Using FireWire Target Disk Mode to Install OS X on Macs without DVD Drives

In July, I posted a  column, Installing OS X 10.4 Tiger on DVD-Challenged Macs Using FireWire Target Disk Mode, describing how I had installed OS X 10.4 Tiger on my CD-ROM equipped iBook G3 by mounting it as an external hard drive from my DVD drive-equipped Pismo PowerBook via FireWire Target Disk Mode and choosing the iBook’s hard drive as the destination disk in the installer.

This method worked flawlessly for me, and there have been no subsequent issues over the ensuing 16 months or so. The iBook is currently running OS X 10.4.6 happily. And several readers wrote to say that the method had worked for them as well.

However, this morning I received a note from a reader who said that after attempting an install of Tiger in this manner, his computer refuses to boot and presents a gray screen. I’m paraphrasing, because after I read the email preview, I somehow managed to delete the message, so I can’t reply directly (and I hope the correspondent will read this article).

There are many things that can go awry in an OS X install even under normal circumstances, so it may not be the unconventional install route that’s the issue. The first thing I would try is to boot the machine from the original software restore CD or other bootable CD. If that works, there’s a problem with the system install on the hard drive.

If you have an Alsoft DiskWarrior or ProSoft Drive Genius CD, it would be worth a shot running a disk diagnosis and repair routine, but it’s a long shot.

If the machine remains unbootable from OS X 10.4 on its hard drive, the next step would be to reinstall a system from the restore CD and work back from there. Worst case would be to have to reinitialize the drive and start from scratch.

Installing OS X 10.4 via Target Disk Mode is endorsed by Apple for machines with no DVD drive for OS X Server, as described in Mac OS X Server 10.4.7: How to install if you have no DVD drive.

They advise going the opposite direction from the method I used, booting the machine with the DVD drive into Target Disk Mode with the Tiger install disk inserted and mounted, which is probably a better way to go, since the installer will tailor any necessary machine-specific system resources to the boot machine.

I had no problem going the other way with the Pismo as the host machine for the install, but it might be an issue with computers that aren’t “close cousins” such as a G3 Series PowerBook and G3 iBook.

MacFixIt posted a tutorial on August 30, Installing Mac OS X 10.4.x Tiger on a Mac Without a DVD Player [no longer online], in which they outline essentially the same method as I did, booting the machine on which OS X 10.4 is to be installed in Target Disk Mode.

This OS X Hints entry, 10.4: Install Tiger via Target Disk Mode, also reports success using this same procedure.

Alternate possibilities would be to get a set of OS X 10.4 install CDs from Apple or use an external USB or FireWire DVD-ROM drive that your Mac can boot from with the install DVD.

Short link:

searchword: firewiretigerinstall

One thought on “Using FireWire Target Disk Mode to Install OS X on Macs without DVD Drives

  1. Pingback: Installing Mac OS X 10.4 “Tiger” without the use of XPostFacto on an iBook G3 Clamshell without FireWire | luttztfz

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