How To Factory Reset a MacBook Pro

Posted by Jamie on July 23, 2018

Is it time to completely wipe your MacBook Pro and return it to factory settings? Whether you are selling it online, loaning it out to a friend, or returning it to the store, it’s critically important for you to wipe all your data and settings from it so that you can safely give it to the next user. Your computer crammed with personal information ranging from selfies to credit card information, to say nothing of your browser history. The next person to use your MacBook Pro may not care about your information, but pirates are everywhere and you never know what someone might do with your personal data. This article will show you how to factory reset your MacBook Pro so that your privacy will be protected.

Why perform a factory reset?

The hard drive on your MacBook Pro contains your personal images, browsing history, work files, iTunes account and all sorts of other information. Yet far too many people don’t wipe their computers before selling them – a survey by the Blancco Technology Group showed that 78% of hard drives they bought on eBay had personal or company data still accessible on them. Of those drives, 67% had easily accessible data while the rest required a little work with a data recovery tool to get at the information. Only 10% of the hard drives the company bought had the data securely wiped. The other 90% of sellers were running at least some risk that their data would be stolen.

You may also need or want to do a factory reset if you have been using your MacBook Pro for a long time or have encountered a problem with a software configuration that you just can’t clear up any other way.


Steps to follow to reset your MacBook Pro

Now that you know why it is so important to factory reset your MacBook Pro (or any computer, for that matter) before passing it on, let’s get to the how. The process is surprisingly simple, and we’ll take it step by step.

Step 1: Back everything up

Before you wipe your MacBook Pro, you will need to back up everything you want to take with you to your next Mac or reload onto this one when you’re finished. The easiest and simplest way to do this is to use Time Machine, the backup application built into macOS.

  1. Navigate to System Preferences and Time Machine.
  2. Select Backup Disk and use an external drive or USB drive.
  3. Follow the wizard to format the target drive and copy all selected files across.

Backups vs. cloning

Another option for copying your files is to clone the hard drive using one of the commercially available software packages. There are a number of products available, and some are better than others, but most of them cost money to use, whereas Time Machine is free and works fine. There is one compelling reason to use Time Machine versus a cloning program: cloning a drive means you take any errors, malfunctions, configuration issues or viruses with you to the copied drive, whereas if you use Time Machine and restore the files from a backup, that won’t be an issue. With Time Machine you’ll be reloading a fresh, unblemished copy of an operating system.

Step 2: Sign out of everything

It’s not strictly necessary to sign out of your apps, but you may want to do so from an abundance of caution. This makes life easier when you start working with a new computer and also ensures those apps that link themselves to particular devices can link to your new computer quickly and without fuss.

De-authorize iTunes

iTunes authorizes your particular device to stream or play media so de-authorizing frees it up for your next computer.

  1. Open iTunes.
  2. Select Store and then Deauthorize This Computer.
  3. Enter your Apple ID and password and click De-authorise.

Disable iCloud

Disabling iCloud is also a good practice as it removes some of your personal data before erasing the disk.

  1. Select System Preferences and open iCloud.
  2. Select Sign Out Now.
  3. Select Delete from Mac for all popup windows.

Disable FileVault

Turning off FileVault is useful as it makes the disk erase process work much faster.

  1. Select System Preferences, Security & Privacy and then FileVault.
  2. Turn off FileVault.
  3. Enter your password and confirm.

Disabling FileVault isn’t strictly necessary but in my experience it does speed up the wiping sequence.

De-authorize other apps

You should also de-authorize any other apps that link themselves to hardware. Adobe Photoshop, After Effects, and a few other apps are linked to particular hardware installations, and by removing those links from your MacBook Pro now, you will make it simpler to re-install them on a new machine.


Step 3: Erase the disk

Once you have saved everything you need to save, signed out of your applications, and de-authorized linked applications, it’s time to reboot your Mac and erase the drive. Make sure that your MacBook Pro is plugged in to a wall outlet and has Internet access via Ethernet or wi-fi before continuing with the erasure process. If your version of macOS is Mountain Lion or older, then you will need your original installation media.

  1. Reboot your Mac.
  2. During the boot sequence, hold down Command + R until you see the Apple logo.
  3. Select Disk Utility when the menu appears.
  4. Select Continue and then Startup Disk.
  5. Select Erase from the top menu and Mac OS Extended from the popup menu that appears.
  6. Select Erase.
  7. Select Quit Disk Utility once complete.

Depending on the version of macOS you’re using, the wording of the Utilities menu selections may differ slightly. That’s all right; just make sure that you’re selecting the option that wipes the disk completely.

Once the erasure process takes place, you will have an expensive but attractive paperweight, and you’ll have to reload macOS to get everything working again. As you would expect, Apple has made the process simple. The steps to take will vary depending on whether you have Mountain Lion or earlier, or a more modern version of macOS.

Step 4: Reinstall MacOS (Modern macOS)

Once you select Quit Disk Utility in the step above, you should see a window that mentions re installation.

  1. Select Reinstall MacOS (or the equivalent language).
  2. Your MacBook Pro will use Ethernet (or Wi-Fi) to connect to the Apple servers and download the latest macOS version automatically.
  3. Wait for it to download and install.

The download time will depend on your Internet connectivity speed. As the download is a couple of gigabytes in size, depending on your ISP, time of day, time of year and whatever else, this could take as little as 20 minutes or as long as a couple of hours.

Step 4: Reinstall MacOS (Mountain Lion or older version of macOS)

For Mountain Lion or previous versions of macOS, you will need to use the original installation media in order to reload macOS. It’s a little old school but still works well.

  1. Select Reinstall MacOS (or the equivalent language).
  2. Your MacBook Pro will prompt you for the installation media; insert it.
  3. Wait for it to install.

The MacBook Pro is a pretty fast machine so the installation process will run quickly. The process itself is robust though, and you shouldn’t run into any difficulties once the install begins.

Step 5: Finishing up

Once macOS has finished downloading and installing, it should present you with the setup assistant. What you do from here depends on what you’re intending to do with the machine.

If you are keeping it and starting again, follow the setup assistant through the process to localize your computer. You can then download all your apps and files as you see fit and begin using your computer once more.

If you are selling it or giving it away, hold down Command + Q to skip the setup assistant. The new owner will want to set up the MacBook Pro according to their own needs so there’s no need to run through this process; just skip it and let them set things up when they take possession.

That’s all it takes to factory reset your MacBook Pro! It’s a simple process and shouldn’t give you any problems. Remember that de-authorizing your apps, while optional, will make your life easier in the future when you want to reinstall those applications on a different computer. A minute invested now can save you a bit of a headache later trying to get authorization for a reinstall.

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