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linux_on_macmini

macrumors newbie
Original poster
Aug 23, 2023
3
1
Hi all,

I have created an account here solely for this purpose, because I'm starting to become really desperate.

I recently bought a used Mac Mini 3,1 (A1283, Late 2009 model) in good condition. It has a 2.53 GHz Core 2 Duo (P8700), 4GB of RAM, a 320GB HDD and an NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics processor with 256 MB of memory. Not the best specs for today's standards, but good enough for my purposes to use it as a computer to try it different operating systems and play around a bit. OS X El Capitan was installed by the previous owner beforehand, and with that, everything seemed to work just fine.

So, these are the issues I have been running into for several days now:

The "installing Linux via USB" issue:

I at first tried to install Linux via a bootable USB. So I grabbed the most recent distro of Linux Mint MATE and flashed it onto the USB with BalenaEtcher. I plugged it into the Mac and pressed the "Option" key on the keyboard, selected the USB drive and all of a sudden it said something along the lines of "failed to boot". I simply pressed enter and then I was suddenly able to select various installation methods for Mint (just as usual). But here is where the problems start; when trying to do a clean install, it would try to do some sort of "tests" of the various components until the CPU stalls. After that, I tried to install Mint via "Secure Boot" and this would let me get into the live environment and install it from there. However, after the installation process was completed, the Mac wouldn't boot up anymore. The hard drive starts spinning up and the light of the Mac turns on (which means that it's receiving power and is "technically" working), but the screen stays blank and my monitor doesn't seem to receive any signal.

So I tried other distros (Debian, Ubuntu, AntiX, Xubuntu, etc.) and I more or less ran into the exact same issues (when trying out Ubuntu/Xubuntu/Lubuntu, instead of doing the "tests", it would give me an error message with something regarding "irqpoll". I tried googling the issue, however I couldn't find any helpful information). One thing I noticed though, was the fact that when I tried to install other distros over the live environment, it would warn me each time that a different distro of Linux was already installed, which would mean that the installations themselves were in fact successfull, but the Mac just didn't want to boot into the OS. So unfortunately, installing Linux via USB didn't seem to be working at all. I thought that it might be due to the USB, however, I received the same results with other USB, too.

The "installing an old Mac OS X version via the SuperDrive" issue:

So after all the hassle with Linux, I tried to install an old version of Mac OS X via the bulit-in DVD drive. I had some bootable Mac OS DVDs lying around, so I decided to give them a shot. I had an original Snow Leopard install DVD, a self-burned Lion DVD and another self-burned Mountain Lion DVD. I know for a fact that these DVDs work just fine, since I tried them out on my 2011 MacBook Pro multiple times and everything (even the Linux installations) worked like a dream. So, I put in the DVDs, one by one, but each time, the DVD drive would seemingly try to run for a couple of seconds and then just spit out the DVD. I even opened the device up to see whether the DVD drive might have collected some dust, but even that didn't help, so I assume the SuperDrive is just dead.

The "installing an old Mac OS X version via a bootable USB stick" issue:

After all these disappointing results, I tried to give the device one final chance by creating a bootable USB stick with a version of Mac OS X on it. I downloaded various supported OS X versions directly from Apple's website (Lion, Mountain Lion, Yosemite and El Capitan), created a bootable USB drive on my Windows Laptop via TransMac (I don't have my MacBook at hand at the moment) and plugged it into the Mac Mini. And at first glance, everything seemed to FINALLY work; I got into the Mac OS installation menu, deleted the HDD, went on to install the OS and guess what - it didn't work. Instead, an error message occured stating that "an error occured while preparing the installation". After some research, I found out that changing the date ove the terminal might help, but even that didn't do it for me. I took a look into the log by pressing command-L, and there it said something along the lines about the OS not being an App Store version and that my Mac wasn't found in the Apple database, so that it's validity couldn't be verified. After that, I gave up.

So here I am, stranded with an old Mac, which at first glance seemed to work just fine, but doesn't let me boot into any OS at all. If you've read everything so far, I'm really thankful and I appreciate any form of help.

Cheers!
 

aurora72

macrumors regular
Jun 7, 2010
186
89
Türkiye
The "installing Linux via USB" issue:

As far as I can remember, the boot process on Linux is managed by an application called something like "Boot Manager" (BM) 3 years ago I had installed Ubuntu 20.x on a Mac mini mid-2010 (very similar hardware to Mac mini late 2009) and I remember installing that BM too during the installation process. Those BM's typically have a full screen black background with white old terminal texts showing the Linux boot process.

The "installing an old Mac OS X version via the SuperDrive" issue:

SuperDrive / ComboDrive failing is a common occurrence on those Intel Mac minis. It's not so common with the PowerPC Mac minis though.

The "installing an old Mac OS X version via a bootable USB stick" issue:

You'd better find / download an Install DVD in pure ISO format (for some macOS versions, DMG sometimes), which are sometimes called "Retail DVD" and burn it into a plain old external harddisk using Disk Utility. Preparing the bootable / Install disk on Windows is not recommended. I personally don't use "USB-Stick" as they are prone to errors. I have several mechanical hard disks laying around which I use to make bootable / Install disks as a rule.
 

linux_on_macmini

macrumors newbie
Original poster
Aug 23, 2023
3
1
The "installing Linux via USB" issue:

As far as I can remember, the boot process on Linux is managed by an application called something like "Boot Manager" (BM) 3 years ago I had installed Ubuntu 20.x on a Mac mini mid-2010 (very similar hardware to Mac mini late 2009) and I remember installing that BM too during the installation process. Those BM's typically have a full screen black background with white old terminal texts showing the Linux boot process.

The "installing an old Mac OS X version via the SuperDrive" issue:

SuperDrive / ComboDrive failing is a common occurrence on those Intel Mac minis. It's not so common with the PowerPC Mac minis though.

The "installing an old Mac OS X version via a bootable USB stick" issue:

You'd better find / download an Install DVD in pure ISO format (for some macOS versions, DMG sometimes), which are sometimes called "Retail DVD" and burn it into a plain old external harddisk using Disk Utility. Preparing the bootable / Install disk on Windows is not recommended. I personally don't use "USB-Stick" as they are prone to errors. I have several mechanical hard disks laying around which I use to make bootable / Install disks as a rule.
Eyvallah kaptan! Burning the ISO onto a plain external hard disk might be an adequate solution, but here's what I just found out; apparently, even though my Mac Mini has a 64bit processor and a 64bit EFI, it is not able to boot any OS in 64bit mode without workarounds (source: https://everymac.com/mac-answers/sn...-bit-macs-64-bit-efi-boot-in-64-bit-mode.html). So Apple has blocked the EFI from booting in 64bit mode (even when it's technically absolutely possible), but what I noticed was that the 2009 MacBook Pros, which share pretty much the same exact internals as the Late 2009 Mac Minis, are actually able to boot in 64bit mode directly without workarounds... really strange and I don't really understand why Apple would do that, but I might try out a 32bit Linux distro, just for fun. Neyse, yine'de teşekkürler ve iyi günler! :)
 

sdfox7

Contributor
Jan 30, 2022
263
158
USA
Yes, I don't have enough knowledge around WHY Apple released 32-bit EFI for machines that could run the 64-bit kernel.

It reminds me of when Microsoft only released 16-bit versions of Internet Explorer for 32-bit Windows NT 3.51. Weird, because 32-bit versions of Microsoft Office and other applications worked just fine.
 

aurora72

macrumors regular
Jun 7, 2010
186
89
Türkiye
even though my Mac Mini has a 64bit processor and a 64bit EFI, it is not able to boot any OS in 64bit mode without workarounds (source: https://everymac.com/mac-answers/sn...-bit-macs-64-bit-efi-boot-in-64-bit-mode.html). So Apple has blocked the EFI from booting in 64bit mode (even when it's technically absolutely possible), but what I noticed was that the 2009 MacBook Pros, which share pretty much the same exact internals as the Late 2009 Mac Minis, are actually able to boot in 64bit mode directly without workarounds :)
Apple blocked those Mac's from booting in 64bit to prevent possible kernel extension compatibility issues and/or to draw the line between "consumer" (i.e. your Mac mini late-2009) and "professional" product lines.

The workaround Unlocking 64-bit efi Macbooks for 64-bit kernel applies only to the MacBook late-2009. Coincidentally, I have a MB late-2009 but I wouldn't even bother installing any Linux based OS on it.
 
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linux_on_macmini

macrumors newbie
Original poster
Aug 23, 2023
3
1
Apple blocked those Mac's from booting in 64bit to prevent possible kernel extension compatibility issues and/or to draw the line between "consumer" (i.e. your Mac mini late-2009) and "professional" product lines.

The workaround Unlocking 64-bit efi Macbooks for 64-bit kernel applies only to the MacBook late-2009. Coincidentally, I have a MB late-2009 but I wouldn't even bother installing any Linux based OS on it.
UPDATE: I tried to install a 32bit/i386 version of Raspberry Pi OS and for some reason, after the install my Mac would boot into a amd64 version of the OS (I have no clue whatsoever why this would happen, since the iso is definetely a 32bit version and the installation process went just fine). Then I tried antiX Linux (also a 32bit version) and that didn't work either. At this point I will just give up and make use of the internal HDD for other projects... many thank to everybody for the help though, I appreciate it!
 
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0423MAC

macrumors 6502
Jun 30, 2020
382
484
Eyvallah kaptan! Burning the ISO onto a plain external hard disk might be an adequate solution, but here's what I just found out; apparently, even though my Mac Mini has a 64bit processor and a 64bit EFI, it is not able to boot any OS in 64bit mode without workarounds (source: https://everymac.com/mac-answers/sn...-bit-macs-64-bit-efi-boot-in-64-bit-mode.html). So Apple has blocked the EFI from booting in 64bit mode (even when it's technically absolutely possible), but what I noticed was that the 2009 MacBook Pros, which share pretty much the same exact internals as the Late 2009 Mac Minis, are actually able to boot in 64bit mode directly without workarounds... really strange and I don't really understand why Apple would do that, but I might try out a 32bit Linux distro, just for fun. Neyse, yine'de teşekkürler ve iyi günler! :)
I never heard of such an issue, but nothing surprises me with Apple.

A possible workaround is to modify the ISO to see if you can bypass this arbitrary limitation with this tool (option 2)
https://mattgadient.com/linux-dvd-images-and-how-to-for-32-bit-efi-macs-late-2006-models/

I recently modified this 64-bit iso of antiX to work on 32-Bit EFI Macs. If this works on your mac mini, you can just use the tool to modify whatever linux image you want.
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1aTxzPmeLgyxtkSj5lUk2ATTGr1zCa4hf/view
 
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NewbiePPC

macrumors member
Mar 21, 2021
59
35
The Linux situation is more complicated that it should be thanks to the weird Apple implementation of EFI, also the Nvidia drivers for the 9400 and 320m are in a bad state (it's nearly impossible to install now) so you are better with Noveau drivers, you want to install Linux in legacy mode (by burning a DVD) because you can activate ACHI by modifying the registers otherwise you hard drive would be in ide mode, and also change the registers to be able to use the Nvidia drivers.

The last release that officially support those integrated video cards is 340.108 if I remember correctly and that installs easily on kernel 5.4 or lower for kernels above that you have to find a solution like independent PPAs for Ubuntu based distros or patches for other distros bit recently I have no luck with those in the little time I spend on that.

You don't need Nvidia but it performs better than Noveau and the ACHI it's noticeable but not mandatory.

Maybe it's possible to trigger legacy mode in your mini using refind and a USB but I never tried.
 
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NewbiePPC

macrumors member
Mar 21, 2021
59
35
Btw you can use any 64bit distro without any modifications if it's a Mac mini 3,1 or 4,1 I don't know of the 5,1 or above had this weird EFI.

If you install Linux with a USB you need to create the media in GPT but If I remember correctly I can't change those registers if it installs in this mode
 
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