How to Install OS X El Capitan

The El Capitan installer isn’t Apple’s best. It works well on MacBook Pro Retina. But, older models? Not so much. Don’t trust the status bars. The installation takes a lot longer than it says. If you need to create a RAID volume to install to you’re going to have a bad time. Here’s my install of El Capitan on a 2011 Macbook Pro.

Prep the El Capitan Installer

Before you can install El Capitan, you will need to prep a disk with the El Capitan installer. Unfortunately, Apple still doesn’t provide a UI for this.

  1. Format an 8GB or larger disk (e.g. USB flash) with Mac OS Extended (Journaled) format.
  2. Put a copy of the El Capitan installer in the default location /Applications
  3. Run the following command in the Terminal app.
    $ sudo /Applications/Install\ OS\ X\ El\ Capitan.app/Contents/Resources/createinstallmedia --volume /Volumes/Untitled --applicationpath /Applications/Install\ OS\ X\ El\ Capitan.app --nointeraction

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Boot the El Capitan Installer

Once you have prepped a drive with the El Capitan installer, you are ready to begin the installation.

  1. Eject the USB stick and put it in the system that you want to install.
  2. Power on the system and hold the Option key until you hear the boot loader chime.
  3. Next you select the El Capitan installer from the boot menu.
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  4. Wait for the boot loader to finish.
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Prep the Disk for Installation

Now that the installer is running it starts to get interesting. OS X doesn’t automatically prep the disk in the install wizard like most operating systems. So, the first thing you need to do is prep the boot disk for installation. You do this with Disk Utility.

There’s a bit of good news / bad news about Disk Utility in El Capitan. The good news is that Apple moved Disk Utility to the main menu instead of hiding it in a pull-down menu as they have in the past. The bad news is that Apple reduced the user experience and functionality to something closer to Candy Crush than a valuable system utility. Most alarmingly, Disk Utility no longer supports RAID volumes. According to MacPerformanceGuide, El Capitan’s Disk Utility was “designed by morons.” I don’t disagree. Head over there if you want to read more about it.

  1. Select Disk Utility from the OS X Utilities menu
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  2. Format the installation target with Mac OS Extended (Journaled) format.
  3. If you need to initialize and format a RAID array, you’re going to have a bad time. I suggest you do that in the Yosemite Installer Disk Utilities app, or use the command line. I will post a guide…
  4. Exit disk utility with Command Q.

Install OS X

Now that you have prepped a disk for installation, you can start the OS X installer.

  1. Select Install OS X.
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  2. Agree to the License Agreement
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  3. Agree to the License Agreement again (’cause lawyers be like that.)
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  4. Select the installation target.
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  5. If you are installing OS X on a RAID volume you will get the normal warning that not all features are supported on the volume — Specifically, FileVault and Recovery Volume. Whatever…RAID-haters gonna hate.
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Endure the Never-ending Progress Bars

Once you select the installation target, OS X will begin the installation.

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It all looks great at first, but on Pre-Retina MacBooks, beware…When the installer says there is about one second left, you could actually have to wait another 10-60 minutes before your computer appears to do anything. Apparently this is considered completely normal and acceptable. Again, on a Retina Macbook, this phase just flies by.

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If you want to see what is happening, press Command-L (to view the log) followed by Command-3 (to view debug level log.) You will see that the installer is verifying the install image, assessing your hardware configuration and transferring files for the next phase of the installation.

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Yes, the cake is a lie, or possibly the approach of El Capitan is so massively awesome that your computer is experiencing relativistic effects. Either way, don’t reboot your computer 5 times thinking that it’s stuck. My bad…

You will see another three progress bars and a video mode switch before final configuration steps.

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Final Configuration Steps

From here you will enter the final phase of installation. I won’t give a screen-by screen, because you shouldn’t have any tricky bits from here.

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Finished

Congrats! You have installed OS X El Capitan.

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