Making a Mavericks USB Boot Stick

Stripped Clean and needing sanitizer

I recently acquired a couple late 2009 iMacs, for a great price, to be repurposed for website development work…like this site.  These machines were being sold off from a local college,and the hard drive wiped of even the operating system.

Dirty iMac Keyboard

It’s not often that I get a machine that is so clean.  Now I say clean, but these iMacs were only clean of data.  After 4 years of college use, the keyboards were layered with all that I could describe as ‘scunge’.  Grungy and scuzzy.  I think in addition to finger dirt, there may have even been a booger or two stuck to the keys.  Time to break out the rubber gloves.

Installing OS X Mavericks

Being as these machines had no operating system, they needed something to work with.  Mavericks is compatible with iMacs going all the way back to 2007, so there should be no reason an install of 10.9 on these machines shouldn’t work.

Install Mavericks via USB

Of course, Mavericks is readily available through the App Store…but that is only a starting point.  Granted that if you happen to be reading this article because you are in the same boat, then I know you already have access to the internet for solutions.

  1. Grab your trusty USB flash drive, thumb drive…or whatever you like to call that flash storage stick.  Note you need a minimum of 8GB.
  2. Start your OS X 10.9 Mavericks download, on your internet connected machine.  This might take a little while, so grab a beer, or some sanitizer to clean that dirty keyboard.  Cleanliness is next to godliness.
  3. On your internet connected machine, keep it simple on yourself and download DiskMaker X.  The good folks over there do outline some of the limitations of their software, but I have used their download a few times with few issues.
  4. When Mavericks finally downloads, you can start the DiskMaker application.  The boot stick making program will format your USB stick, and take care of installing your preference of Lion, Mountain Lion, or Mavericks.  I only had the Mavericks download on my internet connected machine, so went with just that.
  5. When DiskMaker X finishes it’s USB boot stick creation…you get a cheery ‘Woo-Hoo’ from Homer blasting over your speakers.  Make sure your volume is down…otherwise it might be a bit of a surprise since the fine DiskMaker folks don’t have any progress indicator on the pop-up window just yet.
  6. Now that you have a ready and trusty boot stick…insert into one of those USB slots and press that power button.  Remember to hold down your ‘Option’ key on the keyboard during startup so you can select the booting option.
  7. Let the installation take hold of your hard drive.  Time for another beer after making those initial language selections.

Try Restoring a Mavericks Backup Instead

Maybe it was the beer.  Maybe the well used iMac needed a bit more coddling before I forced Mavericks on her.  I did run into a few complications on one of those installs, and after a couple attempts of installing both Mavericks and Snow Leopard (I had a DVD buried in the back of a cabinet alongside my many old Windows program disks).

Restore 10.9 OS X

Forum searches for suggestions that maybe it was a hard drive, or RAM issue that was slowing my install on this one machine I conveniently named ‘Jill’ had me stumped for a bit.   When creating the Mavericks USB boot stick, you get the option of either installing OS X, or restore from a backup.  Luckily I had an external drive with a lot of extra space, so…I tried that option.   Time to restore from a backup.

  1. Create a Time Machine backup of a successfully running Mavericks installation.  The more pictures, movies, and whatever other cruft you might have on your machine will slow the process.  A clean installation of Mavericks with no pictures should create a backup less than 1GB in size.
  2. insert your trusty bootable USB stick into one of those open ports on your machine
  3. Power up your machine, it should have already been off, but hold down the ‘Option’ key to get to your operating system selection point.  Select Mavericks 10.9
  4. Select ‘Restore from Backup’.  With these late 2009 iMacs, this restore took about 20 minutes.  Much less time than when attempting the first installation.
install Mavericks OSX

late 2009 iMac and Mavericks installation success

So your USB boot drive can be used for both installation of Mavericks, or restoring a OS X 10.9 compatible Time Machine backup.  Had I realized how quick the restoration from backup was…I would have gone this route first.  I did also put Windows 7 Pro on one of these iMacs…just for kicks, and because I did it before…but that’s a side note.


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