Running Mac OS Snow Leopard in VirtualBox on a Mac – not a hackintosh

Hi all,

Well, this has been a long term thing that I’ve wanted to do for a very long time, but have never actually succeeded – until today.

I have finally got Snow Leopard running on my Mac Pro that is running Mavericks in a virtual environment. This time I’m using VirtualBox

I want to do this to try out El Capitan, because when I updated to the last major update to Yosemite, it broke my Aperture installation. So now, I’m going to test it properly this time.

To achieve this, I’m doing it through the OS upgrade path. I’m taking a snapshot or cloning each system as I go, and proceeding to upgrade each new install on the way. This way, for testing purposes, I will have a: Snow Leopard, Mavericks, Yosemite and an El Capitan installation in a virtual environment.

This is not for piracy, but for testing environments to see if software actually runs correctly and doesn’t break!

For example, for the older Final Cut Pro 7 application suite, Motion 4 won’t work in Yosemite or above. So what does one do to be able to open older projects? Well… you can’t open them. So, even though I use Adobe’s Creative Cloud now with After Affects, I still can’t open these older projects. Bummer… So, this is where these virtual machines will come in handy.

So, how do we do it?

Glad you asked.

These are settings I have used to get them working. I’m using VirtualBox (v4.3) and will probably upgrade to v5 soon.

So, the magic things you need to get it running…

  1. Virtual Box (I’m running version 4.3, but I’m sure the latest version will work too)
  2. An official install DVD disk. (I’m got a few as they either came from the computers I bought, or the OS upgrade disks I bought)
  3. You MUST edit the file called: ~/Library/VirtualBox/VirtualBox.xml
  4. Time.

Editing VirtualBox.xml:

Add the following lines at the end of the ExtraData section:

 <ExtraDataItem name="VBoxInternal2/EfiBootArgs" value=" "/>
 <ExtraDataItem name="VBoxInternal2/SmcDeviceKey" value="ourhardworkbythesewordsguardedpleasedontsteal(c)AppleComputerInc"/>

This is what mine looks like:

Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 11.01.59

When you have made the edit, you can continue on getting the install to work.

I have only screen captured the screens that I know are relevant to getting this work.

Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 10.34.27

Name is what ever you want
Type: Mac OS X
Version: Mac OS x 10.6 Snow Leopard (64-bit) (Maybe this will change as the upgrades continue. I don’t know yet.)

Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 10.34.35

Snapshot Folder: What ever what was default
Shared Clipboard: Guest to Host (These may cause issues when first trying to install)
Drag’n’Drop: Host to Guest (These may cause issues when first trying to install)
Removeable Media: checked
Mini toolbar: checked

Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 10.34.43

Base Memory: 2048MBs   (Apparently this amount is important on the initial install)
Boot Order: CD/DVD FIRST then Hard Disk. Once the basic install has been done, swap this order (as shown in the image).
Chipset: ICH9
Pointing Device: USB Tablet. Mouse won’t work
Extended Features: Enable I/O APIC checked
Enable EFI checked
Hardware Clock in UTC: I didn’t worry about this…

Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 10.34.49

Processor: 1
Execution Cap: 100
Extended Features: Enabled PAE/NX checked

Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 10.34.55

Enable VT-x/AMD-V checked
Enable Nested Paging checked

Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 10.35.00

Video Memory: 16mb (Apparently this is important for installation too)
Monitor 1
extended features – not checked both

Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 10.35.08When installing you will obviously need a big virtual drive. I just chose 20G of a VDI type (but it shouldn’t really matter I would think what type).

I’ve also added a SharedDisk.vdi so that the multiple installs can share files with each other. This is not required.

Name: SATA
Type: AHCI
Port Count: 2
User Host I/O Cache unchecked

Controller: SATA
You must have a Hard Drive.vdi
Hard disk: Sata Port 0

Host Drive (DVD)
CD/DVD Drive: SATA Port 1
Passthrough checked

Under Networking once I got to Mavericks, to be able to browse the network, I needed to change the Networking to “Bridged Networking”, otherwise it creates it’s own little VPN kind of thing between the host and the VM.

Anyway, the rest of the settings are whatever. I hope you get it working. Good luck, and hopefully you won’t get any kernel panics like I did initially.

When it does start up, it’ll look a little weird with all oft he text messages showing. This isn’t anything to worry about though.

Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 11.18.45

Above is Mavericks starting up. Below is Yosemite after it’s first boot to the upgrade.

Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 11.44.11

Then when you finally get El Capitan running, it’s entirely black.

Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 22.24.52

Just as a side note, make sure you start with the hard drive above 20G. After going through all of the upgrades from Snow Leopard, Mavericks to Yosemite, when you get to El Capitan there is not enough space in a 20G hard drive. Weird huh. I had to make the drive larger to 30G to continue.

Also, along the way, I upped the RAM and the specific machine type as well once I had them up and running.

Since doing this, I’ve also upgraded to version 5 of VirtualBox.


11 thoughts on “Running Mac OS Snow Leopard in VirtualBox on a Mac – not a hackintosh

Add yours

    1. Hi Toby,

      You should find it in ~/Library/VirtualBox/VirtualBox.xml

      Meaning, it’ll be under /Users/yourusername/Library/VirtualBox/VirtualBox.xml

      The “Library” directory is a hidden path, so you may need to enable your system so you can see all files.


  1. Great guide. This is something I’ve tried to do for a few years now for testing, or for that one old PowerPC application. Freehand in my case. You’ve got me farther than I’ve ever been. Still, installer won’t boot. I get circle with a line through it on Apple logo screen after the cog spins for about a minute. Using retail SL DVD image on Mac Pro 2012 5,1. I also tried a 10.6 Server DVD image. Any ideas? Thanks.

    1. Hi Davy, Have you got the DVD loaded correctly, and do you have the boot order set up correctly as well? I’t been a very long time since I’ve done all this, so it’s hard to remember…

      1. Thanks, Stephen. I have a dmg of my retail DVD and of my server DVD. The actual DVDs are now damaged/misplaced, but I’ve burned DVDs of the images several times over the years, so I know they are not corrupt. Yes, my DVD image is the first boot device. I’ll keep messing with it. Thank you.

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