How to start up your Mac in Internet Recovery Mode

By , Feb 25, 2016

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In addition to the startup volume which holds a bootable copy of the operating system along with your applications and data, your Mac’s disk contains a hidden recovery partition that you can boot from in order to reinstall OS X, perform a quick check of connected disks and more.

But what it the recovery partition gets damaged? Enter Internet Recovery, an Internet-based version of Recovery Mode found on newer Macs, which loads recovery tools from Apple’s servers.

With Internet Recovery, you can reinstall OS X and troubleshoot issues in the unfortunate scenario of your Mac’s startup disk having become corrupted or completely unreadable. In this tutorial, you’ll learn everything there is about Internet Recovery Mode and how it can be used to your advantage if your disk encounters an issue or the startup drive has been replaced or erased.

The difference between standard Recovery and Internet Recovery

Your Mac’s recovery partition contains an up-to-date copy of the OS X installer so booting in Recovery Mode lets you reinstall the most recent version of OS X.

By contrast, Internet Recovery Mode permits you to reinstall the OS X version that was factory-preloaded on your Mac at the time of purchase. You should use Internet Recovery if your Mac’s internal disk is damaged or you’ve replaced it with a faster, more capacious  model and you’ve forgotten to create a bootable version of El Capitan on USB media.

RELATED: How to start up your Mac in Recovery Mode

Summing up, in Recovery Mode you can install or reinstall the most recent version of OS X that was previously installed on this computer. Internet Recovery, on the other hand, will download the version of OS X that originally came with your computer, which in most cases won’t be the most up-to-date OS X version available. As a bonus, Internet Recovery will automatically run a quick test of the Mac’s memory and disks to check for hardware issues.

Things you can do in Internet Recovery Mode

Like standard Recovery Mode, Internet Recovery Mode lets you:

If both your Mac’s startup volume and its recovery partition have become corrupted or physically damaged, the computer will automatically enter Internet Recovery Mode.

How to enter Internet Recovery Mode

To enter this mode at any time, do the following:

1) In the Apple menu, choose Restart or power on your Mac.

2) As the computer restarts, hold down the Command (⌘) – Option (⌥) – R combination immediately upon hearing the startup chime.

OS X Internet Recovery Mode Mac screenshot 001

Hold the keys until the animated globe appears on the screen. “Starting Internet Recovery,” the message reads. ”This may take a while.”

Tip: If you own a Mac notebook, make sure you’re using the built-in keyboard to enter Internet Recovery Mode as the keystroke may not register on external keyboards.

3) In the next step, a Wi-Fi menu appears. Internet Recovery needs an Internet connection to load the recovery tools from Apple’s servers. Click the menu to display the available Wi-Fi networks, and then select one to connect to.

OS X Internet Recovery Mode Mac screenshot 002

Tip: If you’re connected to the Internet using Ethernet, you don’t have to connect to a Wi-Fi network during Internet Recovery.

OS X Internet Recovery Mode Mac screenshot 003

4) If this isn’t an open Wi-Fi network, you’ll be asked to type in your password. Press Enter on the keyboard or click the checkmark symbol to continue.

OS X Internet Recovery Mode Mac screenshot 004

5) After your Mac has connected to the Wi-Fi network, it’ll download a recovery system image from Apple’s servers and start from it, giving you access to the recovery tools.

OS X Internet Recovery Mode Mac screenshot 005

Depending on your Internet connection, this may take anywhere from a couple of minutes to up to an hour, or longer. Connect your Mac to the power adapter so that it doesn’t run out of juice whilst it’s loading Internet Recovery from Apple’s servers.

6) If all goes well, you’ll be presented with the OS X Utilities window.

Recovery Mode OS X Utilities window Mac screenshot 001

Choose the option you want to use in this window or via the Utilities menu.

The recovery tools let you reinstall the version of OS X which was factory-preloaded on your Mac, restore the computer from a Time Machine backup, check the connected disks for errors with Disk Utility or search for help online using Safari.

Internet Recovery Mode requirements

“Some Macs that came with OS X Snow Leopard can use Internet Recovery after installing OS X Lion or later and a firmware update,” notes Apple.

If your Mac is one of the models listed below, or older, you may upgrade it to use OS X Internet Recovery by downloading and installing an updated EFI Firmware ROM:

  • MacBook Pro (13-inch, Early 2011)
  • MacBook Pro (15-inch, Early 2011)
  • MacBook Pro (17-inch, Early 2011)
  • iMac (21.5-inch, Mid 2011)
  • iMac (27-inch, Mid 2011)
  • MacBook (13-inch, Mid 2010)
  • MacBook Pro (13-inch, Mid 2010)
  • Mac mini (Mid 2010)
  • MacBook Pro (15-inch and 17-inch, Mid 2010)
  • iMac (21.5-inch and 27-inch, Mid 2010)
  • MacBook Air (11-inch and 13-inch, Late 2010)

Newer machines running at least OS X Lion support Internet Recovery out of the box.

Requirements for installing OS X in Recovery Mode

After entering  Internet Recovery Mode and choosing to install or reinstall OS X, your Mac will need to download the installer for the version of OS X that came preloaded on your Mac when you took it out of the box.

If OS X Recovery is used for reinstallation, your Mac must use DHCP on a Wi-Fi or Ethernet network and WPA/WPA2 as a security method on Wi-Fi. You cannot reinstall OS X over a Wi-Fi or Ethernet network that uses the following authentication protocols:

  • WEP
  • WPA-Enterprise
  • Certificate-based authentication / 802.1x
  • Proxies (where specific proxy servers must be configured in network preferences)
  • Captive Wi-Fi networks (where you click an “Agree” button to access the Internet)
  • PPPoE (where there is no router handling the PPPoE connection)

The network requirements listed above also apply to the version of Safari that’s included with OS X’s Internet Recovery and standard Recovery Mode.

If your Internet connection has requirements that are unsupported by OS X Recovery, change the settings to a supported configuration for the duration of the OS X installation.

What to do when Internet Recovery is unavailable

If the recovery partition on your Mac has been damaged and you cannot enter standard Recovery Mode and Internet Recovery is unavailable, you can still start the computer from an external drive with a bootable version of OS X.

Creating a bootable copy of the OS X installer on a USB thumb drive is highly recommended: you can use it to install OS X on multiple Macs without needing to re-download the installer on each machine.

RELATED: How to create a USB install disk for OS X El Capitan

Just plug a USB flash drive containing an OS X installer into your Mac, restart the computer and hold down the Option (⌥) key after hearing the startup chime.

OS X Startup Manager Mac screenshot 001

This will bring up the Startup Manager, so you can start up your Mac from any connected drive or external storage device that has a bootable copy of OS X on it.

RELATED: How to select your Mac’s startup disk at boot time

And last but not least, some drive partition configurations can result in OS X’s installer reporting that it cannot create a recovery partition for Recovery Mode. If you see this message, quit the installer and install OS X on an external drive connected to your Mac.

This will put a recovery partition on the external disk. You can continue installing OS X on the startup drive after creating a recovery system on an external drive.

You cannot use OS X’s FileVault disk encryption unless the recovery partition is present on the startup drive. Also, using RAID partitions or non-standard Boot Camp partitions on the startup drive might prevent OS X from installing a local recovery partition.

Related tutorials

Check out these resources that cover a myriad of ways you can start up your Mac:

For even more how-tos, browse our complete archive of Mac tutorials.

Need help? Ask iDB!

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    So, could I go back to snow leopard with that method?