2006 Mac Mini - USB Linux boot

I have a Mac Mini from 2006 (Core Duo CPU) acting as my home server. It has 2GB, 64GB SSD and running Ubuntu 18.04 LTS. A 2TB external HD is plugged in to USB. My needs are modest so this set up is working well, running a Plex server, SSH server and OpenVPN server. I would like to rejigthings a bit, but the optical drive is slightly on the blink. I can get a net install of Ubuntu or Debian working, but a full distro will not work - I think the optical drive can only read the inner tracks of a DVD.

So, my question is, is there a way of booting a USB live Linux on this old hardware? I think the issue is that the machine is 32-bit and has a 32-bit UEFI and all the Linux distros have 64-bit UEFI support and falling back to BIOS will not work over USB.

Alternatively, can I boot from an external optical drive? Or what replacement internal DVD drive can I use?

Final question - will a 2TB SATA hard drive work in this old Mac Mni?

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Having just wrote all this Linux - How to get started (intended from a Windows focus to be honest) I wonder if you can boot from USB on that Mac? That would be the best way to go if you can. If so, and you need a tool, try https://www.balena.io/etcher/ .

On more modern macs that would work. I have one of the first Intel Macs so I cannot boot from USB Linux as the 32-bit UEFI prevents this. So really I need optical media, but the drive is flakey, so need to either boot from an external optical drive or find a replacement internal drive for a Mac Mini 1,1

Would something like this work? https://www.apple.com/ca/shop/product/MD564LL/A/apple-usb-superdrive

I don’t know for such an old Mac. I don’t want to chance getting it if it won’t boot a Linux disc from it.

Understood. On the other hand, newer Mac’s don’t come with a spinning media drive any more, so if you did get one, it might still be useful for your next Mac.

The old Mac Mini is the only Mac I have - was given it free. I’m wondering if it’s going the way of the dodo and an maybe a Raspberry Pi 4 would be faster than a 2006 Mac Mini running on a 1.66Ghz Core Duo. I know it would certainly use less power, and have USB3.

32bit is pretty much end of life, and your cpu is 32bit so any 64bit wont work, including the grub boot.


Now, there is a problem: This is a 32-bit EFI Mac, and its just refuses to boot from a UEFI(X64)+BIOS bootable CD/DVD, which as it goes, is the format of the Ubuntu server installation disc. There is a solution: to remove UEFI support from the CD first.

#1 Install xorriso
apt-get install xorriso

#mount the original Ubuntu ISO
mkdir /mnt/iso
mount -o loop ubuntu-14.10-server-amd64.iso /mnt/iso

#3 create the new ISO, wihout EFI
xorriso -as mkisofs -iso-level 3 -full-iso9660-filenames -volid “archisolabel”
-appid “Ubuntu Linux CD” -publisher “Ubuntu” -preparer “prepared by coderazzi”
-eltorito-boot isolinux/isolinux.bin -eltorito-catalog isolinux/boot.cat
-no-emul-boot -boot-load-size 4 -boot-info-table -output ubuntu-no-uefi.iso /mnt/iso/

#4 burn the CD
wodim -tao dev=/dev/cdrom -v -data ubuntu-no-uefi.iso

Now, this CD can be used to install Ubuntu without problems. And now my MacMini is happily running Ubuntu Server…

If you want to use your USB stick with an Apple Mac, you will need to restart or power-on the Mac with the USB stick inserted while the Option/alt (⌥) key is pressed.


but look for a 32bit server version of a distro and build a low ram desktop like xfce4 or mate ontop, that should give you somewhere between 300 and 900mb ram. if your happy in the CLI stick the headleass server tty as much as posible to preserve the ram for the apps.

ubuntu 18.04 aint bad it has support untill 2023 and Extended paid support versions 2028 if you really need it.

have you looked at https://www.archlinux32.org or if you want to go really crazy on ram persevering alpine only eats up 25mb at load vs a ubuntu server that runs 100-200mb out of the box.

I have a 2006 Mac Mini that I reformatted with Ubuntu. Granted, I don’t use it for really anything, but its there.

I think I have seen that page before. Trouble is the optical drive is on the blink, and any instructions I have found to create a bootable USB stick needs MacOS.

Anyway, I think I’ll leave as is for now or just use the net install disc to reinstall if I need to as that is still readable in the drive just about.

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as to the question of a 2TB SATA ssd or spinning hhd, it will work but limit in speed to sata1 on the MB at a max of 1,5Gb/s (180MB/s). in normal workload this boils down to 2MB/s read/write not very fast. so you would be faster with an usb2 480MB/s external ssd disk.