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Use the OS X Lion Recovery Disk

Date: 23rd July 2011

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OS X Lion is radically different to previous versions of the Apple Mac operating system in one key respect. There isn't a physical DVD disc and it is a download from the Mac App Store.

So what are you going to do if your Mac won't boot? How will you start it when there's a disk error? How will you reinstall OS X Lion if there's no DVD to install it from?

These are very important questions and you need to know the answers. Lion does something different to Snow Leopard, Leopard and all the previous OS Xs and because there isn't a physical DVD, has created a hidden partition on the hard disk drive that can be used to reinstall the operating system, fix disk drive faults, start the Mac and so on. It's like having a Lion DVD, but it's actually on the hard disk drive instead. Here's how to access it.

Once you have installed OS X Lion on the hard disk drive, restart or switch the Mac on. After about two seconds, just as the screen lights up, hold down the Option key untill you see this menu:

OS X Lion

The first icon is the Mac's internal hard disk drive and selecting this will boot normally. The third and fourth icons are my external USB disk drive which I use to back up my Mac. I have Snow Leopard on one and Leopard on the other. You won't see these if you don't have a USB disk drive plugged in.

The second icon is the the OS X Lion Recovery Disk. Double click it or select it and press Return. After a few seconds you will see a screen like this:

OS X Lion

There are options to reinstall OS X, run Disk Utility to check the hard disk drive for errors and repair them, and to restore from a Time Machine backup. These are all essential tasks and it's nice to know that Apple has provided this. However, there is one snag. If the hard disk drive fails and you have to replace it, you won't be able to start the Mac and install Lion. Normally, you would replace the drive with a new unit, boot up with the DVD and install OS X. You won't be able to do that.