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Creating a dual boot environment is an ideal solution for Mac users who want to install and try macOS Sierra, but without disrupting their primary stable Mac OS X El Capitan installation. This one tutorial goes through the entire setup process up such an environment, including partitioning a disk and installing macOS Sierra 10.12 beta on that partition to enable dual boot.
The process of creating a dual boot Mac OS environment is not particularly difficult, but it involves risks and installation steps that can result in catastrophic data loss, so this is generally intended for advanced users and is not suitable for beginners. Pre-completing a full system backupup is essential.
While we’re focusing on installing macOS Sierra on a partition for dual boot purposes, you can also install macOS Sierra on an external hard drive, USB drive, or even SD card and have the same dual boot situation between the macOS Sierra beta and the OS X El Capitan stable release, although performance is usually not that good when an operating system is running on an external volume.
Requirements for Dual Booting MacOS Sierra Beta & OS X EL Capitan:
- Back up the Mac before you start, you can learn how to set up Time Machine backs upup if you have not already done so
- Make sure the Mac supports macOS Sierra, check this macOS Sierra compatibility list to make sure the Mac can run 10.12
- The macOS Sierra installer app downloaded from Apple, or as a bootable Sierra installer
- Enough hard drive space on the Mac to create a new partition to run macOS Sierra from (assume 20 GB or more for the Sierra partition and allow at least 10 GB of storage on the primary Mac as well OS X installation)
- If it’s a Mac laptop, connect to a power source before starting
Make sure to back upup has made up your Mac before starting this process. You are going to partition a hard drive and then install beta system software. If you do not back up properlyup your Mac and your data, it can lead to permanent data loss. Don’t back upup about.
How to Create a macOS Sierra partition
You need to partition the Mac hard drive to add a new partition where you can install Mac OS Sierra. This allows macOS Sierra to run in a standalone installation without affecting your primary stable OS X EL Capitan installation, allowing for dual booting. Here is how to add a partition:
- Open Disk Utility, the app can be found in / Applications / Utilities /
- Choose your hard drive from the menu list on the left
- Click on the “Partition” button and then click on it [+] plus button to create a new partition
- Name the new partition something very obvious, such as ‘Sierra’, then allocate a reasonable amount of space to the partition (minimum 20GB is a good idea for basic testing)
- Choose “Apply” to finish and create the new partition on the disk
Exit Disk Utility when done, you are now ready to install macOS Sierra on the new partition.
How to Install macOS Sierra on the new partition
Assuming you supported up, partitioned the Mac and downloaded macOS Sierra, you can now safely install macOS Sierra 10.12 on the separate partition, allowing you to keep your existing OS X installation without ruining it up with the new beta system software.
- Launch the macOS Sierra Installer from the / Applications / folder on the Mac, it is currently labeled as “Install 10.12 Developer Preview.app”
- Go through the installer as usual, when you get to the disk selection screen, choose “Show all disks” and choose “Sierra” from the list, then click “Install” to install macOS Sierra on that partition
- Let the installation proceed, the Mac will reboot to complete the task, and when it is done, the computer will automatically boot into macOS Sierra when the installation is complete
Now you are in macOS Sierra and run from the separate partition, this will give you access to files on your Mac but keep the other stable operating system, in this case OS X El Capita. For what it’s worth, this would also work the same with OS X Yosemite and Mavericks if you want to double boot Sierra with those releases too.
Dual boot and switch between macOS Sierra 10.12 and OS X El Capitan
You can now easily double boot between macOS Sierra and the other stable Mac OS X release. This is quite simple, if you want to switch between the operating systems you just need to:
- Restart the Mac from the Apple menu as usual
- When you hear the startup chime, press and hold the OPTION key
- Select the drive and operating system you want to boot and use from, be it MacOS Sierra or OS X El Capitan
It’s that simple, you can easily reboot and switch between the operating systems running on the same Mac.
Delete the macOS Sierra Beta partition
If you ever want to delete one of the operating systems or delete the macOS Sierra beta partition, go back to Disk Utility and delete the partition you want to delete. Keep in mind that if you delete a partition, you will not only lose the operating system on that partition, but also all data and files on that partition. Always back upup and be smart.
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