Install Failed – OS X could not be installed on your computer. The OS X upgrade couldn’t be started because the disk Macintosh HD is damaged and can’t be repaird. SOLVED

Mavericks upgrade failureLet me start by saying DON’T replace your hard drive until you read this.  Here is my story:

Just another routine upgrade on a customer’s computer; or so it seemed.  I have upgraded many Mac computers.  It is usually one of the most mundane tasks. I noticed the customer had a stalled Mavericks upgrade download that would not unpause.  I rebooted, and was able to resume the download.  When the install started, it asked for Admin password.  There was no password, so I just clicked OK, which worked for all other installs.  The password box continued to pop up, so I went to user and groups in preferences and created a temporary password; the Mavericks upgrade accepted the new password and continued, prompting for restart.  It was all downhill from there.

After rebooting, the install resumed and within a few seconds, got the “Install Failed”.  I followed the recommendation and ran disk utility from the current Mountain Lion recovery partition.  Verification immediately reported errors and recommended repairing.  Unfortunately repair didn’t work and stated it couldn’t be repaired.

If you don’t feel like reading the whole story, here’s the short version:

  1. Boot in recovery mode and install Original OS to External Drive.
  2. Tell the install to transfer data from other drive which will copy from “bad” internal drive.
  3. Use disk utility to delete partition on internal drive.
  4. Used Super Duper to clone external drive to internal drive.

I found it hard to believe that the drive suddenly had unrepairable errors given the computer was running flawlessly on Mountain Lion immediately before the restart.  I was convinced Mavericks had hosed the file system.  Searching the web, the advice was to replace the hard drive – that it was bad, blah blah blah.  I didn’t accept that as true  and was determined to get the data off the drive, and prove the disk was fine by erasing the partition and installing back on the same drive.

My theory was correct.  I connected an external hard drive to the iMac and used the recovery partition to download and install Mountain Lion to it.  When the installation was successful and offered to transfer data, I chose “from disk”.  And what do you know?  I was able to migrate the data and settings from the Macintosh HD.  Interesting, considering the disk was supposed to be bad and unrepairable.

After successfully transferring all the customer data and successfully booting, I launched disk utility and erased the Macintosh HD.  I downloaded the free Super Duper Mac cloning software on the external drive and cloned back to the internal.  I can’t say enough about this piece of free software.  It just works!  Once this tasks was completed, I simply removed the external drive and booted normally.  Just for confirmation, I verified the disk and it checked out OK.

Suspecting, that the first (interrupted and then resumed) download of Mavericks was corrupt, I deleted it and downloaded a fresh Mavericks package.  After downloading Mavericks again, it updated perfectly.  My conclusion:  Don’t listen to people telling you need a new hard drive if your Mavericks (or future upgrades) fail and report hard drive problems. The chances of going from a perfectly running system to a hard drive crash after reboot is very slight.   Follow the above steps and you will probably be up and running in no time.


10 thoughts on “Install Failed – OS X could not be installed on your computer. The OS X upgrade couldn’t be started because the disk Macintosh HD is damaged and can’t be repaird. SOLVED

  1. Hi there! I just tried to upgrade my sisters computer with the free OS X upgrade and got the exact same error. I immediately googled this error and came across your article but I’m afraid I am technologically challenged and not quite sure I can pull this fix off. Is there anyway you can provide a little more detail for us folks who are not familiar with all the tech jargon? There are important files on her computer and I’d like to make sure I can recover them. Appreciate any help you can offer.

  2. thanks – useful article – I have the exact same problem, but not sure I can manage the ‘recovery partition’ with my limited experience. a friend has the exact same Macbook; do you think I could use a fire wire and use reboot (comm T) to access my files from his macbook?

  3. Here’s an option to use when you just have the Install disk and an external drive.

    Fixing the MacBookPro after failed Mavericks install (HD damaged and can’t be repaired). I decided to post this because I spent a day exploring several options in the knowledge base and I had to develop my own procedure to fix the problem. Summary of the problem:

    Attempting to install Mavericks from OSX 10.6.8 on a MacbookPro resulted in the following message: “The OS X upgrade couldn’t be started because the disk Macintosh HD is damaged and can’t be repaired…”
    – Restarting computer only causes OS X installer to run again with the same message
    – No backup available and restore partition not available for OS X 10.6.8
    – Disk utility from the OS X installer doesn’t allow repair of the damaged disk (greyed out)

    The solution. Try these options in the following order (option 2 worked for me).

    Option 1: Boot from your Snow Leopard install disc and run disk utility. Try verifying and repairing the start-up disk there. The repair option should not be greyed out. If it works, then restart and see if that fixes your problem (this option did not work for me after several attempts at running repair). Since the disk cannot be verified, any attempt to create an image (.dmg) will fail with an input/output error.

    Option 2: This one worked, but took a few hours. Install OS X on an external drive, transfer information from the “damaged” disk, then install OS X back on the internal drive, and transfer the information back.

    1. Boot from Snow Leopard install disc (insert disc, restart and press “c”. If that doesn’t work, restart and press “option” and select the install DVD)
    Connect external disk and reformat it using disk utility
    – Click utilities -> disk utility
    – Select the external drive (do NOT select your internal drive, otherwise you will lose all of your data)
    – Click Partition
    – Select “1 partition”
    – Options: GUID Partition table
    – Format as “Mac OS Extended (journaled)
    – Apply
    – Quit

    2. Run the OS X installer and select your newly formatted external drive as the target
    When the install is complete, you will get an option to transfer information from another volume.
    – Select the internal volume (this is the “damaged” disk) and select all items
    – Transfer process will run for an hour or two and hopefully all of your settings, applications, users, and documents will transfer without problems
    – Complete the registration process and eject the install dvd
    – Run SW update to bring OS X to 10.6.8 (repeat SW update until all the SW is updated). Your external drive should now be a clone of your internal drive. Play around to see if there’s anything missing.

    Now you will reverse the process to put everything back on to your internal drive

    1. Boot from install DVD, start disk utility, and verify the external disk that you just created (all should be ok)
    2. Perform a clean install of Snow Leopard
    – When erasing the Macintosh HD disk, format it as “Mac OS Extended (Journaled)”. I noticed that the original format was not journaled, which may have contributed to the problem in the first place.
    – Stop at Part Three Step 4 (instead, when the migration screen appears, select transfer info from another volume)
    – Select the external volume that you just created
    – Transfer process will now move all of the information back onto your internal drive
    – Run software update to bring your internal drive back up to 10.6.8. Keep repeating until no more software to update (2 or 3 times)
    – Ensure that everything is working ok before proceeding to next step

    Optional: Configure your external drive for Time Machine backups
    – Erase the drive using disk utility
    – After the erase, the system will automatically ask you whether you want to use the external drive for Time Machine backups. Respond to the prompts, or start Time Machine and manually configure it

    Summary: There is something wrong with the Mavericks OS X installer when trying to upgrade from OS X 10.6.8 on an “older” MacbookPro. It seems to corrupt the internal start-up disk in such a way that disk utility can’t verify or repair it. The data on the disk appears to be OK since a fresh install of OS X on an external drive and using the installer to transfer information from the “damaged” disk to the external drive appears to work without a problem.

    • Yes Kathy, You will just have to enter recovery mode and download wirelessly directly from Apple. Unless you have a friend that has an install on a memory stick. Hold Command + R on your keyboard while turning on your Mac and release when you see the Apple logo. Should get you where you need to be.

    • Depends on the year of your Mac. Some have the wireless connection builtin to the firmware which will let you login to recovery mode download it again.

  4. To mwearl,
    Thanks for this great suggestion. I had the same problem as you described, and your solution worked great. I was just getting ready to erase and start over. Thanks for helping others

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