Helpware: Take your Mac with out, without taking it with you

Harold Glicken, Tribune News Service on

Published in Business News

If you're considering buying a MacBook Pro or a MacBook Air, steer clear of the 128-gb solid-state drives that come with entry-level models. Unless all you want to do is browse the internet and use the Pages word-processing program, 128 gb is too small. You'd have a hard time running Photoshop, much less storing your photo library on that tiny hard drive.

In fact, a Chromebook, for about $200, might serve you better than a $1,300 MacBook Pro with only 128 gb.

But what if you could get a terabyte or two of hard disk space for an extra $100? And what if you could take that portable drive with you, plug it into any Mac and run all your programs – without having to drag along a laptop? I did exactly that, and it wasn't difficult, either.

There are all kinds of ways, detailed in online Mac forums, to boot a Mac via a thumb drive or external USB drive. Many of the ways involve inputting lines of arcane code that start with "sudo." A few months ago, I successfully made a bootable Mac disk from a 32-gb thumb drive. It involved a lot code and many hours of trial and error.

I found a better, simpler way.

My new way makes more sense and takes only a few hours. For most of that time you don't have to be at your computer. You don't have to type "sudo" or any other kind of code, either. All you need are two external USB drives, preferably 3.0 or higher. And, if you want extra speed, get a portable solid-state drive like the one I bought online for $100

Here's how I did it.

I used one of the external drives for a full Time Machine backup. If you get the USB solid-state drive, use it for the boot disk. Then I watched a movie. When the backup was finished, I connected the portable 256-gb solid-state drive to my MacBook Pro and simply restored the Time Machine backup to that drive (watched another movie), and booted up. I held down the option key and chose the other external USB drive as my boot drive. Suddenly I had a much more storage. The external drive boots up a bit slower than the MacBook's internal solid-state drive, but once I reached the desktop, I couldn't tell the difference in speed when I launched Photoshop Elements, for example. And now I had room for hundreds of high-definition photos and movies.

To make things more complicated, I was running Parallels Desktop for the Mac, which allows Windows to be run side-by-side on a Mac. Assured by a Parallels tech that it would still run when I restored the Time Machine backup to the external drive, I plunged ahead. There was a hiccup in that process, but a patient tech fixed it.


Several Apple techs told me, point-blank, that it's not possible to boot a Mac from an external USB drive. I proved them wrong by booting up from a thumb drive a few months back, and now from a portable USB drive.

If you want some extra storage space for your Mac, and you don't want to shell out hundreds of dollars for a larger solid-state drive, my way works. You can do it, too.

Ain't it fun being a geek?

About The Writer

Harold Glicken is a retired newspaper editor. He can be reached at and a collection of his columns can be found at

(c)2017 Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.



blog comments powered by Disqus