Creating a Snow Leopard USB stick with Ubuntu 11.04

This is a problem that I have struggled with a bit at my job at MIS. Somehow or other, we need to fix a Mac and that Mac doesn't have a usable CD/DVD drive. Additionally, the external CD/DVD drives we have available are in use elsewhere or otherwise unreliable. The solution? Clone Snow Leopard to a USB stick (somehow) to run Disk Utility, or whatever else you need. I write this now, and place it online, for my own benefit as much as anybody else's. However, I do hope this is what you are looking for.

This seemed like a solvable problem. I had assiduously Googled the method at least twice, but the results I found were not immediately helpful. There have been two incidents that required the USB technique, and during incident one, the available working Mac lacked a usable CD/DVD drive of its own. I was unable to attempt the advised solution: using a Mac to rip the disc, and then restoring it to the USB stick.

Fortunately, I use Ubuntu, Windows, and Mac. Windows won't be mentioned again. In Ubuntu, I was able to rip the Snow Leopard disc to an ISO (Google it), and then format a USB thumb drive in such a way as to allow it to hold the Snow Leopard data. This USB thumb drive was then recognized on Mac systems as the Mac OS X Install DVD. I was, thus, able to boot from it, run Disk Utility, and install Snow Leopard. How magical!

The technique is as follows. First, rip the disc. Second, obtain a USB thumb drive (or maybe a larger external drive, I guess), that is at least 8 GB in size. Then, using Ubuntu's Disk Utility application, format the drive using the "Master Boot Record" Scheme. Next, create a partition of at least 8 GB of type NTFS, perhaps naming it "Snow Leopard." Then, edit the partition, changing the type to "Mac OS X (0xa8)" and make sure to check the "Bootable" checkbox. Once that is done, observe the device name of your USB drive as listed in the Disk Utility. For example, it might be "/dev/sdc." You may then quit the Disk Utility application. The final step is to open a Terminal, and then use dd to stream the ISO to that device, bit by bit.

Example dd command:

user@machine:~$ dd if=~/Documents/snow-leopard.iso of=/dev/sdc

The dd command consumes many system resources, so be warned! Also, BE ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN that you are typing the right path for the of=.., otherwise you may do irreversible damage to your system. Once it is complete, the USB drive may be removed and plugged into a Mac for whatever you like. Congratulations!

NOTE: Ripping a disc in Ubuntu may be simple, but here's how you do it: Put the disc in the drive, right click on the disc icon that appears on your desktop, select "Copy to ..." When the pop up dialog appears, select "Image file" instead of "new disc" in the second drop down. You can also set the name and path to your liking using the "Properties" option. Finally, click "Create Image."