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If  you own a MacBook Air, except for the new mid-2011 models, and have upgraded to Lion already, you’re probably now wondering what do to do with the restore USB drive that was sold along with it, since you likely won’t want to use Snow Leopard ever again. Instead of throwing a perfectly good USB drive away, why not use it as a standard 8GB USB stick?

MacBook Restore USB

Apple has indeed shipped a standard USB stick with every MacBook Air which came pre-installed with Snow Leopard instead of restore discs, since the Air doesn’t have an optical drive built in. By default, this USB drive allows users to reinstall Mac OS X and nothing else. Thankfully, there’s a way to ‘unlock’ the MacBook Air’s recovery drive and use it just like any other 8GB USB stick.

In order to begin, you’ll need the following:

  1. SM32Xtest (download it from here).
  2. A Windows 7, Vista or XP installation, either native or virtualized using a tool like VMware Fusion, in order to run the tool mentioned above.
  3. The recovery USB drive that came with your MacBook Air (of course).

Once you’ve downloaded all the necessary files, you’re now ready to unlock your restore USB stick and turn it into a regular one. Before beginning this process, make sure you understand that it is irreversible, deleting all of Apple’s recovery tools. Yet, if you’re already using Lion, this shouldn’t matter much to you anyway.

Take the following steps on Windows.

Step 1: Plug in your unchanged restore USB stick.

Step 2: Extract the archive you downloaded above and run sm32Xtest.exe. If everything goes as expected, something similar to the window below should pop up.

SMI

Step 3: Make sure once again that your recovery drive is plugged in and click on Scan USB or press F5 from within the aforementioned tool. Then select the entry correspondent to your drive and click on Start.

Step 4: After a few seconds, your drive should be ready to be formatted. Simply do so from within Windows or from Disk Utility on your Mac.

You’re done! If everything went as expected, you should now have a brand-new clean USB stick: 8 GB of free storage just for yourself. If you’re running Lion however, you can access its recovery features by holding Command-R before your computer starts up, after hearing the boot chime.

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