I've been using this MacBook for years even though the screen is damaged -- I just use an external monitor.

So what's the problem?

I want to reinstall the OS -- take it back to the base state, basically. I've found all the instructions on how to do that, but when you follow those steps, and the Macbook starts up in that mode where you're given the option to select to scorch the system and reinstall the OS from scratch, in that mode, the external monitor doesn't work. It's some kind of a limited mode that requires you to use the built-in monitor (and probably the built-in keyboard). This is an "Early 2013 MacBook", and I use Catalina.

Anyone got any thoughts on how I can do this? I'm thinking there may be a way to do this with some kind of automation -- like - maybe there's a way to automate the process of reimaging a MacBook from scratch that doesn't require any interaction, which means, it will work unattended and thus wouldn't matter if I can see the screen or not while it's doing its thing. Perhaps part of some type of an admin / IT tool?


(I really hope someone doesn't post an "Answer" that says I should upgrade my Macbook :(

  • 1
    Have you tried setting your external monitor to mirror? Jun 27, 2022 at 4:32
  • 1
    Can you install MacOS on an external drive,, boot from that, and then wipe and re-install the OS from there? It's worth saying that because macOS separates the OS from the user space, there's very little advantage in 'nuke and pave' -- unless you're selling it..!
    – benwiggy
    Jun 27, 2022 at 6:58
  • @benwiggy Interesting about little advantage. okay, so how do I go about getting back to a clean state -- no apps, etc. Jun 27, 2022 at 8:08
  • @benwiggy I didn't know I can install the OS on an external drive and boot from that. That's interesting.. Just to be clear I would then boot off that hard disk, and now the hard disk in the Macbook is the "other" drive -- and since I didn't boot from it, I can nike and reinstall on there, then reboot from the internal drive, and I'm done. I don't see why that wouldn't work as long as installing and booting off of an external drive is a thing. Feel free to add this as an Answer and I'll accept. Jun 27, 2022 at 8:11

1 Answer 1


If you close the lid of your laptop while booted to Recovery Mode, then the external display should become active (as the 'only' display now in operation). However, you will need an external keyboard and input device to use the computer.

Alternatively, you can install macOS on an external USB drive, then boot from that (either by selecting Alt at startup, or by selecting the volume in System Preferences).

Once you're booted into an external, the internal disk is not in use, and can therefore be erased, reinstalled, etc.

NB: On Catalina and later, you will see that your disk is split into two volumes: "Macintosh HD" and "Macintosh HD - Data".

The first one is for the OS (including Apple-bundled apps like Mail, Chess, TextEdit, etc). Normally, this volume is mounted read-only, and cannot be modified.


The second, ("Data") is for 'everything else'. Installed applications, user data, etc, etc.

macOS presents the two volumes to you in Finder merged together as one virtual volume.

This actually means that you don't need to wipe the entire disk, but only erase the "Data" volume.

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