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Installing Debian on an Apple MacBook

Version 1.0.8

Hardware Components Status under Linux Notes
Processor, RAM, hard drive Works No special procedure required.
Display, Video Works No special procedure required.
Integrated network card Works No special procedure required.
Integrated sound card, ALSA Works No special procedure required.
Integrated wireless network card Unknown -

1. Introduction

This article briefly describes the installation steps of a linux/Mac OSX dual-boot installation on an Apple MacBook [2].
In order to follow these instructions you should be familiar with Linux and Apple Mac OS X in general. You will have to use some shell commands, in particular the sudo command [7]. Most of the information given on this page can now also be found on the Debian Wiki for MacBooks [10] which therefore makes this article rather outdated and incomplete. However, feel free to read it anyway and send me an email if this page has been useful for you.

2. Hard Disk Partitioning

If you open a command shell under Mac OSX, you can use the tool "diskutil" to display the current partitions of your hard drive. Use the following command:

diskutil list

The result should be something that looks more or less like this:

#:type namesizeidentifier
0:GUID_partition_scheme*74.5 GBdisk0
1:EFI200.0 MBdisk0s1
2:Apple_HFS Macintosh HD74.2 GBdisk0s2

This corresponds to a MacBook with a 80GB hard drive (the one that usually comes in black). For the linux installation it is necessary to divide the big partition into two parts: one for the Apple Mac operating system, the other for the new Linux OS. I chose to use 60GB for Mac OSX and the remaining 14.2GB for Linux [4]. The nice thing is that you don't have to reinstall your existing Mac OSX environment but just type in the following command:

diskutil resizeVolume disk0s2 60G Linux linuxhd 14.2G

Another diskutil shows the result:

#:type namesizeidentifier
0:GUID_partition_scheme*74.5 GBdisk0
1:EFI200.0 MBdisk0s1
2:Apple_HFS Macintosh HD60.0 GBdisk0s2
3:Microsoft Basic Data14.2 GBdisk0s3

3. Boot Loader

The next step is to install "rEFIt" on your computer. This program is a maintenance toolkit for EFI-based machines like the Apple MacBook and it provides a boot menu from where you can start the different operating systems. Download the latest version from this page:

There is also a documentation on the site, but the installation boils down to this:

1. Install the package
2. Open a shell and type the following commands:

sudo cp -r /Volumes/rEFIt/efi /
cd /efi/refit

4. Installing Debian

Go to the Debian website and choose your preferred way of "Getting Debian". I chose to use a network installation and download the "Netinst CD disc image" [8]. Your MacBook has an "i386" architecture. I burnt the CD using the ISO image, rebooted, chose the penguin at the rEFIt menu and went through the installation process.

- Select the appropriate keyboard and country settings
- Network: Choose "eth0" (which should be the default value)
- Hostname: localhost
- Domain name: not needed
- Partitioning method: Choose "Manual"!
- Partition disks: Select #3: 15.3 GB linuxhd (compare with above)
- Use as: "ext3 journaling file system"
- Set the "Bootable" flag: "on"; then "done"
- Choose "/" as mount point; then "Finish partitioning"
- Use the little partition (132MB) as swap partition

Finally, if you are brave, choose "Yes" and start the installation. Repeat the process and choose different parameters if errors occur. The Debian website and Google might give you the best assistance.

Everything is ok? Fine! Choose the root password and use the network mirror. No Proxy. Software selection: add "Laptop".Do not install GRUB but LILO.

5. Sound

Run alsaconf as root and allow it to change /etc/modprobe.d/alsa_base. The approriate ALSA driver is snd_hda_intel.

6. Video

If your screens seems to be a little bit fuzzy try aptitude install 915resolution (as root) and restart. Switch to 1280x800 resolution if it doesn't happen automatically.

Ingo Naumann, Spring 2007.

References / Additional Links

[1] Here's another website that gives guidance through the installation process (and helps you to improve your knowledge of foreign languages if you happen not to be from Catalonia or Andorra): (in Catalan)

[2] If you are not sure about your hardware (MacBook, iBook, What Book?), look at

[3] If your firmware has to be updated from SMC version 1.4f10 to version 1.4f12, go to If in doubt, click on the blue Apple logo in the upper left corner of your screen, go to "About this MAC", then "More Info" and under "Hardware Overview" you should find the SMC version.

[4] Please note that the hard drive manufacturers use a different definition of "GB" than most operating systems. Just in case you wonder about the missing 5.5 GB. For details, see





[9| Another article about the linux installation on MacBooks: French). You also find a configuration file on this site.

[10] There is a Wiki on the Debian website about MacBooks:

[11] Need more info? Find a good collection of links here:

Last revision: January 5th, 2008 -- Impressum

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