Creating a bootable Mac OS X USB drive, plus utilities

Posted on August 9th, by Brandon Muramatsu in Professional, Tuesday Tips. No Comments

[Update: I used the Ars Technica: How to make your own bootable OS X 10.9 Mavericks USB install drive instructions to create a 10.9 Install USB Drive, and also created a bootable USB drive with utilities as below.]

[Update: These are the same instructions I used for a 10.8.x Bootable USB Drive. Remember the InstallESD.dmg is in the downloaded Installer and isn't available from the created Install partition, so I put a copy of this in the Utility drive's download folder.]

With Mac OS X 10.7 coming as a digital download (and hence no install DVD), it seemed like as good a time as any to try making a bootable USB drive to use in case of emergency. So a full bootable copy of OS X, with it’s normal utilities, plus space for additional tools for utilities like Drive Genius and Data Rescue.

Here’s how I did it.

  • Get a USB Drive. I ended up going with a 32GB drive–a full OS install takes 14+GB, plus space for extra utilties and the OS installer is described as being 4GB but it’s really a bit larger. I used a Transcend JetFlash 600 – 32 GB USB 2.0 Flash Drive TS32GJF600 (Black). As of mid-2011 it’s supposed to be one of the faster USB 2.0 drives. [Update: I now recommend: Lexar JumpDrive Triton 32GB USB 3.0 Flash Drive LJDNV32GCRBNA. The USB 3.0 makes a world of difference is speed!]
  • Partition and Format the drive. I formatted the drive using Disk Utility as Mac OS X Extended (Journaled) and with a “GUID Partition Table”. I partitioned the drive into two partitions–the first for ~28GB for the bootable OS (Utility) and the other at 4.7GB for the installer (Install). My theory on the Installer sizing being that amount should be large enough to future-proof that partition for newer DVD-sized OS installers.
  • Create the OS X Installer on the Install partition. I basically followed the instructions from OSX Daily page: Make a Bootable Mac OS X 10.7 Lion Installer from a USB Flash Drive. (Though has a nice set of instructions as well.) I had a copy of the Lion installer, mounted the ESD disk image and then restored it to the USB drive install partition. I did this step next, just in case the restore decided to reformat and repartition the entire USB drive–thankfully it didn’t. I also locked the installer (“Get Info”) since Lion apparently has a habit of deleting itself after it runs.
  • Install OS X onto the Utility partition. I booted the computer from the newly created install partition (yay it worked!) to install the OS on the other partition. This started fine–with about 15-20 minutes to create the updated installer and then an hour and twenty minutes to do the install. For some reason, the install seemed to hang with about 6 minutes (40%) remaining and stayed there for as long as an hour.
  • Boot from the Utility partition. The computer restarted from the Utility partition and completed the install.
  • Copy over and install various additional utilities. Viola that’s it!

So it all went pretty well. I spent about an hour or so doing research on the best way to do this and getting things prepped. The OS install took about an hour and a half. And then probably another 30-45 minutes to finish installing software on the drive.

A note: The USB drive should be faster and more convenient that using an install DVD. However, it’s not the zippiest of drives (in other words like a hard drive) that you can use to boot your Mac. Also, it seems that it only likes to run (or focus on) one app at a time. Trying to multi-task makes me feel like I’m sitting through molasses. (Them thar USB 3.0 drives are pretty zippy!)

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