Get your Mac ready for OS X 10.11 El Capitan

Preparation is everything.

el capitan macbook desktop

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Apple’s latest version of OS X is called El Capitan (officially, it’s version 10.11). El Capitan does some fine-tuning to the Mac operating system, and it also has major updates to Safari, Mail, Notes, Maps, and Photos. It’s scheduled to be released on Wednesday, September 30.

Before you upgrade to El Capitan, it helps to perform a few tasks first. This will help ensure that your upgrade moves along smoothly. After you prep your Mac, you can update OS X as soon as Apple releases it, though it’s understandable if you rather wait until the first update to El Capitan in case you’re worried about bugs.

Not familiar with El Capitan? Our El Capitan FAQ is a good place to start to learn more.

Here’s how to get your Mac ready for El Capitan.

Compatible hardware

These Macs are compatible with El Capitan.

  • iMac (Mid 2007 or newer)
  • MacBook (Late 2008 Aluminum, or Early 2009 or newer)
  • MacBook Pro (Mid/Late 2007 or newer)
  • MacBook Air (Late 2008 or newer)
  • Mac mini (Early 2009 or newer)
  • Mac Pro (Early 2008 or newer)

The general minimum requirements call for 2GB of memory, 8GB of available storage, and an Internet connection for some features. You can run a Mac with 2GB of memory, but this is a good opportunity to upgrade to 4GB or 8GB. As for available storage space, 8GB is enough to run the installer, but more is always better. Here are some tips for freeing up storage space.

Keep in mind that the older your Mac, the greater the possibility that some features won’t work. For example Handoff and Continuity, which were introduced with OS X Yosemite, require hardware that supports Bluetooth LE.

Older versions of OS X eligible for upgrade

According to Apple, these older OS X operating systems can be upgraded to El Capitan.

  • OS X Snow Leopard (version 10.6.8)
  • OS X Lion (version 10.7)
  • OS X Mountain Lion (version 10.8)
  • OS X Mavericks (version 10.9)

If you’re running a version of Snow Leopard prior to version 10.6.8, you must upgrade to that version. You can do this by clicking on the Apple icon in the upper left of the menu bar and selecting Software Update (your Mac needs to be connected to the Internet).

The reason why you need at least Snow Leopard 10.6.8 to upgrade to El Capitan is that Apple distributes OS X through the App Store. The App Store requires Snow Leopard 10.6.6, but Apple made enhancements in version 10.6.8 that the App Store requires.

If you’re running OS X Leopard (version 10.5), you need to upgrade to Snow Leopard before you can upgrade to El Capitan. Unfortunately, you can’t do it through an Internet connection and it will cost you $20. You have to buy the Mac OS X Snow Leopard installation disc from Apple. After you upgrade, you can then upgrade to El Capitan by using the App Store online.

Verify your storage device

This is a good opportunity to check the health of your storage device. Launch Disk Utility (found in Applications/Utilities), and select your startup partition in the left column (located under your storage device’s name; it may have the same name if there’s only one partition on your storage device). Then click Verify Disk.

disk utility verify

Verifying a disk in Disk Utility.

Any problems require you to boot from a different startup volume in order to make repairs. Lion, Mountain Lion, and Mavericks user can boot into OS X Recovery (a.k.a. Lion Recovery in Lion) by holding down Command-R at startup. You can then use Disk Utility to repair your storage device. Snow Leopard users can use the installation disc as a boot drive and run Disk Utility.

To perform a more thorough examination of your Mac hardware, you can run Apple Diagnostics (for Macs released on or after June 2013) or Apple Hardware Test (for Macs released before June 2013). If you find a problem using these tests, you may need to see a Genius at your local Apple Store.

Install OS and Apple app updates

It’s a good idea to update your pre-El Capitan OS to the latest version (for example, as mention earlier, from Snow Leopard 10.6.6 to 10.6.8). You can do this either in the Updates section of the App Store or through Software Update in the Apple menu.

Check for updates to your important third-party apps

Most developers work hard to make sure their software is compatible with the new version of OS X, so often updates are released prior to the upgrade’s released date.

If you buy your software through Apple’s App Store, you can check for updates there by launching the App Store app and clicking on Updates. For apps you didn’t buy in the App Store, you’ll need to check each developer’s website on your own. You can also try checking RoaringApp’s software compatibility list.

roaring apps 2015

RoaringApps’ software compatibility list.

There’s a reason I used “important” in the title for this section. If you have a lot of apps that you didn’t buy in the App Store, it can take a lot of work to find updates. So first update the apps you use most often, and then you can update the other apps when you have the time.

Back up your data

Anything you’re about to make major changes to your Mac, you need to back up your data. You can use Time Machine or a third-party backup app, or you can clone your storage device using a utility like SuperDuper or Carbon Copy Cloner.

A clone is what it sounds like, an exact copy of your drive, so you can use it as a boot drive if the situation warrants it. Time Machine is nice because it keeps multiple versions of your documents, but it takes longer to restore from a Time Machine backup.

Encryption: Third-party and FileVault

Disable any third-party full-disk encryption software you are running. If a problem occurs during the El Capitan upgrade with the third-party encryption, you might not be able to access your data. after your El Capitan upgrade is complete, check with the software developer about El Capitan compatibility before your re-activate the encryption.

If you are upgrading from Snow Leopard and you’re using FileVault, you should disable FileVault before upgrading. When you’re done upgrading, you can start using FileVault 2, which is an improvement over FileVault.

Next up: El Capitan installation

Preparation is everything, and these tips will help make for a smooth upgrade to El Capitan. Fortunately, performing a standard upgrade is easy. Here are instructions on how to upgrade to El Capitan.

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