macOS Sierra vs OS X El Capitan: Everything You Need To Know

In case you’re on the fence about upgrading to macOS Sierra from El Capitan, you’ve come to the right place. We’re dissecting this macOS in detail, looking closely at how it compares to the previous and if the end justifies the means (of waiting for an hour-long upgrade). However, if you want to upgrade to macOS 10.13 High Sierra, jump straight to this guide

Before we begin, here are a few most common things you have to know about the latest macOS: the update is free as always, it runs on most Macs later than 2009, and you can only upgrade from El Capitan (you can’t skip it and run Sierra from Yosemite directly). There, now let’s look at what Sierra has to offer.

macOS vs OS X comparison

Comparing OS X El Capitan 10.11 to macOS Sierra 10.12

We’ll run a comparison on the most important things: features, performance, and system requirements. Usually, most of these criteria are enough to make a decision whether you need to upgrade or not. Some of the measurements are approximate and might show different figures in the case of your Mac, like battery life, which depends heavily on its age and intensity of usage.

Feature Comparison

Features Comparison

  El Capitan Sierra

iCloud cross-device sync Calendar, Messages, Notes —
the usual stuff.
New folders added:
Desktop and Documents.

Siri Nope. Available, still imperfect, but it’s there.

Apple Pay Nope. Available, works well.

Space management Only the one you perform yourself by being neat. Optimized Storage with cleaning features.

Apple Watch Unlock Nope. Available, works mostly fine.

As you can see, macOS Sierra is pretty packed with features. Some of the goodies can only be used if you have other Apple devices, like iPhone or Apple Watch. Optimized Storage is a whole separate story on how Apple tried to make a good space cleaning solution and almost succeeded.

The bottom line is, if you want your system running smoothly for longer than a few months after the installation, you’ll need third-party Mac cleaners for both El Capitan and Sierra. Even though you can free a notable chunk of your drive by moving stuff into the iCloud with Optimized Storage, you still get all kinds of system trash (like app cache) that doesn’t go anywhere. 

Another novelty, an intelligent personal assistant and knowledge navigator Siri, has been long-expected, and we’re all glad to have it on Mac. Even though it’s still not the future-is-now kind of assistant who understands you and can hold a conversation, it will look for files on your Mac or the web and find you a place to have that anniversary dinner, which is nice.

Performance Comparison

Performance Comparison

  El Capitan Sierra

Speed test Works fine when having
enough free disk space
Appears snappier, but could be just
a clean new
Runs better on new Macs.

Battery life 6-7 hours on a MacBook
Air 2013
5-6 hours on a MacBook Air 2013.
Seems to be a general trend
of 1-2-hour shorter battery life
after upgrade.

Security Pretty solid OS,
but could be better.
65 security fixes sound impressive.

It’s hard to make a sweeping judgment on which OS version is faster or more powerful. Because of the constant sync with your iCloud (and probably something else because when it’s turned off, the problem is still present), macOS Sierra does drain your battery faster. On average, an upgrade will cost you a few hours of work.

On the other hand, at least a fresh-installed system is snappy, and the response is terrific. It could be because it’s a new install, and it could get lost in half a year, but hey, half a year is still not bad. Just make sure your Mac supports Sierra; otherwise, it will slow down even more instead of getting faster. So getting an app like CleanMyMac X or the likes is still advisable even for the latest macOS. 

Requirements Comparison

System Requirements

  El Capitan Sierra


Hard Drive
8.8 GB of free storage 8.8 GB of free storage

(Mac models)
Most late 2008 Some late 2009, but mainly 2010.

The main difference is with the Mac models, you can see the Apple support page for more details on which Macs can upgrade, but the official requirements for RAM and disk space are the same, even though technically, the installation file for Sierra is smaller.

To sum it up, if you have a late 2009 Mac, Sierra is a go. It’s fast, has Siri, and can keep your old stuff in iCloud. It’s a solid, safe macOS that looks like a good but minor improvement over El Capitan. We hope this guide has been of help. Remember to backup your files and upgrade safely. Cheers.

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