Triple-Booting with MacBook Pro Retina

In preparation for graduate school (which starts on Tuesday – yikes!), I purchased a gorgeous new MacBook Pro Retina. I got the deranged idea in my head that I’d like to not only be able to run OS X and Windows on this laptop, but Ubuntu as well, and happily enough found that Travis Llado had come up with the same terrible idea.

I followed his tutorial basically to the letter, installing Yosemite, Windows 10 and Ubuntu 14.04 LTS, but ran into a few snags: however, once you figure out how to get through these, it’s really not such an awful process, and the final product seems pretty stable. I wanted to share the workarounds that I came up with, as well as a few other observations.

  1. During Linux installation, I did not create a swap partition, in the hopes of reducing the total number of partitions on the machine to avoid Windows freaking out over a MBR drive with more than 4 partitions. I don’t think this is necessary, and there may be downsides to not having a swap partition – please chime in if you have thoughts on this.
  2. After Step 7 in Travis’s documentation, my computer wouldn’t automatically restart Boot Camp. When I forced it to restart in Boot Camp (Option + Power to boot, and then selecting the EFI Boot disc that showed up), Windows would see the Boot Camp partition as free space, and would refuse to install to it. As near as I can tell, the Linux installation screws up the hybrid MBR that Boot Camp creates, causing Windows to think that there are too many partitions on the disk for it to install safely.

    To get around this, I followed Rod Smith’s suggestion here. After following these steps, I was able to Option + Power boot, select the EFI Boot disc for Windows, and successfully install. Rod – who maintains rEFInd and gPart – is an expert on partition management, and I highly recommend reading his site if you want to understand more about what’s going on behind the scenes with rEFInd/partitions.

  3. My understanding, from what I’ve read on Rod’s site and elsewhere, is that the partitioning scheme that is used in this setup is likely to get ruined by any major OS updates. This may be true, and as with any setup like this, you should always have a regular, reliable backup protocol in place.

    However, FWIW, I’ve found this to be pretty stable so far. To get my Windows license (Win8 Pro) converted to Win10, I wound up installing Win10 –> installing Win8 –> upgrading to Win8.1 –> upgrading to Win10 –> wiping computer clean and reinstalling Win10. Throughout this entire process (with the exception of the wipe), the rEFInd boot manager popped up happily, and I was always able to boot back into OS X (I didn’t try Linux).

  4. Finally, one weird thing I noticed when installing Win10 the second time (the upgrade). I would boot my computer through rEFInd, the Win10 spinning dots would show up, and then the screen would go blank. Nothing. I killed and restarted once or twice, to the same result. Then, after seeing a mention of Win10 incorrectly detecting an external display being connected during installation, I tried removing the power cord and the Thunderbolt to Ethernet adapter I had plugged in while the screen was black. Suddenly, the screen came on, and I was magically partway through the Win10 setup process. My guess is that the computer was interpreting the Thunderbolt cable as a display.

Anyway, if you try this, best of luck – and please comment if you have any feedback, problems, or insights into what’s going on here.

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