A friend of mine gave me an old mac mini, the white one, i guess from 2007 or something. It has Mac OS 10.x installed (actually it has 3 versions installed for whatever reason). The problem is that he has no idea what his user name and passwords are. So I would like to re-install a fresh OS and setup the mac mini. It is not the first time, that I do this, so I do press for sure the right keys while starting up. I tried booting the system holding down the apple key + r without success. The system will boot into the primary installation. With Command + Apple + r it is the same. I can reset VRAM using Command Command + Apple + r + p and I hear the chime sound. Pressing any other combinations doesn't let me hear any sounds. So I wondered and created a bootable stick with MAC OS Sierra on it. Just to make sure my old mac mini can handle it. While booting up and pressing command I can choose between the installed Versions of MAC OS or install Sierry from USB. When I choose to install from USB the Mac Mini will simply boot into the installed Mac OS.

I remember that on an old windows PC I wasn't able to install from USB even though he recognized the USB Stick. I had to do that from DVD / CD. What do you think, do I have to use a DVD/CD to finally install any OS?

Since I don't don't have the option to burn a disc here I wasn't able to try out yet. Maybe there is another solution?

  • Is this an erase and install situation or do you want to install over top of the data and programs?
    – bmike
    Jan 13 '18 at 15:43
  • Would like to erase first. I resetted an old mac book pro last week without issues (but date update haha). This mac mini drives me crazy ;) Jan 13 '18 at 15:44
  • Have you considered taking the harddisc out and partitioning and re-installing via another mac...
    – Solar Mike
    Jan 13 '18 at 16:10
  • What do you mean « command » and « apple »? They are both the same... surely for vram it is command + option + p + r ??
    – Solar Mike
    Jan 13 '18 at 16:12
  • Command option p r sure, my mistake Jan 13 '18 at 21:20

First step is to erase the non volatile ram (used to be called PRAM) by holding Command-Option-P-R and listen for two boot chimes in a row then release the keys and try the install.

For an erase install, you need to boot to the installer and then choose Disk Utility from the Utilities menu and literally erase the drive. I would physically disconnect my backup if any before doing the erase. At that point, NVRAM or not - the system can’t boot from the erased drive and will make your life easier to select the correct installer and get a clean new OS.

  • When releasing the command option p r combination it will boot me straight to the login screen. Is this expected ? And then boot using command r and hope to get to the disk utility option ? Jan 13 '18 at 15:53
  • No chance for me to get to the utility menu. Jan 13 '18 at 15:54
  • @bmike - Would an 07 be able to boot from USB? My 08 Mac Pro never will, whatever I've tried [except for AHT, which does work from USB] though it will boot from CD just fine.
    – Tetsujin
    Jan 13 '18 at 15:55
  • Yes - I’ve booted machines from USB back to 10.2 days and before the intel switch where PPC and Intel boot were complicating things. You’ll have no problems with any Mac from 2005 or later and USB boot by design. Now - any arbitrary Mac can fail to boot for all sorts of issues - wrong drive / wrong chipset / hardware issues / cable issues / power issues, but don’t rule out USB boot on any Intel hardware across the board.
    – bmike
    Jan 13 '18 at 16:33
  • Hmm... OK - one of these days I might try it again. In all other respects this 08 behaves just as it should.
    – Tetsujin
    Jan 13 '18 at 16:44

Yes RayofCommand, after you release alt-cmd-P-R the machine goes on booting from whatever boot partition was selected, as usual. Cmd-R won't work on a Mac with an old version of OS X because the recovery partition is missing. I don't think a white mini will boot from USB, but you could connect it to another Mac thru a Firewire cable, boot this white mini holding the T key ("target disk mode"): the mini's internal hard disk will be mounted on the other mac's desktop. From there you can wipe the disk with Disk Utility. After that, the problem is installing an old version os OS X on the disk... old OS X installers won't work on the second Mac if it's on High Sierra or any recent OS X version. You could clone another disk (with the desired OS version installed) on mini's internal disk using Disk Utility (or Carbon Copy/Super Duper, that's what I usually do), or even create two partitions on it (one small, say 8 GB, and one with the remaining space) and clone the installer volume you have on the USB stick on this small partition. Then start the mini with alt pressed and boot from this partition, install on the other bigger partition. Hope this helps.

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