How to Boot A Linux Live USB Stick On Your Mac

tux apple   How to Boot A Linux Live USB Stick On Your MacGet Linux to boot, on your Mac, from a USB stick or external hard drive. A simple program called Mac Linux USB helps make a formerly complex process simple, and is a godsend for those without optical drives.

So you want want to boot Linux, from a flash drive, on your Mac? If you’re reading this, you probably already know it’s harder than it should be. Old standbys like uNetBootin – while available for your Mac – do not create USB keys your Mac can actually boot. And you’ve probably noticed Ubuntu’s official, complex directions for the task. Maybe you’ve even tried them out, like me, and cursed when the resulting drive – which took hours to make – wouldn’t actually boot.

Don’t worry. There’s a simpler way – a GUI made specifically to get distributions like Ubuntu to boot on your Mac. It’s called Mac Linux USB, and it makes the process not only do-able, but easy.

All processes below were tested on a 2011 Macbook Pro – one that refused to boot any and all USB disks created by uNetBootin and similar tools. All you need for this process if your Mac and a blank USB stick – no Windows computer is required! The process primarily works with Ubuntu and derivatives, but could potentially work with other versions of Linux. Note that Macs cannot boot from the SD card reader – you’re going to need a USB stick or an external drive.

One more thing: If there is anything on your USB stick back it up now – we will likely delete everything on it during the process.

Step 1: Check And Format Your Drive

Note: this step might not be necessary for everyone, but for me made the process foolproof. Consider it recommended.

To get started, ensure your USB stick is properly formatted – we need a FAT32, MBR drive. In OS X, open up the Disk Utility – you’ll find it in your Applications folder, under Utilities, or by using Spotlight. In the left pane you’ll see your current drives. Click your USB stick, then click Info.

disk utility info   How to Boot A Linux Live USB Stick On Your Mac

From here you should see the partition scheme, which should say “Master Boot Record” as seen above. If this isn’t the case, don’t worry: you can easily format the drive the way we want it. Click the drive, then click Partition. Click the drop-down menu that says Current then click 1 Partition.

disk utility partition   How to Boot A Linux Live USB Stick On Your Mac

Be sure to pick FAT as your filesystem, then click the Options button at bottom-left. Pick Master Boot Record:

disk utility mbr   How to Boot A Linux Live USB Stick On Your Mac

Proceeding from here will wipe your drive, so if you’ve backed up everything on it go ahead and apply the changes. You’re now ready for the second step.

Step 2: Putting Linux On Your USB Stick

Now that your disk is ready, let’s go ahead and set up Linux on it. You can do this manually, if you like, but let’s start by using a program called Mac Linux USB – it removes some of the busy work from the process. Go ahead and download Mac Linux USB – you’ll want to grab the semi-recent build linked to toward the bottom of that page (1.0 as of this writing).

This software is capable of downloading Mac-compatible ISOs of Ubuntu, Linux Mint and Zorin OS:

mac linux loader download   How to Boot A Linux Live USB Stick On Your Mac

Feel free to use this tool to download your preferred version of Linux, though note that the options are limited – and ISO files you find elsewhere may or may not work. (If you prefer downloading Ubuntu with Bittorrent, be sure to grab the file with “+Mac” at the end of the file name – other versions will not boot on your Mac).

Once you’ve got your Linux distro of choice, click “Create Live USB” and direct the program to your ISO. Then the software will get to work:

mac linux loader processing   How to Boot A Linux Live USB Stick On Your Mac

How long this takes depends on the size of the ISO and the speed of your drive, but it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes on most modern Macs. When it’s done you’ll see there are only two new folders and three new files on your drive. You can replace the ISO later manually if you want to switch Linux distros (more on that later) and the other file is an EFI application – firmware that allows your Mac to boot the ISO.

Step 3: Booting Your Disk

Now for the easy part: booting Ubuntu from your drive. Assuming you did everything correctly – including grabbing a Mac-bootable Linux distro – this should be easy. Just shut down your Mac, then turn it back on. When you hear the Mac “Chime”, press and hold the “Option/Alt” key. You’ll be shown all the bootable drives on your Mac, including your USB stick (which will be yellow):

mac usb boot linux   How to Boot A Linux Live USB Stick On Your Mac

Use the mouse or keyboard to select your USB stick and you should – if all went well – see a black screen that says the following:

grub loading linux   How to Boot A Linux Live USB Stick On Your Mac

Eventually you will see the logo of your Linux distro, followed by the desktop itself. You’re in!

mac boot linux running   How to Boot A Linux Live USB Stick On Your Mac

Congratulate yourself – you got Linux to boot from USB on your Mac, and that means you’re awesome.

Want to actually install Linux on your Mac? That’s another can of worms entirely – and probably one I’ll touch on in a future article. For now feel free to check out the Mac dual boot guide at help.ubuntu.com for in-depth instructions.

Optional: Manually Switching Distros

When you explored your USB stick with the finder, you probably noticed only three two files were added by Mac Linux USB: “boot.iso” and a boot loader ending with 32 or 64 (depending on whether you were attempting to boot a 32 or 64 bit operating system).

mac linux loader contents   How to Boot A Linux Live USB Stick On Your Mac

If you want to switch distros don’t feel like you need to use the GUI tool to do so – you can simply rename your new ISO to “boot.iso” and replace it. I did so to switch my drive from Ubuntu to Linux Mint without issue, but note that there’s no reason to assume every ISO under the sun will work – it seems to primarily work with Ubuntu derivatives.

If you want to get even more hands on, check out this amazing guide, from Studyblast.com. It includes a link to the EFI files used to cause the ISOs to boot, allowing you to create your own disk without the need for software like Mac Linux USB loader. Feel free to use this if you find the process simpler without software.

SevenBits, the developer of Mac Linux USB Loader, is quite actively developing the software – and will likely keep it working with future versions of Ubuntu, and possibly other versions of Linux. That’s why it’s my recommended method. Up to you, though – whatever works best.

Conclusion

Finding this process took me a while – I manually created quite a few drives only to find they didn’t work. I’m very thankful I eventually found Mac Linux USB Loader, because it removes a lot of the guesswork from the process. Hopefully every Mac user wanting to boot Linux from USB will find this software.

Of course, if you’re stuck, you can also ask for help in the comments below. I’ll do what I can to point you in the correct direction, but I might not be able to help – it really feels like Apple made life needlessly complex for us would-be Linux users.

What do you think? Is this process harder than it needs to be? Did you get it working some other way? Let us know in the comments below.

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89 Comments -

Cory

Weird, it worked all the way to .. the black hold on and seatbelts screen, then nothing, black screen, waited 10 mins and nothing happened. I’m running a awesome MAC with everything (yes it even has the latest OSX) – But all in all, FAIL. Thought i’d leave a comment for anyone else trying. Maybe it will work for them , but bummer!

Justin Pot

Oh man, that’s too bad. What Linux version were you trying? And what’s the model? Just for everyone else’s sake…

Ziggy

Exactly the same with me. I’m running os x 10.7.5 on a 2.66GHz Core i7 (only dual core I believe). 4GB ram.

I tried the Linux Mint 15. Will now try the ubuntu for Mac. tbh all I want is somewhere I can format my external HDD to back up my linkstation!

Ziggy

Right so the ubuntu did the same. I was using an 8GB stick so tried with a 1GB one and different errors:

With ubuntu it would actually launch into the OS, but the display is all wrong – i could just about make out the ‘ubuntu’ with the dots counting up to launch. But once it launched it was all scrambled. Could only make out loads of pixels moving around when I moved the mouse, but couldn’t do anything useful.

With the linux mint 15 – same result as using 8GB stick. I think the issue is the display…

Cory

Found out what it was! It seemed that I had a windows partitioned usb drive, and thought it would be okay and dandy to use it, however, Mac didn’t like that partition , so creating a new one (once again) with the steps above, worked awesome. Ubuntu booted fine! Awesome eh! Thanks for the quick reply! You guys rock!

Justin Pot

I’m glad you got it working! What was the problem? Was the drive not formatted MPR?

Nick V

Unfortunately I can’t seem to get this to work. Followed the steps to the letter and it just hangs on the black “fasten your seat belts” screen.

I have a 64bit capable Mac, downloaded the Mac version of Ubuntu from the USB loader app, have a properly formatted USB thumb drive (San Disk Cruzer Glide 32GB) but Fail for me.

One note: your instructions say “When it’s done you’ll see there are only two new folders and three new files on your drive.” but I only see two folders and TWO files, not Three. Was this a typo or is there supposed to be three files? (your screen shot only shows two as well.)

Any further help greatly appreciated!

Justin

Right now I don’t have any PCs around to try this on but will it also boot on PC? or would this one be mac specific. Is there a way to do both?

Justin Pot

Sadly I don’t know of a process that will work on both Macs and PCs, but if you want a PC disk there are easy enough tools for the job. I recommened UNetBootin

Justin

Aww man…we aren’t there yet huh? Well either way great find. Thanks for the share

Justin Pot

Well, it used to work. Apple changed a bunch about how booting works…

SevenBits

Just found that you had posted this… thanks a lot for reviewing my tool and your kind words, and your in-depth instructions and explanations are great. I’m really happy that this has helped you! I think I’ll link this in the wiki – you wrote a better article than I could have… :)

Justin Pot

Thanks for making the software! I spent a long time figuring out how to do this, and your tool works consistently – and is a lot easier to explain than alternate methods. You made writing this article much, much easier!

Jim Trapp

Thanks very much for this software. Works great and very easy to setup. One question though: Is there capability to create a persistent live usb linux boot? Which gives the ability to retain any settings or app installs.

Justin Pot

This software doesn’t currently offer that, nor have I found a simple way to make such a drive. Sorry about that.

Dustin Hughson

So I have gotten everything to work fine… except when it boots I am at the GNU Grub screen and dont know where to go from there :(

Justin Pot

Same thing happened to me. For me, the fix was to ensure the drive was properly formatted, and that the ISO was Mac-compatible. Did you check those things?

Kyle

So I followed the instructions very carefully but after I selected my USB it showed up with the black screen in the tutorial only after that, it said it couldn’t find my boot.iso file, help?

Justin Pot

Which version of Linux are you trying to boot? I was only able to get this working with the (Mac) version of Ubuntu, which the app provides automatically…and the Fedora version offered by the program.

Kyle

Thank you for such a quick response. I am using the one provided by the Ubuntu website because I was unaware that there was a mac-specific version offered by this program. If you don’t mind me asking, how does this version differ from the one offered by the official website?

P.S. I am downloading the Mac one as I type this.

Kyle

It works now, but I am still curious about what’s different about this version.

Thank you for your help.

Kyle

Thank you I appreciate it, really.

Nick V

Unfortunately I can’t seem to get this to work. Followed the steps to the letter and it just hangs on the black “fasten your seat belts” screen.

I have a 64bit capable Mac, downloaded the Mac version of Ubuntu from the USB loader app, have a properly formatted USB thumb drive (San Disk Cruzer Glide 32GB) but Fail for me.

One note: your instructions say “When it’s done you’ll see there are only two new folders and three new files on your drive.” but I only see two folders and TWO files, not Three. Was this a typo or is there supposed to be three files? (your screen shot only shows two as well.)

Any further help greatly appreciated!

Nick V

Nobody? No help at all?

Justin Pot

It’s two files, sorry about the inconsistency.

This is very odd. What Mac are you trying this on?

Nick V

I am on a late 2008 Macbook Pro upgraded with 8GB of ram.

Nick V

Specifically, late 2008 Macbook Pro, 2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 8GB 1067 MHz DDR3

Justin Pot

The only thing I can think of is that that drive is massive, but I don’t think it should make a difference. What version of OS X are you using? Could be your Mac is old enough that our software isn’t necessary, and software like UNetBootin will do the job.

Nick V

Mac 10.8.4. Just thought this would be the easiest way to do it. Everything seems to install fine on the thumb drive, I even tried the “blessed” version of the USB loader, but the Macbook Pro just won’t boot from it… baffled.

Troy

It worked!

I have been playing around with linux live usb on a mac for a while, with little joy. I found another app called ‘Linux USB Builer’ but I couldn’t get it to work on Mountain Lion.

So far I have tried Ubuntu and Mint. Main issue I have so far is that they only work with ethernet and not the wireless connection.

Thanks for the tutorial Justin! It was very clear. And thanks to SevenBits for the code. I am going to have a look now at their github page and follow this app’s progress.

SevenBits

Glad it worked for you, Troy! Always happy to make tools that help people.

WiFi is always an issue when running Linux on Apple hardware. You’ll need to install non-free drivers to get it working (hint: the wireless cards are largely Broadcom devices).

I hope you continue to use Mac Linux USB Loader – a plethora of new features are planned for future releases!

Brian

I cannot get this to work. I beleave i have correctly follwed the instructions, but the computer just does not see the USB stick as a start up disk, I am trying to boot a 64 bit Intel Core 2 duo Mac Mini. The USB stick has been formated to MS-DOS (FAT32)2 and i have tried with several versions of linux including two downloaded with the app.

Justin Pot

Brian,

That’s too bad. Is your drive connected directly, or through a USB hub of some sort? Just ideas, assuming you’ve read most everything above…

joe

Hi Justin,
Thanks for the article. I was trying to create usb for Kali-Linux. -I tried using Linux Mint and Win 7 but neither was recognized by Mac OS 10.8

Does Kali Linux have or need a Mac Distro?

Adam

It doesn’t:/ Also I wouldn’t recommend using Kali on Mac hardware unless you have an external wireless interface (ie: usb, pci, etc.) because the Broadcom cards don’t have monitor support currently, or even an open source module in the kernel for that matter.

Dean

This is great! Very very cool, and exactly what I needed to find after 4 or 5 hours of trawling the internet and formatting my USB umpteen zillion times for various ways to get around the efi problem. Nice easy, logically laid out, I like it!

The catch for me is that I’m running 10.6.8 and so miss out, just ;-) is there a mailing list or something I can subscribe to in case it becomes backwards-compatible? I’d really love to get a good version of linux up and running on my Mac, and Mint looks soooo good :-( *tear* ;-)

That said, keep up the good work!!!
Cheers from NZ
Dean

SevenBits

Hello Dean,

Sorry, there’s no mailing list. I am considering a solution for you guys running older OS X releases, as I have received numerous requests about this. However, a full port is unlikely to occur unless a generous Internet user wants to oblige.

Are you sure that you can’t upgrade to at least Lion? Lion is 100% supported.

Steve

Been trying to use this software with a 500GB Seagate drive but the loader does not see this hard drive at the Make Live USB screen. I tested it with a 1GB thumb drive which was recognized with no problem. Perhaps the program cannot handle a large external HD? Any guidance?

Justin Pot

No idea why a large drive wouldn’t boot. Did you reformat the drive? Flash drives are probably a better idea in any case…

Matt

This actually did work! Much to my surprise after spending hours on gamer apps that didn’t. BUT now for stupid questions…why can’t I save anything?

Justin Pot

It’s basically a live CD on a USB disk – not a persistent install.

Stratomat

A small inaccuracy:
“Note that Macs cannot boot from the SD card reader”

This general statement seems not correct. I’ve just copied (using dd) a converted ubuntu-12.04.2-desktop-amd64.iso to a SD memory card, and it is well booting on MacBookPro5,5 (Mid 2009) from SD card slot.

And you can also install Mac OS X on an SD storage device and use it as a startup volume.

Justin Pot

So weird – I tested mine several times and even looked this up. Perhaps it’s just with newer Macs? Or perhaps I messed up? Maybe someone else knows something.

Stratomat

I just tried booting Ubuntu (above version) on Macmini6,1 (Late 2012) from SD card slot and it doesn’t work. Booting from the same SD card using an USB card reader actually works well.

So you’re right, it affects only newer newer Macs.

Justin Pot

Glad I’m not simply going insane… :)

maxou

Hi ! Very nice GUI app
In few steps can be dual bootable and installable this way :
Resize your mac partition and leave free space for linux using diskutils( select your hardrive in diskutils and click on partiton and resize with the mouse.

install refit : http://refit.sourceforge.net/doc/c1s1_install.html and then just simply after having plug the usb stick :
$ diskutil list
$ diskutil unmountDisk /dev/diskX (disk number that is the usb stick)
sudo dd if=/Users/username/Downloads/linuxlivecd.iso of=/dev/rdiskX bs=1m

reboot press ALT and choose your usb for an install of linux

Aaron

Fail. I could not go past step 1 because what I see on my screen doesn’t match the screen here in this tutorial. See the screen in step 1 that has buttons for “First Aid”, “Erase” and “Partition”? My buttons differ; I don’t have “Partition”. Please help as I’m about to return my MacBookPro. Oh, it’s running Mountain Lion.

Justin P

You need to click the drive you want to partition before those buttons will come up, if I’m understanding correctly.

Serge

Great read.
What are my options to boot into a (persistent) Linux on a 2011 13″ MBP?
I have a Bootcamp setup at the moment that I cannot afford to lose, w/ virtualized Debian.

SD card seems to be disfunctional on recent models, and this article is about live Linux.

I’m thinking (internal) optibay, (external) TB, FW, …
Your suggestions for working (and proven) setups highly appreciated.

-Serge

Justin P

I’ve yet to get a persistent install to work on an external drive, and I’ve tried. So I’m afraid I can’t help right now, but expect an article on this site as soon as I get it working.

Serge

Thanks. If *you* have tried and haven’t succeeded, it ain’t gonna be easy as 1-2-3 ;-)
I’ll put this on hold for a while. Is there a way to get notifications, or subscribe to this article? One more note. Replacing the optical drive with a HD/SSD, would that allow me to boot (Linux) from it?

-Serge

Justin P

I’m just a guy who enjoys writing about technology, I’m sure if you gave it a shot you could figure out how to do this just as quickly as me.

You can boot Linux from a second drive on your Mac, sure, and also from a partition on your primary Mac drive. I installed to a partition, myself.

SevenBits

I’m afraid that persistence really hasn’t been messed around too much on Linux when booting in UEFI mode. The steps are as easy as 1, 2, 3 – assuming you don’t have extra needs, of course.

You can boot Linux from an SSD, as Justin said, and you can install to a partition, and choose whether to want to boot with BIOS mode or UEFI.. I, however, would leave the optical drive in place so that you can boot Linux distributions that don’t work with Mac Linux USB Loader.

Tom

Hey Justin/SevenBits
Firstly thank you for all your respective time and effort.
– greatly appreciated.
Attempting to create a ubuntu USB install on the following system:
Model Name: MacBook Pro
Model Identifier: MacBookPro5,4
Processor Name: Intel Core 2 Duo
Processor Speed: 2.53 GHz
Boot ROM Version: MBP53.00AC.B03
SMC Version (system): 1.49f2
Memory 4 GB 1067 MHz DDR3
Graphics NVIDIA GeForce 9400M 256 MB
OS: OS/X 10.8.5 (Mountain Lion)

USB: SanDisk 32GB 2.0
Mac Linux USB Loader v1.1

Followed the excellent instructions provided by Justin, “exactly”.
– Clean erase/partition/format of USB -used (ubuntu-13.04-desktop-amd64+mac.iso)
– Create Live USB: result no GUI was loaded only CLI.
Dropped into bash environment, not being a Unix guru, i decided to try alternate *.iso’s…
After repeated try’s only got past the dreaded “fasten you seat belts” once, the first time all subsequent attempts froze at the the “fasten seat belts phase” .
( Attempts were via the Mac Linux USB loader app – download distribution icon)

Thus given my system, is it the recommendation to acquire a “PC” and install Ubuntu that ‘just works?” or have I missed something obvious…
– apologies for the long post, appreciate you taking the time reading this,
any and all advice appreciated and welcome.

ps. like (most) others have searched extensively on alternate methods and sunk a lot of time on what I would have hoped to be a rather straightforward procedure. :-)
pps: me suspects I have the *wrong* macbook pro :/
Cheers !

Justin P

I’m not sure what could be causing the hangup in your case. Have you verified that an actual CD will boot? I know it sucks, but it might help us know if this is an Ubuntu problem or a USB-boot problem…

Tom

Apologies – formatting was lost – doh !

Max

Thanks! I was looking for this GUI. Everywhere else they used the terminal method!

Justin P

Yeah, it’s a little-known tool but it sure makes life a lot easier.

simon

A complete nubee question – would a USB DVD be a work around? If you got the -mac edition? I have a iMac with a dvd , and booted Ubuntu to it, but I never noticed the -Mac in the name…

Justin P

If you have Apple’s USB DVD drive booting from it should not be a problem. Older Macs may not need the Mac-specific ISO, either.

useè

Trying to boot BackTrack 5 R3 from an 8g usb using this program on a MacBook Pro (2011 I believe), the process hangs on “OK, fasten your seatbelts…”
I let it sit there for about 15 minutes before I assumed it wasn’t going anywhere and had to hard-power-off the laptop.

How long does the boot generally take from the seatbelt message?

useè

JK read the first comment; step one is a must if your USB has been windows-formatted in the past. Don’t skip it; spay and neuter that USB drive.

Justin P

Yeah, skipping that step can cause exactly the problem you had, and pet neutering is important if we want to maintain a balanced ecosystem free of stray cats and dogs.

MoDuX

Running no problem, just one question whats the password for supperuser in terminal? What it so i can run android studio. Oh and great articale

Justin P

There is no superuser in Ubuntu, just the main user. You can type “sudo -i” in the terminal for a similar function, however.

Anonymous

Thanks, as you can tell I’m more at home with android. Next question is bit more of a difficult one, how do I make it persistent from USB?

Justin P

If and when I figure that out I’ll let you know. I haven’t yet.

MoDuX

Ya thought it be a bit of pain alright, trying to make it for the brother. Only starting messing with linux last week and have puppy running from usb like a charm and got mint running alongside my win7 without having to format the harddridve, then i hit the wall that is Apple. Thanks for you help, keep me up to date.

Ben

Doesn’t seem to be working on Mavericks- app runs, but it can’t see my USB stick and therefore can’t do its thing.

John

Have you formatted like it shows in the article?

denyo

Hi, nice article!
Is it possible to use (start linux) the stick at other PC’s? (Windows)

Greetings

Joe the plumber

Just tried to boot on my other PC with an ‘old’ BIOS & Debian.
No success there.

Joe the plumber

Thanks for the article.
Just managed to boot Mint on my mini MAC by usb.

Cheers

Mike

Everything worked up until it got stuck booting the kernels. Any idea on how to fix this?

Justin P

Not specifically, sadly – it’s all very guess and test. What distro were you using?

Jeff

Hey. I followed the instructions and am trying to use the USB loader but when I try to create the live USB for whatever reason the software does not recognize or see the usb drive. It only sees my SD card, which I do not want to use. I am using a SanDisk and I followed the formatting instructions you provided. Any ideas? Thanks.

Marty

Does this work for Intel-based macs. followed everything to a T but even though it probes the usb ports it does not recognize the partition. Does it not need to be GPT partition?

Justin P

This does work for intel-based Macs, though some readers are reporting problems with Mavericks. Haven’t gotten around to testing that yet.

In my experience you need an MBR partition for this to work, but you could try GPT if you like. Report back.

Jeff

Hey. I followed the instructions and am trying to use the USB loader but when I try to create the live USB for whatever reason the software does not recognize or see the usb drive. It only sees my SD card, which I do not want to use. I am using a SanDisk and I followed the formatting instructions you provided. Any ideas? Thanks.

Greg

Great read and program! worked 1st time with mint 15 on a intel macbook running 10.7. Now i just need to find a program that lets you load and save from a usb stick.

thanks again!

Andi Hofs

Hello Justin!
Booted “fine” with Ubuntu on Mac Book Pro retina late 2013
(standard Config 16gb 500GB 2,3GHz i7)
But: does not start X, lot of lines in logs. Are you interested in logs, I could copy them. Which files specifically would interest you or seven bits?
Thanks for your work!
Wouldn’t have dreamt it was such a hassle to get a linux up and running.

Thanks a lot!

AndiSH

Justin P

I’m just some guy who wrote about this, and am not behind the software in any way – I don’t think logs will help me very much. You could let the developer know what’s up, but if you’re getting that far into the process I’m fairly certain the problem is with Ubuntu itself. Your hardware isn’t yet supported by the OS, would be my guess.

It’s astounding how complex getting Linux onto a Mac is. It never used to be this bad, but drivers were always an issue with brand new ones.

SevenBits

@Andi and anyone else: please contact through my site at SevenBits.GitHub.io and we can chat about any issues that we are helping. I think the author of this post should put that URL in his post to direct people my way.

Samuel

Can u use this for Kali linux?

Redd

For some reason, it didn’t quite work for Mint 15. Gonna try it with Ubuntu now.

John

I can’t get it to work at all. I’m running Mountain Lion on a mid 2012 15″ Retina MacBook Pro. Why won’t it work?

Justin P

Which version of Linux are you trying to boot?