4.13.2009

Mac Mini

The Mac Mini is kind of a nice deal because it is simple to buy and small for our table (but why didn't we just pick one up from the campus bookstore?)

Getting Linux up and running on it has been a minor hassle however. Apple uses EFI instead of a traditional PC bios. This is why Boot Camp is used to run other operating systems.

EFI is a far more sophisticated pre-boot environment than the old PC bios. One of the features it has is the ability to run programs. Apparently, much of what Boot Camp does is install a program that provides legacy bios compatibility.

Linux actually is able to talk to EFI natively (unlike most versions of Windows), but because boot camp is so simple, most people just go with a normal Linux install. EFI, however, brings a couple problems in the sense that I would not have to deal with them at all were this a normal PC.

Problem one: the dual-boot interactions between Linux and OSX are unclear. Grub doesn't know anything about OSX of course, and apparently other people install an EFI program named rEFIt to provide boot selection between OSX and Linux. We did not do this though before installing Linux. I do not know how to boot back into OSX at this time.

Problem two: EFI specifies the use of GPT partition tables rather than the old MBR style. GPT, like EFI, is far more modern than the old MBR layout. One of the things GPT provides is compatibility to programs that expect the old MBR style. When I installed Linux, the installer relied on this to create Linux partitions. The problem is that apparently this legacy shim needs to be synchronized with the REAL GPT layout, so my partitioning changes are not valid to OSX at the moment.

The solution to that is to use OSX's Disk Utility to make my Linux partitions, or to tell rEFIt to synchronize GPT and MBR. At the moment though, we cannot seem to boot OSX at all.

A final wrinkle in the Mini so far is that Nvidia's Linux drivers do not seem to want to drive the output at more than 640x480. I have not figured out why this is being problematic. I am sure this is an innocent problem that has nothing to do with the computer being a Mac.

1 comment:

  1. Did we get the disc out of the drive?

    Furthermore, can we boot from the OS X restore disc included with the mac mini?

    I expect we'll be able to get into Mac OS, but it may cost us the ability to boot linux (one or the other?)

    Is it worthwhile for me to get mac OS back up and running tonight for the demo tomorrow?

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