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Upgrading to Mountain Lion

July 16, 2012 - Dave Hecei

As announced last month during Apple’s WWDC keynote, the next version of Mac OS X will be available in the next few weeks. Apple did not announce an official launch date, just ‘sometime in July’. The next version is named Mountain Lion and will be the ninth version of OS X.

While a new OS is always good news, we don’t want to get the cart to far ahead of the horse. Apple has updated the list of Macs that can and cannot upgrade to Mountain Lion. The list of what can is much smaller than what can’t.

When Mountain Lion was announced, Apple touted they have added over 200 new features and technologies with this version. Some of these are updates but some are completely new ideas, to desktop computing.

The one thing that looks interesting, but won’t be available to most Macs, is something called Power Nap. This is a new mode that only works on certain SSD based Macs. This includes the new Retina MacBook and the last couple of versions of the MacBook Air. Power Nap allows a Mac to work while sleeping. Obviously Apple took a queue from the iPad that can still sync and update information while the screen is off. Now your Mac can get messages, emails, and other tasks that can run in the background in a low power ‘not quite really asleep’ mode.

Figuring out if your Mac is capable of running Mountain Lion is fairly simple. If you Mac came with Lion, OS X 10.7, then you are set. If you purchased your Mac on or after June 11th, then you can get it for free. If your Mac came with Snow Leopard, it should be fine with 10.8.

For some slightly older Macs things get a bit tricky. They have to have at least a Core 2 Duo processor and not use Intel based video (GMA950, GMA X3100, etc.). According to lists I have found online, these Macs will run Mountain Lion.

  • Any Aluminum iMac
  • MacBook (Late 2008 Aluminum, or Early 2009 and newer)
  • MacBook Pro (Mid/Late 2007 or newer)
  • MacBook Air (Late 2008 or newer)
  • Mac mini (Early 2009 or newer)
  • Mac Pro (Early 2008 or newer)
If you have a Mac that is older, you might be out of luck. This doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to run Mountain Lion (there are ways around it). You might not want to run it because of performance issues. The biggest problem with the older Macs is the type of video card or chips it uses. Mac minis older than the spring of 2009 meet the CPU and RAM requirements, but the integrated video used in these models will not work with Mountain Lion. The same goes with older MacBook (not the Pro) and MacBook Air models. Surprisingly, even some of the first Mac Pro tower models will not be able to run Mountain Lion.

My advice for the 10.8 upgrade is first to wait at least two weeks before installing. This allows time for any major problems with the upgrade to be found and fixed. The next is whether to upgrade or not. If your Mac came with Lion, OS X 10.7, then by all means, go for it. Mountain Lion is only $20 so it’s really a no-brainer. If your Mac came with Snow Leopard, then sure, it’s only $20. But if possible, I would have a complete backup of your Snow Leopard drive as an emergency spare.

If your Mac came with Leopard, then it’s time to think it over. Is there anything that Mountain Lion will give you that you don’t already have? Another important thing to note, there are things that will break when going to 10.8. This involves some peripherals (printers, scanners, cameras, etc.). It also involves older software. Any software on your system that required Rosetta will no longer work with Mountain Lion (or even Lion). Rosetta was a technology Apple used to allow older PowerPC applications to run on new Intel based machines. This includes: AppleWorks, Microsoft Office X and 2004, Quicken for Mac, and many games. It is not readily apparent if an application is compatible with Mountain Lion (or Lion). If you perform a ‘get info’ on the application icon it will tell you what type it is. I

If you decide to go with the upgrade just know that you may lose some software titles you need. An option is to make a bootable clone of your current system to an external drive and then when you upgrade you can still boot from the external if you have to use an older App.

Apple upgrades have always been like a steamroller. Apple is constantly moving the Macintosh line forward, even if that means flattening those not able to keep up. For most, Mountain Lion is the future, especially for those already running Lion. For some it’s a decision of whether the upgrade is necessary to run the software they need. I went to Lion on one of my Macs to be able to run Apple’s iBook Author, a free App for the creation of iBooks. In any case, you can’t use price as an excuse, at $19.99 it is the lowest priced version of OS X yet, at least since the free beta of 10.0.


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