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Late 2012 Macs Unable to Re-Install OS X or Restore from Time Machine Backups

Posted in News, OS X on 26/02/2013 by J. Glenn Künzler

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If you’re a proud owner of one of Apple’s late-2012 Macs, including the latest Mac Mini, the new ultra-thin iMacs, and the 13-inch and 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro, you may have a more difficult time than usual re-installing Mountain Lion on your Mac, or restoring from a Time Machine backup.

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A strange issue affecting these Macs renders it impossible to re-download the OS X Mountain Lion installer from the Mac App Store, resulting in an error stating that your Mac is not compatible with Mountain Lion (despite the fact that it shipped with Mountain Lion in the first place). Further, if you happen to have the latest version of the OS X Mountain Lion installer on hand, you won’t be able to use it, as the same error is displayed upon launching the installer.

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The issue doesn’t stop at preventing you from downloading or using the downloaded OS X Mountain Lion installer, however – it also prevents you from re-installing Mountain Lion using the Recovery partition. I was able to work around that specific issue by repairing the boot volume permissions immediately before attempting to reinstall, however.

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Worse still, the issue also prevents users from restoring from a Time Machine backup using the Recovery partition. Any attempt to do so results in a message stating “An error occurred while adding a recovery system to the destination disk.” The message directs users to restart their Macs and try again – but unfortunately, restarting does not make a difference in the slightest. Instead of using the Recovery partition to restore from a Time Machine backup, users must use the Migration Assistant app from within a complete OS X Mountain Lion install.

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Previously, a seemingly related issue prevented users of late 2012 Macs from updating to OS X Mountain Lion 10.8.2. Apple released Supplemental Update 2 to address the issue – but even with that update installed, the issue persists. This issue is also much broader than the 10.8.2 update issue, as it also affects using the Recovery partition and restoring from a backup.

I’ve verified the issue with my own 27-inch iMac, and made calls to several Apple Authorized Resellers (thanks to the staff at Simply Mac, ExperCom, and Weber State University for assisting with this!), all of whom confirmed that the issue is present on all of their display units of the new 2012 iMacs and Mac Minis. I was unable to verify the issue on the 13-inch and 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro – but I have heard reports that the issue ranges to those devices as well.

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It’s unclear just how long this issue has been present – it may well have existed ever since the affected Macs were first launched. Even reinstalling the OS X 10.8.2 Combo Update fails to address the issue, presenting the same “incompatibility” error. We’ve reached out to Apple for comment, but so far have not received a response. Apple has been testing the OS X 10.8.3 update since November of 2012, which will hopefully address this issue.

It’s concerning that Apple hasn’t managed to patch this apparent long-term issue in the meantime however, leaving their customers in a sticky situation after spending their hard-earned cash on new Macs. Disappointing indeed. I guess spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars simply isn’t enough to ensure that you’ll end up with a product that “just works”…

Update: As of the release of OS X 10.8.3, Apple has officially patched this issue.



  • http://twitter.com/carlv8415 Carl Vincent 

    Retina MacBook was failing to boot so made a Mountain Lion USB Boot drive. It wouldn’t let me install from a TimeMachine backup, had to install OS X and then use migration assistance to get my data back. Was strange it would’t let me on install, would just me an error yet i could once installed. I don’t know if this is related to this issue but i always find TimeMachine to be slightly temperamental.

  • http://twitter.com/snookasnoo Idon’t Know

    Thousands?

    • http://MacTrast.com J. Glenn Kunzler

      Yup. iMacs and Retina MacBook Pros aren’t cheap.

  • Kris

    You do know that these computers come with an internet based installer as well as the rescue partition?

    Shut the machine down, press the power button, hold down Cmd + R. All booted from the network; as proof, you are able to delete the rescue driver partition and reinstall clean.

    • http://MacTrast.com J. Glenn Kunzler

      Sure – but the internet-based installer is exactly the same as the Recovery partition. The only difference is that you have to download it before you use it.

      • http://twitter.com/JakezeCake Jake

        What do you do when the internet recovery doesn’t work? Mine starts and downloads 30% then I get an error saying “Can’t download additional components to install mountain lion”. Also tried with 2 different hard drives and USB memories. But for some reason it wont boot the installer.

        • http://MacTrast.com J. Glenn Kunzler

          I’d recommend calling Apple’s support.

          • http://twitter.com/JakezeCake Jake

            Actually got it working. For some reason my “home” internet didn’t work. But bringing the computer to a friends house worked. . . .

    • SLeo

      Command + R is the normal built in recovery on the existing hard drive. If this is missing it will auto fail over to the internet version. To ensure booting to the Internet Recovery, hold Command + Option + R.

      • The7Pfhor

        YES! Is worked for me. Thanks!!!

      • Jill Sipe

        THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Steve C

    I’ve encountered the same problem with the late 2012 27 inch iMac. My disc volume became corrupted after a memory upgrade went wrong. I think the problem relates to the fusion drive. I didn’t try time machine, but I could not reinstall from the app store mountain lion – had to install from the recovery partition. In the end I had to ‘unfuse’ the fusion drive and ‘re-fuse’ it before the iMac could do anything (including re-install from the recovery partition).

    • Steve C

      I should add that Macs with fusion drive require a particular version of Disk Utility & it looks as though the App Store’s Mountain Lion does not have it.

    • http://MacTrast.com J. Glenn Kunzler

      It happens on Macs without Fusion Drive as well – although Fusion Drive may complicate things further.

  • pardonator

    I couldn’t use the recovery partition on a MBPr 15″ it wanted to use a download. With a limited Uk broadband speed this took 8 hours, not fun.

    • Sleo

      That is normal. The recovery system will always download the most up to date version of the system when reinstalling.

  • Ryan

    I have also had this problem. I opened my 15″ Retina from launch to clean it out (I am in Afghanistan right now). When I started it back up, I got the spinning circle (not the pinwheel, the gray one when something is loading) and it never stopped. Genius me powered it off, and I got the “Invalid Node Structure” error. I was able to reinstall, but I had to use Disk Utility to re-partition and install from scratch.

    My thoughts are that it could be related to opening it (unlikely), or a problem with these Mac models not being listed in the “Supported Platform” document in the install package. That is what stops you from installing an original Lion (10.7.0) install version. Since many of these models came out after the launch of Mountain Lion, and you made a USB boot disk, your Macs may not be on the list from launch.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Rickreilly Rick Reilly

    Temp Solution Here:
    I ran into this issue as well. I initially plopped a 10.8.2 image over the operating system a late 2012 iMac shipped with and thought it was borked. It would just give me that grey screen with the lovely circle with a line through it.

    To reinstall ML I did the following:
    1. Make sure the machine has access to the Internet
    2. Reboot holding Command+R
    3. It will look for a local recovery partition, when it fails to locate it it will fetch out the compatible recovery installer from Apple.

    It took roughly 45 minutes over a substandard Comcast connection. Saved me a huge headache though. I can’t say it will work for all fusion drive models but I would try this method out.

  • http://twitter.com/pmccann Paul McCann

    I’ve had one such iMac refuse to take an image (using asr to install it). Half a dozen others of the same vintage are perfectly fine. The application of the image to the machine over thunderbolt was without incident, but symptoms include an endless display of the “ticking circle” on bootup and “Cannot bless system disk” errors when trying to fix the drive from another machine . Disk Utility reports that the checksums on the disk are incorrect (and it cannot fix things). The kicker is that I can’t use a network restore as our work wireless requires a username and password, and there’s seemingly no way to enter those details, just a password. If you try to alter the network *after* the initial request it requires a system username/password pair “in group (null)”, but of course so such group exists.

    Anyone familiar with this scenario? Advice?

  • SLeo

    Expected behaviour. 2012 machines come with a different build of OS X and there for the the generic copy from the App Store is not compatible. Use the built in Recovery or Internet recovery to reinstall.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kjellerikp Kjell Erik Pedersen

    Does anybody know if this has been fixed in ML 10.8.3?

    • http://MacTrast.com J. Glenn Kunzler

      Yes. It has been resolved.

  • http://edmundojr.com/ Edmundo Junior

    If I try to install with a USB install disk with 10.8.3 it will work? With 10.8 don’t work, the installation stops after 5 minutes and no erros are show.

    • http://MacTrast.com J. Glenn Kunzler

      I’ve personally done it successfully. So yes, it should work for you.

      • http://edmundojr.com/ Edmundo Junior

        I tried and don’t work, I’m trying with the CMD + R option form internet. Let’s see if does work.

        • http://edmundojr.com/ Edmundo Junior

          The problem was with one of the memories, I run que AHT and the error show up. After remove the failed memory, the installation works. Thanks!

  • Dave

    My imac 2012 , i erased the macintosh hd partition (data memory) , then attempted to install os x lion 10.8 and i get a message stating “could not find installation information for this machine. Contact applecare.”… What do i do? Please help

J. Glenn Künzler

Author

J. Glenn Künzler

Glenn is Managing Editor at MacTrast, and has been using a Mac since he bought his first MacBook Pro in 2006. Now he's up to his neck in Apple, and owns an old iBook, a 2012 iMac with an extra Thunderbolt display for good measure, a 4th-generation iPad, an iPad mini, 2 iPhones, and a Mac Mini that lives at the neighbor's house. He lives in a small town in Utah, enjoys bacon more than you can possibly imagine, and is severely addicted to pie.