Certain Apple models, like the MacBook Air, have been delivered with a convenient 8Gb USB stick for a system restore.
Obviously, after upgrading to a newer Mac OS X version, this stick has become kind off useless.
When trying to format the Apple USB Restore stick however, you’ll notice that it’s a Read-Only stick, so how can we format this USB stick for normal use … Or to store the image of your current Mac OS X version on?
Format Apple USB Restore stick
The trick is actually not all that hard, but it took me a while to find a solution that would work on a Chinese website (WeiPhone.com). As you can imagine: My Chinese sucks … so I thought it might be practical for other users to translate it and add some of my own experiences to it.
Note : Technology moves forward, so you might run into the situation that this does not work for the stick you’re looking at. This has been successfully tested with 2 MacBook Air Apple USB Restore sticks. Your milage may vary of course …
Note : The 2 tests I performed where succesfully done under Windows XP running under Parallels Desktop 9. A native Windows PC, BootCamp, VMWare Fusion or VirtualBox running a Windows version will work as well of course.
To “unlock” this type of USB stick you’ll need an application called “SMI Mass Production Tool” which is a Windows Application (!) – I tried to find the original developer without luck, so you can download either from the WeiPhone.com website or directly here.
Download - SMI Mass Production Tool
Download the ZIP file and unzip it.
Removing the “Read Only” debacle
To remove the “read only” limitation of the Apple USB Restore stick, so we can format it and use it for other purposes, follow the following steps.
Step 1 – Run the program
After unzipping the file you will find a program called “sm32Xtest.exe“, double click it to start it.
Step 2 – Insert Apple USB Restore stick
Insert the Apple USB Restore stick in a USB port of your computer. You will now see that one of the “ports” will become populated with information as you can see in the example below.
Here we see that a [almost] 8Gb USB stick has been inserted. I guess they used Toshiba chips for this one (see under “Flash”).
Format Apple USB Restore – USB Stick info
Step 2 – “Fix” the USB stick
Select the “port” that holds your USB stick (2) – if you see more than one, simply remove the Apple USB Restore stick, wait until it disappears from the list, and reinsert it. Now select the newly added “port”, which would be your Apple USB Restore stick.
Now click on the big “Start” (1) button (or press the Space-bar) and formatting of the stick will start.
The progress bar (2) will show some info while processing the USB stick.
Select your Apple USB Restore stick  and click the Start button 
Once completed, you’ll see some indicators that the stick is ready:
Indicators that your Apple USB Restore stick is now Formatted
When you insert the newly formatted stick in your Mac, and you open the “Disk Utility” (under “Applications” “Utilities“), you’ll see that it’s available like any other USB stick:
Disk Utility – Your newly formatted USB stick is ready for use