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What to Do if Your Mac Can’t Run Mountain Lion

Posted on August 1st, 2012 by

NOTE: A version of this article is now available for macOS Sierra. Please refer to this article instead: What to Do if Your Mac Can't Run macOS Sierra. 

Last week Apple released a new version of its Mac operating system, OS X Mountain Lion (version 10.8).

As usual with major new Mac OS X updates, support for some machines has been dropped. This means that some Macs will be limited to Lion (version 10.7.4), which will presumably still receive security updates for the next year or so.

Some older Macs cannot be upgraded to Lion, meaning they'll be stuck with Snow Leopard (version 10.6.8) or older. That's not a good thing, because it means that Apple likely won't patch security vulnerabilities for those Macs' operating system anymore.

For the past several major versions of Mac OS X, Apple has only released patches for OS vulnerabilities in the current and one previous version of the operating system. Apple's lack of commitment to patch the 121 vulnerabilities in Snow Leopard's version of Safari is only a harbinger of things to come.

In other words, don't expect to get a corresponding Security Update for Snow Leopard the next time Apple patches vulnerabilities in Mountain Lion and Lion.

Apple dropping Snow Leopard support was inevitable. Back in February I inquired of Apple whether any security updates would be released for Snow Leopard after the release of Mountain Lion, and Apple never responded.

The good news is that most new Macs sold within the past few years can be upgraded to a newer version of OS X.

If you bought a new Mac on or after June 11, 2012, Apple's Up-to-Date Program allows you to request a free upgrade to Mountain Lion by August 24.

Following are lists of Macs that can run a supported version of OS X. If your Mac is older than the ones listed, read on for suggestions on what you can do to upgrade to a supported system.

Mountain Lion Capable Macs

Mountain Lion requires one of the following Macs with at least 2 GB of RAM and 8 GB of available hard drive space:

  • iMac (Mid 2007 or newer)
  • MacBook (Late 2008 Aluminum, or Early 2009 or newer)
  • MacBook Air (Late 2008 or newer)
  • MacBook Pro (Mid/Late 2007 or newer)
  • Mac mini (Early 2009 or newer)
  • Mac Pro (Early 2008 or newer)
  • Xserve (Early 2009)

Lion Capable Macs

If your Mac isn't new enough to run Mountain Lion, it should still be able to run Lion if you have a Mac with a Core 2 Duo processor (one of the Mac models listed below), as long as it has at least 2 GB of RAM and 7 GB of free hard drive space:

  • iMac (Late 2006 or Early 2007)
  • MacBook (Late 2006 or any 2007 or 2008 model)
  • MacBook Air (all models)
  • MacBook Pro (Late 2006)
  • Mac mini (Mid 2007)
  • Mac Pro (all models)
  • Xserve (Late 2006 or Early 2008)

If you're not sure which Mac model you own, you may find EveryMac and apple-history to be useful sites.

If all you need is a RAM upgrade in order to upgrade your OS, by all means, do it! RAM is cheap, and you can either install it yourself by following guides available online, or simply have an Apple-authorized repair technician do it for you.

If your Mac can't handle Mountain Lion but does support Lion, finding a legitimate copy of Lion could be a little tricky if you haven't already purchased it. If you search for OS X Lion in the Mac App Store you'll only find Mountain Lion, and Apple no longer sells an OS X Lion USB Thumb Drive (part number MD256Z/A) in its online store.

An Apple spokesperson told Macworld that customers should be able to purchase Lion from Apple's "legacy products list" by calling 1-800-MY-APPLE. However, when Macworld called last Wednesday they were told at that time that Lion was not available.

Macs That Can't Run Mountain Lion or Lion

If you have an iMac, MacBook, MacBook Pro, or Mac mini model that was originally released in Early/Mid 2006, the latest version of Mac OS X your system supports is Snow Leopard.

If you still use a Mac with a PowerPC processor, including G4 or G5 Macs, Apple hasn't released any security updates for your Mac for over a year now, aside from iTunes and QuickTime updates. Apple hasn't sold any PowerPC-based Macs since 2006.

Unfortunately, Apple doesn't give users any kind of warning when their operating system or Mac is no longer supported. Worse, when users run Apple's Software Update program, it misleadingly tells them "Your software is up to date."

This means that Mac users often have no idea that they're using unpatched, insecure software that could expose them to drive-by malware installations and other security problems.

Lest you think that nobody would bother releasing malware to attack such old systems, earlier this month malware was found in the wild that was designed to attack multiple platforms, and the malware contained PowerPC native code.

Still not convinced? Here's another recent example. Late last month, we reported that backdoor malware targeting Uyghur Mac users was found in the wild. Our friends at Kaspersky noted that the Trojan horse was a Universal binary, meaning it was designed to run on both PowerPC and Intel Macs.

(Image credit: Kaspersky)

Here's an even more surprising fact. Recent data from Net Applications shows that over 52% of the current Mac installed base is either running Snow Leopard or an older version of Mac OS X.

That means over half of the Macs in use today are not receiving critical security updates from Apple.

Snow Leopard in particular accounts for over 38% of the total Mac OS X installed base.

Those still using Snow Leopard should strongly consider upgrading to Mountain Lion or Lion if their Mac supports it, or if not, they should buy new hardware if they can afford it. (Let's face it, that's what Apple wants you to do anyway.)

But what can you do if Mountain Lion and Lion aren't supported on your Mac and you can't afford to buy a new computer?

If you have one of the early Intel Macs that can't even run Lion, you have several options.

One solution is to set up Boot Camp and install Windows as your Mac's primary OS. While Apple may not support your Mac anymore, ironically Microsoft does; both Windows 7 and the upcoming Windows 8 still support systems with 1 GHz processors, 1 GB of RAM, and 20 GB of available hard drive space.

Alternatively, if you can't afford to buy a copy of Windows (or just can't stand the thought of it)—or if you prefer to support free and open-source software—there are guides online detailing how to install Ubuntu Linux on a Mac.

Ubuntu is also available for PowerPC-based Macs, including those with a G3 processor.

Another option is, of course, to buy a cheap PC.  (Be forewarned: you get what you pay for.)

Obviously, none of those solutions is going to excite most Mac users. I suspect that most Mac users, geeks and non-geeks alike, would rather buy a newer Mac than switch to another operating system.

If you can't afford to buy a brand new Mac but you do have a little money to spend, you can shop around for used Macs, but make sure you buy one that's new enough to support Mountain Lion so it will hopefully be able to get security updates for a couple more years.

If you know a Mac user who's still running Snow Leopard or older, do them a favor and check to see whether their Mac is capable of running Mountain Lion or Lion. If so, help them upgrade, and if not, let them know it's time to strongly consider getting a newer computer.

The burden of informing users about software and hardware that will no longer receive security updates should really fall on Apple—not on some security researcher, a security blog, or blog readers. Let's hope Apple eventually figures this out and starts notifying users when it's time for them to upgrade.

About Joshua Long

Joshua Long (@theJoshMeister), Intego's Chief Security Analyst, is a renowned security researcher and writer. Josh has a master's degree in IT concentrating in Internet Security and has taken doctorate-level coursework in Information Security. Apple has publicly acknowledged Josh for discovering an Apple ID authentication vulnerability. Josh's security research has been featured by many fine publications such as CNET, CBS News, ZDNet UK, Lifehacker, CIO, Macworld, The Register, and MacTech Magazine. Look for more of Josh's articles at and follow him on Twitter. View all posts by Joshua Long →
  • Jensen_G

    I think one of the most important steps one can take for a version of OS X that is no longer supported by Apple is to download a non-Safari web browser. Since the web browser is the main way that people interact with the outside world, it’s very important that an older OS runs an up-to-date browser since once Apple stops releasing security updates for its older operating systems, it usually stops issuing updates to Safari as well for those operating systems.

    Luckily, both of the main non-Safari browsers (Chrome and Firefox) auto-update, so once installed they should provide a modicum of security with little effort.

    • Dana B

      not really unfortunately. I found this article, and am very grateful for it because I received a popup from Firefox last night telling me it no longer supports my os (10.5.8, leopard 🙁 ) chrome has been repeatedly telling me my os is out of date and adobe doesn’t support my os either so I have to say “run this time” every time ’cause I can’t update it. I much appreciate this article as I had no idea that my Mac Updates weren’t really updating everything, very disappointing as I’ve always loved Apple.

      • Steviant

        If you’ve got an intel mac, then you should really, really, upgrade to snow leopard at a minimum, it performs better and is supported by firefox proper.

        However, if you’re on a powerpc mac with leopard, I strongly recommend upgrading to Tobias Netzel’s AuroraFox from here,d.aGc

        AuroraFox is built from Firefox sources with accelerated JavaScript from the tenfourfox project. AuroraFox uses modern features of Leopard in conjunction with the accelerated javascript engine from TenFourFox. This is the safest and fastest browser for PowerPC leopard.

        • Stephen Kucharski

          And I recommend upgrading to Windows 7 or Windows 8 as long as you have an intel Mac. Why “upgrade” to an unsupported system?
          For PowerPC I have to agree with the previous poster.

          • Nick

            Snow Leopard is still supported and doing great. My MacBook’s actually running greatly with Leopard 10.5 (Mavericks just came out), but it’s good to have Windows on it for the stuff it might need/want that it can’t support. Meanwhile this is such a big deal here, everything is working ridiculously fast still, safari 5, omniweb, ilife, itunes 10, etc.

      • Stephen Kucharski

        You are learning, as I did years ago, this is how Apple operates. How much more are you going to put up with this? I understand first time buyers that are shocked by this, but people that have had this happen to them over and over again have no excuse to stick with Apple – UNLESS you have the money to buy a whole new machine every couple years.

  • Patrick Sayler

    So you’re telling me that new software doesn’t support legacy hardware!? What is the world coming to?

    • Juan de lacruz

      It depends. Its just that they don’t want you to get pissed off when you install a software that requires a lot of resources that can break your hardware. Imagine having the latest fastest software work slow on your legacy hardware. Unfair to think but it makes sense though.

      • Stephen Kucharski

        No it DOESN’T make sense. Windows 8 is actually less resource intensive and will run smoother on lessor hardware than Windows 7. Apple is doing this simply to make more money. They have always done this, which is why I happily abandoned ship in the mid 2000’s. There is nothing about Lion or Mountain Lion that’s requiring insane new hardware requirements. Apple wants your money. You people new to Apple’s business model will learn over and over again – this is simply how they work.

        • Nick

          Exactly. My 7 year old Toshiba for $380 can run Windows 7 faster than any other new PC I could find in best buy, including tons of new software. My 7 year old MacBook however is dying on OS X and on Windows 7 is probably one of the best windows laptops ill use.

    • Mark Sweetipo

      Pretty sad when Microsoft and even hobbyists (Linux) support Apple’s hardware longer than Apple does. Forced obsolesce business model means you need to drop big bucks every few years to stay in the Apple cool kids club. Look at no iOS 6 support for the original iPAD even though at the time it was only out for 2.5 years.

      • Nick

        I know it’s ridiculous. As cool as I think OS X and iOS are, i think it’s crazy. No, I’m not gonna throw my money away to Apple, I’m gonna install Windows on my 7 year old MacBook and let it run like a brand new laptop again, and when that’s too old as well I’ll install linux on it like my iBook G4.

    • Stephen Kucharski

      Legacy Hardware? Let me quote this previous poster: “My mid-2010 MacPro tower (with the 6-core Xeon Westmere CPU upgrade) with 16GB of RAM will NOT run 10.7 or 10.8…. ”

      If you call that “legacy hardware” you are insane, or so brainwashed by Apple you can’t admit when they are obviously screwing people over – Like I was for many years. Like them or hate them, Microsoft stands behind their OS’s for years. XP’s announced discontinuation of support was only recently announced. Vista, Win7, and Win8 are all supported running on a wide variety of hardware.

      • Nick

        I don’t want to say apple’s screwing people over all the time, cause in their earlier days with Steve Jobs they weren’t. But after he died and the management changed, yeah this is too far.

  • TriageMyPc

    A valuable article, but why not also provide OSX (PPC or Intel) end users regarding firewall activation with settings, at least open source anti-malware apps, such as ClamXav with Sentry, and more robust security browsers such as Firefox or TenFourFox???

  • Garry-paul Campbell

    i have 3 macs an i mac running osx 10.5, but wont upgrade any further but it still works well,so use firefox as my main browser and use sophos free anti virus just to be a bit safer,it still runs well so no intention of leaving it to gather dust just yet,my other 2 macs i have upgraded to lion but my white mackbook wont go any further so should be ok for a little while yet,my new i mac runs lion at the mo,but will upgrade that too mountain lion as soon as the bugs are ironed out!!!.both of these macs run intego on a 3 year licence!!!

    • Nick

      You’re probably better off using Linux on the PowerPC ones and Windows on the Intel ones. I’m using a 2006 white MacBook.

  • dis666

     Your Lion requirements are complex to a fault. It can be perfectly summarized as “Any Intel Mac except those with Core Solo or Core Duo processor.”

  • Jose Polanco

    Well then, Apple and linux use kind of the same open source (apple is closed source with open source components) thing. Thats why there are no or less viruses for Apple and linux because of their open source. Hackers find it hard to make viruses for it. Hey so you suggesting that if Snow leopard cannot be upgraded to prevent possible viruses, then we should get windows to get sure viruses? jeje you are a great comedian. How come those who cannot upgrade just buy Panda or norton for mac?
    also, yeah its true an OS that does not get updates is pretty vulnerable to infections but thats why other alternatives come up like buy an antivirus! Los Angeles Police Department still uses below 2000 windows me xD and besides beating people up with sticks they are doing fine.

    • Stephen Kucharski

      LA Police I’m sure have a dedicated server and hardware firewalls. The author is talking about HOME users, not corporate. There’s multiple layers of security for corporate users.

      At home, many people JUST have their OS to protect them. In Apple’s case, you don’t even have that for long. Also; he’s not just talking virus. He’s talking major security holes that will not be patched by Apple. BTW. Windows Defender is available for free from Microsoft and supports Windows XP through Windows 8. It’s as good or better than any paid program.

  • apple-history

    I believe the early 2008 iMac is M-capable (it qualifies as Mid-2007 or newer), so that appears to be an error here.

  • BlessedBeMe

    Would you happen to know where I can find the Lion software? I’ve been searching and I can’t find it anywhere. Please help. Thank You

  • Julio

    What a shame, my macbook late 2006 cannot run Mountain Lion but yes can run flawessly Windows 8 Pro With Media Center. With 3 Gigas of ram and 320 Gigas hard disk. Apple must think more on hardware requirements like Windows instead models themselves.

    • Nick

      I’m also using a 2006 white MacBook, it definitely should be able to last another 10 years, especially for what it cost. If Apple can’t support it, Microsoft will support it for like decades as well as linux still supporting powerpcs.

  • David A. Lewis

    My mid-2010 MacPro tower (with the 6-core Xeon Westmere CPU upgrade) with 16GB of RAM will NOT run 10.7 or 10.8…. All I managed to get out of Apple, after 6 hours on the phone being jerked around on their phone network was to get the $29.xx price refunded–but no apology as to WHY my less-than-two-year-old “workstation” was “obsolete”….

    This sort of betrayal of many long-term Mac users who are trying to DO SOME SERIOUS WORK on their Mac’s, is extremely disheartening! I don’t want to play games, and I have limited vision, so a very large wall-screen, plus 10.6.8 is all I really need….and I have that now…

    The “disability access” features in 10.6 aren’t perfect, but the keyboard shortcuts, and SMOOOOOTH scroll-wheel “zoom in” feature are fantastic!

    However, Apple has very sneakily put some sort of (I think…) firmware instructions to DIS-allow anybody to install Linux on this model…. I just want to be able to run NIVIDIA GPU rendering on this “box”, and I can’t.

    Apple has been “cheaping out” on hardware component quality for well over a decade now. My power supply is rated at only 350watts and a limited number of spaces or internal plugs for power, for graphics-cards—making the term “workstation” sound very very bitter to me…. A “cheap” (same price as my MacPro) would have had a 1200watt power supply, and 4 double-wide slots (or more)….and then I could run Linux on it—hopefully find an emulation of a “macintosh like” desktop environment….

    However, without the $$$ to throw down on ANY PC box, I’m trapped in Apple”s “walled garden” environment for kiddies…… I’d relabel that “Berlin Wall” actually, as my FILES (iPhoto and iTunes) are “held hostage” behind the wall. and it’s very unceretain how much of the ancillary data for those image/audio files would “come across”—I’ve spent literally thousands of hours getting those media libraries filled in and sorted out… I don’t want to have to do that again…

    Another horrible thing is that Linux doesn’t have Photoshop…. nor probably many other “Mac-centric” apps…. But I have no choice, as if my hardware fails suddenly, I wouldn’t be able to replace it with something that is backward-compatible with 10.6.8 (another totally greedy, totally arbitrary manipulation by Apple–“just throw it out and buy the new model” doesn’t work for me, because of my visual handicap (plus arthritis, so “gestures” are very painful.)

    • Stephen Kucharski

      I’m sorry this happened to you. As it happens to a lot of people – though not to your degree… Apple is doing this simply to make more money. They have always done this, which is why I happily abandoned ship in the mid 2000’s. There is nothing about Lion or Mountain Lion that’s requiring insane new hardware requirements – certainly you qualify to run ANYTHING out there. Apple wants your money. You people new to Apple’s business model will learn over and over again – this is simply how they work. I actually didn’t think a MacPro tower wouldn’t be up-gradable to Lion or Mountain Lion. There are ways to salvage your data and transfer to a PC box. I’d advise you to pick your own parts and have it built for you next time – you’ll get exactly what you want for a fraction of what you paid for your MacPro Tower – and it will perform just as well. This truly sucks this happened to you.

    • Joel Senders

      You are clearly doing something wrong. A mid 2010 Mac Pro WILL run the latest version of Mac OS X PERIOD. The only reasons why I can think of you not being able to install it would be that your internet connection sucks and you cannot download the installer, or that your hard drive is either formatted without journaling or using the APM partition scheme. In any of those cases, it is YOUR fault, not Apple’s. You would need to backup your stuff to a Time Machine backup, then erase your internal hard drive and reinstall to the proper partition scheme (GUID)/formatting (Mac OS Extended/Journaled). Apple does not abandon machines that are less than two years old, that is simply false.

    • Jenny

      I’ve upgraded my 2008 mac pro to 10.8, but it requires a better video card than was available stock on the earlier models (I installed an ati 5770). Check your video card against the requirements and you’ll likely find the culprit.

  • Andrew Gomes

    I’m still using Snow Leopard, why? I have a Core Duo (not Core 2 Duo) Intel Mac Mini that was made in 2006, it came with Tiger and I stayed with tiger until 2010 where I decided to upgrade to SL mainly because of Photoshop CS5 and for a decent web browser. But now Apple left me in the dark since my Mac cannot run Lion or Mountain Lion, ;( the bad part is I cannot afford a newer Mac right now

  • Ryan Epod

    well as of 4/12/13 OS X Snow Leopard is still supported with 2013-001 update and rumors persist that there will be a 10.6.9 release with iCloud integration

    • Christopher Starks

      I concur with Ryan, I received the 2013-001 update as well. Yeah I tried Mountain Lion for over 6 months and just could not wrap my head around it. Snow leopard lets me work the way I want to work…to a degree…. mountain lion screams if I do not do things ‘Apple’s” way, so I reverted back to 10.6.8…it’s either that or run Linux Mint 14 in lieu, which to be fair, runs exceptionally well on a 2010 macbook pro 6,2

  • Stephen Kucharski

    Apple is doing this simply to make more money. They have always done this, which is why I happily abandoned ship in the mid 2000’s. There is nothing about Lion or Mountain Lion that’s requiring insane new hardware requirements (Windows 8 is LESS resource intensive than Windows 7 and runs faster on legacy machines than 7 does). Apple wants your money. You people new to Apple’s business model will learn over and over again – this is simply how they work. If you were happy with iOS and moved to Apple computers – there’s a lot more of this you will run into. I absolutely PROMISE you.
    Since my mom is now not getting updates and can not protect her data on her computer, I’m installing dual boot and installing Windows 7. My opinion is its a better operating system anyway – and at the *least* is very similar to OS X. But FACT is it will be supported for years. Just like XP has been supported over the years with only a recent announcement of the end of support for XP (think about how old XP is…seriously). People that have moved to Apple Mac’s with the iOS introduction should start saving money now for a new computer for when Apple suddenly discontinues support of your systems with no announcement. This is how Apple has worked for YEARS.

    • Joel Senders

      “There is nothing about Lion or Mountain Lion that’s requiring insane new hardware requirements”. What a bogus statement. Maybe if you actually supported Macs on a daily basis and got to see what kind difficulties users experience when they have an older machine, you would change your mind. 10.7 and 10.8 introduced many new services integrated into the OS, and all of those services are constantly running and requiring resources. For obvious reasons you could see why there would be necessary hardware improvements needed to take advantage of services like iCloud, FileVault 2, Airplay Mirroring, multiple Time Machine backups, Dictation, Notification Center, Full Screen apps, etc. Older machines (3 years +) are already struggling to run newer/updated software with limited resources, which most Mac users do not wish to upgrade (HDD or RAM). It makes no sense to make their problems worse by allowing them to upgrade to a new OS with more features that requires more resources, otherwise you will just be creating a poor experience for everyone (and most people don’t know any better). It has little to do with making more money. If they cared about money so much they wouldn’t offer their new OS at $19.99, as opposed to Windows 8 which is still like $100. I work in IT supporting Macs and have sold Macs in retail for quite some time, and I know that the majority of Mac users actually prefer renewing their machines instead of upgrading them. There is a great market for resale also so it makes a 2-3 year renewal a bit less of a monetary impact.

  • Derek Currie

    “In other words, don’t expect to get a corresponding Security Update for Snow Leopard the next time Apple patches vulnerabilities in Mountain Lion and Lion.”

    As of certainly today, that dopey statement has been proven wrong a several times. Get to know Apple better please Joshua.

  • Nick

    Mavericks just came out and my MacBook is doing awesome with Leopard 10.5. It’s not as bad at all, especially if you can still run windows or linux on it. Its probably better off just running Windows thinking about it.
    By the way my 7 year old Toshiba for $380 is still running two operating systems faster than any other PC i’ve seen at best buy. I did not get what I paid for, I got like 4 times that.

  • johngrivera

    So I came here to read an article that could tell me what to do if my Mac does not support Mountain Lion and instead I got nothing but go buy another one. Is that it? Most of us don’t have that kind of money lying around for new hard drives and iMacs if we had that kind of money we wouldn’t be here trying to figure out how to get the darn thing to run Mountain Lion in the first place! Just saying my iMac is from early 2006 I would like to upgrade to Mountain Lion

  • Beau

    There is a SOLUTION: Find a friend running Mountain Lion or even a later OS. Have them backup their computer using TimeMachine. Remove their hard drive and replace it with a NEW unformatted drive. RESTORE from TimeMachine. Your friend gives you the newly RESTORED hard drive. Install that newly restored hard drive in your older Macbook. BOOM! Your Mac will boot to Mountain Lion and you will have access to all Mountain Lion updates. Not sure how late this will allow you to run or update newer OS’s, but it’s worth a try.