How To Update Your Mac Operating System

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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.

How to prepare your Mac for an OS update

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.

Check the General Requirements (and Hardware)

To see what specs your Mac has, follow these steps:

  1. From the menu bar on your Mac, select the Apple icon on the top left
  2. Select “About This Mac” from the drop down menu

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 – 10.15, or “Catalina” – requires the following:

  • OS X 10.9 or later
  • 4GB RAM (Memory)
  • 12.5GB of available storage

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:

  • MacBook (Early 2015 or newer)
  • MacBook Air (Mid 2012 or newer)
  • MacBook Pro (Mid 2012 or newer)
  • Mac mini (Late 2012 or newer)
  • iMac (Late 2012 or newer)
  • iMac Pro (2017)
  • Mac Pro (Late 2013 or newer)

Back up your Mac

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:

  1. Connect an external drive. This is where your backup will be stored.
  2. From your Mac menu bar, go to Apple > System Preferences > Time Machine
  3. Click “Select Disk”
  4. Select the external drive you connected to your Mac
  5. Select “Use Disk” in the new popup window

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!

get backup pro macos setapp


Make sure you have sufficient space for macOS Update

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:

  1. From the menu bar on your Mac, select the Apple icon on the top left
  2. Select “About This Mac” from the drop down menu – this shows you how much Memory (RAM) you have
  3. Select the “Storage” tab
  4. Under “Macintosh HD,” ensure you have at least 12.5GB storage available

Clean Your Mac

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.

cleanmymac scan


How to update a 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:

  1. From the menu bar on your Mac, select the Apple icon on the top left
  2. Select “Software Update”

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.

How to turn on automatic updates

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.

automatically backup mac

But for most, it’s fine to automatically upgrade your Mac. Here’s how:

  1. From the menu bar on your Mac, select the Apple icon on the top left
  2. Select “Software Update”
  3. Select “Advanced”
  4. Make sure all boxes are checked

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.

How Can I Update Drivers on Apple OS? 

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. 

Mac Won’t Update?

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.

Conclusion

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!

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