Make a MacOS Sierra boot drive

Note: This post is part of the the series: Reformat Macbook Pro to make brand new. You can always refer back to the table of contents to follow the entire process. This post is in addition to the original instructions with the release of MacOS Sierra. This post will teach you how to make a MacOS Sierra boot drive.

In our last chapter, we learned how to backup your Macbook Pro with Time Machine in the event we have an issue while reformatting your Macbook Pro. It also serves as an important archive for your data so you can access it and grab files whenever you want them on your ‘new’ Macbook Pro. In this next chapter, we’ll learn how to make a MacOS Sierra boot drive so once the computer is wiped clean, we can tell it to reinstall the brand new operating system and bring it back to glorious life.

Are you ready to get started? Here we go!

Make a MacOS Sierra boot drive

In this step, we’re going to make a MacOS Sierra boot drive. Apple’s latest Mac operating system, MacOS Sierra, is available as a free download from Apple. When you wipe your Macbook Pro clean, it needs some direction on how to come alive again. This little flash drive will plug into the side of the computer and we’ll tell the computer to read from it and install the operating system. Boom. Easy.

A. Download a copy of MacOS Sierra

Note: You will need an 8GB flash drive for this little operation. The file you download “Install MacOS Sierra” to your Applications folder.

  1. Open the App Store to go there (you may have to click launch application so do so.)
  2. Once you’ve found the app and you’re in the App Store, click FREE and enter in your Apple ID and password.
  3. Once you’ve logged in, it will start downloading.
  4. This will take some time to download (it will download to your Applications folder, which we want).
  5. Take a sip of coffee and wait a bit.

Note: After macOS Sierra has downloaded, it will automatically launch the installer to begin the installation process. Close the installer instead.

B. Format flash drive

While you’re waiting for the OS X Yosemite to download, you can format your flash drive. Remember, you’ll need an 8GB thumb drive. You will lose any information you have saved on this drive, so be sure to move any files off of it prior to this step.

  1. Insert the thumb drive into a USB port on the computer.
  2. Go to Hard Drive ›› Applications ›› Utilities ›› Click to open Disk Utility.
  3. Select the 1st of the two options you have for your flash drive so it’s highlighted.
  4. Click on the ERASE tab. Select Mac OS Extended (Journaled) as the format type and keep the name as “untitled.”
  5. Your flash drive will be erased and it will be formatted properly for Mac.
  6. Your drive is ready.

C. Make a MacOS Sierra Boot Drive with Disk Creator (Option 1)

Now you’re ready to move the install of MacOS Sierra onto the flash drive. The easiest way is to use a program like DiskCreator.

It’s very easy to create a boot drive for MacOS Sierra with Disk Creator.

  1. Download the macOS Sierra installer and Disk Creator.
  2. Insert an 8GB (or larger) flash drive. If you have any other data on that flash drive, back it up now, because the installer will make everything on it go bye-bye.
  3. Open Disc Creator and click the “Select the OS X Installer” button.
  4. Find the Sierra installer file. This is should be located in your Applications folder.
  5. Select your flash drive from the drop-down menu.
  6. Click “Create Installer.”

When it’s done, insert your USB drive into any Mac, then launch the installer by holding down the Option key when you boot up your computer.

D. Make a MacOS Sierra Boot Drive with Terminal (Option 2)

If you want this process to happen faster, you can manually add in the commands with Terminal. This is faster than the DiskMaker X option but you will have to add in a command.

  1. Insert your flash drive (12GB recommended) into a USB port on your computer.
  2. Click on the name of the drive once, so it highlights. Change the name to: Untitled. (The code we’re going to enter will assume this drive is named Untitled.)
  3. Go to Applications ›› Utilities ›› Terminal. Open the program.
  4. You’ll see a scary-looking programming box come up. Don’t be scared. We’re going to add a piece of code that will copy MacOS Sierra to the thumb drive.
  5. Select the text of this Terminal command and copy it:
sudo /Applications/Install\ macOS\ 
--volume /Volumes/Untitled --applicationpath /Applications/Install\ macOS\
  1. Paste the copied command into Terminal and press Return. Warning: This step will erase the destination drive or partition, so make sure it doesn’t contain any valuable data.
  2. Enter your admin-level account password when prompted.
  3. Now you’ll see the following messages:
Erasing Disk: 0%... 10%... 20%... 30%...100%...    
Copying installer files to disk...

This process will take about 30 minutes or so (depending on the speed of you computer). I was a bit worried that it was taking longer than expected. If you think it’s messed up, just wait longer. Give it 45 minutes if it needs it. Maybe an hour if your computer is really slow.

Once done, congratulations! You have your bootable MacOS Sierra drive. Keep this for any future projects (although you’ll want to update to the newest version of MacOS Sierra installer before attempting this process again if any length of time passes by.)

NOTE: (4.): This process will not work with Snow Leopard. It works only in Lion, Mountain Lion, 
Mavericks, Yosemite and Sierra. If you need to create a MacOS Sierra install drive while booted into 
Snow Leopard, you should use Disk Utility instructions found here.

To continue with the series, head to the next chapter where completely wipe your Macbook Pro clean and delete all the files (including the ones slowing it down!). This is a crucial step in getting your laptop back to the ‘factory fresh’ feeling.

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About the author

Josh Benson


  • $ sudo /Applications/Install macOS –volume /Volumes/Untitled –applicationpath /Applications/Install macOS
    sudo: /Applications/Install macOS command not found

    I have Sierra on my MacBook Pro and there is no /Applications/Install* path

  • Well interestingly enough on my work laptop I see the /Applications/Install macOS file, so I issued the command there and it’s creating the installer.

Josh Benson


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