How to turn a Intel Mac Mini into a $900 paperweight

Posted: February 4th, 2007 | Filed under: Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

This weekend I decided it was way overdue to switch my Intel Mac Mini over to using Fedora. I’d read Fedora on Mactel notes and although they’re as clear as mud, it didn’t sound like it should be much trouble.

First off I applied all the available Mac OS-X updates, installed Bootcamp and resized the HFS+ partition to allow 36 GB of space for Linux. Bootcamp unfortunately isn’t too smart and so assumed I wanted to install Windows. No matter, once I’d resized the partition I could quit out of the Bootcamp wizard and take care of the details myself. So I stuck the Fedora Core 6 install CD, and used the GUI to change the startup disk to be the CD – this was the first stupid thing I did – I should have simply held down ‘c’ at the next boot instead of changing the default startup disk.

Anyway, so it booted into the installer, but Anaconda failed to start an X server, so it took me into text mode installation process. I figured this was because of the funky i810 graphics card so didn’t worry really. Until I came to the partitioning stage – I had a single partition available /dev/sda3 but BootCamp had marked this as a Windows partition – so neither the ‘Remove all Linux partitions’ or ‘Use unallocated space’ options would do the trick. And because this was text mode, I couldn’t manually paritition because none of LVM UI is available. No problem, I’ll just switch into the shell and use ‘fdisk’ and ‘lvm’ to setup partitioning in the old school way. I know now, this was a huge mistake :-) Its not explicitly mentioned in the Fedora on Mactel, but Mac OS-X uses the GPT partition table format, not the tradition DOS MBR style. It does provide an emulated MBR so legacy OS’ can see the partitions, but this should be considered read-only. Unfortunately I wasn’t paying attention, so happily run fdisk, deleting the Windows partition created by bootcamp, and creating several new ones to use for /boot and the LVM physical volume. There was also a wierd 200 MB vfat partition at the start of the disk which I hadn’t asked for ever, so I decided to repurpose that for /boot.

I then tried to setup LVM, but it kept complaining the device /dev/sda4 didn’t exist – but fdisk clearly said it did exist. Perhaps the kernel hadn’t re-read the partition table, so I played with fdisk a bit more to no avail, and then rebooted and re-entered the installer again. The kernel still only saw the original 3 partitions, but oddly fdisk did see the extra 4th partition.

I google’d around and found that the Mac OS-X install disk had a GUI partitioning tool, so decided I’d use that to delete the non-HFS paritions, just leaving free unallocated space, which would let Anaconda do automagic partitioning. This seemed to work – I did manage to get through the complete Fedora instal – but after rebooting I discovered something horribly wrong. The BIOS was still configured to boot off CD image. Opps. No matter, I held down the magic key to invoke Bootcamp, but Bootcamp not only wouldn’t see the Fedora install I just did, but also wouldn’t see my Mac OS-X install. All it offered was the choice to boot Windows – which I had never installed ! Of course that failed.

At this point I burnt a bootable CD with rEFIt on it success I could now see my Fedora install and boot it, but still no sign of Mac OS-X :-( Also I didn’t really want to have to leave a rEFIt CD in the drive for every boot. This is when I discovered that the 200 MB vfat partition I repurposed for /boot was in fact used by the EFI BIOS, and things like rEFIt. Doh. I could reformat it as vfat manually, but to install rEFIt into it, requires some wierd operation called ‘blessing’ which was only documented using Mac OS-X tools.

I figured my best option now was to boot the Mac OS-X install CD and play with the partitioning tool again – maybe this would be able to repair my Mac OS-X partition such that I could boot it again. No such luck. All I managed to do was break the Fedora install I had just completed. The transformation from functioning Mac Mini with Mac OS-X, into $900 paperweight was now complete. I had two OS’s installed, both broken to the extent that neither BootCamp or rEFIt would boot them, and BootCamp offering the option of booting a Windows install which didn’t exist :-)

One Response to “How to turn a Intel Mac Mini into a $900 paperweight”

  1. Ruben says:

    You’re right in that fdisk doesn’t support GPT disks. Parted does, but you have to resync GPT with MBR with rEFIt afterwards. I blew the install on my Macbook Pro away with fdisk as well.

    BootCamp is nothing more than a bunch of windows drivers. What Apple did with the 10.4.6 update is
    – enable some kind of hybrid GPT-MBR mode
    – add online HFS+ resizing to diskutil.

    So you don’t have to use Bootcamp, have a look at the diskutil manpage, and search for resizeVolume.

    There’s now a Myths and Facts page on the rEFIt site with more of this stuff.

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