Operating systems

Install OS X Lion from a bootable flash drive

Bill Detwiler shows you how to create a bootable USB flash drive and use it to install OS X Lion.

When Apple launched OS X Lion, they did so exclusively through their online App Store. Two months later, the company began selling USB flash drives loaded with Lion for $69 (a $40 premium over the operating system's $29 download price).

Luckily, you don't need to spend the extra cash. In this week's TR Dojo episode, I show you how to create a bootable OS X Lion install drive, using your own 8GB USB flash drive.

For those who prefer text to video, click the View Transcript link below the video player window. You can also sign up to receive the latest TR Dojo lessons through one or more of the following methods:

About

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

13 comments
hjlubansky
hjlubansky

I was attempting to make a bootable for myself, have tried twice to transfer the InstallESD.dmg to a formatted 16 Gb USB, so first time, went through the process, got an error message at the very end. then saw a USB drive that looked bootable on my MBP 10.7.3 system upon restart and holding down option. But Disk Utility doesn't like it, says it needs to be formatted again. So I reformatted the USB and went through the transfer again, still get a message like this "Restore failure, Could not restore-invalid argument" "OK". The one difference that could affect this was that I attempted to create the download on a 10.7 Mac, not a 10.6.x mac. Any thoughts on what the error means, and if it really means anything. hjlubansky@prodigy.net

abo_shreek11
abo_shreek11

I found an untouched dmg Lion on shared on the internet. But I couldn't find the Shared resources folder, either the InstallESD.dmg

ray.labrecque
ray.labrecque

Bet that subject line starts some flames!!! But seriously, I like your hack and am considering trying it on one of the kids MACs, but before I do: how do I manage payment for Lion with your method? To the best of my knowledge, you go to the App Store, purchase a copy of Lion and download it. All linked together, no way to 'register' after the installation, is there? Want to keep these MACs above board and no pirated S/W, at least none from Dad that is... Personally I HATE the download method, I like having that distribution media in the cabinet for re-installs and repairs, but I am primarily Windows based... Have to admit, we have had 3 MACbooks in the hands of Teens for 3 years and have only had to reinstall twice, both times due to abuse by the kids (hard drives and LCDs don't like temper tantrums do they?). Thanks, Ray L.

nwallette
nwallette

Previously, you would use a boot disc like iBoot to emulate the EFI layer, then boot the retail Snow Leopard disc and install. Since Lion is primarily suited for virtual distribution, the common approach is to buy and extract the Lion installer on an existing Snow Leopard system, then use xMove to set up a second partition with a bootable installer. From here, you would either use rBoot, or install the Chimera bootloader directly onto the USB stick. Alternatively, you can use the regae Install DVD Maker to combine the Lion installer with the Chameleon bootloader and create an ISO that can be burned to DVD. It works well enough, but in my experience, the layout of the files on the disc is not at all optimal, so your optical drive will spend a ton of time seeking. It took upwards of an hour to install this way on a 3.3GHz i5 with 4GB of RAM. Or, I guess you could just buy Apple hardware. ;-)

Bill Detwiler
Bill Detwiler

When Apple launched OS X Lion, they did so exclusively through their online App Store. The days of visiting your local Apple retail location and walking out with a DVD were gone. Two months later, the company began selling USB flash drives loaded with Lion, but for $40 more than Lion's download price. In this week's TR Dojo video, I show you how to create your own bootable USB flash drive in OS X and use it for an OS X Lion install drive. I also ask the question, "Do you like having a physical copy of all your software?" Are downloads enough with software, just like they've become for music? Take the poll and let me know: http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/itdojo/install-os-x-lion-from-a-bootable-flash-drive/2927

nwallette
nwallette

The licensing agreement allows you to use it on any Snow Leopard computer you personally own. (Non-commercial license.)

suncatTR
suncatTR

I've almost come to the point where I don't want to buy any more Apple hardware, but wasn't sure about hackintosh. The last straw wasn't the usual overpriced notebooks and desktops--that's expected. The really last straw is the sealed, disposable overpriced hardware with more proprietary features than ever before--and missing essential features. Are there notebooks that aren't netbooks, and also desktops suitable for Hackintosh? FWIW--been using Apple products for +20 years, worked for Apple, and think Jobs should have been fired in 2006 when he started sealing the hardware and breaking software.

suncatTR
suncatTR

Does that include an HP computer with Snow Leopard? Whether or not we get Lion to run on a hackintosh or on our Macs, the WORST method of distribution ever invented is automatic remote installation over the Internet. It's fine on an intranet, done by IT. However, the Internet is still too slow and too unreliable in most of the country outside of cities that installing even a 1 GB piece of software "automatically" is likely to cause problems. I would NEVER allow Apple to install Lion remotely, especially since they won't provide a stand-alone version that I could back up. It's bad business to depend on someone else's remote servers, especially ones that are as flaky as Apple's have been for years, when local backup and remote backup at a location of my choice makes more sense for my business. Here's a vote for having physical copies of software, especially operating systems. Apple is trying to make their hardware and software "mysterious" and "magical" instead of respecting their customers to store software and repair hardware as they choose.

ray.labrecque
ray.labrecque

Are you sure about that? I have to research that one. Apple is giving away their latest and greatest OS??? Wow. That sounds too good to be true!

nwallette
nwallette

Check out tonymacx86 and insanelymac for starters. There are HCLs, FAQs and forum posts on what to buy if you're planning for OS X. It's not always easy, and you'll probably fail several times before succeeding. I have a 1 in 4 chance of getting SL 10.6.3 to install on my Sandy Bridge motherboard without a spontaneous reboot. Official support for that line of chipsets didn't come out until 10.6.8, but I bought the retail DVD a year before the hardware. Once it's installed and upgraded, it's stable as a rock though.

nwallette
nwallette

The iTunes servers seem, to me, to be reasonably fast and reliable. However, similar to your complaint, I am connected with a shoddy DSL line, so I'm capping out at 100KB/s anyway. Hence, I agree xxGB downloads suck. On the other hand, it was nice to fire it off on Friday night, hit the hay, then wake up to the installation "media" delivered to a folder on my disk. Never have to change out of your PJs. Next... It's not a remote installation. In fact, Apple's OS installations are far, far, FAR less intrusive than any version of Windows since '95. There isn't even a CD key. It would be trivial to pirate it, since as far as I can tell, after the initial iTunes purchase, they don't even validate it. (I broke my upgraded install and restored from a SL image before I had signed in to iTunes for the first time, and the installer ran without requiring so much as a login.) Because of this implicit level of trust, the Hackintosh community has responded in kind by encouraging participants to please purchase the software. And from what I've seen, it's genuine, not just a CYA procedure. After all, are you really going to rip Apple off when they're only asking for $29? How much did Vista -> 7 upgrades cost again? Once the "app" is downloaded in full, you "install" it, but this really just expands the for-real installer. You can then put it on USB or optical media, if you're so inclined, to have your physical source. Or not. You can just upgrade in-place if you'd rather. It's pretty darn flexible. People will gripe and complain, but to be honest, with the quality of the software, and the quality of the hardware, I would happy to vote with my money. The only reason I'm even going the Hack route is because I can't get a real Mac in a 1U form-factor with all the expansion and I/O I need. (I'm looking at Mac Pro territory for that, and none of those are going to fit into a 1.75" high space in a mobile rack.)

nwallette
nwallette

I wouldn't say "giving it away", but it's supposed to be an upgrade for all your existing (personal) SL computers. Businesses are subject to a different license, as I understand. This is a home-use deal.