Macworld Masterclass: Troubleshooting Mac OS X Lion: disk recovery

Lion doesn’t ship with a recovery disc, so what do you do when things go wrong? We count the many ways you can get out of this fix

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  • recovery05 Intro
  • snow leopard 1 Step 1
  • recovery02 Step 2
  • recovery03 Step 3
  • recovery04 Step 4
  • recovery05 Step 5
  • recovery06 Step 6
  • recovery07 Step 7
  • recovery08 Step 8
  • recovery09 Step 9
  • recovery10 Step 10
  • recovery11 Step 11
  • recovery12 Step 12
  • recovery13 Step 13
  • recovery14 Step 14
  • recovery15 Step 15
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Intro

Macs don’t crash quite so spectacularly or as often as other computers, but it can happen. And when it does happen, we Apple users are often poorly prepared and woefully clueless when it comes to getting our machines back up and running.

The key thing to remember is that if you can boot your computer, you can usually fix it. Whether that’s by running Disk Utility to repair the start-up drive, restoring a previous backup, or reinstalling OS X depends on the severity of the issue. We show you how to do all these things, so if it ever happens to you, you’ll be ready.

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Next Prev recovery05

Macs don’t crash quite so spectacularly or as often as other computers, but it can happen. And when it does happen, we Apple users are often poorly prepared and woefully clueless when it comes to getting our machines back up and running.

The key thing to remember is that if you can boot your computer, you can usually fix it. Whether that’s by running Disk Utility to repair the start-up drive, restoring a previous backup, or reinstalling OS X depends on the severity of the issue. We show you how to do all these things, so if it ever happens to you, you’ll be ready.

 

Step 2 of 16: Step 1

If you’re using Snow Leopard (or Leopard) dig out the original boot disk. Insert it into your Mac’s optical drive and restart the machine while holding down the ‘C’ key on the keyboard. This will boot your Mac from the disk, providing access to tools that’ll enable you to troubleshoot the problem.

 

Step 3 of 16: Step 2

If you’ve upgraded to Lion, you might be wondering how you’re going to get out of this pickle. Worry not. When Lion was installed, it added a recovery partition to your drive. To boot into it, restart your machine holding down Cmd-R. It launches a minimal version of OS X with access to key utilities.

 

Step 4 of 16: Step 3

If you have problems with either of the above methods, and you have another Mac handy, try this. With both machines switched off, connect the two Macs using a FireWire cable. Start the working Mac first and set it to target disk mode by holding down ‘T’ as you boot up.

 

Step 5 of 16: Step 4

Next, start the non-working Mac, while holding down the Option key. This brings up the Startup Manager, which should enable you to choose the Mac in target disk mode as your ailing Mac’s startup volume. Once you boot to the desktop, you can use Disk Utility to restore a backup or repair the drive.

 

Step 6 of 16: Step 5

So far we’ve shown you how to get OS X up and running so you can access the utilities necessary to restore your system. It’s always good to be prepared and here’s a way you can make a handy, clean restore image that you can use to get your system back up and running.

 

Step 7 of 16: Step 6

With OS X installed on a clean drive, plus all your usual applications, the next thing to do is make a disk image. Open Disk Utility (/Applications/Utilities). Select your hard drive from the pane on the left, then click on New Image in the main toolbar to create a *.dmg format image of the drive’s content.

 

Step 8 of 16: Step 7

Leave the other settings at their defaults and click Save to start the process. It’ll take a while to complete. When Disk Utility has finished, the image will appear in the left pane too. Select it, go to Images in the menu bar and click Scan image for Restore. Finally, copy the image to an external drive or USB key.

 

Step 9 of 16: Step 8

If you have a valid and verified disk image to hand – and you are able to use one of the methods above to boot your Mac – then you’re just a few clicks away from recovery. Boot into the installer and open Disk Utility. Choose the Restore tab.

 

Step 10 of 16: Step 9

Find the disk image that you created and set that as the source, either by browsing to it or dragging it to the Source box. Set your start-up disk as the destination. Click Restore to overwrite the contents of the boot drive with your disk image.

 

Step 11 of 16: Step 10

Of course, you could always restore from your full Time Machine backup... which means you’ll need to start keeping one! The easiest way to get started is to simply connect any new, external hard drive to your Mac. OS X will prompt you to set up the drive for Time Machine.

 

Step 12 of 16: Step 11

Your first backup will take a while to complete, so it’s worth setting it up and leaving it overnight. From then on, by default, Time Machine incrementally updates this backup every hour. It keeps the hourly updates for 24 hours, daily updates for a month and weekly updates until the drive is full.

 

Step 13 of 16: Step 12

With Time Machine backups there’s a quicker way to restore your old system. Go to the Utilities menu when you boot from your install disk. Choose Restore System from Backup and browse for your Time Machine backup. On Lion, the option is available in the main recovery menu.

 

Step 14 of 16: Step 13

Of course, it’s always better to restore from some kind of backup, but if you don’t have a disk image, Time Machine or other backup, booting into the recovery partition on Lion, launching from Snow Leopard’s boot disk, or using a prepared recovery USB stick to reinstall is a last resort.

 

Step 15 of 16: Step 14

You can install over the existing installation, after using Disk Utility to verify and repair the start-up volume. If a clean install is required, you can do that too. We prefer to reformat the target drive using Disk Utility first. Open the tool and choose the Erase tab.

 

Step 16 of 16: Step 15

Initialise the drive using Mac OS Extended (Journaled), then reinstall the OS onto the clean drive when Disk Utility has finished. For a shortcut to updating OS X once you’re back on the desktop, go to support.apple.com/downloads/ and find the latest Combo update for your version of the OS.

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