No Recovery drive? Three alternatives are available to you.

HardDriveIconXWhen some problems such as hard drive corruption occur on your Mac, or if you need to perform account maintenance such as resetting passwords or fixing account permissions, then you will need to use the tools that Apple includes on the hidden Recovery drive that is part of OS X. However, in some cases such as for RAID arrays, you may not have a recovery partition, in which case there are several alternatives you can use, even if you are limited by your internet connection:

1. Internet Recovery

If you have a relatively speedy internet connection, you can boot with the Option-Command-R keys held, to force your Mac to load the internet recovery tools from Apple’s servers. They are about 500MB in size, so while the most popular alternative, it may not be feasible to use in all circumstances.

2. Time Machine

If you have Time Machine configured with your Mac, then it may be useful to know the drive should have a fully bootable recovery partition associated with it. While this will not support all features that the default recovery partition offers, it is one way to quickly reinstall or recover OS X from a backup. To access this partition, ensure the Time Machine drive is attached to your Mac, and then reboot with the Option key held. When the list of boot drives shows, choose the Time Machine drive.

3. Another Mac or boot drive

Finally, if you have the OS X installer handy (ie, downloaded from the App Store), you can use it to install OS X to an available external hard drive, and then boot to this drive to run utilities on your main hard drive. While you can use the installer to create a dedicated recovery drive, installing OS X to an external drive will create this recovery drive by default, and you will have the additional benefit of a fresh and fully working OS X installation at your fingertips.

Alternatively, you can boot your Mac into Target Disk Mode by restarting and holding the T key when you hear the boot chimes, and then attaching your Mac to another via Firewire or Thunderbolt cabling. This will allow your Mac to be an external drive to the second Mac, which can be used to run diagnostics and other tools. You can even boot to the second Mac’s recovery drive, and use these tools on the Target Disk drive.

With these options, you should have all you need to recover your Mac or run various low level administration routines on your system in the event that you either do not have a recovery partition, or cannot access it.

6 thoughts on “No Recovery drive? Three alternatives are available to you.

    1. Ira Lansing

      While DiskWarrior is outstanding, and can cure a lot of woes, it is specifically designed to fix Directory problems on a disk. Not every problem is of this type.

  1. B. Jefferson Le Blanc

    DiskWarrior can do more check directories, though apparently people don’t often use it for anything else. You can use it to repair disk permissions and check files and folders for corruption and potential compatibility problems. It can also check the SMART status of drives. However, it is not inexpensive and unless they are technically inclined most people are reluctant do use such tools, let alone pay for them. Then again, they generally don’t read MacIssues either. 😉

    DiskWarrior now comes on a bootable thumb drive and has a tool to create the equivalent of the Recovery HD partition on a thumb drive, while adding DiskWarrior to the list of options available. It creates the appropriate system for the version of OS X you are using.

  2. Russell Willams

    While Recovery HD is good for reinstalling OS X and restoring a Time Machine backup, it doesn’t help much with a failing drive. Nor does it help if there is directory damage and you don’t have a backup, or a current backup. Tools like DiskWarrior are needed in many, many cases like these where Recovery HD and Target Disk Mode alone are no help. I think everyone should have a utility in their toolbox for their Mac. Always be prepared, even if you are not tech savvy. I agree with the other comments, DiskWarrior is absolutely the way to go. It’s a must have for all Mac users as far as I am concerned.

    1. B. Jefferson Le Blanc

      In an ideal world, you are right. But we don’t live in an ideal world. Many people don’t even know how to use Disk Utility, let alone the Recovery HD. In my experience, a majority of computer users, including Mac users, are intimidated by the very idea of doing any kind of maintenance on their computers.

      For people who are curious about their Macs, or interested in learning more about them, web sites like MacIssues are an invaluable resource and can help them learn to do their own tech support. But let’s face it, most people who use computers are not technically inclined, or just don’t have the time to study or interest in learning how to maintain them. It’s not that they’re not intelligent enough to do so, it’s that they have other things in their lives that are more important to them. We all have to prioritize our time to a greater or lesser extent. So when their computers give them trouble, most people take them to an Apple Store or find someone (like MacIssues readers) who can help them out. It’s for us to know how to use DiskWarrior and other utilities to provide that help when the time comes.

      People have different aptitudes. It’s easy to forget that just because we have a knack for computers (more or less) that not everyone has the same talents we do. It helps if we remind ourselves that other people have talents we lack.

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