How To: Create a Bootable Install USB Drive of Mac OS X 10.11 El Capitan

Create a Bootable Install USB Drive of Mac OS X 10.11 El Capitan

Apple's latest update to Mac OS X, 10.11 El Capitan, is currently available in the Mac App Store for everyone to download and install at no cost. The new OS features Split View mode for better multitasking, a cleaner Mission Control, smarter Spotlight, a way to mute Safari tabs playing audio, enhanced Mail and Notes apps, and more.

If you have multiple computers that need the El Capitan upgrade, then a bootable install flash drive will make the process easier and faster, since the install file is over 6 GB in size (about a gig larger than Yosemite was!) and could take some time to download on each computer individually.

If you're going to use El Capitan on your only computer, you can choose to install it as a dual-boot system, that way you can easily switch back to Yosemite if you find out that you don't like the new OS version.

While there are fairly complex ways to create a bootable install drive, I'm going to skip those long processes in favor of using DiskMaker X, which has recently been updated to work with El Capitan.

Step 1: Download OS X 10.11 Installer

Once you've downloaded the El Capitan installer from the Mac App Store, don't install it just yet—it will auto-erase the installation app you need if you do. Close out of the installation screen that pops up, then hunt for Install OS X El Capitan in your Applications folder to verify it's there.

Step 2: Install DiskMaker X

If you don't already have DiskMaker X installed, go ahead and do that now from the DiskMaker X website. The newest version should be DiskMaker X 5.0.1, which is compatible with El Capitan.

Step 3: Delete Any Old Installers You May Have

If you still have an installer for Yosemite on your hard drive, or an El Capitan developer ("Install OS X 10.11 Developer Beta") and/or public beta ("Install OS X El Capitan Public Beta") version, you should delete those first. They take up a lot of space anyway.

Step 4: Choose Your El Capitan File

Go ahead and open the app up and you'll see the following screen. Click on "El Capitan (10.11)" so DiskMaker X can automatically detect your install file in the Applications folder.

If you see the following screen, that means you probably haven't downloaded the installer file yet, or you did, but already used it to install El Capitan on the Mac you're using, in which case it would have deleted itself. Re-download from the Mac App Store and try again.

Step 5: Get Your USB Flash Drive Ready (Optional)

Before proceeding, make sure you have copied all of your important files from your USB flash drive to another place, because this process will wipe your flash drive and reformat it. Also, make sure that your flash drive is 8 GB or more, because the installer file alone is over 6 GB.

Update: While you need at least 8 GB free to install El Capitan, it might not be enough to make a bootable drive. So if you get an error saying there isn't enough disk space, you'll need to get a 16 GB or larger thumb drive.

Step 6: Select to Use a Thumb Drive

No matter what size thumb drive you're using for this, select "An 8 GB USB thumb drive" from the next window. Again, an 8 GB stick might not actually be big enough, so you'll probably need a 16 GB or larger stick.

Step 7: Choose Your Thumb Drive

Make sure to select the right one. I renamed mine EL CAPITAN so I wouldn't confuse it with any other drives.

Step 8: Erase & Create the New Disk

At the warning, select "Erase then create the disk."

Then hit "Continue."

In a minute or so, it'll ask you for your admin password. Input it, then be prepared to wait awhile, depending on the speed of your USB drive.

Mine took about 45 minutes, and Activity Monitor even said DiskMaker X was "not responding." However, it was doing its work—just be patient. As you can see, I finally got a message saying my boot disk was ready.

Step 9: Install El Capitan on Your Computer

To install El Capitan, make sure the USB drive is inserted into the computer, then restart the computer while holding the Option (alt) key on your keyboard. Wait until the Startup Manager pops up, then select the "OS X Base System" volume. Alternatively, you can just hold down the C key while starting up to boot directly into the USB drive.

Then just follow the install instructions and wait for your new El Capitan experience. When you come to the Install OS X screen, make sure to select the right disk. I created a new partition on my hard drive called "El Capitan," so I used that.

Once it's done installing, you'll get to the Welcome screen, and you should be able to figure it out from there.

Cover image via Shutterstock

8 Comments

without developer account can install this ?

You need a developer account to download the file, but once you have it and have created a bootable install disk using it, anyone with the install disk can install El Capitan on their computer.

I think this is a plenty cool website. I just like the information in it and the post. Am honored to be one of you guys.

Doesn't work on 8 GB sticks. Not enough disk space.

Thanks for the update. We didn't have any 8 GB ones to test it out on. Apple says you need at least 8 GB to install it, so was hoping an 8 GB drive would be big enough. Will note this in the article.

Does this also work with the "official" (non beta) version of "El Capitan"? Cause it will be available at the 30th September. Just the name "Install OS X 10.11 Developer Beta" (or "Install OS X El Capitan Public Beta") should change, due to it s simply not a beta.

Thank you for your help.

Yeah, it should work just by changing the name. It worked the same way when the official Yosemite version came out after beta, too, but Diskmaker X eventually updated their app to included Yosemite. They will likely update it to include El Capitan, too, just not right away—but the name-change hack should still work until they do.

Article has been updated to reflect the new version of DiskMaker X that is compatible with El Capitan.

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