MacMost Now 826: Creating a Recovery Disk

While today's Macs have a recovery disk partition on the internal hard drive that makes it easy to recover from problems, it can also be useful to have an external recovery disk. It is very easy to create one using Apple's Recovery Disk Assistant for Lion and Mountain Lion. it could come in handy if your hard drive is damaged or you need to swap it out for a new one.

Video Transcript
Hi this is Gary with MacMost Now. On today's episode let me show you how to make a recovery drive for your Mac.

Now starting with Lion, and continuing with Mountain Lion, we've all got a recovery partition on our Mac, at least if you have a fairly recent model Mac and we haven't set anything to something not standard like using a different type format for the hard drive. So what this means there is a small partition on your Mac that you can boot into if you run into trouble. So if somehow your installed Mac OS X gets corrupted or something you can boot holding down Command R on the keyboard and it will boot the recovery mode. You can use that to fix the main partition, the main drive, to reinstall OS X, do all sorts of things. You don't need another drive. You don't need to insert say a DVD that came with your Mac or anything like that to do it because this recovery partition take care of it for you.

However it doesn't cover one case. What happens if the drive itself goes bad. If it physically is damaged or can't boot and you can neither access the regular partition or the recovery partition and say you are adding a new drive to it to replace that one or some other circumstance comes up. Then it is handy to have a recovery partition stored on a little USB drive that you can boot from.

So the first thing you need to do is to get an App from Apple called the Recovery Disk Assistant. You get it by going here - I will put a link to it in the post in MacMost. So you go here and you can download this tiny little utility. It downloads as a disk image and then you drag the actual utility out of the disk image into say your Applications/Utilities folder. Now you've got it and you can use it.

Before I run it I've got this little USB drive here. It is only a 1G drive so it is fairly cheap. It is an old one and I don't even know if you get them that small anymore. I'm going to plug that into my Mac. It is going to completely reformat it during this process so I don't care about what is on it right now. It is going to be erased and reformatted when I run the Assistant.

So like I said before I am going to put it in my Utilities folder. There it is. I'm going to run it right now. It is going to ask me to agree to the licensing agreement there. Then it is going to quickly find this USB flash drive that I have installed. If I had multiple ones it would give me an option here. I know it is called untitled and this is the one I want. So I am going to select it and hit continue. Then it is going to ask me to authenticate and then it will just take a few minutes and it will basically create the entire disk.

There is really no other steps to be done. While it is doing this I want you to notice one thing. It has a picture of Lion here, the Lion icon. It even says Mac OS X Lion here in the text. So the deal is this was created while OS X Lion was the main operating system and before Mountain Lion came out and they just never updated it since. But it works either way. It works for Lion and for Mountain Lion. As a matter of fact you can see it on the web page we visited before it showed a Mountain Lion icon. So don't worry about the image not being quite correct.

So when it is done it renames the drive Recovery HD and you won't actually see it appear in the Finder. It is not something it typically mounts. It is something you would only use in case of an emergency.

If I wanted now to boot with this in an emergency what I would do is to plug it into a USB port on the Mac. Restart the Mac with the Options key held down. Then I should get the option to boot with the regular hard drive if it is a bootable drive at this point or this one. I can select this one and then I get all sorts of options like the ability to run disk utility, the ability to reinstall or repair Mac OS X on the main hard drive.

I also noticed on my test that this is a universal recovery drive now. I was able to actually create this on my 2008 MacPro and then I used it on my MacBook Air 2011 and it booted just fine. So unlike in the past where you had DVDs that were specific to a model of Mac this seems to be something that will be able to work on just about any modern Mac. I'm not 100% sure of that but at least in my test that is what it showed.

Now one footnote here. I believe what this actually does is that it copies the data from your recovery partition on your drive to this external drive. So if you don't have Recovery Partition on your drive either because your Mac is too old or because of a special format that you are using, or some other circumstance about how you've upgraded to Lion and then to Mountain Lion then you can't create a USB recovery drive in this manner.

So I hope you found this useful. If you have an old drive, a 1G or more drive that you are not using you may just want to go and create a recovery disk and just put it in a drawer. It could come in handy some day.

Until next time this is Gary with MacMost Now.

You can download the Recovery Disk Assistant at

Comments: 14 Responses to “MacMost Now 826: Creating a Recovery Disk”

    2/13/13 @ 3:26 pm

    After I highlight the correct thumb drive it asks for a password. Password for what, the thumb drive (which doesn’t have one) or the computer? I tried entering the computer password and it did not work. I tried leaving the password blank and it did not work.



      2/13/13 @ 3:57 pm

      What is it asking for exactly? I would imagine it would be your admin password, assuming that your user account is an admin. Is it?

    Kenneth P.
    2/14/13 @ 10:22 am

    I loved this episode since my HD died a few months ago. I was lucky to have my weekly TimeMachine backups. But somehow, the Time Machine restore did not recreate recovery partition on the new HD, I was not be able to reboot with Cmd+R. Today I followed your instruction, but the Recovery Disk Assistant refused to work since it could not find a functioning recovery HD (I did plug in my TimeMachines backup external HD, but did not help)

    Kit M
    2/14/13 @ 3:17 pm

    Get video! Is it possible to also add utilities such as DiskWarrior, and TechTool Pro to the drive (obviously a bigger drive) or is there a better way to do this?
    I’ve been frustrated trying to create a boot USB drive for my late 2012 MacMini with 10.8.2.



      2/14/13 @ 4:28 pm

      No, I don’t think you can. But Disk Utility is already on there. It used to be that tools like TechTool Pro could make their own boot disks for diagnostic tests and repairs. So check their docs. I haven’t needed to use either for many many years.

        Arthur Carter
        2/24/13 @ 4:30 pm

        I too would like to include DiskWarrior and TechTool Pro on a startup Flash drive because Apple’s Disk Utility doesn’t come close to matching the power of these two exceptional “Fix-it” utilities. My travel solution is to take a small 500GB USB Western Digital pocket drive with me. It has an exact clone of my Macbook Pro hard drive and allows me to run DiskWarrior (my all time favorite fix-it tool) on any drive.

    Mike Sanders
    2/14/13 @ 9:42 pm

    Hi Gary
    Always enjoy your videos tried this today but ML recovery disk needs 1.36gb so I could not use 1gb drive.

    2/15/13 @ 6:47 pm

    Hi Gary,
    How can I tell if I have the partition needed to run this utility?


      2/15/13 @ 7:52 pm

      Try booting into the restore partition. I mention how in the beginning of the video.

    2/17/13 @ 11:47 am

    Hi Gary, many thanks for this. Your podcasts are an excellent resource.
    Regarding creating a recovery disk on a USB I’ve read elsewhere that you cannot create a USB recovery disk IF File Vault is enabled — it is necessary to disable File Vault before creating an emergency USB drive. Is this the case? What’s your take on this? Thanks.

      2/17/13 @ 12:00 pm

      Not sure. I guess it could be a security feature. If you are using File Vault, try it and see. You either can or can not, so…

        2/17/13 @ 1:05 pm

        Thanks for your prompt response. And, just to let you know, i ordered your book on Pages today from the Book Depository. looking forward to working through it. Regards

    Joe G.
    3/6/13 @ 6:00 pm

    I’m getting a problem.

    “Lion Recovery could not be created
    The Recovery HD on this computer is damaged or not present. Recovery Disk Assistant requires a functioning Lion Recovery HD to create an external Lion Recovery.”

    Any thoughts?

      3/6/13 @ 6:29 pm

      You most likely do not have a recovery partition on your Mac. Some older Mac models won’t have them. Others won’t have them for various reasons such as the way the Lion/MLion upgrade happened. You won’t be able to create a recovery disk.

Comments Closed.