Hacking Your MacBook Air Restore Drive To Install OSX Lion


[Josh Wright] wrote in with a handy little hack just in time for today’s release of Mac OSX Lion. If you’re not familiar with the new version of the OS, Apple has decided to change things up this time around, completely eliminating physical distribution media.

In the event that you need to run a factory restore, this becomes an issue for some users. Computers with DVD drives can run a burned copy of the previously downloaded Lion installer, but MacBook Air owners are left hanging. Their restoration process is more time consuming, requiring a system restore and the download of OSX Lion, followed by the subsequent upgrade process. [Josh] thought it would be great if you skip the initial restore step and jump straight to installing Lion, so he hacked his USB restore media to do just that.

While copying the OS to a USB drive might sound trivial, the process is not as straightforward as it sounds – not surprisingly, Apple has put measures in place to prevent mere mortals from altering the contents of the drive. [Josh] put together an easy to follow tutorial that walks you through removing the drive’s protection and copying your brand new OSX Lion restore image to it.

While you might be asking, “Why jump through all these hoops when a normal flash drive would suffice?”, we think that his writeup is quite helpful. We see no reason to tie up a usable flash drive to store your restoration disc when you already have a perfectly good (albeit locked) drive at your disposal.

♦The only caveat to the process is that you need a Windows machine, virtual or otherwise, to complete the first step – a requirement that elicited a hearty chuckle from us.

26 thoughts on “Hacking Your MacBook Air Restore Drive To Install OSX Lion

  1. I particularly like how the tool to hack the Mac runs on Windows…

    If you want to do what they tell you, use a Mac. If you want to do something useful, use something else.

  2. M4CGYV3R: Don’t be a troll. What you are seeing here is vendor lock in to Windows: The maintenance program from Silicon Motion (maker of the flash drive controller chip) is Windows only.

    If you think Windows is required to get useful things done, you ain’t no hacker.

  3. Ken: Hacking is easier not-on-Mac. Hands down.

    Did you stop to think that maybe there’s a REASON that the maint. program was Windows-only? Probably because the vast majority of people who write code, and therefore the people who would need a USB-flash controller program, are using Windows. Linux works well, too, but Windows has more software available for it and WINE is iffy for a lot of things.

    Ease of programming? Windows wins.
    Openness of the platform to developers? Linux wins.
    Number of compatible programs? Windows wins.
    Percent of market share? Windows wins.
    Number of ‘net servers running the OS? Linux wins.
    Trendiness of case and UI graphics? Ok, Mac can have that one.


    There is no situation (except their proprietary iPhone/iPad dev requirements) in which a Mac will do anything remotely hacker-ish better than a PC/*nix box. The fact that they had to run VMware or whatever to get that utility working is proof of that.

  4. MC4GYV3R: well your whole argument is invalid seeing as Mac os is Unix based and therefore a “*nix” operating system so of course it can’t do anything remotely hackerish better than itself :P

  5. This is a nifty trick if you need it, but I’d consider the Air restore disc the equivalent of a DVD restore disc. Sure, you CAN modify it, but 99.9% of users would not care to.

    Apple knows that MOST people would rather have something just work. Flash drives with the capacity for this are a dime a dozen these days, and available in most Wal-Mart checkout lines across from the gum.

    Better yet, make a nice, clean backup system on an external USB drive and save it for a rainy day. Emergency? Plug it in and boot into a clean slate in just a minute or two.

    Oh, and you can install Lion in Target Disk Mode. Do that on a PC, I dare ya.

    I use both systems daily, and both have their uses. But I have significantly more frustration using Windows.

  6. Wouldn’t it be possible to just clonezilla a working os over to a backup then restore later? But this information WILL come in handy for me now that lion is coming out and I live in a community where all the schools are mostly mac based.

  7. Guys, to tap in to conversation about Windows Vs. Mac, Mac is great “secure” platform, and really nice and polished as system for a house wife, or my twelve year old sister, but absolutely useless, when I actually need system to function without coding up a storm, I’m not saying, that Windows system doesn’t have issues, but at least when it’s get hung, you can kill process or service that causes it, and be merry on your way, mac, well, you get a beachball, aside from that, UI on macs is absolutely hirrendouos in some parts, and haven’t been improved in years, iFruits still don’t fully support bluray, they do make a damn good phones and decent tablets, however, last ones being pushed off by more powerful and flexible systems. So, here you go, after wasting a year with mac, I can say, that it’s pile of crap with shining smile of *nix.

  8. @andar : since we’re already arguing semantics, a Mac is a Personal computer. A ‘PC’ if you will…

    If someone wants to play 2-3x more for the same components and worse case design as far as thermal issues go just so they can feel superior and trendy that’s their perogative.

  9. @AlexM: “I’m not saying, that Windows system doesn’t have issues, but at least when it’s get hung, you can kill process or service that causes it”

    So you don’t know how to kill a unix process? Yet you feel you know something about unix?


  10. @Leithoa: Desktop Macs actually have pretty good thermal design, especially since the PowerMac G5. Multiple thermal zones, dedicated fans for each zone, and temperature control. Laptop Macs have been pretty good, recent unibody macs are great.
    Only Mac laptop I’ve known to have issues was the Core Duo MacBook (infamous mooing fans and case browning.)

    I’d love to see a retail Desktop PC shipped with good thermal design. Every motherboard I’ve ever installed had the fans default to 100% with no thermal/speed control.

    Also, your assumptions on price are *way* out. Build a MacPro or MacBook system and one from HP or Dell with the same specs. You will find out the prices are alot closer than you think.

  11. In the end it comes down to this, do you really want big brother breathing down your neck? Sorry, I had enough of frustration with my phone tracking me, not that I do anything illegal, but it kinda violates my personal rights, folks at apple become more and more like jealous girlfriends on PMS. reminds me of their old commercial, problem is, they are this big brother now with bunch of mindless minions…

  12. I bought my Grandmother a macbook about 4 years ago. She’s in her 80’s. It was her first time using a computer, and it has been grat.

    However… Needless to say, this move away from dvd media availability stinks. When I support the system during visits, I want to spend as little time as possible doing it. I bought the last OS version from amazon. That went pretty well.

    But I will *NOT* enable the stupid “mac store” apple has forced on users’ desktops. I will not give it a credit card. They are just trying to get all users buying from their “store”.

    So instead of buying the new OS, I’ll download it from some stupid warez site. Great job apple!

  13. FireSokar the whole point is that the macbook air does not have an optical drive. Downloading and burning would be pointless since you have nowhere to stick the disc.

    if everyone bothered to RTFA and the world would be a better place.

  14. Wow, two hacks in one, the real hack, and the social hack to start a @#$%& fest about which os is better.

    As someone who works closely with a laptop repair center, Mac’s cooling isn’t much better then PC, at least in regards to people who use their laptop on the floor/bed with their covers jammed in the vents.

    (on a personal note, I absolutely *hate* my Jan 2010 i7 mac book pro, it’s a slug unless I run windows [haven’t tried anything else under boot camp] on it, then it performs reasonably well.)
    (disclaimer, I work for a mostly pc repair shop)

  15. Yo!

    I wrote this article, thought I’d chime in here.

    I’m 100% aware that you could just do this with a regular thumb drive, but to me, hacking is about staying resourceful. My wife’s Macbook Air came with this drive, it’s tiny , it was bundled, and now that she’s on Lion, it’s useless.. Well.. It “WAS” useless..

    I thought it’d be an interesting read, as some people hadn’t even thought about trying to update it.

    If you liked it cool , if you didn’t I apologize..

    HUGE Fan of HackaDay though, always have been, and stoked they ran the story. :)

    Take it easy all! If you need to get me:

    bikr at bikr dot net..

  16. BASSONG DIDNT LOSE US THE GAME! its a collective game blaming him when OTHER players where out of position.shear greediness of fullwards who cant pass to each other cost us Defoe and Adybayor .if Defoe had the brain of vdv he would be dangerous Harry and positional play modders wide left then right against newcastle i really dispairwork horses in midfield

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