How to Install Ubuntu from USB on Macbook Air 4,2 (2011)

Installing Ubuntu from USB on a Mac can seem impossible at first… but it’s not!

Create Ubuntu USB Stick

First download an Ubuntu iso from

Be sure to get the 64bit+mac desktop version.

The first step is to convert the iso to a dmg using the terminal:

dan@dan-macbookair:$ hdiutil convert -format UDRW -o ~/Downloads/ubuntu.dmg ~/Downloads/ubuntu-11.10-desktop-amd64+mac.iso

Run the command “diskutil list” without your usb stick in, then again once the stick has been inserted. The output from the second command should look something like:

dan@dan-macbookair:$ diskutil list
0: GUID_partition_scheme *121.3 GB disk0
1: EFI 209.7 MB disk0s1
2: Apple_HFS Macintosh HD 120.5 GB disk0s2
3: Apple_Boot Recovery HD 650.0 MB disk0s3
0: FDisk_partition_scheme *16.0 GB disk1
1: Windows_FAT_32 16.0 GB disk1s1

As you can see, disk1 has appeared since the insertion of the USB stick. It is very important you work out which disk your USB stick is in this way, else the next step will cause you to wipe out data on your Macbook Air’s SSD!

Now run:

dan@dan-macbookair:$ diskutil unmountDisk /dev/disk1

Substituting disk1 for your USB stick’s disk number.

Next we’re going to write the image to the stick like so:

dan@dan-macbookair:$ sudo dd if=~/Downloads/ubuntu.dmg of=/dev/rdisk1 bs=1m

Note that this time we’ve added an r to the front of disk1, this is not essential, but will speed up the process.

Finally, once the above command has executed, run “diskutil eject /dev/disk1″ again replacing disk1 with your own stick’s reference.

Your USB stick has been created, restart your Macbook Air holding the alt key and choose to boot from the stick.


As soon as you see the purple screen with the white icon at the bottom, hit any key to get the USB stick’s boot menu. Select your language then press F6 and select the nomodeset option. Press ESC to return to the main menu and select “Try Ubuntu without any change to your computer”.

Proceed with the installation as normal, once finished, reboot the machine and hold down alt. Ubuntu will show up as “Windows”, select this option.

After a short pause you will see Grub and a list of boot options, press “e” to edit the default boot options. You will be presented with several strings of text, the penultimate line begins “Linux…” scroll along this line and add “nomodeset” directly before “quiet splash” so that it now reads “… nomodeset quiet splash …”.

Press ctrl+x to boot Ubuntu.

Fixing things…

First things first, install any updates that have come out since 11.10 was released:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get upgrade

Now reboot. Yes, I know, how Windows-like… but we are about to start playing with your kernel and it’s a good idea to be using the new one you’ll have just installed through updates! Don’t forget to use the nomodeset trick from above again (don’t worry… this should be the last time!).

Now we’re going to run the incredible script from

chmod +x
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13 Comments on “How to Install Ubuntu from USB on Macbook Air 4,2 (2011)
  1. Thanks Dan. I am able to boot off the flash drive to install Ubuntu. But after I select English and the Install from the menu, the screen goes black and does not appear to ever recover? How long should I wait or is there a solution to that?

    I’m looking forward to the rest of your tutorial. Thanks!

  2. I did notice your command line for coverting ISO to DMG has the name of the ISO starting as “one irc” I just downloaded the later 64bit version from and it has a different name. I wonder if the build is different somehow. I followed your instructions to the letter. My diskutil list results are identical to yours with the exception that I have the 250mM SSD in the AIR

  3. Great help, thanks for this page. How do you make grub saves your edit of entering “nomodeset”. Otherwise this is just a temporary edit and you have to enter it every time you boot ubuntu. Cheers, Alex.

  4. Hi man! I’m leaving my thanks to you here. I roamed the Internet for quite a long time before getting here. I can tell you yours is the definitive solution. It just works! Thank you so much for the great insight! My macbook air (4,2) is ready for research with Linux! Best regards!

  5. Hello Dan! I want to thank you a lot! Also to comment that I had some problems with the keyboard after executing oneiric’s script. I was not able to type symbols under alt + (number), for example the # sign over alt + 3 in my keyboard didn’t work. My touch pad second button begun to work after the script but also became very very slow. So I prefer to skip last configuration part. Dan, any advice on configuring the touchpad?

    I was doubtful about where to install the boot loader when specifying the partitions manually so I leave the answer here so anybody: “Make sure “install boot loader” is checked, and change the device for boot loader installation to the same partition on which you installed Linux, (mount point: /). Ref.

    Best regards! And thank you very much!

  6. I cannot for the life of me get this to work. I’m thinking it’s because I’m running Mountain Lion (really regretting that). I don’t know if anyone can confirm if they’ve gotten it to work on Mountain Lion, or know any other method… I’m thinking about saying screw it and getting a superdrive, but idk. I’m hoping to find it.

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