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EDIT: The accepted answer below works, but I can also confirm that just booting the stock machine and visiting the App Store, you can just re-download it and make a boot USB drive before swapping out the hard drive.


I just bought a new i7 Mac Mini and will be upgrading the hardware to a 256GB SSD and 16GB RAM.

OSX Lion comes pre-installed on the stock 1TB hard drive. When I swap out the drive with my new SSD, I'll obviously have to install Lion onto it. If I boot my Mac Mini with my stock drive and visit the App Store to download Lion, will I have to pay for it, or will it assume I've already paid since it's installed, and allow me to re-download it so that I can make a bootable USB?

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

Macs introduced after 10.7 was released (and mid-2010 to mid-2011 Macs with a firmware update) support internet recovery: if you start up with a new hard drive, you are shown a gray screen like this and something like the contents of the recovery partition are downloaded over the internet:

http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4718

If you happen to encounter a situation in which you cannot start from the Recovery System, such as your hard drive stopped responding or you installed a new hard drive without OS X installed, new Mac models introduced after public availability of OS X Lion or OS X Mountain Lion, automatically use the OS X Internet Recovery feature if the Recovery System (Command-R method above) doesn't work. OS X Internet Recovery lets you start your Mac directly from Apple's Servers. The system runs a quick test of your memory and hard drive to ensure there are no hardware issues.

OS X Internet Recovery presents a limited interface at first, with only the ability to select your preferred Wi-Fi network and, if needed, enter the WPA passphrase. Next, OS X Internet Recovery will download and start from a Recovery System image. From there, you are offered all the same utilities and functions described above.

You can then install the OS your Mac came with for free or restore the old installation from a Time Machine backup.

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