You can upgrade to OS X El Capitan on Macs from as far back as 2007. In terms of software, you’ll need to be running at least OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard – if you’re still running OS X 10.5 Leopard, then you’ll first have to buy an upgrade to 10.6 and install it before you can move to El Capitan (which itself is free).
You’ll also need an Apple ID to download the upgrade from the Mac App Store. In theory, all your settings and data will be preserved when you migrate. However, because theory and practice sometimes differ, it’s a good idea to ensure that you have an up-to-date Time Machine backup on an external drive or removable disk before you start. Check out our tutorial on how to set up and configure a Time Machine backup for more information.
If your Mac is set up to make regular backups, then all you need to do is check when the last successful one ran. Click the Time Machine status icon in the menu bar and choose Open Time Machine Preferences.
If the latest backup is older than today, run a new one; if your settings get wiped when upgrading, you’ll then be able to restore them from this backup.
Get the updates
You’ll also need to ensure that the most recent OS X updates are installed so that you can access the App Store, because this is the only way to get an El Capitan upgrade. Note that the update process will be different depending on whether you’re updating from 10.9, 10.8, 10.7 or 10.6.
In 10.6 Snow Leopard, go to the Apple menu, select Software Update and wait while it checks for new software. Once updates have been identified, choose Show Details to see which ones are available.
To save some time, you can opt to install only the Mac OS X Update Combined. Once all applicable updates have been downloaded and installed, you may need to restart your Mac.
Then, once you’ve made sure there’s a recent backup in place, go to the Apple menu, then open the App Store to get and install El Capitan. In OS X 10.9, 10.8 and 10.7, Click on the Featured tab and look for ‘OS X El Capitan’ a little way down under Quick Links on the right.
In this guide we’ll show you how to migrate data from another Mac, by connecting the two via a network cable. This might not be useful to you now, if you’ve got just the one Mac, but in the future when you upgrade to a new machine, you can use this method to transfer your data and ensure that nothing vital is overlooked.