I just bought two iMac's at an auction, they were both wiped clean before the sale. The problem is when I turn them on I'm getting a screen with an icon of a folder with a question mark. So the guy wiped them but didn't reinstall it, or so I believe.

I did not get any of the disc's for the computer because it was a school sale, so I have no idea how I can installed the system so I can use them. I do have a Macbook Pro running Mac OS X version 10.6.8, however the disc that came with it didn't work on the large iMac's, which I figured it wouldn't.

My question is what do I do at this point? Is there a way to start them, Do I need to buy a disc?

  • What sort of iMac?
    – mmmmmm
    Commented Jul 28, 2012 at 16:13
  • 1
    Does your MacBook Pro have a FireWire port?
    – bmike
    Commented Jul 28, 2012 at 16:24
  • It's an iMac (Intel-based, Late 2006)
    – Sammeh
    Commented Jul 28, 2012 at 22:25

6 Answers 6


Unless your MacBook Pro lacks a FireWire port, you can use Target Disk Mode to have the iMac reboot and act as a FireWire drive.

From there, you could use Disk Utility (or Carbon Copy Cloner or SuperDuper or other tools) to make a bootable copy of the MBP's OS onto the iMac's drive.

Alternatively, you might buy Mountain Lion or use a past Lion purchase from the app store to download an installer and run it from the MBP. You could choose to install the OS onto the "external drive" that is the iMac. Then you could chain the second iMac (or repeat this activity).

It really depends what OS you want and can run on the iMacs.

Your first step is to run the serial number of the iMacs to this page and see what Apple's service name for each Mac. From there, you will know what OS shipped and if the Mac can run Lion or Mountain Lion.

Just enter the serial number in the address bar past the # or enter it into the form on the web page. You can always order replacement media from Apple, but there will be a charge for that. The other suggestions to buy a retail packaging DVD to install will likely be an inexpensive way to acquire an install OS once you have determined what OS can run and which OS you want to run.


You need to download the OS from the app store (onto another Mac already running OS X) and the you can either create a bootable USB or DVD and install it.

You can find the instructions here http://eggfreckles.net/notes/installing-mountain-lion-clean/

Though the instructions are for Moutain Lion , it stands good for Snow Leopard and Lion too.

If you need any specific help, please feel free to ask.

Hope this helps

  • How do I know which one will work on it? It's a few years old (2006 - 2007) but was a higher end version designed to hold up to the graphic design programs.
    – Sammeh
    Commented Jul 28, 2012 at 21:46
  • Snow leopard will run for sure, 10.7 I have my doubts
    – iGameRam
    Commented Jul 29, 2012 at 5:13

I'm not sure you can find a Snow Leopard installation disk to buy anymore.

You could buy Moutain Lion on the App Store on your MacBook Pro and create a bootable USB key in order to install the OS on your iMacs.

To turn a USB key to a Moutain Lion installer and then to use it, I recommend you this tutorial.

EDIT : before you do that, you should be sure that the two iMacs are recent enough to support Moutain Lion.

  • I just checked and they are from 2006 and should have came with tiger.
    – Sammeh
    Commented Jul 28, 2012 at 22:03
  • Unfortunately, this model is not compatible with Moutain Lion. I think your best shot is to go to an Apple Store to see if there are some Snow Leopard disk available or to find one compatible with iMac. Sorry for the wrong answer.
    – Ermiar
    Commented Jul 28, 2012 at 22:16

I also had the same problem Just call the apple support line and give them the serial number they will check the operating DVD shipped with that unit and send it to you Apple sent me the Original DVD for my iMac and the upgrade for snow leopard FREE


Realise this is quite an old thread but was helpful for me today! After a bit of searching around I managed to do it -

You can make a USB install disk by re-downloading the OS on a separate Mac but not installing it. (I'm currently running OS X Yosemite) You should end up with a 'Install Yosemite' file in your application folder.

Get a program called Disc Maker X which can be found here: http://diskmakerx.com/

Follow the instructions and it will make the USB start up disk for you. You'll need a usb stick at least 8gb in size.

When all is finished, you should be able to boot and install the OS on the wiped machine from the USB disk.

I did this today after purchasing an old 2007 iMac. Now running OSX Yosemite 10.10.5. All seems fine and dandy so far!


I had almost the same problem I think the best idea is to go to apple store. ( I did not go to the store for 7 years ,I still has to go to the store :) .

  • 1
    Did you go to the Apple Store and they could solve this problem for you? If yes, could you share some insights on how this worked and what they installed on your Mac?
    – nohillside
    Commented Aug 31, 2013 at 15:05

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