Each year, Apple makes improvements to macOS, the operating system (OS) you use on your Mac. The annual Apple Mac update cycle often brings iterative tweaks, but some years have major changes.
Your macOS operating system – or OS X, for older versions of macOS – can be updated each Fall, so long as Apple is still supporting your device. Here we’ll show you how to prepare your Mac for an update, the right way to update MacOS to the latest version of OS X or macOS, and some apps that make the process much smoother.
Knowing how to update the latest Mac system is one thing – preparing your machine is equally important. To prepare your Mac for an upgrade, you’ll want to make sure your files are organized properly, all of your system settings are correct, and that your file system is backed up. It’s also important to know if your Mac is eligible for an update.
Simplify updates with Setapp
Setapp gives you a one-stop collection of apps for safe macOS updates: CleanMyMac X, Disk Drill, and Get Backup Pro.
MacBook 2015 and later; MacBook Pro 2012 and later; MacBook Air 2012 and later; Mac Pro 2013 and later; iMac 2012 and later; iMac Pro 2017 and later. To know which year your Mac is, click on the Apple menu icon. Then select About this Mac among the options shown in the drop down menu.
To see what specs your Mac has, follow these steps:
This will tell you what year your Mac was made, the version of macOS or OS X you’re currently on, the computer’s RAM (Memory), processor, and which graphics card your Mac has. These are important to know, as upgrading to the latest version of macOS – macOS 11 Big Sur – requires the following:
Note: To see how much available storage space you have, follow the two step process above, then “Storage” tab at the top of the window.
When you want to upgrade MacOS, keep in mind the latest version of macOS is only available for these models:
When it’s time to back your Mac up, Apple has an official method dubbed Time Machine. When you use Time Machine, it keeps what’s called an “image” of your Mac, which is what a backup really is. When you backup your Mac, you’re making a compressed version of your entire operating system.
Learn more about time machine backup.
The purpose of creating a backup is most often to have a recent save point you can reboot from. It’s important to do as often as possible.
Here’s how to create a backup of your Mac using Time Machine:
There’s a much better way to backup your Mac, though: Get Backup Pro.
Get Backup Pro makes backing up your Mac simple, and you remain in total control. One issue many have with Time Machine is it often starts backing up during the day, which consumes resources on your Mac, and things you're working on may not save in your backup. Get Backup Pro lets you back your Mac up to any device you like, and you can set the schedule you want for backing your Mac up. You can even choose how many backups you want to keep; Time Machine doesn’t allow such customizations!
Apple recommends you have a minimum of 4GB RAM, or Memory, and 12.5GB available storage when upgrading your Mac. (It’s also wise to have a strong internet connection, as the download can take quite a bit of time!)
Here’s how to check your system to see if your Mac is eligible for an Apple OS update:
Get Backup Pro to keep files safe
Before updating macOS, create a backup with Get Backup Pro. Unlike Time Machine, it lets you backup only essential stuff.
When you think “how do i update my mac operating system?,” you should also be thinking about how to prepare your Mac for the update. Remember that if you need to boot your Mac from a backup, it will load exactly what you have on your Mac at the time of the update. Now is a great time to delete apps, re-organize your files, and make sure your settings are optimized.
There’s just no better app for this than CleanMyMac X. It leaves your Mac running in peak condition, and like Get Backup Pro, it can be set to alert you on a schedule that it’s time to clean up your Mac. All you have to do is open CleanMyMac X on your Mac, select the “Smart Scan” module, and the app scans your system and cleans up unnecessary files, scans for malware, and ensures your settings are set to keep your Mac running as fast as possible by doing things like freeing up RAM and running maintenance scripts.
If you want to really dial your Mac in, CleanMyMac X has a module for uninstalling apps, which also removes their associated files. You can also run the “Maintenance” module to take the Smart Scan feature a step further with a more detailed scrubbing of your Mac.
You may be wondering “how do I upgrade my Mac operating system?” Now that we’ve told you how to backup your Mac and optimize it, here’s how you update your Mac:
That’s all you need to do! Your Mac will tell you if there’s an upgrade available for you. Next time you’re thinking “how do i upgrade my operating system on my Mac?,” remember this two-step process.
You can trigger your Mac to update automatically – but first, a word of caution. Many set their Mac to update automatically so they don’t ask themselves “how do i update mac os?” every few months. It’s typically fine to have your Mac update automatically, but there have been some features that break old apps in newer macOS builds. We would caution you to consider your needs; if you can’t risk apps not working or perhaps files being shifted around, we would advise against automatic updates.
But for most, it’s fine to automatically upgrade your Mac. Here’s how:
Note: for a Mac to automatically update, it must be connected to power.
Keep in mind you have a bit of control here, too. You can choose to have your Mac check for updates automatically, but not download them. This is a smart choice for those who want a bit more control over when their Mac updates, and we prefer this option as it allows you to run CleanMyMac X before a backup with Get Backup Pro. Backing up before an update is always a smart move.
Drivers are what allow your Mac to communicate with peripherals like graphics cards, speakers, or printers. You can’t directly update drivers on a Mac; your best bet is to update your operating system, which has all the necessary drivers.
If you’re using a specific app to communicate with peripherals, like an app for a printer, updating the app itself may install new drivers.
If your Mac simply won’t update, it’s likely a hardware issue. As we noted, you’ll need 4GB RAM and 12.5GB storage to update your Mac. If you don’t have at least that, you will be unable to run the latest version of macOS.
Your Mac may also be too old. Though the system requirements help avoid this, Apple only supports older machines for a certain amount of time; this is often because other specs, like graphics cards, are no longer adequate for newer versions of macOS.
It’s also possible the update was interrupted; this is why we advise you have a strong internet connection before updating your Mac. These are core issues with a Mac which won’t update. If you’re experiencing issues, get hold of Apple for support.
New versions of macOS are exciting for Mac enthusiasts, but don’t rush to download them. Always make sure you’ve cleaned your Mac using CleanMyMac X, and back your machine up with Get Backup Pro. Another great app to download is Disk Drill, which can help you recover files you thought were lost.
All three apps are available for free as part of a seven day trial of Setapp, a robust suite of productivity apps for your Mac. Alongside Disk Drill, GEt Backup Pro, and CleanMyMac X, you’ll get unlimited access to the full Setapp library of nearly 200 excellent Mac apps.
When the trial ends, Setapp is only $9.99 per month to retain unlimited access to the full suite of apps. For families, Setapp’s $19.99 monthly plan allows full access to Setapp on up to four unique Macs. An incredible deal – give Setapp a try today!