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someone donated a MacPro1,1 (so from 2006) and it came without hard drives and I inserted a hard drive and the question mark appears when I turn it on. How can I install an operating system on it? Windows + ALT + R does not work to enter recovery... what can I do?

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  • 1
    Does the operating system have to be OS X? Would a Linux or Windows be acceptable? Do you know how must memory is installed? Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 20:45
  • 1
    What are you planning to use this Mac for? As nice as a free computer is, this is verging on 'retro-computing', with USB 2, SATA and no Thunderbolt. Also older Wifi standards. I'd agree that Linux is probably the best option for the most 'modern' OS. If you can't get it working, Apple will take it for recycling for free.
    – benwiggy
    Commented Mar 28, 2023 at 8:53
  • FWIW, I had the same device and ended up installing 10.6 in VirtualBox and writing the VDI file to a physical HDD that I then put in the Mac. Worked like a charm
    – zdimension
    Commented Mar 28, 2023 at 22:40

3 Answers 3

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A Mac Pro 1,1 is too old to have Internet Recovery - 2006. Internet Recovery wasn't introduced until mid-2011.

You will even struggle to boot it from USB, you may very well have to get a CD/DVD installer & work from there. [Many people have claimed over the years they can boot this or that early Mac from USB. I've been trying with 2008 Mac Pro 3,1s since 2008 & have yet to succeed in getting them to boot to anything other than the Apple Hardware Test USB.]

There is one 'get out of jail free' card.
If you know anyone else with a working 'cheesegrater' Mac - anything from a 1,1 to a 5,1, then they could make an entire bootable HD/SSD system drive on their Mac & then you can just move it to yours. It will boot from it, no issues.
Similar may be possible using an external drive on a newer iMac or MacBook, but the system must be capable of running on the Mac it is installed to, which limits you to Macs built before maybe 2011.

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    i do not have an DVD on my mac pro so... i will go to hard option i think.. and i don;t have friend with mac pro
    – Forest
    Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 18:59
  • If I remember correctly, I was able to boot and install FreeBSD via on two different cheese graters. Both were G5’s so definitely early vintage models. Perhaps that changed when they went to EFI.
    – Allan
    Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 21:18
  • i will install windows 10 i think becouse this will run better then macOS sierra or high sierra, any more advice ?
    – Forest
    Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 21:49
  • 1
    My 2006 iMac required a firmware upgrade to allow BIOS booting before Windows could be installed. I do not know if checking the firmware version or upgrading the firmware is possible without first having OS X installed. Commented Mar 28, 2023 at 9:31
  • 1
    Forest: Did you mean the Mac has no optical drive or that you do not have a OSX installation DVD? Commented Mar 28, 2023 at 9:57
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This answer involves the Mac Pro booting an OS X Lion installer from the same internal SATA drive where OS X is to be installed. The procedure requires temporarily removing of the internal SATA drive from the Mac Pro and placing the drive in a SATA to USB enclosure or adaptor, such as the one shown below.

The enclosure/adaptor can then be plugged into the USB port of a machine running Windows 10 or 11. The instructions given below explain how to install a bootable OS X Lion installer on the SATA drive. The machine could also be running OS X or macOS, but instructions for doing so are not included in this answer. The instructions could also be possibly adapted for a Linux machine. Once the volume containing the OS X Lion installer has been copied to the SATA drive, the drive can be removed from from the enclosure/adaptor and returned to the Mac Pro. After, the Mac Pro boots the OS X Lion installer from the internal SATA drive, OS X Lion can then be installed on the same internal SATA drive.

Using Windows 10 to create an SATA drive OS X Lion installer requires third party software which is not included with Windows 10. The steps below outline one possible method for creating a SATA drive OS X Lion installer using Windows and other free third party tools.

Note: Windows 10 Home version 21H2 was used to test this answer.

  1. Use Microsoft Edge (or some other web browser) to download the following installers to your Downloads folder. The file names are current as of March 28, 2023. If both 32 bit and 64 bit versions are available, the 64 bit version is given in the table.

    Product Use Installer Type
    Lion 10.7 Free for use on Mac computers InstallMacOSX.dmg Mac Disk Image
    7-Zip Free 7z2201-x64.exe Application
    dd for Windows Free ddrelease64.exe Application
  2. Install 7-Zip. If you wish, the installed 7-Zip download can be uninstalled from the Windows Control Panel after use.

  3. Use a 7-Zip File Manager application window to extract the 5.hfs file from the InstallMacOSX.dmg Mac disk image file to your Downloads folder. The 5.hfs file is an image of the partition containing the bootable HFS+ formatted volume with all the files needed to install OS X Lion.

    From a File Explorer window, start by navigating to your Downloads folder. In this window, right click on the InstallMacOSX.dmg Mac disk image file, then select "7-Zip" > "Open archive". This should open a 7-Zip File Manager application window. In this window, right click on each file or folder in the order given in the table below, then select the corresponding action.

    File or Folder Action Type
    Install OS X Open Folder
    InstallMacOSX.pkg Open Inside * Package File
    InstallMacOSX.pkg Open Folder
    InstallESD.dmg Open Inside * Mac Disk Image File
    5.hfs Copy To… HFS+ volume image

    †The destination should be your Downloads folder. If this Downloads folder exists on a volume that is not NTFS formatted, then read this answer and apply the same to this answer.


    When finished, close the 7-Zip File Manager application window.

  4. Plug the SATA to USB enclosure or adapter with the SATA drive into an USB port on the Windows computer. If prompted, you do not need to initialize the SATA drive.

  5. Internally, the InstallESD.dmg Mac disk image file contains a drive that is using the Apple Partition Map (APM), which is not well supported in a Windows environment. This step creates a GUID Partition Map on the SATA drive instead of copying the APM from the InstallESD.dmg file. Once a partition is created at the end of the SATA drive, the HFS+ formatted volume image stored in the 5.hfs is copied to this partition.

    Note: This step uses PowerShell and was tested using version 5.1.19041.1237. If your version of PowerShell is not compatible with this step, then you can use “GPT fdisk” instead of PowerShell to complete this step.

    Start by opening an "Administrator: Windows PowerShell" window. (In other words, right click on the "Windows PowerShell" icon, then choose "Run as administrator" or "More" > "Run as administrator".) In the "Administrator: Windows PowerShell" window, take the following actions.

    • Change the current directory to be the location of your Downloads folder. If your Downloads folder is in the default location, then you can use the command given below. Otherwise, make the appropriate substitution.

      cd -d $env:userprofile\downloads
      

      Note: If necessary, the File Explorer can be used to determined the location of your Downloads folder. From the File Explorer, right click on your Downloads folder, then select Properties. When the popup titled "Downloads Properties" appears, select either the General or Location tab to view the location.

    • Enter the following to get a list of drives.

      get-disk
      
    • From the values in the Number and Total Size columns, determine the number assigned to the SATA drive. Here the number is assumed to be 1. The following sets the dn variable to 1. If your number is different, then make the appropriate substitution.

      $dn=1
      
    • The following insures the SATA drive does not have a partition style. If prompted, enter y.

      Note: The rest of the commands in given in this step can be copy and pasted into the PowerShell window. In other words, the rest of the command do not require any user input.

      $do=get-disk -number $dn
      if ($do.partitionstyle -ne "raw") {clear-disk -number $dn -removedata -removeoem}
      
    • The following creates a GUID Partition Table (GPT) on the SATA drive. If a Microsoft Reserve partition is created, then this partition is removed. If prompted, enter y.

      initialize-disk -number $dn -partitionstyle gpt
      $do=get-disk -number $dn
      if ($do.numberofpartitions -ne 0) {remove-partition -disknumber $dn -partitionnumber 1}
      
    • The following gets the physical sector size of the SATA drive, then uses this value to determine the size of the EFI partition. An EFI partition is created and formatted.

      $ss=(get-disk -number $dn).physicalsectorsize
      if ($ss -eq 512) {$es=209715200} else {$es=314572800}
      $ci=new-partition -disknumber $dn -Size $es -gpttype "{c12a7328-f81f-11d2-ba4b-00a0c93ec93b}" -alignment 4096
      format-volume -partition $ci -filesystem fat32 -newfilesystemlabel EFI
      
    • The following creates a Microsoft Basic Data partition immediately following the EFI partition, then shrinks the partition to create free space sightly larger than the size the 5.hfs file. The partition is then ExFAT formatted.

      $cj=new-partition -disknumber $dn -usemaximumsize -alignment 4096
      $ps=(get-item 5.hfs).length
      $ds=(get-partition -disknumber $dn -partitionnumber 2).size - $ps - 8192
      resize-partition -disknumber $dn -partitionnumber 2 -size $ds
      format-volume -partition $cj -filesystem exfat -newfilesystemlabel MyExFAT
      
    • The following creates a HFS type partition, which is the same size as the 5.hfs file. The HFS volume image in the 5.hfs file is then copied to this partition on the SATA drive

      $ck=new-partition -disknumber $dn -size $ps -gpttype "{48465300-0000-11aa-aa11-00306543ecac}" -alignment 4096
      .\ddrelease64 if=5.hfs bs=1M of=\\?\Device\Harddisk$dn\Partition3 --progress
      
    • Close the "Administrator: Windows PowerShell" window.

  6. Use the File Explorer to delete the 5.hfs file in your Downloads folder. If you wish, you can also delete the downloaded files. When finished, close the File Explorer window, then empty the Recycle Bin.

  7. Put the SATA drive back into the Mac Pro and start the machine. From the Mac OS X Utilities application, select Disk Utility. Use the Disk Utility application to erase the volume named MyExFAT. Choose a the Mac OS Extended format and enter Macintosh HD for the Name, as shown below. Afterwards, select the Erase button. When finished quit the Disk Utility application.

    From the Mac OS X Utilities application, select Reinstall Mac OS X. When a display similar the the one below appears, highlight the Macintosh HD, then select the Install button to start the installation of Mac OS X Lion.

References

Responses to Questions

  • The following questions were asked by Tetsujin.

    One thing bothers me… Step 7 - where does the Recovery>Utilities come from? Is it generated at the InstallESD step 5?

    After executing the "Open Inside *" action on the InstallESD.dmg Mac disk image file in step 3, the 7-Zip File Manager window will display the following.

    InstallESD.dmg disk

    What is shown is the contiguous blocks of space existing on Mac disk image stored in the InstallESD.dmg file. This "Recovery>Utilities" asked in your question is stored in the block named 5.hfs. This block is a partition containing a bootable HFS+ formatted volume. The "Copy To…" action on this block named 5.hfs in step 3 causes a copy of the block's contents to decompressed and stored in the file named 5.hfs. This file is created in the Downloads folder on the Windows machine. Later, at the end of step 5, this bootable HFS+ volume image stored in the 5.hfs file is copied to the last GPT partition created on the SATA drive. In step 7, the Mac should initially boot from HFS+ volume stored in the third partition on the GUID partitioned SATA drive.

    This one instance where my answer differs from may other answers posted on the internet. The entire contents of the InstallESD.dmg file is never extracted from the downloaded InstallMacOSX.dmg file. These other answers use TransMac to copy the entire contents of the InstallESD.dmg file including the Apple Partition Map (APM) to a flash drive. The Mac Pro's firmware may not recognize APM partitioned USB drives. This may be why you have not been able to boot these types of USB installers. There again, there may be a completely different reason. My answer installs the bootable HFS+ volume in a partition on the internal SATA drive, which has a GPT. The Mac Pro should be able to recognize and boot from this volume.

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  • Heck, but that's complex. One heck of an explanation, kudos.:)) I honestly can't say I truly managed to follow it all. One thing bothers me… Step 7 - where does the Recovery>Utilities come from? Is it generated at the InstallESD step [5]?
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Mar 29, 2023 at 17:36
  • Thanks for taking the time to correct me, and finally post such a great answer! Much appreciated. Obviously, creating a VM on Windows takes way less time and is much less complicated, but I was definitely wrong about the part where I said it is not possible. It obviously is.
    – user206904
    Commented Mar 29, 2023 at 23:48
  • @Tetsujin: I updated my answer. (Look at the end for answers to your questions.) Most of the complexity of my answer involves the partitioning and formatting of the SATA drive. Note that other than setting the dn variable to the drive number, none of the remaining PowerShell commands require user interaction. You can simple copy and paste the remaining commands into a PowerShell window. Commented Mar 30, 2023 at 6:40
  • @user206904: This answer was not posted as a response to your question or any comments made to your question. Did you realize you just admitted your answer is to install OS X in a virtual machine where the host is not OS X or macOS? I ask because generally questions and answers of such get flagged. Commented Mar 30, 2023 at 6:51
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To the best of my knowledge, you can't create a fully offline recovery media for OS X on Windows/Linux easily and without 3rd party hacks/tools (see David Anderson's answer)

So a possibly easy solution is to "create" your own second mac!

Find yourself a good modern and powerful computer, install vmwware or virtualbox, look around on how to install some old OS X on vmware like 10.5, or whatever the OS you want to run. I managed to get that on vm before.

Map your DVD reader/writer to the VM and prepare a bootable CD/DVD from within that old OS X using official the easy known methods à la Apple.

This method worked for me to create a bootable USB stick for a use case a bit similar but on more modern hardware (2011 laptop and os x 10.7), So I think it might work for you and it does not require much knowledge or manual commands, just simple clicks.

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  • Creating bootable USB installers for Lion through Sierra from Windows is not only possible, but well documented on the web. Commented Mar 28, 2023 at 16:10
  • @DavidAnderson, is it a full offline installer or just an online recovery media? my source dortania.github.io/OpenCore-Install-Guide/installer-guide/…
    – user206904
    Commented Mar 28, 2023 at 21:01
  • Full offline installer. Your source for offline states: "Can only be made in macOS". That statement on its own is false. Next, your source states for offline: "Windows/Linux do not have the APFS/HFS drivers needed to assemble a full installer". Yes, you do need to use other free third party tools under Windows/Linux to make an offline installer. I hardy think the use of third party tools is unusual. Commented Mar 28, 2023 at 22:17
  • @DavidAnderson Care to share these documented (official?) methods? It is weird that the guys at opencore who hacked the sh*t out of OS X would miss such a trivial thing, there might be a caveat...
    – user206904
    Commented Mar 29, 2023 at 1:57
  • Transmac has been around at least a decade. It even still runs on Vista. I've never needed to use it myself, but it's been the standard recommendation for years.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Mar 29, 2023 at 12:21

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