How to upgrade to OS X Lion

Mac OS X 10.7's coming in July; Here's what we know so far about the upgrade path

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How is Apple distributing Lion? Only through the Mac App Store, the online app mart that it launched in January for Snow Leopard users. While Apple may sell Lion in some fashion outside of the Mac App Store, don't count on it.

"In the past, what every version of Mac OS X shared was that it came on an optical disc," said Schiller. "No more. Now, Lion will only be available in the Mac App Store."

So I download it? How long will that take? Yes, you download Lion. Schiller said that the upgrade weighs in at about 4GB.

You have to do the math yourself using the speed of your Internet connection. Here, with a DSL connection that averages about 1.3Mbps (megabits per second), Lion would take over seven hours to download under optimal -- and unlikely impossible -- conditions.

(Forget the math: Use this quick file transfer time calculator to figure out how long it will take you to grab Lion next month.)

If you're still using a dial-up connection -- our hearts go out to you -- you might was well forget it. The calculator says it will take you 170.5 hours, or more than seven days to download Lion.

How do I know I can upgrade and run Lion? Apple's provided only a terse systems requirement list on its site, but the short version is:

  • Dual- or quad-core Intel processor, including Core 2 Duo, Core i3, Core i5, Core i7 or Xeon.
  • The latest version of Snow Leopard, which currently is 10.6.7. (By the time Lion appears, the latest version of Snow Leopard will probably be 10.6.8).

You can find your Mac's processor by choosing "About this Mac" from the Apple menu in the far left of the menu bar. The same pop-up also shows the version of Mac OS X you're running.

If you bought your Mac in the fall of 2006 or later, you probably have one of the above processors; that was when Apple switched from the Intel Core Duo to the Core 2 Duo. The September 2006 iMac, for example, was the first of that line to sport a Core 2 Duo; the same processor appeared in the MacBook Pro line in October 2006.

Apple started using the Core i3/i5/i7 processors in late 2009, when an iMac refresh first sported the i5 and i7 in high-end models.

How many machines do I get to put Lion on for my $30? All your personally-authorized Macs, as per the usual Mac App Store guidelines, says Apple.

If you have five Macs assigned to your iTunes account -- and thus to the Mac App Store -- you will be able to download and install Lion on all five machines.

In other words, say "good-bye" to the Family Pack, the pricier multi-license bundle Apple used to sell. With Snow Leopard, you paid $49 for the Pack, or just under $10 each to outfit five Macs. Leopard's Family Pack ran $199, or $39.80 per system. Lion drops that per-Mac price to $6.

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