I bought this small OS X Lion USB stick for $69 today. The guy in the Apple Store said that I can simply upgrade from my 10.5.8 to Lion with this thing. Well I plugged it in and hello, I'm not able to upgrade.

So question is: Can I even use this thing? I just have this stick, no serial, no nothing. Just this stick http://store.apple.com/us/product/MD256Z/A.

  • Mac OS X doesn't have a serial number, so you don't need to worry about that.
    – Cajunluke
    Jun 7, 2012 at 18:50
  • Perhaps you could describe what happens, rather than "I'm not able to upgrade." Jun 7, 2012 at 18:52
  • 2
    Well the installer just says that this program is not able to run on this mac. So basicially I think it's because I'm running on Leopard, not Snow Leopard, which is pretty painful because I said that I'm running 10.5.8 Jun 7, 2012 at 18:56
  • What kind of Mac do you have? Lion requires an Intel Mac. It won't run on PPC. If you're unsure run uname -m in Terminal.
    – bahamat
    Jun 7, 2012 at 22:18

4 Answers 4


I know you can do a fresh install on a clean system, so you could try this: copy your existing install to an external drive (using Carbon Copy Cloner or SuperDuper!), wipe the internal drive, do a clean install of Lion, then use Migration Assistant to copy your old system onto the fresh Lion install.

  • 2
    I'll give that one a try. Thanks for the reply. But how can I remove the current system and install Lion with a usb stick? I mean there are only 356MB on this stick. Jun 7, 2012 at 19:39
  • @JohannesKlauß You'd need another hard drive. Which you'd need to buy unless you have one laying around.
    – Cajunluke
    Jun 7, 2012 at 21:11
  • I tried it and it worked! Thanks for your advice, saved me from a lot of pain :) Jun 9, 2012 at 12:14

The Lion USB drive you bought works to upgrade a Mac with Snow Leopard (10.6) or you can of course use it to install Lion onto a bare (erased) drive.

Most people will make a back up (using the bootable USB drive to run Disk Utility) to an external drive or alternately - install Lion onto an external drive.

At that point you can hand migrate things or see if the Migration Assistant will help to move your documents and the Apps that are compatible with Lion to the new OS.

Since you just bought an Apple product, you get 90 days of phone support - so you can call AppleCare for help step by step if you prefer. The only catch would be if your Mac doesn't meet the minimum requirements for Lion in which case you might take it back and return it if you don't want to spend money on whatever needs updating to run Lion.


Since the Apple Lion page points out that Snow Leopard is a requirement for the upgrade, the Apple Store employee should've pointed this out before you bought the Lion USB stick. If you're not willing to upgrade to Snow Leopard, @CajunLuke's answer would be helpful.

There are two paths to obtaining Snow Leopard. If you're currently a MobileMe user, this article notes that Apple is offering free upgrades to Snow Leopard to encourage user migration to iCloud. One other alternative is to purchase the Snow Leopard upgrade. Either way, install Snow Leopard first, update the OS, and then install upgrade to Lion.

  • 1
    To be clear the Apple USB drive is not an upgrade license - it's a clean instal license, so there is no need to have Snow Leopard as far as I can tell in this case. Great, great answer otherwise. +1
    – bmike
    Jun 8, 2012 at 3:15
  • @bmike, the Apple page that I saw (store.apple.com/us/product/MD256Z/A) indicated that OS X 10.6.6 or later was required, so I assumed that the stick could only be used for upgrades.
    – JW8
    Jun 8, 2012 at 15:55
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    You're right. I should read the terms that were printed on my USB drive's actual package (I didn't obsess over them since I have enough SL licenses for all my Macs). It seems more an oversight to me (Apple linking to the Lion Upgrade requirements) than that they intend to license it that way. I'm certainly not a lawyer, but technically the USB drive allows bare installation and has no way to check whether you have a license to Snow Leopard. Also - the key has 10.7 (the .0 release) and hasn't been updated, so you still need to download a bit in practice to use this tool.
    – bmike
    Jun 8, 2012 at 16:36

Are you sure your Mac meets the minimum system requirements?

  • Macs with an Intel Core 2 Duo, Intel Core i3, Intel Core i5, Intel Core i7, or Xeon processor;
  • At least 2GB of RAM; Mac OS X 10.6.6 or later (Mac OS X 10.6.8 is recommended);
  • At least 7 GB of free hard drive space.

Any Mac with a Core Duo CPU will not run Mac OS X 10.7 Lion - basically any of the 2006-era first generation of ICBMs (Intel-chip based Mac).

  • Yes I have 2GB RAM, Core 2 Duo, enough space, etc. But as said, I run 10.5.8 Jun 7, 2012 at 19:23

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