Triple booting a Macbook Pro with Lion, Windows 7, and Xubuntu 11.10

I recently got my MacBook Pro 17″ (early 2009) triple booting OSX Lion, Windows 7 64 bit , and Xubuntu 11.10 64bit, these are the steps I took to get it all working. I wanted to start with a fresh install of Lion, so I backed up my stuff you should too before continuing.

Start Lion upgrade download from the App Store. While that is happening we can create the bootable flash drive.

Create a bootable flashdrive with OSX Lion

This is a summary of the macworld article that details how to make your own bootable flashdrive

  • Obtain a flashdrive at least 8GB and format it.
  • Insert the flashdrive into your Mac and open Disk Utility
  • Click on the device (not the partition under it)
  • Click on the “partition” option in the right pane and select “1 partion” from the menu
  • Tick the  GPT partion table option under “Options”
  • Click apply.
  • When Lion finishes downloading close the installer pop-up, and locate the “Install Mac OSX Lion.app” file under /Applications
  • Right-Click “Install Mac OSX Lion.app” and choose “Show Package Contents” then find “InstallESD.dmg” under “Shared Support”, copy it somewhere easy to locate.
  • Open Disk Utility and click the “Restore” option. For “source” browse to the copy of InstallESD.dmg you saved off. For destination pick your newly formatted flash drive. Click Restore.

Now is the best time to run the Bootcamp Assistant located under Application/Utilities. Choose the option to download Windows support software.  Choose the option to create a CD or flash drive with the drivers you will need for the Windows 7 install. When you are done you are ready to:

Install a fresh copy of Lion

Reboot your Mac with the Lion Flash Drive inserted whilst holding down the alt/option key. You should get a menu where you can select your FlashDrive to boot from.

First thing to do here is to use the Disk Utility to setup your OSX partition. I have a 500GB drive, so I chose “2 partitions” making the first 190GB a Mac OSX extended formatted partition. The second partition I left un-formated. We can deal with it later.

Once you format and partition to your liking, close Disk Utility and choose to Install Lion. You should be able to pick your newly created OSX partition as the destination.  Follow the guided steps and soon you will have a fresh copy of Lion.

Boot into Lion and Install rEFIt, this will allow you support a “Hybrid GPT/MBR”. This is needed because ultimately you will end up with several partitions, all of which will not fit into the 4 primary partition limit of a standard MBR. Currently Windows 7 needs a MBR to boot successfully (it doesn’t support GPT).

Once rEFIt is installed, restart and when you reach the Lion login screen restart again. This time you should see the rEFIt menu come up. Choose OSX (it should be the default).

Now we need to format the unused space on our drive to ready for our Windows 7 and Xubunu installs.

Open Disk Utility, select your disk device, choose the Partition menu and click on the 2nd partion you created earlier. Click on the “+” icon 2 times so your 1 unused parttion is now divided into 3 partitions. Adjust the sizes of each partition. I chose 190GB for Windows, 100GB for Xubuntu and 16GB for Xubuntu Swap. Select each partition and give it a Name you will recognize and set the Format to MS-DOS (FAT). We will be reformatting them with NTFS, EXT4, and Linux Swap respectively during the install of the remaining OS’s but they should be FAT to make it easy for the OS installers to recognize.

Once you’re done, go ahead and insert your Windows 7 install media, restart and hold down the option/alt key again, choose your Windows 7 media to start the install.

To Install Windows 7  you will need to choose a “Custom” install so you can pick the Windows (FAT formatted) partition as your target. The installer will tell you that you cannot install Windows to it, until you click on Details option and then click format. Proceed with the  install through a couple reboots until it finishes.

You should, at this point, see both a Windows and OSX icon in the rEFIt boot menu, you should also be able to boot into either without issue.

Next we need to install Xubuntu 11.10 64bit Alternate. You need the alternate version because without it the Installer would not load. Insert your bootable media/DVD, hold down option/alt and select it. If its a DVD it will show up as a DVD icon labled windows don’t worry about it.

Follow the Xubuntu installer questions until you reach the choose install partition section. Here we need to choose to manually choose our partition scheme.

Select your Linux partition (currently formatted as FAT) and tell the installer to “use it”,  mount as “/”, Format as EXT-4, and make sure the make bootable flag is not set. Then choose your small swap partition, tell the installer to use that as Linux Swap.

Before you continue, take special notice here of what device the installer considers your “/” (root) partition. On the left there should be a number, in my case it was #5.  Also note what disk # you are working with. Mine was #1.

Continue with the install until the end where we reach the GRUB installer.  At the GRUB installer we need to choose to install GRUB to a disk or partition (Not the MBR location). Instead you will enter your full device/partition path. Your previous notation of what disk and partition your root disk was mounted becomes important here. For example Disk #1 , Partition #5 becomes “/dev/sda5” where as if we had Disk #2 and Partition #2 we would have “/dev/sdb2”. After you enter your info, GRUB will install.  After it completes you will prompted to reboot. Go ahead.

At the rEFIt menu, choose to boot OSX, don’t panic if you choose either Windows 7 or Xubuntu at this point and you see “Operating System Not Found”.

When GRUB installed it tried to be helpful and called gptsync which synchronizes your MBR scheme to your GPT scheme. A valiant effort, but also disruptive in our case. Let’s fix it.

We need to make sure we create a Windows a section in the MBR table for reasons noted earlier. Pop open a terminal session. Also run the Partition Analyzer that was installed under Application/Utilities by rEFIt.

The first section of the Partition Analyzer output is your GPT scheme the second is your MBR scheme.

In all likelihood your Windows 7 partition has been pushed out of the MBR scheme entirely. You will also notice that Lion created a new partition called OSX recovery.

In the terminal we need to use fdisk to put Windows back into the MBR.

> sudo fdisk -e /dev/disk0

> edit 4 (or whatever partition number is used by the OSX recovery partition)

Set the format type to ’07’

the offset should be the sector start number for your windows 7 partition as displayed by the Partition Analyzer output from the GPT section.

NOTE the next number is the ‘size’ not the end sector. Take the corresponding end sector number from the Partition Analyzer and subtract the start sector number. Then add ‘1’ to it. That’s your size. Enter that. No need to make it bootable.

Now hit ‘p’ to print the partition table and make sure that the Windows partition info looks correct.

‘w’ will write the changes, and we are informed we need to reboot so, do that now.

Boot back to Lion. Now we need to get and install gdisk, this will allow us to repair our Hybrid GPT/MBR record to reflect the location of the Windows partition on the MBR side.

Install gdisk and then open a terminal:

> sudo gdisk /dev/disk0

hit ‘p‘ to print your partition info.

Then hit ‘r‘ to start a repair session

hit ‘h‘ for a hybrid gpt/mbr

Now we are prompted to list the partitions to be in the Hybrid table, enter numbers for your Mac OSX partition, Windows 7, and Linux. In my case it was ‘2 4 5

For each choose the partition type. AF for Mac, 07 for Windows, and 83 for Linux.

Don’t set bootable flag on any of these.

write. and exit.

Restart and this time at the rEFIt menu choose to boot Linux.

Have your finger on the ‘e‘ key because we need to edit the GRUB2 boot options to get Xubuntu to work or else we will be left with the “blinking cursor” of doom. This is due to video driver issues.

e’ (edit)’ the top boot option and find the line starting with ‘kernel’. Drop everything after ‘ro’ your getting rid of stuff like quiet, splash options , etc.

insert “nouveau.noaccel=1 blacklist=vga16fb” after ro and then press F10 to boot.

You should boot into Xubuntu! Almost there. We have some drama with the video drivers, so to fix it we need to run:

> sudo apt-get update.

When it finishes you will get an icon in the upper right corner that looks like a video card , click on it and choose a different driver for video. I chose the NVIDIA accelerated post release updates version.

Restart and choose to boot to Linux, this time just select the boot entry and it should work.

Restart and boot to Windows 7. Install the Boot Camp drivers. Just run the .exe in the root of the disk you created using Boot Camp Assistant.

You should now have a working triple boot Macbook Pro!

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