I spend a lot of time in single-user mode on our company Macs as part of my maintenance and OS mass-deployment work. We recently made our first foray into Retina display territory by purchasing some of the new MBPs: MacBook Pro Core i7 2.6Ghz 15-Inch (Dual Graphics - Late 2013 Retina Display), a.k.a. MacBookPro11,3.

When booting into single-user mode (Command-S) on these Retina display Macs, the text is ultra tiny -- I'm guessing because of the high pixel density of the display. My eyes are pretty decent, but I still find myself having to use a magnifying glass just to see what I'm typing. The font size used for the text is just ridiculously small.

Is there a command I can run to increase the text size, decrease the resolution, adjust the DPI, or otherwise "blow up" the text to a legible size in any way?

  • I've run into the same issue as well but have yet to find an answer. I would encourage you, and anyone else who have run into this, to submit feedback about the issue to Apple @ apple.com/feedback/macbookpro.html
    – Mr Rabbit
    Feb 12 '14 at 16:10
  • 1
    This is now a reason to do deployment via Remote Desktop.app instead of physically going to each computer and using Terminal.app or Single-User mode. But there is no way I know of to change the font size, sorry dude.
    – Andrew U.
    Mar 10 '14 at 14:25
  • Not that I've ever tried it, but what happens if you connect an external display while in single-user mode? I have no idea if it will recognize it or not, and it also sounds like a pain. Sorry about that. Jun 17 '14 at 2:50
  • @agentroadkill the external screen stays black on my Touch Bar MacBook Pro Sep 26 '18 at 1:22

Using a magnifying glass

This is going to be your experience with Single User mode until Apple rewrites the underlying code to allow it to understand what retina is.

Photo courtesy of Bev Sykes

  • are you suggesting nobody is actually reading the text during booting? even the boot engineers at apple? I know these boot log might be retrievable in some logstore but still, why not make the debug life easier?
    – Sajuuk
    Sep 6 at 7:15

I know this is really old but I thought I might share the answer with y'all. The way Apple implements characters in the boot video mode is in pixels. There is an array of 0s and 1s that correspond to white and black respectively. Now since the Retina display has such high resolution, the density of those pixels will have a direct coincide with the size of the characters. For example, this is the implementation of capital A:

1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
1 0 0 0 0 0 1 1
0 0 1 1 1 0 0 1
0 0 1 1 1 0 0 1
0 0 1 1 1 0 0 1
0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
0 0 1 1 1 0 0 1
0 0 1 1 1 0 0 1
0 0 1 1 1 0 0 1
0 0 1 1 1 0 0 1
0 0 1 1 1 0 0 1
1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1

I hope this answers your question, and as joshfindit said, Apple would need to redesign the boot video mode if they were to fix this.


Do you really need single-user mode? If so, why?

You should be able to use the Recovery partition to do much of the same, and possibly also dump the contents of that partition to make it PXE bootable for other Macs on your local LAN...

I tried some tricks by setting NVRAM boot-args instead of booting into single-user mode the usual way. There is the known kernel boot option:

"Graphics Mode"="<width>x<height>x<depth>@<frequency>"

but it doesn't seem to effect console mode. See http://www.tonymacx86.com/wiki/index.php/Org.chameleon.Boot.plist#System_Boot_Options for more info on boot-args

I couldn't find any command-line tools to set the resolution either, or even how to magnify the text (though this might be possible). There is virtually no information online about how to set Darwin's framebuffer resolution. You might find some related code on http://opensource.apple.com if you poked around enough. You could also try to patch the console mode display driver in OS X (probably XNU?) to handle this, or look at alternative boot loaders like Chameleon.

You may also be able to rewrite the EDID presented from your monitor to the Mac to make console mode use a lower resolution. This would require flashing the firmware of your display.


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