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Apple Mac OS X tips and tweaks

Date: 15th December 2011     

Back up the recovery partition in Lion

Creating backups of the Mac's internal disk drive is an essential task that helps to protect your valuable files. Making a copy of everything on an external USB or FireWire hard disk drive means that if there is ever a problem with the Mac, you can restore everthing and put all your files back exactly as they were. Or can you? One of the new features in OS X Lion is a hidden recovery partition on the boot disk. It can be used to fix faults and even re-install Lion should the need arise. How do you back it up though? Here's how to do it.

To back up the recovery partition you need a USB disk drive or USB flash memory drive. Go to http://support.apple.com/kb/DL1433 and download Lion Recovery Disk Assistant. Open the .dmg file and copy the Recovery Disk Assistant out onto the desktop. Run it, select the disk drive to store the backup on and in a few seconds the job is done.

Although this works, you wll find that it erases the whole disk drive and uses the whole drive for itself. If you try this with a 1Tb drive you'll lose 1Tb of disk space! Actually, only 1Gb of space is required, so what you need to do is to partition the disk drive before you start.

I'm going to use a 4Gb USB flash memory drive, but it works with any USB disk. Run Disk Utility in the Applications/Utilities folder and select the drive in the left-hand panel. Select the Partition tab and in the Partition Layout list select 2 Partitions. Click the first one and set the size to 1Gb. Set the format to Mac OS Extended (Journaled). Name it Recovery (the name is unimportant). Select the same format for the second partition and enter a name. Click Apply and quit Disk Utility afterwards.

Disk Utility Partition

Run the Recovery Disk Assistant again and this time you will see the two partitions you made on the USB disk drive. Select the Recovery partition (or whatever you called it) and click Continue. The recovery partition on the Mac's internal disk drive is copied to the 1Gb partition on the USB disk drive. The rest of the space is available for normal use and is unaffected.

Recovery Disk Assistant

Using the recovery partition is easy. Switch on the Mac and before anything starts loading, hold down the Option key until you see a list of disk drives. You will see two recovery partitions - one is the Mac's internal disk and the other is the one on the USB disk drive (the icons are different). You can use either of them to fix faults and re-install OS X.