How To Factory Reset a MacBook Pro

Posted by Jamie on December 7, 2016

If you need to completely wipe everything from your MacBook Pro and return it to factory settings, then this is the guide for you. Whether you’re selling it, loaning or returning it or whatever, you need to wipe all your data and settings from it so you can safely give it to the next user. I’ll show you how to factory reset a MacBook Pro to do just that.

If you are selling your MacBook Pro or giving it to someone, then wiping all your data from the drive is essential. While the person receiving the computer may not care what you installed, downloaded, surfed for or photographed, you don’t want anyone messing with your stuff. Plus, you never know what someone might do so it is essential to protect yourself regardless of who gets your computer.

Why factory reset?

So why should you perform a factory reset of your MacBook Pro before selling it? The reasons seem obvious don’t they? The hard drive will contain your images, browsing history, personal details, iTunes account and all sorts of information. Yet too many people don’t wipe their computers before selling them, so this message obviously isn’t getting through.

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 and a data recovery tool to rebuild that data. Only 10% of those hard drives the company bought had the data securely wiped, meaning it was potentially available to anyone with the right skills.


Factory reset a MacBook Pro

So now you know why it is so important to factory reset your MacBook Pro or any Mac before passing it on or starting again, let’s get to the how. The process is surprisingly simple given how much damage it can do if you do this inadvertently. As part of the reset process, we will de-authorize the Mac in iTunes, remove all your passwords, logins and details and return everything to stock.

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. Use Time Machine is you’re shifting between Mac devices as it is the easiest way to save your stuff.

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

Backups vs. cloning

You could clone the drive if you wish but Time Machine works well enough I think. There are lots of clone software options for Mac users with some being better than others. You have to pay for most of them now and for the odd occasion when I might use it, I don’t consider it worth the money so prefer to use Time Machine instead.

There is one other good reason to use Time Machine over a clone. Cloning a drive means you take any errors, malfunctions, configuration issues or even viruses with you. Restoring files from a backup does not. Reloading a fresh, unblemished copy of an operating system is good practice as it wipes the slate clean and reloads a new, shiny copy of your OS.

Step 2: Sign out of everything

While not strictly necessary, I think it good practice to de-authorize the computer, sign out of apps and make sure all ties are severed with the old machine. This not only makes life easier when you take over your new computer but also ensures those apps that link themselves to particular devices can adopt 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 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 the disk erase process seems to work much faster. FileVault encrypts your hard drive to keep your data safe and while you are erasing the disk anyway, it is a good idea to disable FileVault beforehand.

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

As I said, this isn’t strictly necessary but in my experience it does speed up the wiping sequence. It doesn’t actually matter to the drive formatter what the data is that it is wiping but it is a good habit to get into.

You might also want to de-authorize any other apps that link themselves to hardware. There aren’t many, but Adobe Photoshop, After Effects and other apps spring to mind so it’s a good idea to go through them all before wiping your computer. While you can authorize them on a new machine, it is much faster and easier to install once that license has been freed up.


Step 3: Erase the disk

Once you have saved everything you need to save, it’s time to boot into Utilities. Make sure your MacBook Pro is plugged into the mains and Ethernet before starting any further steps.

  1. Reboot your Mac.
  2. 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 when you’re reading this and what version of MacOS you’re using, the Utilities menu may differ slightly. If the syntax doesn’t match exactly, that’s okay as long as the meaning is the same. You want the option that wipes the disk completely ready for a new operating system.

You now have an expensive but good looking paperweight. So now we have to reload MacOS to get everything working again. As you would expect, Apple have made the process simple.

Step 4: Reinstall MacOS

Once you select Quit Disk Utility in the step above, you should see a window that mentions reinstallation. That’s what we have to do next.

  1. Select Reinstall MacOS or whatever version it says in the window.
  2. Your MacBook Pro will use Ethernet (or Wi-Fi) to connect to the Apple servers and download the latest MacOS version automatically.
  3. Give it time to download and install.

The online download and settings acquisition only works in newer versions of MacOS. If you use Mountain Lion or something older, this won’t work. You will have to use the original installation media and boot from it in order to reload MacOS. It’s a little old school but still works well. If you’re using a new computer like the MacBook Pro, the online download method will work fine. I tend to use Ethernet to download because it is faster but Wi-Fi works too.

The time it takes depends entirely on your internet speed. The MacBook Pro is a pretty fast machine so will process the install pretty quickly. 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. The process itself is pretty robust though. I have performed quite a few of these resets for customers and have yet to have a problem with it.

Step 5: Finishing off

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 doing with your MacBook Pro.

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 skip it and let them set things up when they take possession.

So there is how you factory reset a MacBook Pro. While it may contain quite a few steps, it is actually very simple to do. You can consider step 2 optional but it will make life a whole lot easier if you de-authorize apps first, especially those that are tied to particular hardware such as iTunes and Photoshop. Then, once you get your new computer, you can load everything from Time Machine and install all your favorite apps without issue. It’s one of the many reasons why I love Apple!

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