How to use Mac Recovery System to restore Mavericks

How to use Mac Recovery System to restore Mavericks

If your Mac can't boot up, don't panic. The built-in Recovery System can get you up and running

A flashing question mark or flashing globe on boot is one of the scariest sights imaginable to a Mac user. It means that the Mac is not finding the system software it needs to continue booting. You're not doing anything else on this Mac until this is fixed.

Since OS X 10.7 Lion, Apple has included the ability for Macs to restart using a special system called the Recovery System. Short of a hardware failure, the Mac's Recovery System can help get you back to working order. It'll let you reinstall OS X Mavericks over the Internet, provided your Mac can maintain a network connection.

Don't do this unless you're prepared to, at least for a short time, risk losing all the data on your hard drive. You can easily restore from a Time Machine backup, as well.

The first step is to establish that your Mac's hard drive (or in the case of many newer Macs, flash drive) is in good working order. The next step is to reinstall Mavericks.

To use Recovery System

To use Recovery System to reinstall Mavericks, you'll need:

  • Your Mac.
  • Your Apple ID and password.
  • A working Wi-Fi or Ethernet connection to the Internet.

Check your Mac's hard drive

  1. Restart (or start up) your Mac while holding down the command and R keys.
  2. When the Apple logo appears, let go of those keys.
  3. The Mac will start Recovery System.
  4. A window called Mac OS X Utilities will appear.
  5. Click on Disk Utility then click the Continue button.
  6. Disk Utility will launch.
  7. Click the first disk icon that appears in the sidebar on the left.
  8. Click the Repair Disk button.
  9. If Disk Utility finds any faults it can correct, it will. If it fails, you should bring your Mac to an Apple Store an or Apple Authorized Service Provider for further assistance, or be prepared to replace the disk yourself if you're so inclined.
  10. Assuming Disk Utility makes any necessary repairs, select the Disk Utility menu then click on Quit Disk Utility.

If you have a Time Machine backup, now's the time to try it.

How to easily back up and restore your Mac with Time Machine on OS X Mavericks

To reinstall OS X

  1. Click on Reinstall OS X.
  2. Click the Continue button.
  3. Another Continue button appears. Click it.
  4. Click the Agree button to agree to Apple's software license agreement.
  5. Click the Agree button that appears after the first one (lawyers — geesh).
  6. Make sure your Mac's hard drive (disk icon) is selected and click Install
  7. Type in your Apple ID and password then click the Sign In button.
  8. The Mac will download a fresh copy of Mavericks from the App Store and will install it. The speed of this process entirely depends on your Mac's connection speed to the Internet. You can wait an hour or longer on a slower connection.
  9. Your Mac will restart automatically once the software has downloaded, then the installation of Mavericks will continue.

If all has gone well, your Mac is able to restart and boot normally again. Under ordinary circumstances, your applications and data should be safe and intact.

If the recovery software runs into a problem that keeps it from working, you may be required to reformat or repartition the drive. That will wipe the drive completely. This is why I said at the outset that you need to be prepared for the loss of your Mac drive's data. At the risk of beating a dead horse, I'll emphasize again that having a backup is handy.

Hopefully it hasn't come to that, and you're off to the races.

I'm sure I've left some stuff out, so if you have any questions let me know in the comments.

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Peter Cohen

Mac Managing Editor of iMore and weekend Apple Product Professional at a local independent Apple reseller. Follow him on Twitter @flargh

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Reader comments

How to use Mac Recovery System to restore Mavericks


Hey Peter,

Its great that someone finally brought this feature to light. However, you overlooked a small detail. This restore is hardcoded into your mac before purchase. It connects your mac to Apple's servers and provides the server with the S/N. The S/N then send you the original OS that came with your computer. Essentially, you will only be able to restore to the ORIGINAL version of OSX that shipped with your machine. FOr example, my mid 2012 model will restore to OSx Lion. There is no way, AFAIK, to update this internet recovery data to pull Mavericks from the Apple servers instead of your original OS.

Unless you have found a way to update the version that is actually pulled from Apple's Servers.

EDIT: I see you are talking about using the recovery partition, and NOT Apple's Internet Recovery system. My bad. I am not sure whether the above comment is still applicable though, so please do update me on that if anyone knows.

Actually you are incorrect here. "Internet Recovery" (what we call it and it's original name I believe), allows you to restore any OS you have purchased. When I do it on my machine, I can "restore" any of four different versions of the OS, including Mavericks, even though it wasn't on the machine when I bought it. It gives me a choice, just like Option-booting the machine would if you have multiple OS's installed.

Also, even if you wipe the recovery partition, you can re-download the OS(s).

One thing I would add to the article though is that when you do this kind of recovery, there is no language to let you know that it won't over-write your files or anything else on the hard drive. Every time I have to do it, I hesitate a bit because it doesn't actually say what's going to happen to the files on the hard drive, and usually you only do it when you are in a horrible situation with no backup. In fact, it preserves everything else that might be there and just fixes or re-installs the OS, but there is no language to let you know this.

Hey, Thanks for calling me on that.

Can you explain how you restore Mavericks through internet recovery? I'd love to know since I use it quite often, and always end up spending a day downloading mavericks after Lion gets installed Haha.

As Per Apple's Support page here: support[dot]apple[dot]com/kb/ht4718 Internet recovery only installs the version of OSx that came with your mac.
Is there some kind of setting or something that you change to download a different version of OSx?

Hi, just wondering if you have worked out how to do this? My MBP won't even let me do the Lion reinstall saying it has a newer version already.

I love how people post that this can be done and never talk about how to do it. So far as I can tell, it cannot be done. I've tried time and again. There is nothing out there and anyone who posts that they can do it, doesn't follow up with an explanation on how to update it so it will show multiple versions.

If anyone out there can find a way, please post!!

Excellent clear article but my problem is I've tried for a week to download the software and it gets stuck 1/4 the way down. I then tried at Village Inn, Starbucks, and took it to my internet provider and they also could not download it. Yet the internet connection was fine and fast with all the places I tried. The hours given also to download went up to 75 hours at times.. .. I had to pay to get the software on my system by transferring it over from an external disk. Thanks.

HI mpoinar. It is happening exactly the same to me and as I have an iMac I can't take it everywhere. Where can I get the software in an external disk?

This is Awesome. Thank you so much for the step by step instructions as I am not computer literate. I do have an issue tho. If when checking the Macs Hard Drive I did not get any messages but when I quit the Disk Utility and tried to reboot I had the same issues as before. A black screen. I also tried the Reinstall but when it came to selecting the Macs hard drive disk, it said the disk is locked.
Am I screwed? any help is Greatly Appreciated

Using Recovery System to restore Mac OS X version is one of the best option. These steps are good enough to get followed by experts rather downloading and installing OS X from the scratch. But keep in mind that any wrong steps taken up by newbies can lead to catastrophe. Getting a clone of Mac drive via Time Machine and via Stellar Drive Clone software in advance would be beneficial. More over the available free demo version can be tried before buying the software.