Should you upgrade your Mac to El Capitan?

A large number of Macs are able to upgrade to El Capitan, so chances are your Mac can too. But make things easy on yourself and read through this checklist before you do.

D.C. writes:

I have a late 2011 15-inch MacBook Pro and I'm wondering if I should upgrade.

Yes, you should. I wouldn't recommend rushing it, but if you back up your Mac first, your Mac is well within the supported model range and should handle El Capitan quite well.

The system requirements for El Capitan are the same ones for Yosemite before it. In fact, Apple hasn't substantially changed the hardware system requirements in some time. Seven year old Macs can run El Capitan.

Macs that have more RAM (Memory, in Apple's "About this Mac" parlance) can run newer Mac operating systems and apps better; 4 is now the minimum. And some features, like Handoff (introduced in Yosemite) will only work with the version of Bluetooth found in newer Macs.

Apple's focused on a lot of productivity enhancements with El Capitan: Split View, for example, which lets you split the screen between two open windows of two different apps; It's an iOS 9 exclusive for the iPad Air 2 and iPad Pro, but it works on the Mac, period. You can read a lot more about it here:

Here's are two things I encourage you to remember with any operating system upgrade: Make sure your data is safe before you make any changes, and make sure you're going to see a benefit before you do.

Back up!

Backing up your Mac with Time Machine is the fastest and most foolproof way to prep it for an upgrade to El Capitan. Once that's done you'll be able to restore your Mac back the way it was, if you have to. The easiest way to get started with Time Machine is to turn it on in System preferences, then connect an external USB hard drive. Time Machine will ask you if you want it to use the external hard drive. Say yes and then let it do its thing.

There are other backup apps too: I'm fond of SuperDuper and Carbon Copy Cloner, which are great for creating "clones" — exact duplicates of your hard drive — that you can restore from in a pinch, but I think Time Machine is what most people need.

Assess the risk

Unless you have a reason to, don't bother to upgrade on day one. Let other people fall on that sword, like us! Launch day inevitably brings in a lot of confusion, too.

It's good to keep an eye on the social media accounts of the vendors whose apps you use, so you can see if they've prepped any updates for El Capitan or plan any. In some cases they'll have important compatibility fixes; in others they may try to introduce new features. We've already gotten a flurry of El Capitan app updates leading up to the software's release this week, and we're reporting on them too, so keep your eyes on iMore, too.

If there are specific apps or tools you absolutely depend on to work, make sure they're going to work okay with El Capitan before you upgrade. That might mean hunting around the developer's web site, user forums and social media accounts to make sure.

Especially if your livelihood is linked to how well your Mac is working, I strongly encourage you to tread carefully: Make sure your stuff works first!

Finally, see if the changes in El Capitan - Split View, improved Mission Control, better Notes and Mail and more - are worth it to you. You may decide that you're happy with your current workflow, and there's nothing wrong with that. In fact, it can be smart — change for change's sake can be really disruptive, and there's nothing that says you have to install El Capitan today. It's not going to diminish your Mac-using experience to stick with what you're familiar with.

I'm really excited about El Capitan — I've been using the betas for months, and I'm loving Split View and Spotlight, especially. So I'm all in. As long as you take good precautions like backing up your data before you upgrade, you should be in good shape to make the jump whenever you're ready.

36 Comments
  • I did it yesterday and don't regret it. Although I don't really notice much of a difference, it's nice Apple lets my 2010 MacBook run the latest and greatest.
  • Always, and I mean always make sure your programs are compatible before upgrading. I can not tell you how many people complain because their DAW like Pro Tools 12 no longer works. It is the same with any program you have. Some companies are faster than others updating. Just wait. Sent from the iMore App
  • Yeah, Pro Tools always seems to have to be updated before it will work with new versions. I have the remnants of version 7 still on my Mac and it tells me every time that it's not compatible.
  • Seems a significant omission not to mention that a lot of people appear to be having problems with Office 2016 following the update. https://www.thurrott.com/cloud/office-365/6389/office-2016-for-mac-is-un...
  • Totally agree. I'm typically an early upgrader but work in Office 2016 daily. I'm concerned with it becoming unstable. Anyone care to comment on issues here? Sent from the iMore App
  • Crashed twice for me today. But I still got a lot of work done. Like a boss.
  • There was an article on here several days ago regarding it.
  • Outlook 2011 is also not working if you use it for exchange. Microsoft is aware of the issue. https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/kb/3098396
  • Totally agree. DO NOT UPGRADE if you use any of the MS Office applications.
  • I threw caution to the wind on this one and paid for it with two days lost trying to find fixes, which I eventually did. Whew! For those with mid-2010 iMacs, triple zap your PRAM (3 times in a row). This solved my biggest problems. If you don't know how to do this just Google it.
  • To me, Split screen capability is worth it alone!
  • It's nice for a built in function, but I still swear by Divvy. I have 12 shortcuts for instant configurations and combinations of screens.
  • Have you used Divvy with multiple monitors? Any issues or complaints?
  • Yes. It works perfectly. My custom master set of keyboard shortcuts are quick and easy to use. Much faster and with much more flexibility than Split Screen.
  • Holding out for MS Office for Mac to support El Capitan before I upgrade. I trust iMore will be keeping an eye on this and letting us know when it's available.
  • I still have a mid-2009 17-inch MBP. 3.06 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 8 GB 1067 MHz DDR3 RAM. A couple of years ago I replaced the 500GB HD with a 500GB SSD. (That alone made a Huge Difference!) Last year I did a clean install of Yosemite. Last night I simply upgraded to El Capitan. Smoothest upgrade ever. Clean and snappy and no surprises.
  • Ok. One surprise. There seems to be issues with using USB audio. My DAC unit worked perfectly with Yosemite. Not at all with El Capitan. A quick look around the Internet shows that my unit is not alone and that there is some sort of bug.
  • WARNING! El Capitan and Office 2016 still don't like each other...after installing both on 2 different modern Macbooks I'm getting occasional freezes at random times. No one seems to know if it's an OSX or Office issue but until these 2 companies get together and actually FIX IT be warned!
  • Office 2013 & 2016 don't even work right on Windows 8.1/10.
    I'm having graphical problems where the window won't draw correctly. I'll click on a message and the body of the message won't change. Or the message won't highlight. Might also be a graphics driver, but I have a 2015 model NVIDIA. pain in the ass. Sent from the iMore App
  • Sorry to hear your experience, durfmobile. I'm finding Office 2016 works like a champ under Yosemite.
  • Office has no issues on Windows. Honestly, stop peddling FUD.
  • I updated on my late 2008 MacBook and it works great. (But, I swapped out my hard drive for an SSD a couple of years ago).
    I've actually found that both Yosemite and El Capitan have improved the performance it, which is amazing when you think about it.
    I did have an issue with duplicate iCloud calendars and reminder lists but was able to fix it quite easily. It likely had nothing to do with the age of my MacBook.
    I don't think mine will qualify for any future versions and even if it did I think I'm stopping at El Capitan. I'm not pressing my luck any further. Lol. Sent from the iMore App
  • I used terminal to make a Bootable USB drive and did clean install without restore.
    Runs perfect. Very fast. After installing everything I wanted, I am using 18GB of the hard drive. (Music, movies, and pictures are in the cloud)
    Great OS. Dual screen apps was over thought and the implementation of it kind of sucks but I will hardly ever use that feature. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • I have never backed up before installing a new System or Mac OS, and I have never regretted it. Apple has always been very, very good to me (Windows, on the other hand, has left me hanging in the wind more times than I can count). I've been running the Public Beta since July. I like what Jason Snell said, "solid as a rock." That's been my experience. This is by far the one OS I've had absolutely no hesitation upgrading to and would have no hesitation to recommend to anyone else. El Capitan will run on anything that will run Yosemite, that will run on anything that will run Mavericks, that will run on anything that will run Mountain Lion!! Of course, I don't run Office either...
  • Mid 2011 Mac mini with swapped in 500GB SSD updated with no issues. Seems extremely stable so far. Very much reminds me of the stability that Snow Leopard brought. I loved that version of Mac OS. It ran on my Intel iMac wonderfully!
  • Think I will wait to upgrade until the bugs are squashed with Microsoft Office.... Even though I'm anxious to upgrade now, I think it's best to wait atleast a couple weeks....
  • We will eventually be prompted to upgrade to El Cap if we do nothing? We do have auto install updates enabled in Preferences.
  • For anyone's information:
    El Capitan download and installation took about 2.5 hours; one hour to download, and 1.5 hours to install.
    After progress bar reached the end following installation, I experienced a blank white screen for about 10 minutes which was frightening because I thought my iMac was dead. But then, the sign-in page came up and again, after signing in, a spinning beach ball came up for another 10 minutes before the normal desktop appeared.
    So, BE PATIENT and let the installation run its course!
    There was a message in a small window (upper right corner of the screen) that came up saying the the system was "optimizing" and that performance might be poor for a while. Performance was indeed lousy.
    Then, I put my iMac to sleep. The next morning, my iMac's performance was excellent and has remained faster than Yosemite.
    I'd definitely recommend upgrading to El Capitan, but again, PLEASE BE PATIENT so the installation process and optimization are left to completion. Likely that you'll experience better performance following the upgrade.
  • The download too me about 5 minutes. Making the bootable USB took about 15 min, and wipe and clean install took me about 15-18 min.
    100MB/s internet, iMac (late 2013) i5 3.4Ghz quadcore, 16GB ram, 256 Flash storage HD. nVidia 780m 4GB.
  • FileZilla won't work very well on 10.11 (some icons not showing up), hope it gets fixed soon. Sent from the iMore App
  • I know this old MacBook Pro has felt quite a bit snappier since the upgrade. I blame Metal and its integration into Core Animation and Core Graphics!
  • DO NOT upgrade if you need to run MS Office 11 OR MS Office 16! Neither work well and tend to crash. Do a simple Google search to research and verify. Sent from the iMore App
  • NO NOT UPGRADE if you use use any of the MS Office software: outlook, word, etc.. The apps will crash!! I wish someone (unlike the idiot of this article) had warned me before I made the mistake and upgraded.
  • I downloaded el Capitan on Friday on my late 2012 MacBook Pro. I have MS 2011 office and Illustrator CS4. I tried to open my Illustrator yesterday and it would not open. I was asked to download a newer version of JavaScript. I did that, computer froze and I forced quit to shut it down. Now I can't get my computer to come on! Any suggestions on what I should do? Is there away to uninstall El Capitan?
  • Personally, have never had good luck upgrading to new versions of OSX. Always slows my computer down. But, that's just anecdotal. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • I'm reading your article in mid Dec. You can't say too much about compatibility with non Apple programs. Avid has many products that didn't work in El Cap upon release.. Finale, a music notation program, was working with all the Betas all summer, then 19 days before the release Apple made some massive changes and it took the Finale people until the 1st of December to catch up. They did warn us, but not until a few days after the release. As a result there were many people who depend on Finale for their work who were either "out of work" or had to reinstall Yosemite. If I had not waited (I usually do) and seen the email I would have been "out of work" also. I just wanted to emphasize how important that issue is. Thanks for your article.