32 bit EFI?) only support that from PATA drives (i.e., PATA HDD or CD/DVD drives, which is why you could boot from disc).

    In order to boot from USB, one needs to use GPT formatted media and use the newer EFI-style booting mechanism.

    Some (outdated?) info can be found here

    I am trying to figure this out, but I don’t know how much time I can put into that.

    The easiest way for now is probably to replace the optical drive with a spare PATA drive, and install FreeNAS on that...
  3. jdryyz, Mar 12, 2015
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2015

    jdryyz thread starter macrumors regular


    Jun 12, 2007
    Thought I would provide an update on this since I have been dabbling with FreeNAS again.

    The answer to my question was so obvious that I missed it entirely. I only had think about minis without optical drives more to have my eyes opened.

    Before Apple removed the optical drives, there was no code in the firmware to boot from non-Mac USB volumes. Since they needed a way to have users install Windows for Bootcamp, it then became necessary to boot other opertating systems from something other than optical media (duh). This explains why my 2012 mini can do the job just fine. I'm sure this applies to the 2011 model also.

    I ended up finding a great deal on a 2012 mini that I can devote to running FreeNAS. The high level of customization available in FreeNAS is great but that too means it offers more than is necessary and can be a bit daunting to setup. The video-based guides I have seen so far have been helpful but incomplete. I have not yet dug deep into the written documentation, however.

    My goal for this project was to have a powerful yet energy efficient NAS that I can tweak to fit my needs. My primary need is actually to use it as a DLNA server and secondly as a NAS. Unfortunately, I am finding that the "miniDLNA" plugin is not a priority of FreeNAS and may not even be working with the latest release (9.3.x).

    In addition, I am not finding anything to confirm that the server will go to sleep when idle and will also support wake-on-LAN when it is needed.

    Guess I am going to have to stick with Mac OS-based solutions for the time being.

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