Last update: June 11, 2021.
This is a mirror of the tip on https://discussions.apple.com/docs/DOC-13695 stored to retain the original formatting after the communities formatting change of 2018.
It is maintained on my website, which may get compensation for me.
Backup (link explains how and why) your data before any installation.
Apple's operating system upgrades for Intel Macs are:
10.4 Tiger - only available on original installer discs for Intel Macs, not retail, 10.5 Leopard, 10.6 Snow Leopard (10.6.6 includes the Mac App Store for 10.7 or later, 10.6.8 for 10.8 or later),
10.7 Lion, 10.8 Mountain Lion, 10.9 Mavericks, 10.10 Yosemite, 10.11 El Capitan, 10.12 Sierra, 10.13 High Sierra, 10.14 Mojave, 10.15 Catalina, 11 Big Sur.
10.x.y - the y value is an update, and there are security updates that are available post the last update numerically that match up with the security updates of the next two upgrades (these have always included an update to Safari, though some browsers
are available for older operating systems that are newer than the last Safari release for that operating system).
Apple is still including the installers for 10.10 through 10.15 on its website.
Note, 10.6.3 is the last retail release of Snow Leopard on CD. This is why some Macs below are separated by whether or not they need system specific 10.6 or 10.6.3 release. The other riddle is that Apple has only made 10.11 available on the App Store
for 10.6.8. This necessitates recommending jumping to 10.12 where possible for 10.7 or later users. Apple does offer a Feedback page if you want it for other systems.
If you are looking for a specific update to one of the upgrades below, my other tip can help.
The table below includes the Machine ID/Model Identifier, that comes from the System Profiler, found under Apple menu -> About This Mac -> System Report (or System Profiler) -> Hardware. The EMC# indicated for some of these models is sometimes there,
and sometimes on a label on the machine itself.
This shows the upgrade paths up to Catalina for all Intel Macs, and their Model Identifiers.
Each row in the table indicates the earliest Apple supported Mac by each starting OS and end OS configuration.
Note the horizontal scrollbar on the bottom of this tip to show the Mac Pro compatibility is beyond the width of this tip's layout.
Every Mac released on or after an operating system release can't run an older version of Mac OS. The one exception is Mac OS X 10.6 Server which can run on Parallels on newer Macs. For more on release dates, see the identifying articles are found on this tip:
How to find your Mac's model and age?
iMac Late 2015 16,1
(shipped with Mac OS X 10.11)
10.6 compatible - 10.6.8
|MacBook 1,1||iMac 4,x||MacBook Pro 1,x||Mac Mini 1,x|
10.6.3 to 10.7.5 compatible
iOS 9.0 and earlier under 10.7.59
|MacBook with removable battery||iMac 5,x; 6,x (Late 2006)||MacBook Pro 2,x||
Mac Mini 2,x
MacBook Air 1,x
Mac Pro 1,x-2,x
10.8 - 10.11 preloaded with 10.4
|Late 2008 MacBook Aluminum 5,1||iMac Mid 2007 7,1||mid 2007 MacBook Pro 3,1 - 4,2|
|10.8 -10.11 preloaded with 10.5
compatible with 10.6 & 10.6.3 retail
|MacBook White Early 2009 5,2||iMac Early 2008 8,1; 9,1||
MacBook Pro 5,1 - 6,2
Mac Mini 3,1
|MacBook Air 2,1
|Mac Pro 3,1 and 4,1
|10.12 & 10.131 compatible with 10.6.3 retail. Also 10.11 compatible through 10.6.8 App Store.||MacBook Late 2009 6,1||iMac Late 2009 10,1 and 11,1|
10.12 & 10.131
|iMac Late 2015||MacBook 7,1 Mid 2010||iMac 11,2 Mid-2010||MacBook Pro mid-2010 7,1||
Mid 2010 4,1
|MacBook Air Late 2010 3,1|
|Mac Pro 5,1 (2010)4|
|10.12, 10.14, and 10.15 compatible
(original shipping OS)1,5
MacBook early 2015 8,1
|iMac Late 2012 12,1
(Shipped with 10.8.2)2
|MacBook Pro Mid-2012 9,1
Late 2012 6,1
MacBook Air Mid 2012 5,1
Mac Pro 2013 6,1
|11.0 Big Sur1,5||Same as Catalina7||
iMac 2014 14,4
MacBook Pro Late 2013 11,1
Mac Mini 2014 (7,1)
|MacBook Air 2013 6,1
|Same is Catalina|
|MacBook Early 2016 9,1 (shipped with Mac OS X 10.11)||iMac Late 2015 16,1 (shipped with Mac OS X 10.11)||
|Same as Big Sur||Macbook Air Early 2015 7,1
(shipped with Mac OS X 10.10)
|Same is Catalina|
|10.4.4-10.6.8||10.4.4-10.7.5||10.4.4-10.11||10.5-10.11||10.6.3Retail-10.13||10.6 System Specific-10.13||10.6 Sys Spec-10.14||10.7.3-10.15||10.7.4-10.15||10.8.1-10.15||10.8.2-10.15||10.8.4-11.0||
|iMac||4,x||5,x; 6,x (Late 2006)||7,1||8,1-9,1||10,1-11,1||11,2||12,1||14,4||16,1|
|MacMini||1,x||2,x Late 2007||3,1||4,1||6,1||7,1|
|Macbook||1,1||Removable battery||5,1 Aluminum; 5,2||6,1||7,1||8,1||9,1|
1) Note starting with 10.13, Apple introduced APFS that made reading newer systems on older Macs that don't support Mac OS 10.13 invisible. This also makes internet restore unable to see the drive until it is reformatted HFS Extended Journalled with Disk Utility on any Mac older than High Sierra's September 25, 2017 release. This is especially a problem on formatted SSDs (solid state drives are drives that do not have platter based storage) as those would automatically format in the new system. Older platter hard drives could retain the HFS+ GUID formatting on the newer operating systems to allow older systems to see the new systems in target disk mode.
The startup manager also can "see" hard drives booting into 10.12 and earlier won't see if the Mac supports that model.
10.12.4 which all the Macs with this footnote can run, also adds support for multi factor authentication with iOS devices and AppleTV.
2) Catalina machines that shipped with 10.8.5 or earlier need to be upgraded to 10.12 first before being able to upgrade to Catalina. The original shipping OS, is also the OS that most likely will load when the Internet Recovery Shift-Option-⌘-R
keyboard shortcut is selected. The cloverleaf key being the one that Apple's hardware will interpret the Windows logo key to be on a USB Windows keyboard, and the Option key is what the hardware will assume the Alt key to be.
3) System Specific disc models, had discs that are specific to the model and vintage of that model that can be used to install the operating system. Unfortunately these Macs do not work with system restore, unless a firmware was installed first.
AppleCare may have these discs, or you might be forced to keep a clone of the original system or later system if you have to wipe or replace the drive connected to that Mac.
In Short, these skipping upgrade paths are possible if the hardware supports it:
10.6 or 10.6.3 retail to 10.6.6 to 10.7 through App Store to 10.7.5 through Apple Downloads support site.
10.6 or 10.6.3 retail to 10.6.8 to 10.11 through App Store
10.6 system specific to 10.6.8 to 10.11 through App Store. Everything beyond is through App Store only.
10.6.8 -> 10.11 to 10.13
10.7.5 -> 10.12 to 10.14
10.8 -> 10.13 to 10.15
10.8 -> 10.14 to 10.15 (10.8 through 10.10 require an 18.5GB + 15% minimum, where as 10.11 or later requires a 12.5 GB + 15% minimum free space to go to Mojave)
10.8 -> 10.9 to 10.15 (10.9 and 10.10 require an 18.5GB + 15% minimum, where as 10.11.5 requires a 12.5 GB + 15% minimum free space to go to Catalina)
4) The Mac Pro 5,1 can only upgrade to 10.14 with the appropriate graphics card listed on Apple's website.
5) All Catalina and Big Sur upgrades require looking into 64 bit software updates.
6) Required upgrading to either 10.9 or 10.12 first before getting to Big Sur. 10.9 is only available if you downloaded it before on your Apple account through the Mac App Store. 10.12 required 35 GB free space purgeable
to install Big Sur. Newer shipped with the most current OS at the time of release.
7) Could install Big Sur from any installed OS. If 10.12 or later was used, 35 GB free of purgeable space was required. Newer shipped with the most current OS at the time of release.
8) There are some older Macs that meet the requirements for Big Sur, but require extra steps to upgrade as documented on support.apple.com/en-us/HT211242
9) Currently, as of April 19, 2021 any Mac that can run El Capitan, can run 10.11.6 and use the latest version of iTunes for synchronization with iOS 14.
Older Mac OS X versions can only synchronize calendars, contacts, and music with older iOS systems. Photos and videos can be transferred via the Mac OS X Image Capture application on older Mac OS X versions than the synchronization supported. This footnote is on each system to indicate what iOS runs with the latest Mac OS in the group of the Macs in question. For more information, see my user tip 8871.
10) Monterey requirements not necessarily final, as it was just announced June 2021 at the Worldwide Developer Conference. These came from Apple's Preview page where it says "See if your Mac can run macOS Monterey". Visit Apple Developer site to become a part of the beta program for its release.