I need OS X Lion on a new HDD that I am preparing to install in a MacBook.

Since I don't have an existing disk to boot up and Apple isn't selling flash drives with it (or are they?), how do I use it for booting?

Something to keep in mind: I may ultimately be restoring a partition with a Time Machine backup, but I need to boot in OS X first to get to Disk Utility or the Time Machine restoration interface.

  • Is your MacBook currently running Lion or Snow Leopard?
    – Hai Vu
    Mar 21, 2012 at 21:18
  • Discussion regarding Mountain Lion is prohibited. This place cannot discuss products that are governed under Apple's NDA.
    – user10355
    Mar 21, 2012 at 21:51
  • Check out this list of Lion installation methods apple.stackexchange.com/questions/47244/…
    – stuffe
    May 2, 2012 at 14:13

5 Answers 5


If you have a copy of Lion already downloaded you can use the instructions here to create your own. The installation image is in the downloaded package and can be restore using Disk Utility.

  • Add the InstallESD.dmg image to Disk Utility
  • Select empty USB drive and go to restore tab
  • Make the InstallESD the source
  • Make the USB Drive the target
  • Click Restore

Alternatively you can purchase a Lion install USB drive from your local Apple Store or online here for $ 70.00.

If you only redoing the actual OSX partition and already had Lion installed, you can use Cmd+R during boot to access the Recovery partition which will allow you to download OSX Lion or restore from Time Machine.

Mountain Lion is only available to registered developers with access to the Mac Developer Section, but the manual process above works exactly the same.


Apple actually thought about this exact scenario. If your MacBook is from Mid-2010 or later and has previously had Lion installed on it, you should be able to use Lion Internet Recovery. It's similar to using the Recovery Partition, but intended for cases where that partition is not available (e.g. a new hard drive.) Hold down Cmd-R while booting, and it will download the recovery partition from Apple and then boot into the normal recovery partition.

Of course, this will only work if your computer has Internet Recovery support in its EFI. This was originally only available in computers that shipped with Lion, but has since been added to all MacBooks back to the Mid-2010 model via Software Update. So if you were previously running Lion and kept up to date on your updates, then you should be able to restore just by holding down Cmd-R while booting and connecting to the internet.


For completeness, here's a list of computers that support Internet Recovery.

  • ah no wonder cmd-r doesn't work for me, my macbook is early 2008
    – cqm
    Mar 23, 2012 at 14:01

The easiest way is to download CarbonCopyCloner, and purchase a USB to SATA cable. When you start the copying process, CCC will notice that your new disk doesn't have the recovery partition and offer to make it for you. At that point, it will shrink the existing partition on your drive, and create the boot partition. At that point, your drive is bootable to it's recovery partition. From there, you can either install Lion from the App store (which is what I did), let CCC copy data over, or do your Time Machine restore (didn't test time machine.) Should you find CCC worthwhile, purchase a license.


It would be fairly easy to locate a new-in-box Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard installer DVD, probably for sale for less than US $25. Do a Google search for computer stores that might have one in stock. If you are a Mobile Me member, Apple will send you a Snow Leopard DVD for free as part of the move to iCloud efforts.

So the next question would be, exactly what model MacBook do you have, and will it be compatible with a Snow Leopard DVD installer. You'll also have to check which version of Snow Leopard (10.6.0 or 10.6.4, for instance) is on that DVD.

Once you install a working copy of any version of 10.6 on that hard drive and boot up the MacBook with it, you can download the combo update for 10.6.8, which gives you access to the Apple Store, where you can buy, download and install Mac OS X 10.7 Lion.

  • Good answer, although you can also purchase a Lion Thumb Drive from Apple, or if you already have the Lion installer, make your own. Mar 21, 2012 at 21:27

I'll add yet another option to the list: before you remove the old HD, use the Lion Recovery Disk Assistant to copy its recovery partition to a flash drive. Then, after you replace the HD, you can boot from that and use it to reinstall Lion and/or recover your system from Time Machine. There are a number of similar options that can be a little confusing, so here's an attempt at clarifying their differences:

  1. Buy a Lion installer (USB drive) from Apple. Advantages: you can boot from this and reinstall Lion and/or recover from Time Machine without needing an internet connection. Disadvantage: costs $69.
  2. Create your own Lion installer drive (per Diago's answer) using a downloaded Lion installer app. Advantages: just like the purchased installer, you can boot from this and reinstall Lion and/or recover from Time Machine without needing an internet connection. Disadvantages: you need to download the installer first (around 4GB), and it requires an 8GB or larger flash drive.
  3. Create a Lion Recovery drive (per my answer above) using an existing Lion system and Apple's Lion Recovery Disk Assistant. Advantages: you can boot from this and recover from Time Machine (and/or reinstall Lion if you have an internet connection and enough time). Disadvantages: you must create this before removing the old HD, it requires an 1GB or larger flash drive, and since it won't include the full Lion installer you'll need an internet connection (and 4GB worth of patience) to reinstall Lion with it.
  4. Use Lion Internet Recovery (per BJ Homer's answer). Advantages: doesn't require any advance preparation; as above, you can boot from this and recover from Time Machine and/or reinstall Lion (if you have enough time). Disadvantages: requires an internet connection and new enough firmware; since everything is coming over the internet, booting will be slower than with your own recovery drive (and again, reinstalling Lion will require 4GB worth of patience).

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