Prepare your Mac for the OS X 10.11 'El Capitan' upgrade

Apple is scheduled to release the next version of OS X - OS X 10.11 'El Capitan' - later today, which means that you still have time to carry out some last-minute preparations ahead of the upgrade.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Contributing Writer

Apple is scheduled to release the next version of OS X - OS X 10.11 'El Capitan' - later today, which means that you still have time to carry out some last-minute preparations ahead of the upgrade.

Will your Mac run El Capitan?

Before you go all hog wild excited, first make sure that your Mac can run El Capitan.

The simple rule of thumb is that if you're running OS X 10.9 Mavericks or OS X 10.10 Yosemite then you're good to go, although not all features will be available to those running older hardware. Upgrades to El Capitan are possible from OS X versions going back to Snow Leopard (10.6).

If you're running OS X 10.5 Leopard then you'll have to upgrade to Snow Leopard first via the old-school method of using a DVD. The privilege of upgrading to Snow Leopard just so you can download the free El Capitan upgrade will cost you $20.

Here is a complete list of compatible Macs:

  • iMac: Mid 2007 or newer
  • MacBook: Aluminum Late 2008 | 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

What about disk space?

You're going to need around 10GB of free space to carry out the upgrade. If you know your way around OS X then you'll know some of the places to look for detritus that you can delete (think the Downloads or MobileSync folders, or that folder on your desktop where you keep all the funny memes and cat videos you've found).

If you're not that familiar with the OS X file system then there are apps that can help you do this, such as DaisyDisk or Clean My Mac.

Upgrade your apps

It's a good idea to upgrade any and all apps (those downloaded from the Mac App Store and those that have come directly from the vendor) that you use before shifting up to El Capitan. But bear a few things in mind:

  • Some developers may not have released El Capitan-compatible apps yet, so things that used to work might not work the same once you've upgraded.
  • Some apps will require a paid upgrade, so factor that cost into the equation.
  • Abandoned apps won't receive upgrades, so if the upgrade to El Capitan breaks something, well, you're then the proud owner of a broken app.

RoaringApps has an excellent resource for checking out application compatibility.

Backup. Backup! BACKUP!!!

Picture this scenario. You've tried to upgrade your Mac but something catastrophic happened, and now all your data is gone? Would you be sad? Angry? Upset? Paralyzed with fear over everything you've lost?

Well, fear not. Realize that none of this has yet happened and MAKE A BACKUP OF YOUR SYSTEM BEFORE YOU CARRY OUT THE UPGRADE!

Check your system disk

Not really vital but I like to do this for peace of mind because OS upgrades put quite a strain on storage.

To do this go to Applications > Utilities and fire up Disk Utility. Select your startup partition in the left column (located under your storage device's name) and then click Verify Disk.

If you discover any problems then you'd be foolhardy to perform an upgrade before fixing those issues.


If you're using any third-party disk encryption software, you'd be wise to disable this before the upgrade, because if things go wrong, you're going to be in a world of pain (and more than likely reaching for that backup you just made).

Same goes for Snow Leopard users with FileVault enabled. Disable this, carry out the upgrade, and then switch to FileVault 2.

Don't rush!

I know that new stuff is cool, and it's doubly cool when it's free, but there's no reason to rush into upgrading to El Capitan.

If your system is critical, then it might be a good idea to hold back on upgrading. After all, it's not like El Capitan is a limited resource. If you don't upgrade today, it'll still be there when you decide you're ready, complete with patches and bug-fixes.

To be honest with you, if my job wasn't partly to feel the pain of newly released stuff so you don't have to, I'd probably give El Capitan a few weeks more to mature before installing it, and I won't install it on my main workhorses until I've seen what mayhem it's going to cause on non-vital 'sacrificial' systems first.

Sometimes you gotta slow down to go fast.

Ready to upgrade?

Hit the Mac App Store, click that button, and wait for the update to roll in.

See also:

'Must-have' MacBook and MacBook Pro accessories (Sept 2015)

Editorial standards