updated 02:02 am EDT, Wed June 12, 2013
Beta supports models up to six years old, bucking trend
Apple generally is a company that likes to look forward more than back, and in recent years this has led to an ever-shortening gap between buying a new Mac and watching it become unsupported by the newest OS release, particularly as the company has gone to a yearly refresh cycle for OS X. In something of a surprise move, however, Apple has (at least thus far) made OS X Mavericks (10.9)'s system requirements all but identical to those of Mountain Lion -- meaning Macs as old as mid-2007 may be able to run it.
After Apple's move to Snow Leopard in 2010 -- which itself left behind all previous PowerPC-based models, which had been in production as recently as two and a half years prior -- the company again cut its list of supported machines with the release of Lion in 2011. At the time, even early Intel models that relied on the Intel Core Solo and Core Duo processors -- Mac minis and MacBooks in particular -- were cast aside in what was seen as a particularly short cycle, given that Lion also dropped built-in Rosetta support for PPC applications as well as built-in Java.
Mountain Lion's release precluded machines from 2007 and 2008 that still had Intel Core2Duo chips, but were saddled with very basic video chipsets; though not explicitly spelled out, machines that would have otherwise met the specifications were dropped because they used the GMA 950 and earlier chipsets, which didn't offer sufficient video power to support features such as Core Animation. By mid-2012, only machines made within the last four years -- with two exceptions, the mid-2007 iMac and the late 2007 MacBook Pros -- were able to run the current operating system, Mountain Lion.
The news that the first beta of OS X 10.9 supports the same machines as Mountain Lion will be welcome news for those who have older machines. In addition to increasing the longevity of those models, the new efficiencies introduced in the operating system update (including App Nap, time coalescing and compressed memory) are likely to inject new life into processors and batteries that struggle to keep up with the more intensive modern programs, which are largely aimed at models with Core-class processors, higher-capacity custom batteries and plenty of RAM.
Though it is possible that Apple could choose to pare the list of supported machines ahead of its final list, currently the OS X Mavericks beta supports the following machines: from 2007, the mid-2007 iMac and late-2007 15- and 17-inch MacBook Pros; from 2008, all iMac models, all 2008 Mac Pro models, all 15- and 17-inch MacBook Pro models, the late 2008 "unibody" MacBook and the late 2008 debut MacBook Air. 2009's 13-inch MacBook models and the 13-inch mid-2009 MacBook Pro, along with all 2009 Mac mini models and the early 2009 XServe are also supported. All models from 2010 on are able to run OS X Mavericks as well.
One catch in the requirements is that in order to be able to upgrade to OS X Mavericks, all models must be upgraded to at least Snow Leopard version 10.6.7 or later (the current version of Snow Leopard, which is still available for order from Apple for $20, is 10.6.8). This suggests that Mavericks, like Mountain Lion, will only be available to buy through the Mac App Store. OS X Mavericks also requires at least 8GB of space free for installation as Mountain Lion did.