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.
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 - support.apple.com/kb/DL1433. 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.
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You can download the Recovery Disk Assistant at http://support.apple.com/kb/DL1433.