Change the Mac Startup Drive on Boot

Mar 22, 2011 - 10 Comments


A Macs startup drive can be changed during system boot by holding down the OPTION key, start holding down Option the moment you hear the boot chime sound and while the screen is still black, this will bring up the boot drive manager.

From this startup boot disk menu, you can use the mouse or the arrow keys to select the drive or partition to boot from, and then either click or hit return to startup the Mac from the chosen boot volume.

Holding the Option key on system boot will bring up the startup drive menu on any Mac, that is how you change the boot volume on system start

This allows for a per-boot one time selection, and selecting a boot drive from this menu will not change your default boot drive. For future boots, you can either continue to hold down the Option key to access this menu, or you can change the default startup disk directly from System Preferences if you’re looking for something more permanent.

How to change the boot drive at startup on Mac

Once you hold down the Option key, you’ll be presented with the boot menu which shows all available boot drives either in the Mac or connected to the Mac:

Boot a Mac from an External Drive

This should probably go without saying, but in order for the multi-boot startup menu to appear and work as intended, the Mac must have multiple bootable volumes. This can be the primary Macintosh HD partition and the Recovery partition, or the primary Mac HD partition, a secondary OS X installation, a bootable installer drive, an external drive, or any other boot volume.

We’ve used this many times to change boot OS versions with dual-boot configs, from Mac OS X 10.11 El Capitan, 10.10, 10.6 to 10.7, 10.7 to 10.8, and 10.9 Mavericks. If interested you can read more about creating and booting between multiple OS X installations, check here for Lion & Snow Leopard, and here for dual boot configs for OS X Mavericks and 10.8 Mountain Lion, or even dual booting OS X El Capitan and Yosemite or Mavericks.

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Posted by: AJ in Mac OS X, Tips & Tricks


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  1. Ian says:

    I didn’t know the MacBook Air had a Recovery HD partition, I thought you only needed the USB key?

  2. albinoz says:

    Yes the new MacBookAir have an USB Key verry nice. But I dont see recovery Disk, I know this will include with Lion.

    PS: atl at boot is not a Tips and Tricks but a featureā€¦ :/

  3. Parakeet says:

    You can also set the startup drive in System Preferences > Startup Disk

    You can switch it around any time but what you leave it set on becomes the default boot disk.

  4. marro says:

    Running OSX 10.8.2 and when I use the option key a lock pops up with a password field. I tried several passwords, but none worked. Has anybody else ran into this?

  5. glory says:

    I set up the windows 7 on my Imac, and then it goes
    win 7 without changing.How do I change OSX automatically?

  6. tourist says:

    my mark does not dispaly cd/dvd when i press the option key on start up

    • ook says:

      The Mac will show all boot volumes by holding the Option key on startup. But, your Mac must have a DVD drive in order to show a DVD drive as a boot option, and the DVD disc must be bootable. Macs haven’t had disc drives in quite a while, so all modern Macs do not have that ability without an external SuperDrive (Apple offers one for sale).

  7. Jon says:

    This doesn’t work. My startup is stuck on network startup. How do you fix this.

  8. […] the Option key, then choose whichever partition you wish to start up from. You’ll notice the initial boot menu does not display the OS X version, which is why it’s important to name the partitions […]

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