How To Install Ubuntu on a Mac Pro

I got my hands on a Mac Pro at work over the holiday, and the first thing I did was install Ubuntu Linux on it. Everything went smoothly using the new 7.10 version of Ubuntu, so I wanted to post how I did it:

[Note: I’m assuming below that you’re running OS 10.5 and have already run Software Update to make sure your Mac software is current]

1. Download the Ubuntu 7.10 64-bit install disk from here.

2. Burn the Ubuntu ISO to a CD.

3. Download and install rEFIt. (Do this in OS X). I had to use their manual install. Don’t worry, it’s not hard; you just have to copy a folder from one location to another, then enter two lines into a Terminal window.

4. Run BootCamp (It’s in your Applications -> Utilities directory). Use it to partition your Mac Pro’s hard drive to make room for Linux. You can set the partition sizes to whatever you want; I left 100 GB for my Mac OS and 140 GB for Ubuntu. When the partitioning is done, quit BootCamp. Don’t let it to do anything else.

5. Insert the Ubuntu CD you made into your Superdrive and reboot. rEFIt should pop up and let you choose to boot from the CD. Do that.

6. Choose the first option from the Ubuntu CD menu. When Ubuntu boots, play around with it for a while to make sure it sees your hardware properly. I have an ATI X1900 video card that Ubuntu found and worked with perfectly; I can’t vouch for Nvidia cards, so make sure you can set your screen resolution okay.

7. When you’re satisfied that Ubuntu can “see” your hardware okay, double-click the “Install Ubuntu” icon on the desktop.

8. Okay, now comes the one scary part. Follow the install wizard’s instructions until you get to the partitioner. Choose Manual. When you see a list of partitions, find the one you made using BootCamp (you can tell from its size) and delete it. Now create a new partition of type ext3 using the rest of your available hard drive space. Set the mount point to “/”. You’ll get some warning about not having a swap partition. Ignore it, you’ll be fine.

9. Click through the rest of the installer and let it chug away.

10. When it tells you to remove the CD and reboot, do what it says. rEFIt should come up again and see your Linux install. Select it, watch Ubuntu boot, and enjoy your new Linux system!

That seems like a lot of work, but really it’s mostly just clicking a few default options and watching the installers run.

If you run into problems, or just want more information, check out this blog on running Linux on the Mac Pro, or the thorough Gentoo Linux Wiki page, or this helpful post on the Apple Forums.

22 thoughts on “How To Install Ubuntu on a Mac Pro

  1. Thanks for the tutorial. If you have a spare disk can you forgo the partitioning step and just install Ubuntu on that disk?

  2. That should work. I haven’t had a chance to try putting Ubuntu on its own drive (yet), but as long as you’re careful to select the right disk when you install Ubuntu, rEFIt should see it okay and let you boot from it.

    If you try it, could you let me know how it goes?

  3. Hi, your post about installing Ubuntu on a Mac Pro seems to me really nice. My aim is to do that way, although as Pete said I’d like to try the installation on a different drive from the one where Mac lives; however, I have acouple of comments. Why did you have to manually install rEFIt? and have you tried to perform an installation with Ubuntu 8? Greetings from Spain.

  4. I’ve tried with Ubuntu 8 but failed. Refit, however, worked fine with rEFItBlesser, that is, the automatic installation. My Mac Pro has Nvidia so, maybe this is the reason why it didn’t work. Anyway, I’ll try with Ubuntu 7.1. Greetings.

  5. Ok, I can say that the problem is Nvidia 7300 GT and Ubuntu 8.04 My wife has iMac 24″ with ATI card so I was able to play around with Ubuntu 7.1 Greetings

  6. Greetings, Santiago!

    I used the manual install of rEFIt because the automatic install didn’t work for me (when I rebooted after the automatic install, rEFIt didn’t run).

    I haven’t tried Ubuntu 8.04 on the Mac Pro yet, though I’ve got it running on my Macbook at home. How did the install fail? What error messages did it give you?

    Sometimes with the Nvidia cards you have to install some extra drivers. If that’s where your problem lies, try http://ubuntuguide.org/wiki/Ubuntu:Hardy#Graphics_cards_and_displays to see how to get the latest drivers for 8.04.

  7. Hi again, unfortunately it didn’t work. The installation was ok (safe graphics mode) but once finished and rebooted, the system didn’t run; it seems there’s a problem with the place where you install grub. I installed it on the drive Ubuntu was installed. I’ll keep investigating the problem. Greetings, have a nice day.

  8. Santiago,

    Did you have a problem similar to this guy? http://saladwithsteve.com/2008/02/ubuntu-on-mac-pro.html

    If so, his suggestions for tweaking grub might work for you.

    Did you try the LiveCD before installing? If so, did it work okay?

    Did you give 7.10 a try? Did it work any better/worse? You might be able to install 7.10 and (once that’s working) use the system’s upgrader to upgrade it to 8.04.

  9. Hi again and thanks a lor for your interest. I found your link really important since the problem I had was similar to the one described over there so I’ll try it. Regarding your questions, yes to all them! the problem with 7.1 was the same as with 8.04, it’s grub! I’ll tell you how things went on, meanwhile thanks again, have a nice day.

  10. I followed this tutorial up through step 6, but when I selected the first option, the screen when dark and nothing showed up. How long does it generally take for it to boot? I’m not sure if I waited long enough, but it didn’t seem to be doing anything although the computer was running.

  11. Saghm, it usually didn’t take long for it to boot for me. Have you checked the compatibility list for the version of Ubuntu you were booting into vs your Mac Pro?

  12. I was wondering if this will copy all your files from your mac to the linux system? If not, do you know any way to do this? Thank you

  13. @SecretMessenger: This won’t copy your files from the Mac to your Linux box.

    You should be able to mount the Mac partition of the harddrive in Linux, though. If you set things up so your Linux username is the same as your Mac username, you should be able to access all your files normally once you’ve mounted the drive.

  14. is the rEFIt needed or what does it do cuz you can hold down alt/option to choose what you want to boot to?..

  15. rEFIt is not needed if you just want to choose between a Linux and Mac OS X install. If you decide to triple-boot, though, rEFIt makes it a lot easier (because it’ll give you a single menu with three options, where the built-in chooser will only recognize two).

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