While I am not crazy about the new name, I am very excited about the product. Some new features are introduced but the majority of the work has been under the hood to improve responsiveness, stability and usability. My favorite versions of OS X to date have been 10.4.11 Tiger and 10.6.8 Snow Leopard, both releases that worked hard on under the hood improvements and it showed. OS X versions since then have had some nice features added but to me OS X has not felt like smooth and intuitive operating system I used to love.
My hope is that will change with the latest release that hits the virtual shelves tomorrow. I would love to add OS X 10.11 to my list of favorite OS versions. Hopefully Apple will not let the system slide again after this, turning future OS X versions into the same mess 10.7 – 10.10 were before focusing on serious maintenance and cleanup again. Typically in the past, any new OS comes with some bugs and a .1 update follows quickly to resolve these issues. El Capitan will probably be no different so don’t expect perfection immediately after upgrading. With that said, I have been using the pre-release versions for a while and am very impressed so far.
Alright, let’s get started. First of course you have to make sure your machine can handle the new OS. While exact system requirements have not been published yet, everyone pretty much agrees the following Macs can run El Capitan:
• iMac – Mid 2007 or newer
• MacBook – Aluminum Late 2008 and Early 2009 or newer
• MacBook Air – Late 2008 or newer
• MacBook Pro
– 13-inch Mid 2009 or newer
– 15-inch Mid/Late 2007 or newer
– 17-inch Late 2007 or newer
• Mac mini – Early 2009 or newer
• Mac Pro – Early 2008 or newer
• Xserve – Early 2009
If your Mac is one that is listed above exactly, you might want to hold off on upgrading for now. If it’s newer than those listed above, you should be ok to upgrade as long as your Mac meets the following requirements:
• At the very least, 4GB of RAM
• At the very least, 20GB of free hard drive space
• Highly recommended, a graphics card with more than 512MB of memory
But wait, Apple says all I need is 2GB of RAM, 8GB of free drive space and they don’t even mention the graphics card! I know. And your Mac will run OS X alright with those specs. The problems start when you want to run any other applications. 2GB is the minimum requirements for OSX, meaning OS X needs those 2GB to run properly. It does not mean you can run OS X + Mail + iTunes + Safari with 10 tabs + Photoshop (which will require 4GB at minimum, 8GB preferred).
You want to take the minimum suggested requirements and double them for better results or triple them for smooth operation. So if you have a Late 2008 MacBook Air with 2GB of RAM and 10GB of free drive space… do yourself a favor and don’t upgrade. Or at least wait until you hear/read about how the system performs for others that also have Late 2008 MacBook Airs.
Check the websites of the manufacturers to see if the software you use is compatible with El Capitan. You may need a software update or you may need to purchase a brand new version. Find out now so there are no surprises after you upgrade.
If your Mac is running 10.9 or 10.10 you should be able to upgrade to 10.11 El Capitan without any issues. However if your Mac runs 10.7, the jump to 10.11 might cause issues. Apple typically states you can upgrade from any Mac running 10.6.8 to the latest OS X but speaking from experience, this rarely goes off without a hitch. If the upgrade is skipping a few versions you may want to consider starting fresh, meaning an erase and install. If your system is currently experiencing issues (regardless of the OS version you have installed) like slow performance, freezing, spinning beachball or applications unexpectedly quitting do not upgrade. An upgrade is not a magical fix, it will almost certainly make the issue worse. Instead resolve the problem first and then upgrade. Depending on the issue a clean install may be the best solution.
After a clean install you can migrate your user data back from a Time Machine or Clone backup. This will ensure you have a brand new and fresh OS rather than a patched one an upgrade would provide.
Backup and Clone
Upgrading to a whole new OS is a very invasive undertaking. In case something goes wrong (see prior point but even if your system is fine, stuff can still go wrong) you want a backup to restore from. You should already have some kind of backup strategy in place like Time Machine but in cases like these it’s a good idea to have a clone of your system as well. A clone is a 1:1 copy of your hard drive contents and will allow you to boot up from it or restore the entire system. If you upgrade to El Capitan and find out you hate it, have too many incompatible applications or it just doesn’t run well on your older machine, just start up from the clone drive and copy the whole thing back to your Mac. Once the clone is done and you restart it’ll be like nothing ever happened.
SuperDuper is my preferred cloning tool and I recommend using an external hard drive that supports FireWire 800, USB 3.0 and/or eSATA for best performance. USB 2.0 and FireWire 400 will work but both the cloning and booting from it, if needed, will be painfully slow. Keep running your Time Machine backups as usual too of course.
Remember your passwords
After installing the new system you will be asked for your Apple ID so that features like iCloud and Messages can be enabled so make sure you know the login details before you upgrade. You can set up your iCloud and Messages later on but entering these details during the installation will make for a smoother experience when it’s done.
Duplicate important documents
Once you upgrade and start working on a document in a new version of Numbers, just to name one, you can not open that document in older versions anymore. This is the case for a lot of software. With a new OS usually come big application updates or upgrades as well. If you have important documents that you still need to be able to work on even if you decide to downgrade back to your previous system later on (with that clone I mentioned), make a copy and work on that instead. If you open/edit the original file you may not be able to use it anymore if you downgrade your system.
Having a backup (clone preferred) will ensure you can go back to the previous state of your system and is therefor the most important step when it comes to any upgrade.