OS X: Upgrading to Lion

| How-To

OS X Lion was shown off during Apple’s annual World Wide Developers Conference keynote on Monday, and will be available some time in July. This marks the first time Apple will be distributing its Mac operating system without offering a physical disc installer, and not every Intel-based Mac can support Lion. Read on to see who can install Lion, and what’s involved.

MacBook Air with LionLion: Apple’s newest Mac OS

Lion-compatible Macs
OS X Lion requires a Mac with an Intel Core 2 Duo, Core i3, Core i5, Core i7 or Xeon processor. That means most Macs shipped after 2006 have at least the minimum horse power to run Lion.

  • MacBook The first Core 2 Duo MacBooks shipped in November 2006
  • MacBook Pro The first Core 2 Duo MacBook Pros shipped in October 2006
  • iMac The first Core 2 Duo 17-inch iMac shipped in September 2006
  • Mac mini The first Core 2 Duo Mac mini was a late comer with an August 2007 launch
  • Mac Pro Every Mac Pro going back to its August 2006 introduction is Lion compatible

Starting with the Right OS
OS X Lion is an upgrade, so you need to make sure your Mac is running OS X 10.6, or Snow Leopard, before you begin. If Snow Leopard isn’t already installed on your Mac, you can buy it at your local Apple Store or the online Apple Store for US$29, or through companies such as Amazon.com.

If you haven’t installed Snow Leopard, you won’t be able to upgrade to Lion. Also make sure to update to Snow Leopard version 10.6.7 through the Apple’s Software Update application, or by downloading the updater from the Apple Support Web site. Version 10.6.7 added Mac App Store support, which is necessary for downloading the Lion upgrader.

Upgrading to Lion
Once OS X Lion is available, you’ll be able to download it from the Mac App Store, which also just so happens to be the only way to purchase the upgrade. Lion is priced at US$29.99, just like Snow Leopard.

The Mac App Store will download the Lion upgrader app to your Mac. Once it finishes downloading, just follow the onscreen instructions to complete the upgrade process.

But What About…
Apple is making the upgrade to Lion simple, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few questions lingering, like:

  • Do I have to re-download the Lion upgrade if I need to reinstall OS X? No, you won’t. The Lion installer is saved as a file on your Mac. That can be saved to another disk and can be used again if you ever need to reinstall OS X. Lion also includes a restore partition on your hard drive that can be used to reinstall or repair your Mac’s operating system, and Lion can be restored from a Time Machine backup.
  • What About Mac Users with Slow Internet Connections? The Lion upgrade is 4GB, which can take a painfully long time to download on slow Internet connections. If you don’t feel like waiting hours — or even days — for the download to complete, your best bet is to take your Mac to a faster Internet connection, like an Apple Store.
  • Can I Buy a Lion Family Pack? Apps downloaded from the Mac App Store include copy protection that lets you install titles on up to ten computers that are authorized with your account information. That means you won’t need a Family Pack license for the Macs in your house. Your $29.99 upgrade fee has you covered.

If you want to find out right away when OS X Lion is available, Apple will be sending email notifications. There’s a simple form to fill out on the company’s Web site.

Lion isn’t due to hit virtual store shelves for a few more weeks, so more questions — and hopefully a few more answers — are on the way. The Mac Observer will be watching Apple and OS X Lion closely to make sure you get the answers you need before jumping into Apple’s next operating system.

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I’m very disappointed that Apple is using a download-only strategy for Lion. As I type this on my iPad, my MacBook Air is sucking the latest Lion preview over the airwaves in the front seat of my pickup, parked outside a wine shop with free, relatively fast WiFi. Since I’m traveling this summer, I have to rely on my MyFi for Internet access. With top speeds of about 1.5 Mbps and a 3GB/month bandwidth cap, not only would the download take in excess of 10 hours—if it succeeded on the first try—but it would overrun my bandwidth allocation.

You might say that I’m a special case, but I don’t think so. My Internet access in rural AZ wasn’t any better, although it didn’t have a cap. Often, I’d let a download run overnight, only to discover that it failed while I was asleep. As you suggest, I wound up making the 80-mile drive to an Apple store to get the software. Not exactly convenient. Needless to say, I’m not looking forward to updates, either.

Its unfortunate that the US lags so far behind much to the rest of the developed world in Internet accessibility. Decisions to release big, fat software programs by download only don’t make things any easier for the folks already suffering with rural Internet service.


I definitely feel the frustration as well, particularly as I’m going to be heading down to New Zealand (where everything is metered) before the final version is available. However, $29 is a pretty aggressive price point, and they’re clearly trying to drive the market. They ticked people off when the eliminated the floppy drive as well, but it lowered cost, served their design needs, and ultimately drove consumers to ditch the format faster.


I may be one of the few oddballs out there with a Core Duo (Macmini). So you KNOW I’m going to try upgrading to Lion just to see what it does (since Core Duo is probably much more rare than PowerPC or Core 2 Duo and beyond) smile. if it works, I won’t even see it in the store. If it’s broken a bit, it’ll take my money, let me download it, and fail the installation. If it’s really broken, it’ll install it, but won’t boot. We’ll see what happens…

But a Q: what’s Apple’s normal procedure for refurbished machines? I’m considering buying a new Mac in the next month or two (for obvious reasons, see item 1). Assuming Lion has been released, will it come with Lion, or will I have to shell out the extra $30?

(Something about me—I’m willing to shell out $30 to see if something’s broken, but not for normal purposes!)

Lee Dronick

I wonder if disk images will be available mail-order from Apple for those who do not have broadband or what they have is limited. This might be a case where Apple needs to hear squeaky wheels via their feedback page if not email to Steve jobs.

$29 for a family of ten Macs sounds very reasonable.

Emil Bevacqua

I personally love the whole package. I am not a big Mobile Me person I have it but not a big user like some people I have read about. I do feel their pain because I do have some friends that rely on it a lot. I do think that for Apple to stay on top of the field changes will come. I do feel bad for my Mac friends that are mentioned in remote areas that a download takes forever and where bandwidth price can take your right arm. I currently have 3 mac books in the house and an IPad. The whole house went Apple 2 years ago strangely turned on by the youngest of the household. I do look forward to working with Lion and ICloud and hope for everyone the experience is well worth it. Good Luck Guys

John Martellaro

This could come in handy: How to create a Lion boot disc:



I’ll be interested to hear your experience with the Core Duo, as my wife has a Core Duo MacBook and her sister has an old Core Solo Mini that I gave her. I’m not messing with either system unless I know that it will work! smile

Don’t know about the refurb question, but I believe that if you buy it once you can install on all your authorized computers!


What is Apple going to do about institutions (universities/colleges) that have Mac OS X licenses to upgrade computer labs and faculty computers? The Mac App Store simply doesn’t work in that environment. I’ve heard nothing from Apple about how they’ll address software upgrades for Lion or Final Cut Pro in corporations/educational institutions. Anyone?


Don?t know about the refurb question, but I believe that if you buy it once you can install on all your authorized computers!

True. I’m hoping, though, that I won’t even have the option to upgrade my Mac Mini (that the Mac App Store will look at the prerequisites for Lion and simply not present it to me as an option because it won’t run on my machine).

John Martellaro

MDixon: Apple may not have worked out these details yet.  Universities will need to consult with their education field sales representative.

Dave Morrison

What would the install procedure be if you lose a harddrive to drive failure? Would you have to install Snow Leopard to the empty drive and then run the updater?

John Martellaro

Dave, see the URL in my comment above about creating a Lion boot/install disc.


mlvezie: Well if you’re just looking for an excuse to get a new computer, then I think it’s very important to do things by the book and trust what Apple says. Core 2 Duo means Core 2 Duo!

Dave Morrison

Thanks for that, John. So you’re saying that this will create a complete Lion install disc and not just a disc containing the “updater” files? Thanks again.

John Martellaro

Dave: yes, that’s my understanding from the article.  I think when Apple goes overboard to make things easy, then gives us little bits and pieces at first, we mistakenly assume that all the stuff we really need is gone.  But it ends up still being there.


This is typical Apple, to adapt next year’s technologies surprisingly early. In a few years, we’ll look back on installation disks as relics that are as irrelevant as floppies. But today, some of us will be inconvenienced (although I won’t since I have an MBA and can’t use installation disks anyway). Heh heh.


what?s Apple?s normal procedure for refurbished machines? I?m considering buying a new Mac in the next month or two (for obvious reasons, see item 1). Assuming Lion has been released, will it come with Lion, or will I have to shell out the extra $30?

Some resellers might throw in the latest OS as an incentive, but I’m not sure if Apple would include it on a refurb or not. I know they’ll include the latest OS with new machines, if one is released between hardware product cycles.

I have heard somewhere that the 10.7 download will follow Apple’s normal end user license; which means that you can install it on up to five different machines. Not bad at all for $30.


So you KNOW I?m going to try upgrading to Lion just to see what it does

Most likely the installer simply won’t let you. You’d have to do some trick like install it on a supported machine and then restore it to the unsupported one (Time Machine backup, make a disk image of the Lion install and restore that to the Core Duo machine, etc.)  That being said, I wouldn’t recommend this because it will be an untested code path / configuration which might crash or panic and which Apple won’t care to fix for you.  But if you like living on the edge ...


@webjprgm, I have no interest in seeing if Lion will work. Apple has already said it won’t. My only curiosity is if the installer will let me.


What would the install procedure be if you lose a harddrive to drive failure? Would you have to install Snow Leopard to the empty drive and then run the updater?

You should have a Time Machine backup and the install disks that came with your Macintosh. I recommend adding a tiny partition to the Tme Machine disk and putting the install disk on there, in case you lose your install disks (many people don’t look after them). So you put a new drive into your Mac, reboot from the install disk, format the hard drive as HFS+, and restore the Time Machine backup.


The reason that Lion requires a Core 2 Duo is the 64 bit requirement. Lion will be fully 64-bit kernel.  This is why some of the other technologies such as Rosetta are also gone.  A Core Duo is a 32 bit processor and can’t run a 64 bit OS.


I have installed the developer preview of Lion OS X which works fine with the app store. Does anybody now whether I can upgrade from it or do I need to downgrade to Snow Leopard?


Most likely the installer simply won?t let you.

If anyone’s curious, that’s exactly what happened. It showed me the $29.99, then Buy button, but after I clicked that, popped up a message saying it wouldn’t let me install it on my Core Duo.

So yeah, this born lever-puller is satisfied that things aren’t broken. smile

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