I Can’t Reinstall Snow Leopard After Installing Lion [Ask MacRx]



Now here’s a bizarre headscratcher. A reader’s Mac Pro was upgraded from Snow Leopard to Lion, then refused to subsequently boot off the Snow Leopard DVD to reinstall the older OS on another drive. Despite many different attempts, for this one Mac it appears perhaps you can’t go home again…

I use Bryce occasionally to produce art for friend’s projects. I just discovered it crashes under Lion. DAZ, the manufacturer acknowledges the problem but has no date when the fix will be made. Thinking I could install Snow Leopard and run Bryce under it, I set up a partition on an external drive and attempted to install SL. Lion was having none of it. I also attempted to boot from the SL install disk. It was also rejected out of hand.

Thanks for any help you can provide,

Hi Mike,

Do you have the system specific version of your Snow Leopard install disc, or a retail installer? One that came bundled with a different model Mac may not work on your system.

How did you try to boot off the Snow Leopard install disc? A few ways to try: hold down the “C” key at startup; hold down the Option key at startup and select the DVD from the boot menu; or insert the DVD while booted in Lion, and choose it from the Startup Disk Preference Pane.

I have the retail version. I’ve tried:

Insert disk, click Install Mac OS X. I get a balloon reading:

You can’t use this version of the application Install Mac OS X with this version of Mac OS X. You have Install Mac OS X 23.1.

Tried booting and holding the “C” key down. The system read the disk and then ejected it and booted with Lion.

Tried selecting the SL disk as the startup disk. Rebooted, system read disk, ejected, and booted with Lion.

Tried reboot and holding down Option Key. Disk ejected when icons for HD and Recovery HD appeared. Reinserted SL disk, ejected second time.

Total bummer. Let me know if you’ve got any other ideas.

Hmmm, I can’t reproduce this behavior. I just booted my MacBook Pro running Lion from the Snow Leopard install DVD.

Was your system previously running Snow Leopard? The behavior you describe would happen if you’re trying to boot from a system disc older than what your machine supports. You might try a different SL install DVD, they came in v10.6 and v10.6.3 releases.

My system is an Early 2008 Mac Pro. I believe it came with Leopard. I update to Snow Leopard when it was released. My version is 10.6.

I’m on Maui and the level of technology understanding here is almost nonexistent. I’ll check around to see if anyone has 10.6.3 but I’m pretty sure I’m screwed.

One more thought, since it’s a Mac Pro and you can easily get at the drives: shut down and pull the hard drive containing the Lion installation. Then try booting off the SL DVD and see if it cooperates.

Maui would have other advantages, I’d imagine…

Very interesting. I pulled all the drives and rebooted. The SL disk was ejected right after the chime. I suspect the Lion install made a change to the firmware.

There are indeed offsets to the lack of technology expertise here on Maui. Thanks again for all your help.

• • •

Readers, have any additional suggestions on this topic, or corrections/clarifications on the advice above? If so, please leave your thoughts in the comments.

  • John M Holmes Jr

    Did anyone stop to think that the snow leopard DVD might be damaged?  Does it boot in another Mac?

  • Liam Patterson

    Possibly reset the NVRAM or PRAM and SMC, maybe Lion has some loaded kexts in the RAM

  • Chan Kin Hou

    Not sure if this would help but have you tried resetting the SMC and PRAM?

  • Adam Rosen

    Yes I had suggested he try another install disc, that was on the To Do list.  

  • Anca

    I had the exact same problem; I was getting the same message as you do and as of yet have not been able to reinstall. I use a uni/late 09 MacBook for grad school and use my printer to scan a lot of stuff every week. After installing Lion, I couldn’t scan a thing (don’t know if/when that will be fixed seeing it hasn’t yet) I tried to reinstall SL.  No go.  I gave up and went and bought another printer.
    (Weird thing about this was my Air had no issues whatsoever scanning..still can’t figure it out.)

  • Solowalker

    This is what can happen when the system is newer than the OS version he’s trying to boot from, most commonly due to necessary graphics drivers not being included in that OS version. With system specific discs, it would boot but would display a message When attempting to install that it can’t be installed on that system. Other times it can boot but not work so well.

    So another question would be if he is positive he had Leopard on there once if he upgraded his graphics card since then. If he did and still has the old one, put the old one back in and try booting from the disc again.

  • dcj001

    I would recommend pulling the hard drive from the Mac Pro and giving it with the 10.6 disc to someone who can do the installation. If he’d like to mail them to me with $5.00 for return shipping, i can get the job done for him.

  • Peter Parker

    I’ve just been imaging my 10.6 image on brand new iMacs. The Lion install should not impact OS version compatibility.
    Either the SL media is damaged, or it is not compatible with the hardware. My iMacs here will not boot off any of the retail DVDs as the newest is 10.6.3, but boot fine from drives with 10.6.7 or later.

  • J Burger

    Could  the Snow Leopard disk be an upgrade disk, looking for a Leopard to upgrade and not finding one rejects the upgraded.
    If so, you might have to reinstall the Leopard, then Snow Leopard

  • Darleep Si

    you backup your data and format hardidk

  • digitfox

    Great tutorial Author. I was looking for the same from some days. Thanks a lot.

  • 02 wikked

    Agreed! I have Lion installed on my Mac Pro, and to verify, I just booted from a Snow Leopard install disk.

  • Lou Faolla

    I have a mac mini with a similar problem.

    make sure you don’t have the firmware pw set. that will prevent the boot up off of a install dvd or FW HD.

    if the mac is on, you can install off the dvd, that somehow works because the reboot cycle is controlled by the mac, but you can’t put in the dvd and boot off it. 

  • Richard

    Heres a Trick worth trying.
    1) Insert your OSX CD. 2) Attach your external drive or create your partition for 10.6. 3) Launch Terminal and execute the commands below:cd “/Volumes/Mac OS X Install DVD/System/Installation/Packages”
    then type:
    open OSInstall.mpkgInstall to the Mac partition you want, customize as desired, then select continueI’ve done this for installing 10.5 on a G5 iMac with a bad Combo drive. Good Luck.

  • jrteweehi

    Basically I think its very hard to go back on lion. One way that can work is to have another mac (that is running snow leopard) start the mac you want the installation on in target disk mode with the firewire connected to the SLeopard Mac. Put the install disk in the Sleopard Mac, go through the instructions but install SL on the Lion mac when asked on what disk to install it (Erase & partition the disk beforehand via diskutil). Download the combo to update Sleopard to the latest version, install this as well, similar to installing the OS from disk. Once this is completed power down Sleopard mac, reboot with option keydown choose the Sleopard install on the target disk (former lion disk). Check its all sweet, power down. Powerdown the (once lion mac) Start up Sleopard running :)

  • Johnson Haas

    Exact same thing is happening now on my iMac… it was running SLeopard and then I did a disk wipe and clean installation of Lion, which won’t work with my applications so I wiped the HD again to re-install SLeopard cleanly.

    But now my iMac will not recognize the SLeopard DVD. When I restart the iMac holding down Option/Alt to pic my startup disk, and I pick the SLeopard DVD icon, but then the machine goes into the gray screen with the Apple logo and just sits there indefinitely.
    This particular SLeopard DVD works. I’ve used it to install onto another mac AFTER this problem arose on my iMac. The DVD works. Confirmed.
    Just to test, I also created a startup disk on USB drive. My iMac won’t install from that one, either.
    So now my iMac is a brick.