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I have a MacBook Pro and an external HDD with Ubuntu, I can use this HDD to boot other machines into Ubuntu but no amount of pressing option would make my MacBook Pro think that the drive is bootable.

Is there a setting or an option that I have missed?

You might mess up Lion and Lion Recovery

you can run Mac OS from an external

you could free up space and move data from each to an external

or add an SSD or two inside

USB3 or eSATA would be fine, FW800 even. USB2? terrible.

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I am doing exactly that with my late 2013 27" iMac (though with different SSD).

The SSD is mounted in a Seagate Thunderbolt adapter (commonly known as

"the sled" because of shape). The internal HDD is a backup drive now.

Be sure to repartition the new drive with a GUID partition table (should be default

in options), otherwise it will not be bootable.

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The problem is that “other machines” (namely PC computers) use BIOS and Macintosh computers use EFI. Rather than boring you with the details, let’s just say that in order for your “EFI” to find your Ubuntu partition, you have to perform some magic.

The instructions for doing that are everywhere, (for example: here). I believe that you need to install rEFIt in order to have an “EFI” compatible bootloader.

TL;DR version: A Mac won’t boot directly into another operating system’s boot (GRUB/LILO/WINLOADER/ETC), you need an “EFI” compatible loader (enter rEFIt).

I hope this points you into the right direction.

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