It seems I can't boot a system installed on one MacBook in another MacBook.

My laptop needs a few days of servicing, so I thought it would be easiest to clone an image of my OS X install on USB drive, then boot from this USB drive on another laptop. Unfortunately all I get is a grey "no-no" circle.

What I actually did was:

  1. Using Disk Utility I cloned MacBook's (let's call it "A") boot partition onto USB partition.
  2. I can successfully boot MacBook A using this cloned partition.
  3. If I plug USB drive into another MacBook ("B") and turn it on: the operating system on USB partition appears as available in bootloader screen (with orange icon) - but I cannot actually boot from it. Screen remains grey and a grey disabled sign is displayed.
  4. The same happens if I simply use original A's drive in USB case (so this is not a cloning problem).
  5. The same happens if I try to boot MacMini using USB drive.

Is it normal behavior, that OS X install is bound to the computer it was installed on?

Is there something I can do to override this behavior and force my MacBook B to boot with operating system installed on A?

A is MacBook Retina 15" and B is MacBook Retina 13".

OS X version is 10.8.


Try this:

  1. Install a fresh copy of OS X 10.8 onto your USB disk (just download the installer from the Mac App Store and select the external disk as target drive).
  2. Boot from the newly installed OS X.
  3. Using Migration Assistant, transfer your data and configuration files from MacBook A's startup disk. You'll have to select the option "From a Mac, Time Machine backup, or startup disk".enter image description here
  4. Boot from the external USB drive.

I know it's not a clone, but Migration Assistant does fairly well and preserves all your data. I did this when I had to transfer my system (OS X 10.9 on a "classic" MBP 13" late 2012) on my new SSD drive. It worked very well. I did not lose any data.

If it doesn't work, your problem may be that you're trying to boot a version of Mac OS X earlier than what came with MacBook B. Maybe installing Mavericks will do the trick.

See this article on Apple KB in order to know the original OS X version shipped with your hardware.

  • Thank you for a nice tip! Does the migration assistant include some low-level things like, i.e. Apache configuration, MySQL databases, tools installed in /usr/local etc? Jan 27 '14 at 11:28
  • The minimum version requirement may be a reason actually. Both MacBooks were 10.8, but mine is still 10.8.2 while the other may have been shipped with >= 10.8.3. May this minor version number be significant? Jan 27 '14 at 11:30
  • I don't know about the minor changes between 10.8.2 and 10.8.3. When I migrated, /usr/local data was preserved, as well as MySQL databases. I had to reconfigure Apache, though.
    – pietrodn
    Jan 27 '14 at 16:40
  • Um, actually the configuration was not lost. It was saved in /etc/apache2/httpd.conf~previous. :-)
    – pietrodn
    Jan 27 '14 at 16:44
  • 1
    Actually 10.8.2 was the reason! I booted A from USB drive, updated OS X to 10.8.5 and it is booting successfully also on B since then! Thank you! Jan 27 '14 at 20:02

In the first place, I would not have used Disk Utility to clone a boot volume, I would use SuperDuper! or CarbonCopy Cloner.

Just the same, I have encountered similar situations in the past, including one quite recently. Often, if the cloned volume will not boot, it is a hardware issue – the newer system often cannot be booted by an earlier OS (sometimes even with the same version #). In those instances, you should still also be able to perform a fresh install of the new OS on the cloned drive without having to lose the data, but you will need a way to boot from an OS installer disk, such as a Flash drive.

  • Can you explain why you are recommending third party software over the manufacturer? What's wrong with Disk Utility? Apr 15 '20 at 22:30

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