This document describes the process to upgrade a 13-Inch Mid-2012 MacBook Pro to the most recent operating system compatible with the computer.
STEP #1 – Install OS X 10.7 Lion
Assuming you have all of your files safely backed up, or that this is a new computer, you will want to perform a clean system installation of OS X 10.7 Lion.
- ETHERNET. Connect the computer to a fast Internet connection using Ethernet.
- NET RESTORE. Next you will want to perform a system restoration and clean installation of the operating system. With the computer off, press Command-R or Option-Command-R and turn on the computer. Then follow the on-screen options to install the operating system.
- NOTE: These key combinations should install the original operating system or the latest compatible operating system. However, regardless of what combination you use, the computer will most likely end up having OS X 10.7 Lion even though macOS 10.15 is reported as being the latest compatible version. If you are an advanced user, you can try using the Disk Utility to initialize the hard drive to make sure it has proper partitioning and is starting from a fresh clean state.
STEP #2 – Install OS X 10.10 Yosemite
For this process, you will need to obtain a clean bootable OS X 10.10 Yosemite installation USB media. This may be very difficult to find, but it is important because you will want to upgrade the computer from 10.7 to the 10.10 version of the operating system. It is a flash drive that someone would have made using the original Yosemite installation drive image.
- With the computer off, and the installation USB installed, hold down the option key and power on the computer.
- Wait until you see two drives showing as your available startup drives.
- Choose the MacOS Installation USB as your startup drive.
- Follow the on-screen prompts to install. The process will require a restart.
- On the first login, you will be prompted to enter your Apple ID. This will help the system synchronized with iCloud.
- Each time an update is installed, your system is optimized for the latest iCloud apps for greater compatibility with iCloud services.
STEP #3 – Install OS X 10.11.6 El Capitan
Follow these instructions to download and install macOS 10.11.6 El Capitan.
- Obtain the installation software available from Apple. [View Page]
- That file will download from the Apple website into your downloads folder.
- NOTE: You could follow the instructions on that page to create a bootable installation USB flash drive similar to the one described in Step #2 above. However, since you have a working computer running Yosemite, you can simply use the downloaded El Capitan installation file.
- When you open the DMG you will see an installation package. Double-click that file to begin the installation.
- Follow the instructions to complete the installation of El Capitan.
STEP #4 – Install macOS 10.15 Catalina
- Return to the Apple support page mentioned above to perform the Catalina installation. [View Page]
- Recall how above you downloaded the installation file. This time, for Catalina, you will click the link provided by Apple and that will take you to Catalina in the Apple App Store. [View] This will install the Catalina installation application in the Applications folder on your computer.
- Open the Install Catalina application to begin and follow the on-screen instructions.
There may be some additional software updates required at this point, but otherwise the computer should be performing well with the latest, most secure, and most stable available operating system compatible with your older computer.
A variation of the steps above could probably be used on other older models of Apple computers.
Further reading is available below to provide a broader understanding of this process.
According to the Apple, “If you use Option-Command-R during startup, in most cases you’re offered the latest macOS that is compatible with your Mac.” [source] According to the Mactracker app, a 13-Inch Mid-2012 MacBook Pro can run macOS 10.15 Catalina. However, in a real-world test, as of 21 Sep 2021, the network recovery process installed OS X 10.7 Lion, which is the original operating system for that computer.
So, it is necessary to upgrade manually to a more recent version of macOS. Apple describes a process of downloading and creating installation media. [source] However, that process doesn’t work. If you have a current Apple computer based on the M1 processor, the older operating systems won’t download from the App Store. Even if you have an Intel-based Mac computer, the older operating systems will be prevented from downloading. When you click on the links to the macOS versions, you’ll be taken to the App Store and the “Get” link will open your computer’s “Software Update” which will state “The requested version of macOS is not available.”
Alternative Upgrade Option Using SSD
Ideally, one would take a working MacBook Pro of similar vintage owned by someone who has kept that system updated. Using Carbon Copy Cloner, the drive of that similar laptop could be duplicated to an inexpensive solid state drive, such as a 250GB PNY drive for about $30 to $40. [View]
Then, the solid state drive could be placed in the Mid-2012 MacBook Pro and it should work.
Depending on the contents of the source drive, it would be possible to erase any unnecessary user home folders and files to begin with a fresh system. Or, use the recovery partition to perform a fresh OS installation but this time it should work since the drive is already configured for the newer operating system.
Here are the resources and further reading that may help with the above upgrade.
- Apple Serial Number Info – Obtain system information based on your computer serial number [View]
- Apple Support: “How to create a bootable installer for macOS” [View]
- Apple Support: “How to reinstall macOS” [View]
- Apple Support: “Mac startup key combinations” [View]
- Apple Support: “Upgrade OS on MacBook Pro mid 2012” – Apple support discussion document [View]
- Carbon Copy Cloner – Software to duplicate a hard drive. [View]
- MacTracker – Reference app providing information about all Apple products. [View]
- Solid State Drive – 250GB PNY for about $30 to $40 [View]