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Installing Debian on a Mac Mini

This page describes how to install Debian on an Intel-based Mac Mini.

please simplify ie

Verify that your computer has the latest firmware:

Partition & USB installs

Tested on Mac Mini 3.1 2009 OS X 10.8.2 Install Refit, this will be removed but is needed briefly, later. (Note that you can install rEFIt on a USB stick and boot from that, which is especially useful if your goal is to have just Debian on the system as it simplifies partitioning).

Open Disk Utility and add Debian Partition with Format MS-DOS(FAT) then,

Bless this partition:

$ sudo bless -mount /Volumes/DEBIANHD -setBoot

Download your chosen .iso

convert .iso to .img

$ hdiutil convert -format UDRW -o ./debian-xxx.img ./debian-xxx.iso


$ diskutil list

note Debian partition identifier ie disk0s4

unmount Debian partition

$ diskutil unmountDisk /dev/disk0s4

copy img to Debian partition

$ sudo dd if=debian-xxx.img of=/dev/disk0s4 bs=1m

reboot and now use Refit to select and install Debian.

Install Grub on Debian partition /dev/disk0s4 not MBR see installation guide.

reboot and use refit "Partition Tool" to resync GPT/MBR tables

reboot into OS X and remove Refit

reboot holding alt key to boot into Grub

a very similiar process can be used to create a bootable USB: Insert USB and Partition Disk, not Volume using the Option: GUID Partition Scheme.

Bless USB $ sudo bless -mount /Volumes/DEBUSBGUID -setBoot

unmount USB $ diskutil unmountDisk /dev/disk1

copy img to USB $ sudo dd if=debian-xxx.img of=/dev/disk1 bs=1m


For the earlier PowerPC-based model, see MacMini.

Verify that your computer has the latest firmware:

The latest firmware adds a BIOS compatibility mode, including detection of BIOS-bootable disks and CDs in the built-in boot volume chooser. In addition, if you want good graphics support in Linux, you must boot it using the BIOS compatibility mode. This is because the / XFree86 drivers for Intel and ATI, as well as the Linux text console, rely on the Video BIOS and Apple's firmware only provides a Video BIOS when booting in BIOS compatibility mode. Without it, you only get unaccelerated frame buffer graphics. Booting in the BIOS compatibility mode also means using either the LILO or GRUB bootloaders, and having an MBR partition table (either hybrid GPT/MBR or plain MBR).

If you are unwilling or unable to update the machine's firmware, elilo (the EFI Linux Loader) can be used to boot the Mac mini. However, this requires a specially prepared kernel and has some drawbacks (like not having 2D/3D accelerated graphics.) James McKenzie published a hack to elilo that activates the Video BIOS without activating the full BIOS compatibility mode. This actually allows the accelerated drivers to work without booting through LILO/GRUB. Unfortunately it hasn't been updated in months.

In consideration of all of the above, updating the computer's firmware is the simplest way to easily install and boot Linux and also get 2D/3D graphics acceleration. To enter the builtin boot menu, hold the "Option" key while booting. This gives the option of installing rEFIt (or other EFI bootloaders?) on a USB key. You must use OS X's "bless" utility to change NVRAM entries allowing this to boot. It's also possible to boot wheezy installers from a USB key in this manner.

Dual/Triple Boot

If you're not planning to dual boot OS X and Debian (or triple boot OS X, Debian and Windows), you can skip this step.

Otherwise, Mac OS X 10.4.6 and later have online resizing of HFS+ volumes and support for hybrid GPT/MBR partition tables in Disk Utility. To boot multiple operating systems, use OS X's tools to split up your drive and make room for everything. Remember that booting in the BIOS compatibility mode means having an MBR partition table (either hybrid GPT/MBR or plain MBR) so be sure to make the needed changes to your hard drive before continuing. Remember to select either the LILO or GRUB bootloaders from within the Debian installer so that you can access the BIOS compatibility mode described above.

If you make changes using any of the Linux partitioning tools (even just the type of a partition) and are using GPT you need to reboot and use gptsync or "Partition Tool" from rEFIt to resync GPT/MBR tables and then re-run the installer. If you forget to do this, installing the boot loader will fail.

Download The Installer

Go to and download the installer for i386 (32-bit) or AMD64 (64-bit).

If you have the early or late 2006 Mac mini models, use i386 installer.

Once the download is complete, you can use Disk Utility to burn the installer to CD or DVD and (thanks to the BIOS compatibility mode in later firmware versions), directly boot the CD by holding down the C button on your keyboard when the computer starts.

Once you've booted into the installer, you can proceed with installation. See the installation guide for information on how to use the installer. Remember to select either the LILO or GRUB bootloaders from within the Debian installer so that you can access the BIOS compatibility mode described above.

A useful note is that, after the installation is complete, it is normal for your computer to boot up to a folder icon with a question mark. Assuming that the GRUB bootloader and everything was installed successfully, the computer will sit there for approximately 15 seconds and then being to boot.

For dual or triple boot situations, hold down the Option key on your keyboard and the built-in boot volume chooser will let you select what you'd like to boot from.

Known Issues

On the Mac mini (late 2006 model) with Debian 4.0r3 I was unable to get the full 1920 x 1200 resolution on my Apple Cinema HD Display (23".) I was able to resolve it by using the 915resolution package. Debian 4.0r4 is expected to make updated software available, so the 915resolution package may longer be necessary at that point.

With the mid-2009 (macmini 3,1) model, you need a "testing" installer to get a recent enough kernel for reboot to work (with kernels from lenny and prior a hard power-off is needed after shutdown).


The chipset of Macmini1,1 is STAC9220/STAC9921. With Lenny (only), I notice white noise/whitle on the right channel. The following seems to fix it for me :

echo "options snd-hda-intel model=macmini" >> nano /etc/modprobe.d/alsa-base

Keep in mind to remove this line when you will upgrade to Squeeze.

mid-2010 model Mac Mini

There is a very good step-by-step guide here. Use regular install disks.

Helpful kernel flags:

reboot=p nouveau.modeset=0