How to Update Your MacBook Pro

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A MacBook Pro on a table at an Apple store.

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The MacBook Pro has had a long life thanks to frequent operating system updates. While the hardware has become 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.

However, older models of the MacBook Pro work in fundamentally the same way, and can support the same software updates. As such, 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.

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, and it's also the only way to benefit from certain new features Apple periodically rolls out (e.g. Dark Mode).

Checking version

But before trying to update your MacBook Pro to the latest version of macOS, it's worth checking whether your MacBook is compatible.

  • macOS Mojave: if you'd like to download macOS Mojave (the latest at the time of writing), Apple's website states that you'll need a MacBook Pro produced in mid-2012 or more recently. It also states that you can update directly to Mojave from all of its Mac operating systems as far back as OS X Mountain Lion (2012).

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 Sierra or High Sierra: MacBook Pro from mid 2010 or later; OS X Lion or later (Mountain Lion in the case of High Sierra)
  • OS X El Capitan: MacBook Pro from mid 2007 or later; OS X Snow Leopard or later
  • OS X Yosemite: MacBook Pro from mid 2006 or later; OS X Snow Leopard or later

To find out which OS you're currently running, you can click the Apple icon in the top-left corner of the screen (on the left of the top menu bar), and then click About This Mac.

This will tell you your OS and the specific version of the operating system you have (e.g. 10.14).

How to Update Your MacBook Pro

There will also be button at the bottom of the About This Mac window which says Software Update…

You can click on this button to bring up the System Preferences window for Software Updates. Doing so forces your Mac to check for updates, and if one is found, you have to click the Update Now button to begin the installation.

Software Update

macOS Mojave

However, people already running macOS Mojave can also reach this same Software Update window by first going to System Preferences. Here's how you do it:

  1. Click the Apple icon in the top-left corner of the screen (on the left of the top menu bar)

  2. Click System Preferences

  3. Click Software Update

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

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.

macOS High Sierra or Earlier

Update Sierra

If you haven't already updated to macOS Mojave, you will need to follow a slightly different route in upgrading your MacBook's software. This involves going to the App Store:

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

  2. Click the Updates tab in the toolbar at the top of the screen

  3. If a you see a "Software Update" available, click UPDATE

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

What to Do Before You Update MacBook Pro

Time Machine

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.

First of all, you may want to back up your Mac, just in case something goes wrong. This generally isn't 100% necessary, but it's better to have a backup as some Mac users have complained in Apple forums that they've lost files and data following an update. So, for those who don't want to run the risk, here's what you do to create a backup for your Mac.

  1. First of all, connect an external storage device, such as a USB, Thunderbolt, or FireWire hard drive

  2. Click the Apple icon in the top-left corner of the screen (on the left of the top menu bar)

  3. Click System Preferences

  4. Click Time Machine

  5. Click Select Backup Disk…

  6. Select your external drive, then click Encrypt backups and then Use Disk

  7. Finally, click the ON button (on the left-hand column of the Time Machine window)

After you've clicked Use Disk, Time Machine will automatically begin making regular backups of your MacBook Pro. However, one other thing you may want to do before updating your operating system is to tune up your Mac.

One of doing this involves cleaning your Mac's disk. Once again, this isn't entirely necessary, but a cleanup may help your Mac to run more smoothly, thereby making it more capable of handling a newer operating system.

Here's what you do. These step-by-step instructions involve CleanMyMac X (latest version as of writing), but you could try it with another free Mac cleaner:

  1. After having downloaded CleanMyMac X, launch the app (usually by going to Finder > Applications)

  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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