Best Mac OS Version (Hint: macOS Sierra and higher)

Apple enthusiasts are able to debate which Mac operating system is best.

This blog’s mission is to dispel myths and legends surrounding Macs. I am now ready to share my opinion on the matter. Although everything is my opinion, I am a veteran software engineer and long-time Mac user.

The Mac OS version that you are eligible to upgrade to is the best. It will be macOS Monterey in 2021. Mojave is the best macOS for 32-bit applications. Older Macs will also benefit from upgrading to macOS Sierra, which Apple still releases security patches.

How to Tell Which macOS You Are Running

To find out which macOS is currently running on your Mac, follow these steps:

  1. 1. Click on Apple logo in the top left corner of the menubar
  2. 2. In the dropdown click on the first item: About This Mac
  3. 3. The first line in the Overview tab is the name of the current OS.
Best Mac OS Version (Hint: macOS Sierra and higher)
current macos

What Version of OS Can My Mac Run?

Some Macs are not compatible with the latest OS versions. Old Macs with PowerPC CPUs can’t run the OS designed for Intel-based computers. Some versions also have hardware limitations.

Mojave, for example, cannot be installed on MacBook Pros before the Mid 2012 model.

Which OS is Best for my Mac

When someone asks which OS is the best, I always recommend going with the most recent. However, things have changed in recent years.

Should I Upgrade to macOS Catalina or Big Sur?

Personally, I love macOS Big Sur. It is installed on my MacBook Pro. However, it also comes with serious breaking issues.

Compatibility is the first concern.

Big Sur is a transition operating system that Apple uses to switch from Intel processors to their own chipsets on ARM.

Big Sur was installed on my MacBook Pro in mid-2020 (preSilicon), and all my apps, including Microsoft Office were functioning as expected.

My VMWare Fusion 11 is not starting anymore so I need to buy a new license (or roll back to Catalina). I had a backup of my HTML11 before the upgrade.

The 32-bit app support is the second major problem.

Only 64-bit apps can be run on macOS Catalina or Big Sur.

Before you decide whether you should update to macOS Catalina, or Big SurFirst, make sure you have a backup so that you can return in the event of an error.

After the upgrade, I had to uninstall uTorrent. And I did not know that uTorrent was 32-bit.

How to Know If App is 32-bit or 64-bit

To find out whether the app on your Mac is 32-bit or 64-bit follow these steps:

  1. Click on Apple logo in the top left corner of the Mac screen
  2. Click on About This Mac option
  3. Click on System Report button in Overview tab (first one)
  4. Scroll down to Software -> Applications
  5. Find the app and check Kind
64-bit app on Mac

Which macOS Should I Use

If you have an older Mac which is not eligible to upgrade with some latest software or hardware, I’d suggest upgrading at least to Sierra (or better High Sierra) for the following reasons:

  • Sierra is still supported by Apple, and it gets security updates
  • APFS file system is available
  • It supports Siri
  • Significant security improvements

The most important thing when selecting the OS that is best for you is the ability of getting security updates. Although Apple does not usually announce OS end-of-life dates, you can find out when they stop publishing security updates on this page .

According to the page, the most recent security update for OS X Yosemite came on September 12, 2017. Carnegie Mellon University confirmed that El Capitan had its last update in July 2018.

Snow Leopard Myth

Some users believe Snow Leopard is the best OS for Macs. This is a myth. And I understand how myths like this are created.

One time I was working in a company that sold a product that had been around for 20 years. Customers were still using the product and didn’t want it to change, as it was solid.

The engineer who was responsible for the project told me that the product was a complete disaster when it first was deployed. To fix any bugs, engineers had to be present on site for nearly a year.

It is almost bug-free after five years of work. Nobody can remember how terrible it was when it was first launched. Snow Leopard was a similar story, and was soon recognized as the best mac OS version.

How to Update to the Latest Version

There are two ways to update to the latest OS version on Mac:

  • From the Software Update section in System Preferences
  • Use a download link

Using Software Update

This is the best option but it is only available if Yosemite or a later OS has been installed. Automatic updates are enabled by Mac. This will tell you when the next macOS version is available.

Just Open System Preferences, then go to Software Update and click the Upgrade Now button.

version of OS My Mac Can Run

This is the best way to verify if your Mac has the most recent OS version. This will only display the compatible version with your hardware.

For example, the Mojave version of Mac Mini 2012 is my latest, and I cannot install anything else.

Using download links

You can download standalone DMG installers for older systems and downgrading. DMG stands to disk image. It is similar to ISO but in different formats.

Double-click the installer to install it. Follow the instructions. Do not forget to make a backup of your data before you do the upgrade.

Below is a brief overview of all Mac operating system versions starting with Mountain Lion.

These descriptions can be used to help you choose the best operating system for your iMac or Mac Pro, Mac mini, Mac mini, or MacBook.

Each OS description includes a list of Macs that are supported. For more information, however, you can use Mac OS compatibility test.

macOS 12 Monterey

macOS v12 (codename Monterey) is the latest version of the operating system for Apple computers.

Release date: October 25, 2021

Hardware Requirements: RAM requirement 4GB. Monterey is the second OS to support Macs using ARM technology (M1 and M1 Pro).

Features

Apple is always improving its flagship browser Safari, as with all new updates. The so-called streamlined tabbar was added this time. To make more room for content, the tabs will be moved up. The browser’s color theme will match the colors on the current website.

You can also group tabs and create shortcuts, just like with iPad.

Facetime has seen many improvements such as the ability blur the background, and the ability to see people in Grid view or Portrait mode.

My favorite feature is SharePlay. Facetime allows you to share movies and view them together, as if they were in one room.

Universal Control is another cool feature they added. You are likely to own many Apple devices, including iPhones and iPads, if you’re an Apple fan like I am. Universal Control allows you to drag and drop documents between your iPad and MacBook, and then continue work without interruption.

The Live Text feature allows you to take screenshots and then parse texts. You can, for example, take a screenshot of the speaker’s whiteboard URL and use it to navigate to the URL.

Apple finally added AirPlay to Mac. You can now play video from your phone to a Mac, and then turn it into something like Apple TV.

Finally, the low power mode allows your MacBook to run a little longer.

Software Compatibility Issues

Only 64-bit apps are allowed to run on macOS Monterey.

List of Apple computers compatible with macOS Monterey

  • MacBook (2016 and later)
  • MacBook Air (2015 and later)
  • MacBook Pro (2015 and later)
  • Mac mini (2014 and later)
  • iMac models (2015 and later)
  • iMac Pro (2017 and later)
  • Mac Pro (2013 and later)

macOS 11 Big Sur

macOS v11 (codename Big Sur) is the first operating system that supports the Apple M1 chip (non-Intel).

Release date: October 13, 2020

Hardware Requirements: RAM requirement 4GB. Big Sur is the first OS to support new Macs using ARM technology.

Features

  • The biggest design refresh since macOS X.
  • Support for new ARM processors.
  • Safar improved performance and power consumption.
  • Time Machine supports backup to APFS volumes.
  • One-click translation for 7 languages.
  • Redesigned maps

Software Compatibility Issues

Only 64-bit apps are allowed to run on Big Sur.

List of Apple computers compatible with macOS Big Sur

  • MacBook (2015 and later)
  • MacBook Air (2013 and later)
  • MacBook Pro (2013 and later)
  • Mac mini (2014 and later)
  • iMac models (2014 and later)
  • iMac Pro (2017 and later)
  • Mac Pro (2013 and later)

macOS 10.15 Catalina

Release date: October 7, 2019

Hardware Requirements: RAM requirement increased from 2GB to 4GB.

Features

  • Introduced Sidecar, which allows for Macs to use an iPad as an external display.
  • iTunes was replaced by separate apps: Music, Podcasts, and TV.
  • Find My Mac and Find My Friends have merged into one app.

Software Compatibility Issues

macOS Catalina is the first Mac operating system that does not support 32-bit applications. Only 64-bit apps are allowed to run on Catalina.

List of Apple computers compatible with macOS Catalina

  • MacBook (Early 2015 or later)
  • MacBook Air (Mid 2012 or later)
  • MacBook Pro (Mid 2012 or later)
  • Mac mini (Late 2012 or later)
  • iMac models (Late 2012 or later)
  • iMac Pro (All models)
  • Mac Pro (Late 2013)

macOS 10.14 Mojave

Release date: September 24, 2018

Hardware Requirements: 2GB RAM and 18.5GB free space on disk

Features

  • The main feature of Mojave is “Dark Mode”
  • A new screenshot app replaced older Grab app
  • FaceTime adds group feature which allows chatting with up to 32 people
  • News, Stocks, Voice Memos, and Home apps were ported from iOS to Mac.

How to install

If your Mac is eligible to update to Mojave, then the easiest way to install it is by enabling automatic updates. Downloading a standalone Mojave installer could be a little tricky.

List of Apple computers compatible with macOS Mojave

  • MacBook (Early 2015 or later)
  • MacBook Air (Mid 2012 or later)
  • MacBook Pro (Mid 2012 or later)
  • Mac mini (Late 2012 or later)
  • iMac (Late 2012 or later)
  • iMac Pro (All models)
  • Mac Pro (Late 2013 and 2010-2012 models with upgraded GPU)

Best Mac OS Version (Hint: macOS Sierra and higher)

Which Mac operating system is the best is a topic of numerous debates among Apple fans.

Since the mission of this blog is to refute myths and legends around Macs, it’s time for me to provide my 2 cents about the issue on hand. While everything below is just my opinion, as a long-time Mac user and veteran software engineer, I hope my opinion worth something.

The best Mac OS version is the one that your Mac is eligible to upgrade to. In 2021 it is macOS Monterey. However, for users that need to run 32-bit apps on Mac, the best macOS is Mojave. Also, older Macs would benefit if upgraded at least to macOS Sierra for which Apple still releases security patches.

How to Tell Which macOS You Are Running

To find out which macOS is currently running on your Mac, follow these steps:

  1. Click on Apple logo in the top left corner of the menubar
  2. In the dropdown click on the first item: About This Mac
  3. The first line in the Overview tab is the name of the current OS.
Current macOS

What Version of OS Can My Mac Run?

Not all Macs can be upgraded to the latest OS version. For instance, old Macs powered by PowerPC CPUs cannot run OS intended for Intel-based computers. Also, some versions have hardware limitations.

For instance, Mojave cannot be installed on MacBook Pro earlier than Mid 2012 model.

Check below to know exactly what version of OS your Mac can run.

Which OS is Best for my Mac

Anytime someone asks me which OS is best for them I always suggested going with the latest. Things have changed recently, however.

Should I Upgrade to macOS Catalina or Big Sur?

While personally I like macOS Big Sur and have it installed on my MacBook Pro, it comes with serious breaking changes.

The first issue is compatibility.

Big Sur is a transition OS that is designed to help Apple to move from Intel processors to their own chips on ARM.

After I installed Big Sur on my MacBook Pro mid-2020 (pre-Silicon), most of my apps, including Microsoft Office, were working as expected.

However, my VMWare Fusion 11 does not start anymore, so I have to purchase a new license if I want to keep using it (or roll back to Catalina). Luckily, I took a full backup before the upgrade.

The second breaking issue is the lack of 32-bit app support.

macOS Catalina and Big Sur can only run 64-bit apps.

If you wondering whether you should upgrade to macOS Catalina or Big Sur, first verify that you don’t have any 32-bit apps. But first, take a backup, so you can go back in case something breaks after the upgrade.

For instance, I had to remove uTorrent after the upgrade. And I didn’t know that uTorrent is 32-bit!

How to Know If App is 32-bit or 64-bit

To find out whether the app on your Mac is 32-bit or 64-bit follow these steps:

  1. Click on Apple logo in the top left corner of the Mac screen
  2. Click on About This Mac option
  3. Click on System Report button in Overview tab (first one)
  4. Scroll down to Software -> Applications
  5. Find the app and check Kind
Check app kind before upgrade to macOS Catalina
64-bit app on Mac

Which macOS Should I Use

If you have an older Mac which is not eligible to upgrade with some latest software or hardware, I’d suggest upgrading at least to Sierra (or better High Sierra) for the following reasons:

  • Sierra is still supported by Apple, and it gets security updates
  • APFS file system is available
  • It supports Siri
  • Significant security improvements

The most important point when choosing the best OS is the ability to get security updates. While Apple generally does not announce the OS end of life dates, it is possible to know when they stop releasing security updates from this page.

For instance, according to the page, the last security update for OS X Yosemite was released on September 12, 2017. The last update for OS X El Capitan was in July 2018, and Carnegie Mellon University confirmed that El Capitan’s end of life date was August 2018.

Snow Leopard Myth

I know that some users on forums believe that the best OS version for Macs was Snow Leopard. But that is a myth. And I know how such myths get created.

Once I worked in the company, which was selling a 20-year old product. And customers were still using and didn’t want to switch to new versions, because the old one was rock solid.

I then talked to the engineer who worked on the project, and he revealed that the product was a total disaster when it was first deployed. Engineers had to work on-site for almost a year in order to fix all bugs.

After five or so years of polishing the product, it becomes virtually bug-free, and nobody now remembers how bad it was when it was first rolled out. A similar thing happened Snow Leopard, and it was recognized as best mac os version after some time.

How to Update to the Latest Version

There are two ways to update to the latest OS version on Mac:

  • From the Software Update section in System Preferences
  • Use a download link

Using Software Update

This is by far the best option, but it only available if you have Yosemite, or later OS installed already. If you enabled automatic updates, then Mac will inform you that the next macOS is available.

Just open System Preferences, go to Software Update and click on the Upgrade Now button.

What Version of OS Can My Mac Run
Version of OS My Mac Can Run

This method is also best if wondering how to check if you have the latest version of OS installed on your Mac. Only the version compatible with your hardware will appear here.

For instance, my the latest version for Mac Mini 2012 is Mojave, I can’t install anything newer than that.

If you are having problems with updates or having issues post-upgrade check my post about troubleshooting macOS.

Using download links

For older systems or in case you need to downgrade, you have to download a standalone installer in DMG format. DMG stands for disk image, similar to ISO, just different formats.

After downloading the installer, just double click on it and follow instructions. Again, do not forget to take a backup before the upgrade.Mac OS Comparisons: Requirements, Features, Compatibility, Download Links

Following is a high-level description of all Mac operating systems as early as Mountain Lion.

You can refer to those descriptions when deciding which operating system is best for your iMac, Mac Pro, Mac mini, or MacBook.

With each OS description, I included a list of Macs supported. However, you can use the Mac OS compatibility checker for more detailed information.

macOS 12 Monterey

macOS v12 (codename Monterey) is the latest version of the operating system for Apple computers.

Release date: October 25, 2021

Hardware Requirements: RAM requirement 4GB. Monterey is the second OS to support Macs using ARM technology (M1 and M1 Pro).

Features

As always with the new updates, Apple likes to improve its flagship browser – Safari. This time they added the so-called streamlined tab bar. The tabs will move up to open more space for the content. Also, the color theme of the browser will change to match the colors of the current website.

Also, you can group tabs if you like and you can make shortcuts just like on iPad.

Facetime received a lot of improvements, such as the ability to blur the background and seeing people in either Grid view or Portrait mode.

But my favorite feature is SharePlay. You can share movies on Facetime and watch them together as if you are all in the same room.

Another cool thing they added is Universal Control. If you are an Apple fan like me, you probably own a large number of their devices, including iPads and iPhones. With Universal Control you can drag and drop the documents between MacBook and iPad and continue working without interruption.

Live Text feature allows taking screenshots and parsing texts. For instance, if you are on the presentation and the speaker wrote a URL on the whiteboard you can take a screenshot and then go to that URL without typing it.

Finally, Apple added AirPlay to Mac. Now, you can play a video from your phone to a Mac and turn it to something like Apple TV.

And finally, the low power mode can keep your MacBook running a little longer.

Software Compatibility Issues

Only 64-bit apps are allowed to run on macOS Monterey.

List of Apple computers compatible with macOS Monterey

  • MacBook (2016 and later)
  • MacBook Air (2015 and later)
  • MacBook Pro (2015 and later)
  • Mac mini (2014 and later)
  • iMac models (2015 and later)
  • iMac Pro (2017 and later)
  • Mac Pro (2013 and later)

macOS 11 Big Sur

macOS v11 (codename Big Sur) is the first operating system that supports the Apple M1 chip (non-Intel).

Release date: October 13, 2020

Hardware Requirements: RAM requirement 4GB. Big Sur is the first OS to support new Macs using ARM technology.

Features

  • The biggest design refresh since macOS X.
  • Support for new ARM processors.
  • Safar improved performance and power consumption.
  • Time Machine supports backup to APFS volumes.
  • One-click translation for 7 languages.
  • Redesigned maps

Software Compatibility Issues

Only 64-bit apps are allowed to run on Big Sur.

How to install

There are two ways to install Big Sur: enable automatic updates in System Preferences or download by using the following link.

Or check my post with tips on installing macOS on unsupported devices.

List of Apple computers compatible with macOS Big Sur

  • MacBook (2015 and later)
  • MacBook Air (2013 and later)
  • MacBook Pro (2013 and later)
  • Mac mini (2014 and later)
  • iMac models (2014 and later)
  • iMac Pro (2017 and later)
  • Mac Pro (2013 and later)

macOS 10.15 Catalina

Release date: October 7, 2019

Hardware Requirements: RAM requirement increased from 2GB to 4GB.

Features

  • Introduced Sidecar, which allows for Macs to use an iPad as an external display.
  • iTunes was replaced by separate apps: Music, Podcasts, and TV.
  • Find My Mac and Find My Friends have merged into one app.

Software Compatibility Issues

macOS Catalina is the first Mac operating system that does not support 32-bit applications. Only 64-bit apps are allowed to run on Catalina.

How to install

There are two ways to install Catalina: enable automatic updates in System Preferences or download by using the following link.

List of Apple computers compatible with macOS Catalina

  • MacBook (Early 2015 or later)
  • MacBook Air (Mid 2012 or later)
  • MacBook Pro (Mid 2012 or later)
  • Mac mini (Late 2012 or later)
  • iMac models (Late 2012 or later)
  • iMac Pro (All models)
  • Mac Pro (Late 2013)

macOS 10.14 Mojave

Release date: September 24, 2018

Hardware Requirements: 2GB RAM and 18.5GB free space on disk

Features

  • The main feature of Mojave is “Dark Mode”
  • A new screenshot app replaced older Grab app
  • FaceTime adds group feature which allows chatting with up to 32 people
  • News, Stocks, Voice Memos, and Home apps were ported from iOS to Mac.

How to install

If your Mac is eligible to update to Mojave, then the easiest way to install it is by enabling automatic updates. Downloading a standalone Mojave installer could be a little tricky.

List of Apple computers compatible with macOS Mojave

  • MacBook (Early 2015 or later)
  • MacBook Air (Mid 2012 or later)
  • MacBook Pro (Mid 2012 or later)
  • Mac mini (Late 2012 or later)
  • iMac (Late 2012 or later)
  • iMac Pro (All models)
  • Mac Pro (Late 2013 and 2010-2012 models with upgraded GPU)

macOS 10.13 High Sierra

Release date: September 25, 2017

Hardware Requirements: 2GB RAM and 14.3GB free space on disk

Features

  • APFS (Apple File System) becomes the default file system in High Sierra. It’s a significant upgrade from the older HFS+ in terms of speed, size, and security
  • iCloud support of Messages which allows sync messages of the account across multiple devices
  • Mail app uses 35% less storage space due to optimizations

List of Apple computers compatible with macOS High Sierra

  • MacBook (Late 2009 or newer)
  • MacBook Pro (Mid 2010 or newer)
  • MacBook Air (Late 2010 or newer)
  • Mac mini (Mid 2010 or newer)
  • iMac (Late 2009 or newer)
  • Mac Pro (Mid 2010 or newer)

macOS 10.12 Sierra

This is the first macOS version. Previous OS versions for Macs were called OS X (X stands for 10).

Release date: September 20, 2016

Hardware Requirements: 2GB RAM and 8GB free space on disk

Features

  • Siri was introduced to Macs
  • Optimized storage with iCloud sync
  • Auto-lock feature allows unlocking MacBook with paired Apple Watch
  • APFS preview available
  • Disk Utility can manage RAID sets again
  • Significant security improvements

List of Apple computers compatible with macOS Sierra

  • MacBook (Late 2009 or newer)
  • MacBook Pro (Mid 2010 or newer)
  • MacBook Air (Late 2010 or newer)
  • Mac mini (Mid 2010 or newer)
  • iMac (Late 2009 or newer)
  • Mac Pro (Mid 2010 or newer)

OS X 10.11 El Capitan

Last OS X version.

Release date: September 30, 2015

Hardware Requirements: 2GB RAM and 8GB free space on disk

Features

  • System Integrity Protection – a security feature that protects even when the root user executes the process
  • Performance improvements: open PDF files four times faster, Mail is twice faster, launching apps 40% faster
  • Notes app similar to the app in iOS

Macs compatible with OS X El Capitan

same as OS Mountain Lion.

How to install

Here is El Capitan download link.

OS X 10.10 Yosemite

Release date: October 16, 2014

Hardware Requirements: 2GB RAM and 8GB free space on disk

Macs compatible with OS X Yosemite

Same as OS Mountain Lion.

Features

  • Major user design overhaul
  • Introduction of Handoff and Continuity features
  • Photos app replaced iPhoto and Aperture

OS X 10.9 Mavericks

First free Mac OS. Previous OS versions vary from $19.99 to $129.

Release date: October 22, 2013

Hardware Requirements: 2GB RAM and 8GB free space on disk

Features

  • Compressed Memory feature automatically compresses inactive apps when approaching maximum memory capacity
  • Timer coalescing is a feature that reduces CPU usage by up to 72 percent
  • App Nap puts apps that are not currently visible to sleep

Macs compatible with OS X Mavericks

Same as OS Mountain Lion.

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion

Must be purchased. Fixed many bugs introduced in OS X Lion.

Release date: July 25, 2012

System Requirements: 2GB RAM and 8GB free space on disk

Features

  • New apps: Notification Center, Notes, Messages, Game Center
  • AirPlay mirroring allowed to mirror Mac screen to Apple TV
  • Application updates automatically install from the App Store

List of Apple computers compatible with OS X Mountain Lion

  • iMac (Mid-2007 or newer)
  • MacBook (Late 2008 Aluminum, or Early 2009 or newer)
  • MacBook Air (Late 2008 or newer)
  • MacBook Pro (Mid/Late 2007 or newer)
  • Mac mini (Early 2009 or newer)
  • Mac Pro (Early 2008 or newer)
  • Xserve (Early 2009)

List of older Mac OS Versions

Following Mac OS versions are still running on older Macs, but Apple does not support them anymore, and there is no point to upgrade (or downgrade) to them:

  • OS X 10.7 Lion
  • OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard
  • Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard
  • Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger
  • Mac OS X 10.3 Panther
  • Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar
  • Mac OS X 10.1 Puma
  • Mac OS X 10.0 Cheetah

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