Every update to the macOS comes with new features designed to make your work more efficient and effective. The latest release – Big Sur, to be released november 12 – is no exception.
Nor was the previous release, Cataline. Among the most exciting additions made in this version of OS was Sidecar, a tool that allows you to use your iPad as a second display for your laptop or desktop.
In addition, Catalina also includes support for Apple's Screen Time tracker, an upgraded Photos app, and revamped tools for managing your files, including support for using Google drive on your Mac.
Unfortunately, these features aren’t available for everyone since Apple doesn't allow you to install Catalina on older machines. This is because the new OS has higher computing and power requirements than the software that these machines originally shipped with, and Apple feels that it will not work well on them.
If you disagree and want to install Catalina anyway, you'll need a workaround. In this guide, we'll show you one.
Is Your Mac Too Old for Catalina?
First of all, it's worth checking if you can get Cataline on your device the official way. Apple will allow you to download and install Catalina from the app store if you have one of these devices:
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 or later
If your device isn't on this list, or was released before 2012, you won't be able to get Catalina the officially supported way. However, there is a technical workaround that allows you to bypass the systems that Apple has put in place to limit your access to the new OS.
Before we show you how to get Catalina on an older Mac, just a few quick things to keep in mind.
You might think that downloading software that aims to workaround Apple’s safeguards is a security risk considering the current high rate of breach attempts. Under normal circumstances, you'd be right, but the patch used to install Catalina is a small, tested, and trusted app that has been used safely by thousands of people.
Nonetheless, you might want to check our guide on how to set up and use a VPN on a Mac if you want extra security.
Secondly, and as with any major operation on your machine, make sure that you backup all of your files before you get started.
The process below is safe enough, but accidents and mistakes still happen from time to time. You should also check your storage space to make sure that you have enough free space to install Catalina.
How to Install Catalina on an Old Mac
With that out of the way, we can get started. The problem we face when putting Catalina on older Macs is that, hidden deep within the operating system itself, there is a script that checks what machine you are trying to install it on. If this script detects that your chosen machine is too old, the Catalina installer will quit automatically.
We will therefore need to disable this functionality by patching the OS itself. Thankfully, a third-party developer named DOSDude1 has written just such a patch, and it works on a wide variety of Macs going way back to early 2008. Head to dosdude1.com, and find the device that you want to install Catalina on.
On the same site, there is also a video tutorial that will take you through the process of installing Catalina, but I'll describe this as well.
- First, download the macOS Catalina Patcher from dosdude1.com.
- Open the Catalina Patcher app.
- Click Continue.
- Click Download a Copy. The macOS Catalina download should then begin. This might take a while, because Catalina is quite large – around 8GB.
- Plug in a USB memory stick.
- Click Create a Bootable Installer and wait for the installer to be transferred to your USB drive.
You’ve now created a bootable macOS Catalina installer on your USB stick - next, you need to install it on your older Mac.
- Plug the USB stick into your older Mac.
- Restart your Mac while holding Option/Alt (depending on when it was made) to access Startup Manager.
- Select the bootable installer and click Enter. Your Mac should then open in Recovery mode.
- Click Reinstall macOS and wait for macOS Catalina to be installed on your machine.
- After the installation, restart the Mac in recovery mode and select the bootable drive once again.
- This time, select macOS Post Install. This will install all the third-party patches on your Mac that’ll make Catalina work.
- Once the patches have been installed, select Force Cache Rebuild.
- Restart your Mac.
And that should be it – your old Mac should boot straight into Catalina, and this should be a persistent install. If something went wrong, though, it's worth trying a different version of the patching tool from dosdude1.com; some of these apps are quite old, and maintenance appears to be pretty patchy.
If this operation has given you an appetite for playing around with your Mac a little more, it's worth checking out our other guides on how to get the best out of your Mac. Our guide to Mac terminal commands and tricks is a great place to start with that, because it will give you a new level of insight into how your Mac operates under the hood.
Or, alternatively, just sit back and enjoy the slightly strange experience of running a state-of-the-art, brand new OS like Catalina on your ancient hardware!
Written by Bernard Brode
Bernard Brode is a product researcher at Microscopic Machines and remains eternally curious about where the intersection of AI, cybersecurity, and nanotechnology will eventually take us.