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28 May 2009

HOWTO: Create bootable USB drive on Mac OS X

by Steven B. Combs, Ph.D.
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I frequently experiment with live images of other OSs and install them on my Acer Aspire One netbook (I’ve since settled on PepperMintOS). Instead of burning CD images, I have found that bootable USB drives are faster and more reliable. I also have a problem keeping up with my external USB CD drive. The images I use most frequently come in either .raw or .img formats.

For these formats, here’s how I create a bootable USB drive using OS X and a couple of terminal commands.

WARNING! Performing these steps will completely erase the contents of your USB drive.

REMEMBER: You need a USB drive large enough to hold the image contents.

Let’s get started.

Download an image to your Desktop

If you’re experimenting, Google these distros: Moblin, Fedora 10, Ubuntu, CentOS, and Mandriva. Remember, you are looking for live bootable images usually in the .img format.

Partition the USB drive

NOTE: Not all USB drives are created equally. Some will function as bootable drives and some will not. You may have to experiment with different brands before you find one that works. My inexpesnive and trusty SanDisk Cruzer 8Gb USB Drive works almost everytime, but I make no guarantees for your application.

Determine the USB drive device name

Unmount the USB drive

Burn the image to the USB drive

In this example the command was formatted as follows:

sudo dd if=/Users/stevencombs/Desktop/karmic-netbook-remix-i386.img of=/dev/disk2

Raw Support

In the example above an .img image was used. If your image is in the .raw format, use the following format for the dd command:In the example above an .img image was used. If your image is in the .raw format, use the following format for the dd command:

sudo dd if=location/name.raw of=/dev/rdisk2 bs=1m

The USB drive is now ready to boot that laptop or desktop using the USB boot option. This same process can be used for most linux distributions. What I have not determined is how to easily do this with an .iso file on a Mac. So if you have a tip for me regarding this process, drop me a comment and add to these notes.

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