What Macs can upgrade to Big Sur?

Apple’s latest desktop operating system, macOS Big Sur, was released on November 12, 2020. This major update brings a redesigned user interface, new built-in apps, improved performance, and many other new features to compatible Macs. With macOS Big Sur now available, many Mac users are wondering if their devices can run the latest operating system.

Macs That Can Upgrade to Big Sur

In general, the following Mac models can upgrade to macOS Big Sur:

  • MacBook: Early 2015 or newer
  • MacBook Air: Mid 2013 or newer
  • MacBook Pro: Mid 2013 or newer
  • Mac mini: Late 2014 or newer
  • iMac: Late 2013 or newer
  • iMac Pro: 2017 and later
  • Mac Pro: Late 2013 or newer

So if you have a MacBook Air from 2014 or an iMac from 2015 for example, you should be able to upgrade to Big Sur without issue. To check if your specific Mac model and year is supported, you can use Apple’s compatibility tool.

How to Check Mac Compatibility

Apple provides a simple tool to check which Macs are compatible with macOS Big Sur. Here are the steps to check compatibility:

  1. Go to Apple’s macOS Big Sur page.
  2. Scroll down and click on “See if your Mac can run macOS Big Sur”.
  3. This will open Apple’s compatibility tool.
  4. Enter your Mac’s serial number or select your Mac model from the dropdown menu.
  5. The tool will let you know if your Mac can run Big Sur.

Using this tool, you can easily find out if your specific Mac qualifies for the macOS 11 upgrade. If your Mac is not supported, the tool also provides details on what it lacks for compatibility.

Why Some Older Macs Are Not Supported

In general, Macs from 2013 and later can run Big Sur, while older models cannot. There are a few key reasons why some older Macs do not support the latest macOS version:

  • Processor: Big Sur requires an Intel Core i5 or higher processor. Older Macs with Core 2 Duo or similar cannot meet this minimum requirement.
  • RAM: A minimum of 4GB RAM is required. Macs with only 2GB or 3GB RAM will not be able to run Big Sur.
  • Storage: At least 12.5GB of available storage space is needed. The operating system itself takes up around 12GB.
  • Graphics: Modern graphics capabilities and drivers are required for Big Sur. Very old Macs have outdated graphics that are not supported.
  • Firmware: The firmware on many pre-2013 Macs is outdated and incompatible with Big Sur features.

If your Mac is from 2012 or earlier, it likely lacks one or more of these minimum requirements. This makes those models incompatible with the macOS 11 operating system release.

Benefits of Upgrading to Big Sur

Upgrading to macOS Big Sur provides Mac users with a wide range of benefits and improvements, including:

  • A redesigned user interface with a more modern and consistent look.
  • Refreshed default apps like Safari, Messages, and Maps.
  • The ability to run iPhone and iPad apps directly on the Mac with Apple Silicon devices.
  • Faster performance, thanks to optimizations for Apple Silicon.
  • Enhanced privacy protections and more transparency around data access.
  • Better organizing tools like pinned messages and search improvements in Mail.
  • Updates to security, with faster and more effective firewall protection.

Overall, macOS Big Sur provides a major visual refresh for Macs while also improving performance, privacy, and general usability. Upgrading lets Mac users enjoy the latest features and improvements from Apple.

Key New Features and Apps in Big Sur

Some of the most notable new features and default apps in macOS Big Sur include:

  • Control Center – New menu for quick access to system controls like brightness and volume.
  • Widgets – Customizable widgets for data at a glance on the home screen.
  • Safari – Faster browser with new privacy features and a streamlined tab design.
  • Messages – Pinned conversations, mentions, and improved search in the messaging app.
  • Maps – Redesigned maps app with Look Around, indoor maps, and collections for saving places.
  • Notes – Mentioning support, pinned notes, and document scanner in the Notes app.

These new apps and features bring helpful enhancements that Mac users will find useful and engaging.

How to Upgrade to macOS Big Sur

Upgrading to Big Sur is straightforward for compatible Macs. Here is the process:

  1. Backup your Mac – Using Time Machine or another backup method, create a full system backup first.
  2. Check your storage – Make sure you have at least 12GB of available storage space.
  3. Update to the latest macOS version – If on an older OS, update to the latest version first.
  4. Download the Big Sur installer – Get it from System Preferences > Software Update.
  5. Run the installer – Double click to begin installation, then follow the prompts.
  6. Allow time to complete – Restarts and progress bars will display during the upgrade.

The entire install process may take anywhere from 30 minutes to over an hour, depending on your Mac’s specs. It’s best to run the upgrade when you don’t need to use your Mac for a while. After installation, your Mac will reboot into macOS Big Sur ready to use.

Tips for a Smooth Upgrade

Following some best practices can help ensure your upgrade to Big Sur goes smoothly:

  • Close all open apps and documents before upgrading.
  • Disconnect external devices and drives not needed for the install.
  • Plug into AC power throughout the install process.
  • Don’t interrupt progress bars or restart screens during upgrading.
  • Use wired ethernet if possible for a more reliable connection.
  • Wait at least a day after release before upgrading in case bugs are found.

Taking steps like these reduces the small risk of issues occurring during the upgrade process.

Does Big Sur Run Well on Older Macs?

For supported older Macs, macOS Big Sur generally runs smoothly. The operating system is optimized to perform well on a wide range of Macs from 2013 and later. Areas where you may notice diminished performance on older Macs include:

  • Slower launch times for apps and large files.
  • Occasional graphics lag or stuttering during animations.
  • Longer processing times when running intensive programs.
  • Lower frame rates in high resolution video editing.
  • Reduced battery life compared to newer Macs.

But for day-to-day use – web browsing, office work, streaming media – Big Sur maintains very capable performance. The UI animations and design may even feel slightly faster than Catalina on some older devices thanks to optimizations. Overall Big Sur is still perfectly usable on older supported Macs even if some operations take a bit longer than on newer machines.

Tips to Speed Up Big Sur on Older Macs

There are a few tips to help squeeze a bit more speed out of Big Sur on older Macs:

  • Close unused apps and browser tabs to maximize available RAM.
  • Disable transparency effects and animated UI to reduce graphics load.
  • Avoid extremely processor-intensive programs when possible.
  • Use an SSD drive if you currently have a mechanical hard disk.
  • Upgrade RAM if currently limited to 4GB configurations.
  • Adjust Energy Saver settings for better performance.
  • Disable login items and features like Handoff that can slow things down.

Adjusting these settings can provide a little speed boost. But in general, Apple has already optimized Big Sur extremely well to run smoothly on older Macs that meet the system requirements.

Big Sur Compatibility Tables

Below are some helpful tables summarizing macOS Big Sur compatibility for different Mac models and years.

MacBook Compatibility

Model Year Big Sur Compatible?
2015 Yes
2014 No
2013 No
2012 No
2011 and earlier No

iMac Compatibility

Model Year Big Sur Compatible?
Late 2015 – 2019 Yes
Late 2014 No
Late 2013 Yes
2012 and earlier No

Mac Pro Compatibility

Model Year Big Sur Compatible?
2019 Yes
2013 – 2018 Yes
2012 and earlier No

These tables help summarize which models can and cannot run macOS Big Sur. Refer to them or use Apple’s compatibility tool to quickly check your specific Mac.


macOS Big Sur brings major improvements to the Mac experience. Macs from 2013 and newer with at least 4GB RAM and ample drive space can upgrade to run Apple’s latest OS release. While some operations may feel slightly slower on older supported Macs, overall usability and performance is still strong. Upgrading lets all compatible Mac owners enjoy Big Sur’s beautiful redesign, new features, enhanced privacy, and updated apps. To find out if your Mac can make the upgrade be sure to use Apple’s compatibility checker.

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