In this example I'm using Snow Leopard, but the idea is the same using Leopard as long as your Mac is running an Intel processor.
Insert your Snow Leopard disc and click on Install Mac OS X. Choose your new flash drive as the destination, but when you get a screen or two in, click on Customize.
When you do you'll see this screen:
You can see that it'll take
8.01 GB (see the update note at the top of the story) to do the simplest installation. Consider what you'll need on your flash drive and select or deselect whatever you'd like, but I suggest choosing nothing at all. As a diagnostic and repair-only bootable device, you don't need anything but possibly print drivers and you probably don't need those. You may want to install Rosetta since it's only 2 MB, but if you need it later, Snow Leopard will let you know and ask if you want it installed.
Run the installation and busy yourself elsewhere for awhile.
When its done, reboot holding down the option key and you'll be presented with a list of bootable devices. Choose the flash drive. The welcome movie will play and you'll need to apply settings as is usual when first running a new Mac or installing a new operating system.
Next run Software Update
repeatedly until you get a message telling you that your software is up to date. Now it's time to install utility software. Disk Utility,
already be installed on your flash drive, is often all you need, but along with that I can personally recommend Diskwarrior
and TechTool Pro
. I've been using both of those for years and although a lot of functionality is duplicated between these programs, I've often had problems that Diskwarrior can fix but Techtools Pro can't and vice versa. Having both of these in my tool belt along with Disk Utility
has gotten me out of serious trouble more times than I'd like to remember.
If you are concerned about running out of space on the flash drive, remember that this is a diagnostic and repair device; you can delete just about all the programs in the application folder. The only ones I have remaining are the three utilities mentioned and Safari. It's your call.
That's it, and putting it together sounds much worse than it is. You'll be set for whatever comes along. Sure you can boot your system disc to run Disk Utility
but I've found in many cases, I needed a lot more. You can also boot from your utility program discs, but that's time consuming and it's possible to run into a problem with the OS on the utility disc not playing nicely with your Mac.
You should know that booting the flash drive will take a long time, so don't be surprised. The one I have takes longer than booting from a system disc, but when it does come up, I've got a really good variety of tools that has served me well.
I have one of these in my computer bag and I've used it often at friends houses to get various Macs out of various jams along with using it on the three Macs at home.
Do you use this method already? If you've been at it awhile, what do you use when disaster strikes? The comment section is waiting for your horror stories.
Note: A few have found that rather than the 3.81 GB I found as the size of essential software, on their machine 8.01GB was required. I was testing on a Macbook Pro 17" 2.93 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, and 3.81 GB was what came up for me. I'm interested in what machines were found to need 8.01GB.