How to Make a Boot Disk for Mac OS X

Disk Drill 3 is now capable of creating your own bootable Mac OS X USB drives for data recovery. Chances are, the Mac with the disk, where the data was lost, will be able to start from the boot drive created. We officially recommend running data recovery on your startup disk ONLY when your Mac is booted from a different drive, using external docking stations, or Disk Drill's own bootable data recovery freeware. OS X 10.9.x-15 required as a source of system files.

boot disk
How to Make a Boot Disk for Mac OS X

The initial recommendation given to anyone who lost important data and would like to proceed with the data recovery is always to stop using the drive where the data was stored as soon as possible. You can turn your computer off, remove the drive in question from the docking station, do whatever may be required to prevent any further utilization of that drive. Set it aside, calm down and download a bootable data recovery app using any other computer. Disk Drill is by far the most convenient and up-to-date macOS bootable file rescue solution. It'll make your Mac boot from USB in just a few clicks.

Starting with Disk Drill 3, anyone can create a bootable Mac OS X drive in a matter of minutes. Make sure you have an extra storage device, which is at least 2GB in size. Connect it to any Mac, run Disk Drill and use the "Create Boot Drive" option on the main toolbar.

Disk Drill let's you run all its data recovery algorithms via a bootable Mac USB drive. This ensures the maximum amount of data stays intact during the recovery process, and other background processes or the operating system itself do not overwrite any recoverable pieces of information. Please note: Disk Drill does not provide any option to create bootable CD/DVD drives due to them becoming less popular and accessible in modern computers.

1. Download and Install Disk Drill on any computer

Data recovery cannot always be done on a running system. It's always a smart move to reboot using Disk Drill's Data Recovery Boot Drive and proceed from the minimal OS X boot from USB. Make sure the drive with lost data is completely disconnected. Get to any Mac, and download free Disk Drill. Install and launch it. Choose "Create Boot Drive" from the main list of available tools and follow the instructions.

  • Download Disk Drill

    Download Disk Drill

  • Drag to Applications Folder

    Drag to Applications Folder

  • Launch Disk Drill

    Launch Disk Drill

2. Connect a USB drive

So, you are ready to increase your data recovery chances and would like to make sure you restore every file and folder. You are on the right track! Get any extra USB drive or external disk, connect it to your Mac, and get ready to convert it into a bootable data recovery kit.

3. Make a bootable drive for Mac

To create a bootable Mac drive you need any disk with Mac OS X 10.11.0 El Capitan or newer (10.12 Sierra, 10.13 High Sierra, 10.14 Mojave, 10.15 Catalina) either running as your main system, or just being installed on a drive that's connected to your Mac at the moment. Go to "Create Boot Drive" feature, and choose the drive you would like to copy the OS X system files from to the new drive that we are building. Once the source disk is selected, proceed with choosing the destination to make a USB bootable drive.

4. Aid in recovering your main disk

Thanks to the bootable USB drive you just made with Disk Drill, you can now safely recover Mac data from any startup disk that is already unmounted to prevent any further data loss.

Disk Drill's data recovery boot disk is also an ideal solution when systems with deleted data that needs to be recovered fail to boot from the internal drive. Once your Mac USB bootable drive is created, you are ready for data recovery at any time.

USB flash drive recovery Mac OS X software

5. How to boot Mac from USB

Insert the newly created bootable drive into the Mac where the lost data still resides. Reboot it holding down the Option (⌥) key. The list of available drives to boot from will be displayed. The one you created at previous steps that provides you with data recovery capabilities is called "Disk Drill Recovery". Go ahead, select it and boot your Mac up. Disk Drill software is already preloaded into the system that loads. Just run it as you regularly would to recover the lost data.

Make sure you try all available data recovery methods to get your deleted data back. Also note: Disk Drill does provide a separate feature to install a new instance of Mac OS X using the bootable drive that can be created with it. However, this article explains the steps required to create the Mac OS X USB boot disk for lost data retrieval and running Disk Drill in a ready-to-use standalone recovery environment.

Now anyone can make Mac USB bootable disk for everyday use.


If you are looking for the solution for macOS 11.0 (Big Sur), please check out this article. The post will guide you through the process and will help you to recover your data safely and successfully.

Methods for creating a bootable installer for macOS

Here are several methods for creating a bootable installer for macOS.

Use the Mac Terminal app

The createinstallmedia command can be used to create a bootable installer. You need to use the Mac Terminal app and enter the correct command based on the OS version running on your computer. Use the following steps:

  1. Download the installer for your version of macOS. By default, it will be stored in your Applications folder.
  2. Connect an external drive to your Mac. The volume needs at least 12GB of free space and should be formatted as Mac OS Extended.
  3. Start Terminal from the Utilities folder.
  4. Enter the appropriate command for your OS version and hit Enter.
  5. Enter your administrator password when prompted.
  6. Type Y to confirm that you want to erase the volume.
  7. Allow the process to complete at which time you will have a volume with the same name as the downloaded installer.
  8. Quit Terminal and eject the volume.
boot mac mini from usb

Big Sur - sudo /Applications/Install macOS Big­Resources/createinstallmedia --volume /Volumes/MyVolume

Catalina - sudo /Applications/Install macOS­Resources/createinstallmedia --volume /Volumes/MyVolume

Mojave - sudo /Applications/Install macOS­Resources/createinstallmedia --volume /Volumes/MyVolume

High Sierra - sudo /Applications/Install macOS­ High­createinstallmedia --volume /Volumes/MyVolume

El Capitan - sudo /Applications/Install OS X El­Contents/Resources/­createinstallmedia --volume /Volumes/MyVolume --applicationpath /Applications/­Install OS X El

💡 Note: For OS versions prior to El Capitan, use the command for El Capitan with the applicationpath parameter.

Create a bootable USB on Mac with Disk Utility

You can use Disk Utility to create a bootable USB with the following procedure.

  1. Download the installer for your version of macOS. By default it will be stored in your Applications folder.
  2. Connect the USB to your computer.
  3. Open Disk Utility from the Utilities folder.
  4. Click on the USB disk name in the left panel.
  5. Click Erase to format the USB.
  6. Select Mac OS X Extended (Journaled) and GUID Partition Map.
  7. Open the previously downloaded macOS installer.
  8. Click through the license agreement until prompted to select the disk to use for OS installation. Select Show All Disks and choose your USB.
  9. Click Continue and wait for the installation to complete.
create bootable usb mac disk utility

Create a bootable drive with Disk Drill

Disk Drill offers the ability to create a bootable drive with a simple process that is available as a free feature available in all versions of the software.

  1. Download, install, and launch Disk Drill.
  2. Connect a USB drive to your Mac.
  3. Choose Boot drive for data recovery and select the source and target volumes.
  4. When the process completes, you have a bootable drive that can be used for data recovery or simply to start your system.
how to boot from usb on mac

Using the bootable installer

Once you have created the bootable installer, here’s how to boot your Mac from the USB drive.

  1. Plug the drive into a Mac.
  2. Use Startup Manager Startup Disk preferences to choose the notable USB installer as the startup disk. The computer will start in macOS Recovery mode.
  3. Choose your language if desired and make sure you have an Internet connection to allow firmware updates to be downloaded.
  4. Select install macOS, click Continue and follow the onscreen prompts.
how to boot mac from usb

How to Boot from USB on other Operation Systems

Other ways to start up your Mac

Here are some other methods you can use to start your Mac. They may be necessary if your main disk is experiencing problems or your Mac won't boot from a USB drive.

Use a bootable CD/DVD
Use a bootable CD/DVD

If your Mac is equipped with a CD/DVD drive, you can use a bootable optical disk to start your computer.

An external volume with System Preferences
An external volume with System Preferences

You can choose to use an external volume to start your Mac by selecting the device from the boot option screen upon startup.

Safe Mode
Safe Mode

Holding down the Shift key while rebooting will start your Mac in Safe mode which may be helpful for diagnosing problems.

Verbose Mode
Verbose Mode

Starting your Mac in Verbose mode by using the Command V key combination after hearing the chime gives you detailed information regarding system startup.

Target Disk Mode
Target Disk Mode

With Target Disk Mode you can connect two Macs and use the second machine’s operating system to boot the other computer.

Recovery Mode
Recovery Mode

Access Recovery Mode with the Command R keystroke combination which allows you to reinstall the operating system and perform other functions.

Frequently Asked Questions

Updated on by Disk Drill Team

How do I install Mac from a USB?

Use the following steps to install your Mac operating system from a USB.

  1. Connect the bootable USB drive to your machine.
  2. Start the computer and hold down the Options key until you hear the chime.
  3. Choose USB Installer and then Disk Utility.
  4. Select the main drive from the top of the left panel.
  5. Click the Erase button from the top menu.
  6. Select the Format drop-down list and choose Mac OS X Extended (Journaled).
  7. Click Erase to erase all data from the selected drive and format it for use.
  8. Close Disk Utility when formatting is complete.
  9. Choose Install OS X from the menu and select your main drive as the target.

Can you boot from a USB stick?

You can get your Mac to boot from a USB drive with these steps:

  1. Connect the USB stick to your Mac.
  2. Power on the computer and hold down the Option key until you hear the chime.
  3. Release the Option key and wait for the boot options to be displayed.
  4. Select the device USB stick as the device that will be used to boot the Mac.

How do I get to the boot menu on a MacBook Pro?

To get to the boot menu on a MacBook Pro, use these steps:

  1. Power off the MacBook.
  2. Connect the device that will be used to boot the laptop.
  3. Power on the MacBook and hold down the Option key until you hear the chime.
  4. Release the Option key and wait for the boot options to be displayed.
  5. Select the device you want to use to boot the MacBook.

How do I make a USB stick bootable?

Use this procedure to make a USB stick bootable with Disk Drill:

  1. Download, install and launch Disk Drill.
  2. Connect a USB stick to your Mac.
  3. Select Create Boot Drive and choose the source and target volumes.
  4. Allow the process to complete.

How do I know if my Mac USB is bootable?

Use these steps to see if a USB drive is bootable:

  1. Connect the drive to your Mac.
  2. Start Disk Utility.
  3. Select the USB Drive and click Info.
  4. Scroll down to the Bootable field which will tell you if the device is bootable.

Why is my USB not bootable?

There are multiple reasons that a USB drive may not be bootable including:

  • It may be corrupt;
  • The drive may be incompatible with your OS;
  • The Startup Security Utility setting may prevent it from booting;
  • Manual intervention is needed if Option ROM Firmware is on the USB drive.

How do I boot from USB in UEFI mode?

UEFI is the advanced replacement for BIOS that is used on Macs with Intel-based CPUs. Accessing UEFI mode on a Mac requires you to execute this command as your machine starts up.

  • Start your Mac and press and hold CMD, OPT, “O” and “F”.

From within the EFI, you can select the USB bootable disk as the volume to start your computer.

Which software is best for making bootable USB?

You can easily make a bootable USB drive with the help of the following software applications:

  1. Rufus
  2. UNetbootin
  3. balenaEtcher

Take care of your important files now!

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