How to Update Your MacBook Pro

Get the latest Apple software on your Mac!

The MacBook Pro has had a long life due to frequent operating system updates. While the hardware is difficult, if not impossible, to upgrade yourself, Apple has worked on extending the MacBook Pro's life by making sure its operating system, macOS, runs on models going back many years.

Older models of the MacBook Pro work fundamentally the same as newer models and can support the same software updates. This guide explains how to update all MacBook Pros in general, covering recent and less recent operating systems, and what you should do to prepare your MacBook for any new software.

Person working at an open MacBook Pro

Which Version of macOS Are You Running?

Updating your MacBook Pro is one of the best ways of ensuring you won't be affected by bugs or vulnerabilities. It's also the only way to benefit from certain new features Apple periodically rolls out, such as Dark Mode.

Before updating your MacBook Pro to the latest version of macOS, check whether your MacBook is compatible.

To find out which OS you're currently running, click the Apple icon in the upper-left corner of the screen and then select About This Mac. This will tell you the version of the operating system you have.

Checking version

Hardware and Software Requirements for Updates

The current release of macOS is macOS Big Sur (11.0). If you want to update your MacBook Pro to macOS Big Sur, Apple's website states that your MacBook Pro must have been produced in late 2013 or later. Update to Big Sur from as far back as macOS Mavericks (10.9). You can upgrade from OS X Mountain Lion (10.8) only if you upgrade to OS X El Capitan (10.11) first.

Similarly, here's what you'll need if you aim to upgrade to any of the following versions of macOS or its predecessor, OS X.

  • macOS Catalina (10.15): MacBook Pro from mid-2012 or later; OS X Mavericks (10.9) or later.
  • macOS Mojave (10.14): MacBook Pro produced in mid-2012 or more recently; OS X Mountain Lion (10.8) or later.
  • macOS High Sierra (10.13) or macOS Sierra (10.12) MacBook Pro from mid-2010 or later; OS X Lion (10.7) or later for Sierra and OS X Mountain Lion (10.8) in the case of High Sierra.
  • OS X El Capitan (10.11): MacBook Pro from mid-2007 or later; OS X Snow Leopard (10.6) or later.
  • OS X Yosemite (10.10): MacBook Pro from mid-2006 or later; OS X Snow Leopard or later.

How to Download an Upgrade

If your Mac currently uses macOS Mojave (10.14) or later, download upgrades in the System Preferences of your Mac. If your Mac runs on macOS HighSierra (10.13) or older, download updates via the App Store.

Upgrading From Recent Versions of macOS

If you have a recent macOS version, reach the Software Update window by first going to System Preferences. You can use this method to update from the two previous versions of macOS. For example, with this method, you can upgrade to Big Sur (11.0) from macOS Catalina (10.15) or Mojave (10.14). Here's how:

  1. Click the Apple icon in the upper-left corner of the screen.

  2. Select System Preferences.

  3. Choose Software Update.

  4. After your Mac has found the latest update, click Update Now.

    Mac system preferences showing an update

This begins the installation process, which can take around half an hour to complete depending on your MacBook Pro, and which ends with your device restarting.

Upgrading From Older Versions of macOS and OS X

If you have an older compatible version of macOS, download the upgrade from the App Store. For example, you can upgrade to macOS Big Sur (11.0) if your computer is currently running macOS 10.13 through OS X Mavericks (10.9) using this method.

  1. Open the App Store on your Mac (usually found on the Dock at the bottom of the screen, although you can press Command+Space Bar and then type App Store.

  2. Click the Updates tab.

    Mac App Store with Updates tab highlighted
  3. If you see a Software Update available, click Update.

This begins the installation process, which can take a while to complete and which ends with your Mac restarting.

If you don't have a high-speed internet connection, take your computer to any Apple Store for an upgrade download.

What to Do Before You Update MacBook Pro

The actual process of updating a MacBook Pro is simple enough. However, there are a few steps you may want to take in preparation for the process.

Back Up the Mac

Here's how to back up your Mac using Time Machine. This isn't 100 percent necessary, but it's always better to have a backup in case something goes wrong. Here's what you do to create a backup for your Mac.

  1. Connect an external storage device, such as a USB, Thunderbolt, or FireWire drive.

  2. Click the Apple icon in the upper-left corner of the screen.

  3. Click System Preferences.

  4. Click Time Machine.

  5. Click Select Backup Disk.

    Time Machine on a Mac showing Select Backup Disk
  6. Select your external drive and then click Encrypt backups and Use Disk.

  7. Click the On button in the left column of the Time Machine window.

After you click Use Disk, Time Machine begins making regular backups of your MacBook Pro. The first backup takes the longest.

Tune Up the Mac

One other thing you may want to do before updating your operating system is to tune up your Mac. Doing this involves cleaning your Mac's disk. A cleanup isn't required, but it may help your Mac run more smoothly, making it more capable of handling a newer operating system.

Here's what you do. These step-by-step instructions involve CleanMyMac X, but you could do it with another free Mac cleaner:

  1. Downloaded and launch CleanMyMac X.

  2. Click Smart Scan.

  3. Click Scan.

  4. Click Run.

Cleaner tools like CleanMyMac scan your MacBook for junk and unnecessary files, giving you the option to delete such files after they've been found. They won't transform your Mac into an entirely new machine, but they generally help it to run a with a little less friction.

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