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How to Reinstall or Restore Mac OS X Lion

Today I got a new Thunderbolt Mac mini, which means that OS X Lion was preinstalled on it. My task was to get Lion Server installed and up and running ASAP.

In the process I could't stop thinking about how minimalistic and to a point, environmental, the packaging was. Damn, the box was smaller than that of the AirPort Extreme base station I also got. That's because the Mac Mini doesn't have a power brick, which the base station does. Back to the minimal packaging. In the box there was the Mac mini, the power cable, an HDMI to DVI adapter and a printed manual with the obligatory legal notices and the omnipresent Apple logo stickers. 

Restore From Partition

The thing that freaked me out after I had made some installations and updates was the lack of an install DVD or USB stick.  Nothing... mmm... what if I needed to reinstall the OS? Would I get my iLife apps that came bundled with the new Mac? Well, according to the printed documentation that is included, if you do a clean installation using the Restore partition that Lion has, it should work.

I started the restore process just to learn, but I didn't go through the whole thing because of the time it was going to take me. Still, every time I think about the process I think what would happen if the drive had a mechanical or catastrophic failure? If the disk doesn't spin or doesn't work, there would be no access to the Restore partition. At that time I'd be bamboozled, and you'd be too if you were in that situation.

Booting from the Lion Restore Partition.

Booting from the Lion Restore Partition.

And if the Apocalypse Arrives Early?

So, what to do to prevent such an apocalyptic event? Well, I don't think we could prevent a hardware failure more than taking good care of the computer (i.e. not dropping it). But if you were unfortunate enough to be in a situation where the drive fails, the only other option would be to use an external drive or DVD. The thing is that this 2011 Mac mini has no optical drive. 

Solution: GET AN EXTERNAL DRIVE and install a working copy of the OS.  It doesn't have to be anything fancy or expensive or large. Now, if it's a good-sized drive, then you can use it as a Time Machine drive for automatic backups. At that point, you'd be well covered.

If you install OS X Lion on a decent size Time Machine drive you could restore your internal drive from Time Machine and in the event of a catastrophic internal drive failure, you should be able to boot the Mac from the external drive. (Ed. note: hold down option while your Mac boots up, and choose the external drive when it shows up on the screen.)

Time Machine may come in handy to restore from.

Time Machine may come in handy to restore from.

Now, if you don't have an alternate drive to boot from, Lion can mount a Restore partition from the internet by connecting to Apple's servers (that is, if your Mac has an online connection, either wired or Wi-Fi). The main drag is that it takes a long time for the Restore partition to download from the web, and if you're on a slow connection, it can take a really long time!

Want to learn more about Mac OSX Lion? Check out Francesco's Mac OS X (10.7) 101 - Core Lion Tutorial series.

Francesco Schiavon

Francesco Schiavon | Articles by this author

It all started with a TSR-80 in the late 80s. At that point it was more a toy than anything else. Since then, my interest in computers materialized with a PS/2 80 while I was in university in Mexico. Before I graduated I already had a couple of Macs, an LC-II and a Centris 660 AV, which was the catalyst to becoming an expert in both QuickTime and using the Mac. During my MBA, and later while attending the Vancouver Film School (VFS), I really learned to learn. Being a professional student at that point I started in the teaching realm as a Teaching Assistant, moving quickly to a part-time instructor position at VFS and soon after a full time position. Also while teaching, I've held a number of managerial positions for web development companies like Blastradius, Donat Group Inc. and later Rouxbe.com as well as working as a freelance consultant, mostly related to digital video deployment. My first tutorial for MPV was made soon afer the company started. Since then I've made a number of tutorials ranging from using OS X to advanced video compression techniques with Compressor and Adobe Media Encoder. Today I teach part time at the Art Institute of Vancouver, create courses for MPV and am always open for business as a freelancer.


Dec 12, 2011
sera o un problema dopo avere installato un accelleratore per i video su yotube non riesco a lavorare con il mac praticamente si accende parte dopo un po cala un velo scuro con un icona quadrata e nel centro l'icona di spegnimento vorrei farvi vedere un immagine ma non so come inviarla .fatemi sapere se c'e' qualcuno che mi puo aiutare grazie.
Dec 13, 2011
Fr Sch
Sorry, for my italian goes only as far as my name.

From what I'm understanding the Mac is just not booting up, right? Try rebooting and holding Cmd+R. This should force the Mac to boot from the Restore Partition that Lion created when you upgraded/installed. If your Mac was sold after Lion shipped, it also should try to go online if the restore partition does not work or load.

Take a look at this tech note from Apple:
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