How am I upgrading to El Capitan?

Anthony Caruana
1 October, 2015
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A fresh, shiny, new operating system – it’s a time of excitement, trepidation, worry and adventure. I feel like the nerdy equivalent of Indiana Jones running from the boulder of incompatible applications as I strive towards the peak of El Capitan.

OK, so that’s a little melodramatic. But after many operating system upgrades with Windows, OS X and iOS I’ve learned a few tricks along the way.

Over the long weekend, i’m going to be upgrading three different Macs.

  • A late 2013 13-inch MacBook Pro
  • A current Core i7 Mac Mini (this is the machine I mainly work from)
  • A MacBook

For the two portable Macs, I’m going to do an in-place upgrade from Yosemite. The MacBook (a loan unit from Apple) doesn’t have a bunch of software loaded and is only used when I travel. The MacBook Pro was my daily workhorse for over a year but since moving house I decided a desktop system was a better fit for how I work as I needed a system that stayed in place as it would also serve as my main iTunes library (I have a 4TB drive connected to the Mac Mini).

The Macbook Pro and Mac Mini have both been through Migration Assistant many times. As a result, both are carrying a lot of extraneous stuff from applications I’ve tested. I’m thinking it’s been at least four years since I did a clean install. To be honest, it’s been such a long time I can;t recall when I last went back to bare metal to do an upgrade.

Downloading El Capitan

I decided to download El Capitan from the App Store n the MacBook Pro. The main reason was I can connect it via Ethernet to my router which won’t clutter my wireless network and actually arrive a little faster.

The first time I tried to download El Captian, the process failed but it came in pretty quickly on the second attempt. The total download was a touch over 6GB.

Creating a bootable USB for installation

As I’m going to upgrading three machines, I didn’t want to download El Capitan three times. And, seeing as the Mac Mini will be going to bare metal, I need a USB stick with the new OS to boot from.

There are lots of ways to do this but I decided to make life easy and download the new version of DiskMaker X. This is an Apple Script based utility to formats an 8GB USB stick and makes it into a bootable drive so I can completely wipe everything from my Mac Mini as well as upgrade my other Macs.

The other advantage of having bootable USB with the operating system is I can slip it into my luggage when I travel. If worse comes to worse, I can always rebuild my Mac and download my key apps from the App Store or my Office 365 account. It’s not as good as carrying a complete clone of my system but it could be enough to get me up and running in an emergency.

Inventory and backup

Before upgrading your operating system, ALWAYS backup your system. If you use Time Machine AND keep another backup of your data offsite you’re probably in pretty good shape.

When doing a full we of a system, as I’m doing with the Mac Mini, I need to take a slightly different approach as I want to be able to easily restore specific data without bringing a bunch of stuff I don’t want along for the ride.

That means making manual copies of a few things

  • Photos
  • Music (this one is covered as my music is already on an external disk that is backed up)
  • My iTunes folder – although there’s no media in it, the XML file contains all the information my new system will need in order to know where all the content lives on the external drive)
  • My OneDrive folder – I use OneDrive for my cloud storage. having a copy of the contents means when I set OneDrive up on my freshly minted Mac Mini I won;t need to download all the files. OneDrive will simply do a reconciliation between what’s online and what I have locally
  • My Parallels virtual machines
  • My iMovie projects in the Movies folder
  • A list of all the applications I have installed – this is pretty easy to create. Just open the Applications folder, elect all the applications (Command – A) and copy them (Command – C). Then open TextEdit and paste (Command – V). I’ve reviewed the list and removed applications I won’t be reinstalling. This is the time when I check I have all the registration codes handy as well.

All of that is today’s work. Tomorrow – it’s upgrade day. You’ll know whether it all worked when I post the outcome on Monday morning.

Until then, if you follow the AFL (go Hawks!) or NRL I hope your team wins. If you’re in a state where there’s a public holiday – have great long weekend.


2 people were compelled to have their say. We encourage you to do the same..

  1. David Feather says:

    I have 2 laptops; 2014 MacBook Air and a 2009 MacBook. I have tried to download the update which has failed several times on both machines. So far this update is not going as well as previous updates.

  2. Graham says:

    Have successfully upgraded a 2014 11″ Macbook Air.
    It took 12.5 hours to download the update via ADSL and home wifi. Should have vone in to the local Apple store :(
    So far so good; have only had to upgrade one app so far (Starstax).

    Next step will be a current Mac Mini 2.6g i5.

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