Is your Mac compatible with Big Sur?

We all know by now that macOS Big Sur is the latest and greatest version of Apple’s Mac operating system. It was released in November 2020 and offered some serious advancements, especially on the visual side. If you have an older machine, though, you may be wondering whether your Mac is compatible. Let’s shed some light on macOS Big Sur system requirements and help you check whether your Mac supports the new OS.

Before you attempt to upgrade to Big Sur

There are a couple of things you should do before you upgrade to Big Sur.

  • Back up your Mac.

It doesn’t matter whether you use Time Machine or a third-party backup tool, just make sure you backup your Mac immediately before you upgrade.

  • Free up some space for the new OS

To get macOS Big Sur running on your Mac, you need at least 20GB of free space. So, if you aren’t sure you have enough, here’s how to check it. Click the Apple menu and select About This Mac. Go to the Storage tab to let your Mac calculate the amount of free space. If you don’t have enough, you can try removing some old junk with CleanMyMac X. This app detects ancient cache, user log files, and other clutter and helps you delete it from your Mac.

  1. Download the free version of CleanMyMac X and install it, then launch.
  2. Press Scan.
  3. Click Run.

That’s all there is to it. I managed to clear 10GB in just a couple of minutes, which saved me hours I would have spent if I were to do it manually.

macOS Big Sur requirements

Here’s the list of macOS Big Sur supported Macs:

  • Any Mac Pro or iMac Pro
  • MacBook Pro and MacBook Air 2013 and later
  • iMac and Mac mini 2014 and later
  • MacBook 2015 and later

As you can see, some Macs released as long ago as 2013 can officially run Big Sur. That’s pretty good considering the number of macOS updates there have been since then and the new features they have introduced.

Sadly, a few machines that were supported to upgrade to Catalina have fallen off the list for Big Sur, notably the 2012 MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, and iMac.

Mac models that do crash 

Immediately after Big Sur's release on November 13, 2020, Mac users started reporting system failures that appeared to affect MacBooks from 2013-2014. The attempted installation resulted in "bricking some older MacBook Pro models," according to MacRumors. Notably, those MacBooks are the oldest still supported Macs that can run Big Sur. So if your MacBook belongs to that generation, we advice you to do little research on this before you rush to install Big Sur.   

macOS Big Sur compatibility

If your Mac’s model is on the list of “officially supported” Macs to run Big Sur, you will definitely be able to upgrade it to the latest OS. You can be sure the installer will run on your Mac and that if you run into trouble, you can expect help from Apple, either in the form of support documentation or an update to the OS.

But, if your Mac is slightly older and isn’t on the list, there is a possibility you can still update it to Big Sur. Several Mac users have had some success installing the Big Sur beta on Macs that aren’t on Apple’s list. It requires a workaround, and there’s no guarantee that it will continue to work when the final version of Big Sur is released or when updates are issued. But, if you’re determined to install Big Sur on an older Mac, or you want to try it as a fun project, it’s an option.

Things to consider before you try to install Big Sur on an unsupported Mac

Installing macOS Big Sur on a Mac that’s not on Apple’s official list of unsupported Macs isn’t as straightforward as just downloading the installer and running it. How you install it will depend on the Mac you’re trying to install it on, and we’ll come to that later in the article. But there are other things you need to consider.

  • Your Mac may not run at all afterwards.

If you get the installation process wrong or something just doesn’t work as it should, you could be left with a Mac that doesn’t boot. For that reason, you should make a bootable clone of your startup drive before you start.

  • Even if your Mac boots, parts of it won’t work

Among those users who successfully installed the beta version of Big Sur on unsupported Macs, most reported that either the graphics system (GPU) didn’t work or that Wi-Fi didn’t work. You can get around the wifi issue by replacing the internal Wi-Fi card or using a USB Wi-Fi adaptor, but you can’t replace the GPU.

  • There’s no guarantee updates will work

Just as you can’t use the regular installer to install Big Sur on an unsupported Mac, you won’t be able to install updates using Software Update. That could leave you vulnerable to security flaws.

How to upgrade to Big Sur on an unsupported Mac

As we said earlier, the specifics of how you install Big Sur on an older Mac vary according to the Mac, but there are lots of success stories in this thread.

One example is the user who installed the Big Sur beta on a 2012 15in MacBook Pro, and it ran well apart from Wi-Fi not working. That user got around the problem by using an iPhone as a hotspot (you can use Personal Hotspot by connecting to an iPhone via Bluetooth or USB). Another user reported installing Big Sur on a 2012 Mac mini, but with sound and Wi-Fi not working.

The question of whether or not your Mac is compatible with macOS Big Sur can’t be answered just by looking at Apple’s list of supported Macs. Those are the machines on which Apple has decided to support installation, but there are others on which Big Sur will run, albeit with a bit of extra work. You should decide for yourself whether you want to take risks associated with installing Big Sur on an unsupported Mac. And, if you decide to go ahead, be sure to back up your Mac and clean it up using Mac maintenance software like CleanMyMac X.

Laptop with CleanMyMac
CleanMyMac X

Your Mac. As good as new.