The essential macOS Sierra upgrade guide

Things to think about, what to do, what to try first

Mac users everywhere are full of anticipation as they await the next release of macOS Sierra, the latest version of the OS they rely on each day. There are a few hours to go until the release (traditionally though not exclusively at around 10am PDT) so please take a moment to review this upgrade guide.

Why upgrade?

Available in public beta since early July, Sierra is packed with useful features, including support for Siri, iCloud enhancements including iCloud Desktop and Documents, Universal Clipboard, big improvements to iTunes and excellent Photos enhancements, along with dozens of improvements across every part of the OS. I go into much more depth on these improvements here.

[Also read: 8 more macOS Sierra features you’ll use]

Who can upgrade?

macOS Sierra is compatible with the following Macs

  • MacBooks from 2009 or later
  • iMacs from late 2009 or newer
  • MacBook Air from late 2010 or later
  • MacBook Pro from mid 2010 or later
  • Mac mini from mid 2010 or later
  • Mac Pro from mid 2010 or later.

You need to be running at least OS X 10.7.5 (Lion) on your Mac and must have at least 8.8GB of free drive space.


Every year I hear the same stories. Mac users rush to upgrade their Macs and something goes wrong: loss of power, an accidental disconnection from the router, an unexpected software glitch – there’s a long list. The other annual problem is that with millions of Mac users attempting to install the software at the same time the Internet itself feels the strain and some downloads can take an age. Any of these can interrupt the installation process, which may have negative consequences on your Mac.

What this means: Please don’t just blithely upgrade your Mac to the new OS, backup first. OS upgrades aren’t trivial and while Apple does everything it can to stop things going wrong, sometimes they do. On a Mac, you should back up to Time Machine, a cloud backup service such as Carbonite or Crashplan or an external drive.

Get the passwords

You should make sure you take a note of all your Apple ID, iCloud, Wi-Fi, VPN and application-related passwords (Twitter, for example) before you upgrade.


Once you’ve backed you system up you may want to take a moment to get rid of some of the unwanted files on your Mac. One easy way to identify some of the biggest files is to create a smart folder to monitor large files. Don’t delete any System files, but take a moment to think about things like Movies you’ve downloaded from iTunes – you can always download them again. (Oh, and good news, once you have installed the OS then you’ll get better storage options and Siri’s help when identifying larger files).

Get the point (upgrade)

Don’t upgrade immediately, wait a few hours or even days for any unexpected software problems to be identified and for the number of people attempting to download the OS at the same time to fall. Many veteran Mac users prefer to wait on the first point upgrade, when Apple usually resolves any unexpected problems in the initial release.

Installation time

Once you are ready to upgrade just head over to the App Store, download the new OS and – think about it. Do you want to do a clean install? Install and replace from backup? Or just an upgrade? There are pros and cons to each approach: if you have time a clean install is best, most people don’t have time so they choose to upgrade, as described here. Once the process is complete you’ll be asked to join your Wi-Fi network and to sign in with your Apple ID and password; iCloud will then sync your desktop and other files. If you have chosen to clean install you will need to redownload all your apps, sign-in to all your apps and services and may need to recover files from backup.

Slow performance?

If you find your Mac seems to have slowed down following the upgrade take a look at Activity Monitor and you’ll probably find the system is reindexing your drive. This takes a while and can impact performance. If that doesn’t seemto be the case and/or you’ve left your Mac to sort itself out for a few hours, try to Restart your Mac while holding down the Command and R key. It will launch in Recovery Mode. While in this mode, run Disk Utility>First Aid to address any issues. Restart your Mac.

After you upgrade

First take a look at what’s new in System Preferences in the new OS. Secondly, Siri on macOS Sierra will slowly transform how you use your Mac, so once you upgrade ask Siri, “What can you do?” Take a look at this guide for a few more ideas.

[Also read: 8 macOS Sierra Menu bar tips you'll use.]

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