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Performing a Clean Install of Mavericks (Mac OS 10.9)

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With the introduction of a digital delivery systems for Apple software and operating systems a lot of people are finding themselves confused when comes how to do a clean install of the operating system on their machines. For clarification a clean install is when the hard drive of the machine is completely erased, formatted, and returned to a state where only the operating system is present.

Obtaining Mavericks

Getting Mavericks has never been easier. For starters its free so you have absolutely no reason to not be using the newest operating system from Apple. Simply launch the App Store from your system and search for Mavericks or just click here to download Mavericks from the App Store.


At 5.29gb downloading Mavericks may take a bit of time even on a high-speed internet connection so plan accordingly. Once the download is finished you will find a new application in your Applications folder called Install OS X Mavericks. You are going to want to copy this application onto a USB Key or External Drive. Once its copied over delete the copy from your Applications folder. Before you continue make sure your BACKUP anything you need from your system. There is no going back once you format the drive, so even if you think you have everything you need off the drive already double-check and make sure.

Installing Mavericks via Target Disk Mode

This is where the process gets a bit complicated. If you have a second Mac in your house the process is easy; simply attach the Mac you want to install the clean copy of Mavericks on to your other Mac using target disk mode and erase the drive. Otherwise you are going to have to Install Mavericks on an external disk first before you can continue. Long and the short of this is you need to be running a Mac Operating System from another Drive other than the one you want to do a clean install on for this process to work. For the purposes of these directions the process will be done using another machine.

Formatting the Target Volume

  1. Connect your machine to another Mac with a FireWire or lightning cable.
  2. Boot the target machine while holding down the T key on the keyboard. This will cause the machine to boot up in target disk mode. You will know you have done this properly when a FireWire Icon or Lightning Icon appear on the screen. If the Apple Logo appears you did it wrong and will need to start over.
  3. Once you are in target disk mode you should see the drive appear in the finder of the machine it is connected to.
  4. Launch Disk Utility from your /Applications/Utilities directory and select the drive of the machine in target disk mode.
  5. Now is a good time to stop and think about if you backed up everything you needed from the drive you are about to erase cause there is no going back.
  6. Select Erase, set the format to Mac OS Extended (Journaled) and enter the name of the Volume. The standard name for the primary volume is Macintosh HD but you can name it what ever you want.
  7. Now is a good time to stop and think about if you backed up everything you needed from the drive you are about to erase cause there is no going back.
  8. Once you are sure you have backed up everything you need, click erase.
  9. You will be presented with a prompt saying are you sure you want to do this all the data on the drive will be erased. Did you back everything up? If you are sure you are ready to continue click erase.
  10. You drive will now be erased, the process should only take a few seconds.
  11. Once the erase process is complete quite disk utility.

Installing Mavericks

  1. Launch the Mac OS Mavericks Installer application from the USB Key or External Drive.
  2. Click through the prompts until you are presented with the drive selection screen, select show all disks and select the newly erased volume from the previous steps. You will know you are selecting the correct volume because the disk color will be orange.
  3. Click Install and now wait. The first phase of the installation should take 3 – 10 minutes to complete at which point your machine will reboot.
  4. During this wait period you will suddenly find yourself wondering if you actually did backup everything you needed from the drive you just erased and in most cases the answer is actually no of course you didn’t. At least thats how it always turns out for me.
  5. Once your machine has restarted, the second phase of the installation will occur and this will take around 30 minutes to complete. You wont have to do anything during the process so feel free to go do something else, like write a blog post on how to do a clean install of Mavericks for example.
  6. After all the waiting, simply shutdown both the machines and disconnect the Lightning or Firewire Cable and reboot. It is possible that the machine you did the installation will be confused for a minute since it is expecting to be booting from the connected machine, it will take a minute but the installation machine should find the operating system on its own drive and boot from that. If it doesn’t reboot holding down the option key and select the primary drive of the machine to boot off of.
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  1. David
    David07-06-2014

    Thank you for a very simple explanation.

    What is confusing (as I’m half-way through), is the naming of the machines and what happens on each. My ‘good’ machine rebooted early on, causing me to wonder… The grey screen and drifting icon never stopped on the ‘sick’ machine. All the while the installer shows ‘installig OS X on the disk “xxx” (only on sick machine).

    I hope this works !!!

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