How To Create a Bootable Mac OS X El Capitan USB Key

How to create a bootable USB Key with Mac OS X El Capitan

Time required: 15-25 minutes

When migrating computers, especially when you’re selling your old machine, it’s highly necessary to wipe the computer and restore it with a blank OS, as well as migrating any and all licenses that are bound to that specific machine – primarily your Apple ID (iTunes account).

It may then come in handy to have a USB key to ease the transition. Having the Mac OS X installation contained on a key will enable you to wipe your old computer as well as smoothly transferring your data to a new computer, even if that computer is used and needs its hard drive wiped beforehand.

The steps in this guide may seem daunting, but are in fact very easy to follow!

How To Create A Bootable USB Key with Mac OS X El Capitan

  1. Download installation file: Download the Mac OS X Install file from the App Store. (How to open App Store)
    1. OS X El Capitan in Mac App Store Search ResultsUse the App Store’s built in Search function in the top right of the window and search for “OS X El Capitan”, hitting Enter to commence search.
    2. Click GET or Download to start downloading the installation app. It’s a huge file of 6.2GB so it’ll take a while to download. It is recommended that you use a fast, preferably wired Internet connection while downloading.
    3. When done, you should have a file called Install OS X El Capitan in your Applications folder. Good job!
  2. Get a USB Key ready: In order to create a bootable USB Key, you have to completely wipe the memory of a 8GB or 16GB key.
    1. Insert the USB Key into a USB slot on your computer.
    2. Disk Utility in Mac OS X DockLaunch Disk Utility: in Finder, go to Applications and open the folder Utilities, then click Disk Utility or press Control + Spacebar and start typing Disk Utility, then hit Enter when you see the icon. (How to find an app in Finder)
    3. In Disk Utility, makes sure your USB Key is selected in the left column (A). Then click Erase in the top menu (B) and make sure the settings look the same as the screenshot in the dropdown. When you click the Erase button (C) all data on your USB key will be erased! MAKE SURE there’s nothing you want to save on there, otherwise it will be lost forever.

      Disk Utility creating a bootable Mac OS X El Capitan USB Key

      A guide to completely erasing a USB Key in Disk Utility

    4. Once erased, exit Disk Utility and move on to the next step.
  3. Terminal app icon in LaunchpadConvert USB Key to bootable OS X Installation Drive: Now here comes the juicy part. Apple has made it really easy to do now, but it requires the use of the Terminal. Eek! Not to worry, we’ll guide you through it.
    1. Open the Terminal app in Applications > Utilities. (How to find the Terminal app)
    2. Paste the following command in its entirety into the Terminal window and press the Enter key on your keyboard.
      sudo /Applications/Install\ OS\ X\ El\ --volume /Volumes/Untitled --applicationpath /Applications/Install\ OS\ X\ El\ --nointeraction
    3. When prompted, type the administrator-level password for your computer and hit Enter. Note: you won’t see any characters appear as you type the password, this is a safety feature.
    4. The drive is now being turned into a bootable OS X drive. Yay! It’ll take a while, depending on the speed of your USB key, but it gives you some status information in the Terminal window. You’ll see text like this appear there:
      Erasing Disk: 0%… 10%… 20%… 30%…100%…
      Copying installer files to disk…
      Copy complete.
      Making disk bootable…
      Copying boot files…
      Copy complete.

      Just hang tight and let it work. Once it says “Done.” you’re done!

  4. Finished! Your bootable OS X USB Key for El Capitan is now ready. To use it to wipe a computer and reinstall OS X, hold the Alt (Option) key when the computer is starting and select the drive Install OS X El Capitan.

Note: before you disconnect your USB Key and switch computers, remember to always eject your drive before you physically remove it!

Did this help you make a bootable drive for OS X?

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HApp store in the Mac OS X Dockow to open App Store on your Mac

  1. Click the App Store icon in your computer’s Dock (the array of apps at the bottom of your screen).
  2. Continue with the guide above once the App Store is open.

If you don’t see the App Store in your Dock, please follow these steps instead:

  1. Open Finder from your Dock, it’s the left-most icon in the bottom left of your screen.
  2. In the window that opens, find Applications in the list to the left. You may have to scroll to see this.
  3. With Applications selected, find App Store in the list on the right, it should be somewhere near the top.
  4. Continue with the guide above once the App Store is open.

How to find an application in Finder

Finder app in the Mac OS X Dock

Finder app in the Mac OS X Dock

If you need to find an application on your computer, sometimes you have to resort to looking through all your applications and not just the ones contained in your Dock. Here’s how you do it.

  1. Open Finder in your list of applications at the bottom of the screen (the “Dock”). Finder is the left-most icon of them all.
  2. In the window that opens, find Applications in the list to the left. You may have to scroll to see this.
  3. In the list that opens on the right, find the application you need. Note that it may be contained in another folder, follow the instructions in your guide for more information.
  4. Pro-tip: a quick way to navigate the list of Applications is to simply press the first letter of the application name you’re looking for on your computer. For example pressing “T” should bring you in sight of the app “TextEdit”. Try it now!

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