Should I install El Capitan on my 2013 Macbook Air?
February 21, 2016 6:52 AM   Subscribe

I have a mid-2013 Macbook Air with 4GB of RAM. It's currently running Mavericks, and I would love to just keep it that way, but more and more software doesn't work with Mavericks. I would update, but I hear so many people who say that 4GB isn't enough and you need at least 8GB to run both Yosemite and El Capitan well and that performance is worse than on Mavericks.

I do backup my documents, but don't have a way to make a full backup, so I can't really go back if El Capitan doesn't work out. I depend on my computer for work and use it all day. If El Capitan makes it very slow I'd rather keep using Mavericks. But if the reports on the internet are by outliers and for most people El Capitan is fine, I'd rather upgrade so that I can install new software. I don't care about new features in El Capitan (either good or bad), I only care about performance. I mostly use Opera (with tons of tabs open) SPSS, Word and Excel.
posted by blub to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I recently bit the bullet and upgraded from Snow Leopard to El Cap on my MacBook Pro with Retina (15", mid-2012, 8 GB), my MacBook Air (11", mid-2013, 4 GB), my Mac Mini Server (4 GB), and my work iMac (8 GB). My impression is that the real limiting factor in performance isn't RAM; it's whether you have an SSD or a spinning hard drive. El Cap feels a lot faster on both MacBooks than it does on either of the machines with hard drives.

Unless you're really squeezed for cash, I would suggest getting a USB hard drive for $50 and using Carbon Copy Cloner or SuperDuper to make a full bootable backup of your Macbook before upgrading. You can later use it for Time Machine. (In fact, my backup strategy includes a 1TB USB drive, with two encrypted partitions, one for Time Machine and one for a full clone.) Then you can revert to Mavericks if you need. I try always to have a recent bootable backup on hand anyway, so that if my machine goes south I can be up and running again with minimum downtime.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:01 AM on February 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm using El Capitan on my 13" 2011 MacBook Air (4GB) and it's fine.
posted by BinaryApe at 7:02 AM on February 21, 2016

I have a 2013 Macbook Air that runs El Capitan just fine. I mostly use it to run Ableton Live (a DAW), which can be a bit of a resource hog, but I've never run into problems...
posted by kuanes at 7:02 AM on February 21, 2016

I do backup my documents, but don't have a way to make a full backup, so I can't really go back if El Capitan doesn't work out

If you're already running Mavericks, you should have fewer problems with El Capitan on your computer, but please do get a cheap hard drive and make a Time Machine backup before upgrading.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 7:03 AM on February 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

If it's fine with Mavericks, it should be fine with El Cap; nthing a cheap USB hard drive backup.
posted by holgate at 7:13 AM on February 21, 2016

I have an 11" mac air that says it is mid-2013 and has 4gb of ram. I have been running El Capitan since it became available and it seems about the same as it did before, though I do nothing more intensive with the computer than writing and internet browsing, so I can't speak to how things like video editing or Photoshop would compare.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:00 AM on February 21, 2016

I have an 11.6” (MBA 2011) with only 2 gb of RAM and it shows no problem. I don’t use it for high-intensity stuff, though - who does on an Air?

I suspect that it does some disk swapping but since the disk is an SSD it is just not noticeable.
posted by yclipse at 8:51 AM on February 21, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks for your answers! I'm going to give it a try and will look into backup options before I do.
posted by blub at 9:06 AM on February 21, 2016

Someone just asked a very similar question a week ago.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 10:03 AM on February 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have a 2010 MBA (4gb RAM 128gb SSD) running El Capitan. No problems.
posted by Salamandrous at 4:50 PM on February 21, 2016

Response by poster: I bit the bullet and installed El Capitan. So far so good! I haven't noticed any performance issues and suddenly my printer and scanner work again, which is really nice. Thanks very much for the reassurance! I had not realised that the SSD would partly make up for the relatively low amount of RAM (it's still weird to me that 4GB is now considered low).

Thanks also for linking to that previous thread Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell. I feel silly for missing that because I actually did think that someone might have asked about this, but I figured the related questions were not even close to my question so I did not think searching for previous questions would help. I should have done that anyway.
posted by blub at 2:10 AM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

I run El Cap on a 2011 MBA with 2g RAM. No problems.
posted by persona au gratin at 2:32 AM on February 22, 2016

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