ReInstalling OS X on Macbook Air

By Dan Hinckley

21 responses. »

When Apple released the Macbook Air many questioned their belief that many people no longer need a CD or DVD drive on their notebooks. While others focused on the notebooks lack of ability to quickly play DVD media or import the latest audio CD tracks, I was more concerned with how the notebook would handle the times it needs a fresh OS install.

Apple did provide a custom external DVD drive that would make this process no different than any other notebook but I was interested in how they would handle the approach for individuals like me that didn’t want to pay and extra $99 for the DVD drive.

So, I recently undertook the challenge of reinstalling a fresh version of OS X on my Macbook Air without an external DVD drive.

Apple was successful in making the process simple, but there were a few hiccups along the way. The following details include instructions on how to install OS X on a Macbook Air without an external DVD drive. I’ll discuss the problems I came across at the corresponding step.

How To Reinstall OS X on a Macbook Air Without a DVD Drive

First thing you need to do before you attempt to reinstall OS X is to setup another computer on your network to share their DVD drive with the Macbook Air. Many of you may have done this when you first setup your Macbook Air. After this has been setup you’ll need to insert the OS X disk into the DVD drive and if you’re using a Windows Computer select Remote install OS X or navigate to /Applications/Utilities/ and
launch the Remote Install OS X application.

Remote Install Mac OS X.png

After the application has launched click continue to prepare for the installation.

Remote Install Mac OS X-1.png

You’ll next need to select the OS X drive that you previously inserted into your DVD drive on the other computer.

Remote Install Mac OS X-2.png

Select if you’d like to connect your computers through an Ethernet setup or over AirPort. If you do not have an Ethernet USB adapter for the Macbook Air you’ll have to select AirPort. The next steps get a bit more complicated.

Remote Install Mac OS X-3.png

Now that you’ve returned to your Macbook Air, reboot the system and hold down Option until you see a screen that lets you select the boot drive.

Remote Install Mac OS X-4.png

You’ll notice on the screen that you can select the network you’d like to join. You must select the same network that your other computer is on. I could not connect to my wireless network at first but after some trouble shooting I managed to connect the Macbook Air to my home network from the boot screen. I had to disable WEP and any other wireless security encryption before the Macbook Air would find the network.

Remote Install Mac OS X-5.png

After I found and connected to the network, the OS X disk on my other computer appeared and was a boot option. Select it and continue.

Remote Install Mac OS X-6.png

After selecting the DVD for boot the system will restart to that boot device. This may take some time.

Remote Install Mac OS X-7.png

After the system starts you’ll select the language and installation settings (be sure to include the iLife if you would like that included on your Macbook Air) and then the install will begin. This will take a while. It took me close to 4 hours before the installation completed. Obviously this is related to the data transfer limits of a wireless network. If you’re short on time, you may want to look into setting up a USB device that you can install OS X 10.5 from.

The Macbook Air may reboot once or twice during the install and ask for the 2nd DVD if you select to install iLife at this time. Once over thing is complete the computer will restart and be just the way it was when you first purchased it.


While the reinstallation process would be considerably shorter if a DVD drive was somehow included on the Macbook Air, the computer is still capable of easily walking a user through formatting and reinstalling OS X on the notebook. The major difficulties people will have is with connecting to their wireless networks and keeping that connection through the 4 hour install period.

Apple Macbook Air Transparent Black (Smoke) Protective Case Cover

About Dan Hinckley
Dan Hinckley is an experienced Mac user who converted to Apple products when they introduced them on Intel Processors. He loves helping others get more out of their devices! Subscribe to to get the latest from Dan and the Maciverse Team!! Find out more about Dan:

21 Responses so far.

  1. Mac Routine Maintenance (Not!) don’t do this |

    September 18, 2008 at 11:02 pm

    [...] the Apple logo. Not good! Am going through a full rebuild now. Thank goodness that the low level DVD Sharing for OS X Install works. I guess I get what I want, a clean MacBook [...]

  2. Best of Maciverse August 08

    November 7, 2008 at 9:21 pm

    [...] Re-Installing OS X on Macbook Air Wirelessly – Need a fresh install of OS X on your Macbook Air and don’t have an external DVD drive? Step by Step instructions and screenshots will show you just what to do. [...]

  3. Christopher Meinck

    January 27, 2009 at 9:13 am

    Thanks for your help. Turned off WEP and install worked like a charm.

  4. Dan

    January 27, 2009 at 5:36 pm

    Glad you got everything working!

  5. John

    August 7, 2009 at 8:42 am

    On you Article…ReInstalling OS X on Macbook Air. I get all the way to waiting for Macbook Air to start up. Then on the MBA, I get the spinning globe…good sign I think…A few min later, I get the "delete icon" and it just sits there. I never do get to the Instal OS X Install screen…any help?

  6. Dan

    August 7, 2009 at 9:04 am

    John – Are you sure you're starting into the boot option where you can select the Boot device? (Hold option during startup) it seems like you may not be doing so.

  7. John

    August 8, 2009 at 12:29 am

    Yes, holding Option down. Turned all the security off too…just in case. I could always get to the same point with security on though…I'm out of ideas. I have tried this both wireless and with the USB ethernet port. I hope to has this solved by the time Snow Leopard is released. Going to try Apple today since I have Applecare still. Thanks

  8. John

    August 8, 2009 at 5:02 am

    Problem found: I was using my OSX Leopard DVD from my G5PPC. You have to use the DVD that came with the Macbook Air…apparently not all MAc OSX discs are not the same…

  9. joel

    August 27, 2009 at 9:12 am

    How long should the boot up to the DVD take?

  10. Dan

    August 27, 2009 at 9:20 am

    Joel – I can't exactly recall but I do know it took some time. May have been 10 – 15 minutes before it started into the installation.

  11. Install OS X Snow Leopard from a USB flash drive

    August 29, 2009 at 4:32 am

    [...] versions of OS X, Snow Leopard can be installed from a USB drive. This is especially beneficial to Macbook Air users looking to install the OS without a DVD drive. To do this, you’ll need to prepare your USB drive with the installation [...]

  12. Jess

    March 3, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    Thanks, that saved my bacon! I have the superdrive, but it seems to be more sensitive to disk imperfections than my other machine's drives, and wouldn't read my install disk. I was able to get it reinstalled using remote install, but had a terrible time of it until I read your instructions. Thanks again!

  13. raghunath

    June 20, 2011 at 12:03 pm

    mac os x snow leopard 6.13 gb dmg file do not run and do not burn,do not copy usb setup file……….please help me……instructions……..

  14. luca

    July 28, 2011 at 5:53 am

    How can I run the remote install osx app from Lion?

  15. Defenestrate

    August 26, 2011 at 7:35 pm

    See this Dennis Miller quote in a whole new light: "Sure, the lion is king of the jungle but airdrop him into Antarctica, & he's just a penguin's bitch." :P

  16. Rob

    September 10, 2011 at 7:35 am

    During the install you need to have a connection but my MacBook can’t find any networks so I can’t complete the installation.
    Somebody said something about turning off WEP? Where/How can i do this?

  17. pssedoff

    October 1, 2011 at 9:37 pm

    2 hours of waiting for the boot disc to load onto mini server… what i have is one expensive doorstop.

  18. Gregory

    June 9, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    So the solution to not having an optical drive is to have another computer. Nice.

  19. Use4Video

    December 31, 2012 at 1:11 am

    Thanks, that saved my bacon! I have the superdrive, but it seems to be more sensitive to disk imperfections than my other machine's drives, and wouldn't read my install dis

  20. Julie Kula

    January 19, 2013 at 5:38 pm

    I'm trying to re install lion on my macbook air. I've actually done it once before without a hitch. This time I get to the very end and it says I have 5 minutes left but it keeps getting stuck there. Its been sitting at that point this time around for a day and a half. Can anyone help?

  21. Guillerme

    February 24, 2013 at 4:13 pm

    Any error messages, Julie. Or it just freezes?

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