You might be thinking, “Well, just pop in the OS X disc and click ‘Install.’” If it were that easy, I wouldn’t bother writing about the various methods one can use to install OS X! Most people are able to install with no questions asked, but what if you don’t have a DVD drive? Or what happens when your computer doesn’t meet the OS requirements and so it’ll refuse to install for you? Here are a few tricks and methods to get OS X to install.

Method #1: This method is for people who do not have a DVD drive. It requires that you have a second Macintosh computer with a DVD drive.

Almost all, if not all Macintosh computers built since the colorful iMacs come with a feature called Target Disk Mode. This ‘mode’ turns your Macintosh computer into a giant hard drive and when connected to another Macintosh via a Firewire cable will act just like a giant hard drive!

Getting into this mode is very simple. Just hold down the ‘T’ key when you boot up or restart your computer. You’ll know that you’re in Target Disk Mode when you see an image of a Y (it’s really the Firewire icon) bouncing all over your screen.

Now connect a Firewire cable from the Macintosh in Target Disk Mode to your other Macintosh with the DVD drive. As I mentioned before, your DVD-less Mac will show up on the desktop just as an external hard drive would. Put in the OS X install disk to the Macintosh with the DVD drive, reboot it and hold down the ‘C’ key. This will make it boot from the install disk. Go through the install steps as usual but when you get to the screen where it asks you where you want to install OS X, make sure you choose the other Macintosh. The icon for the drive should be orange and include that little Y symbol. Once that’s done, continue through the setup and eventually it’ll complete the install. Once done, you can remove the Firewire cable and then boot the machine up normally. You should now have OS X installed on the computer that didn’t have a DVD drive!

I had to use this method on my Xserve because OS X Tiger Server only came on a DVD.

Method #2: Installing from an Image

Whenever I get a piece of software I usually make an image of it for safe keeping. I tend not to rely on the physical disc software comes from just because they always scratch. By keeping an image around of the software I own, I can just burn another disk if needed. In OS X you can actually install from these images without actually having to burn them to a disc, which is great. (I’m not going to jump into how you make the images; I’ll save that for a later date… this information can easily be obtained from a quick Google search!)

Now there are actually ways to install from an image so I’ll split them up into parts.

Part A – You have an image of the OS X install DVD, and you will need 2 computers for this method. One will be the ‘installer’ and the other will be the computer you’re installing OS X to. I also recommend that both machines be of the same process type, for example, 2 PowerPC machines or 2 Intel machines.

Put the computer you’re installing to in Target Disk Mode (which I’ve explained above). Then connect the two via a Firewire cable.

I usually format the computer I am installing to before I actually start installing. You can do this while you have them connected. Just use Disk Utility, and make sure you’re erasing the correct drive!

Open the image of your OS X install. It should pop open a finder window with an icon that says ‘Install Mac OS X’ and a few PDF files. Don’t click on those though; scroll down a bit and locate the System folder. Open that and choose the Installation folder, and from there choose Packages. Then locate the package named ‘OSInstall.mpkg’. Open it and it’ll look quite familiar to the screen you see when you normally install OS X.

As usual, just run through the setup and make sure you choose the correct drive to install to when you get to that screen. Once completed, you can unmount the computer you installed to, reboot it and you should have a fresh new install of OS X!

The main benefit to this method is you do not have to reboot your computer, you have no installation disks to mess around with.

Part B: You will need 2 computers and an external hard drive.

For this method, you’ll want to have an external hard drive (Firewire) plugged into the computer your OS X install image is located on. Locate and open up Disk Utility (found in /Applications/Utilities/). Then find your external hard drive on that left sidebar and choose that. Then pick Restore from the tabs that appear on the top of the Disk Utility window. There will be 2 fields, Source and Destination. You’ll want to drag the OS X install image into the source field and then your external hard drive into the destination field. Makes sense, right? You’re essentially turning your external hard drive into an OS X install DVD.

Make sure you don’t have anything important on your external hard drive, because you need to check off the Erase Destination checkbox. You may also choose to check off the Skip Checksum—I usually do. The checksum just makes sure all the data was written to the drive. Then click on the Restore button. It can take 10-15 minutes to copy all the data to your external hard drive.

When it’s done, unmount/eject the external hard drive and plug it into the computer you want to install to. Turn that computer on while holding down the Alt key. This will bring you into a boot options menu. If you previously had OS X installed you’ll probably see that drive come up as an option, but you’ll also see this external hard drive. it’ll probably titled something like ‘Mac OS X Install’. Click on that and hit the image of the arrow pointing right. This will make the computer boot off that drive.

If all went well, you should arrive at the install screen and as usual just following the installation instructions as normal.

The benefit to this is: now you can carry around an install drive so if you have multiple Macintosh computers you need to install OS X on, you can just plug in your drive and have at it. There are no CDs nor DVDs to worry about getting scratched.

Method #3: The Cloner. This requires 2 computers and an external hard drive.

Let’s say you have a Macintosh but it just doesn’t reach the RAM requirement for OS X. Obviously you’ll want to get some more RAM but it’s still possible to get OS X running for now.

Use Method #2, Part B, and install to your external hard drive. This can also be considered making a bootable external drive, which is great for a various number of reasons besides getting OS X installed on a Mac that doesn’t meet system requirements.

Once you have OS X installed on your external hard drive, keep it plugged in but put your other Macintosh into Target Disk Mode. Both the non-OS X installing Mac and the external should be plugged into the computer you installed OS X with. They should both show up as external drives on the desktop.

Now there are 2 pieces of software that can do this job, SuperDuper and Carbon Copy Cloner. Both are great so you can choose whatever one you enjoy using the most. Then main point is that you’re going to clone from the drive you just installed OS X on to the one that didn’t meet the system requirements. It should take anywhere from 10-45 minutes. Once it’s done, disconnect the computer that just had OS X installed to it, boot it up and you should be getting the “Welcome to OS X” screen!

Benefits of this method are that you now have a bootable OS X drive that you can take anywhere! Should one of your Macintosh computers die, you at least have something to boot off of and work from while you get the dead drive replaced. It’s an excellent diagnostics tool for the times when you’re having issues with your computer. It can also be used on pretty much any recent Macintosh computer, and can be cloned to many machines. For example, if you could create your own custom OS X clone. You could install all your applications (like Microsoft Office or a few games), and then clone that over to multiple machines. Of course you’d need to check with the licensing of any applications to make sure it’s okay.

Method #4: Netbooting

I am not going to go to far into Netboot because it’s a much more advanced technique, but it requires that you have a server with OS X Tiger Server installed and 1 or more client computers.

You essentially put the OS X Install image on the server and the client computer will boot up and use this image to install OS X. This is great for companies who want to create a custom image and use it for employees’ computers. For example, maybe they want to include iWork, Photoshop and a VPN program. Rather then do this individually, they can just send it to all the computers. It makes the whole process simpler, but like I said, it requires some extensive knowledge about Netboot and OS X Server.

If you’re one of the unlucky people who can’t just pop in the disk and install OS X for whatever reason, hopefully one of these methods will allow you to install OS X on your Macintosh computer.

This link might also prove useful when installing OS X.

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