New Mac mini – older OS?
September 4, 2020 9:32 AM   Subscribe

My 2012 Mac Mini is showing its age, but if I replace it with a new Mini, how old an OS can a new machine support

I own a copy of the Adobe software in CS5. I don't want to pay for Adobe's subscription model until I absolutely have to – i.e. if a regular job or a big contract comes along to make it worthwhile. None of the work I'm currently doing needs the bells and whistles of more recent Adobe updates.

CS5 is already a bit iffy on 10.13 (High Sierra) so I know I don't want to go past that, so the question is as stated: if I bought a new Mini, could I step it back to 10.13?

(I've investigated options like the Affinity suite and other replacements for thr Adobe apps, but for now, with an archive of work already done in the Adobe stuff, and the rest of the world mostly working in Adobe, shifting over to another software suite is not a practical solution.)
posted by zadcat to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Almost certainly no. In your shoes I'd probably get the most loaded 2014-gen Mini I could and contact OWC to make sure the OS version on the one they send me is High Sierra or earlier.

Nov 2018 models likely have hardware lockouts to make sure they won't even run Time Machine backups earlier than Mojave.
posted by supercres at 9:39 AM on September 4, 2020 [2 favorites]

In general a Mac will not run any OS that pre-dates the one it shipped with. There are a few edge cases where the hardware wasn't updated for a couple of years - those machines may allow you to run whatever version of OSX was current when that hardware was first released.

Apple's support for High Sierra ends in November this year, so even if you buy an old machine and roll it back that will only buy you a couple of months.

The other option is to buy a Windows PC and run the old Adobe software on that. You can't use a Mac licence on Windows so you would have to buy a second hand licence. (Adobe stopped selling CS6 in 2017.)

However, pirated copies of CS5/6 are everywhere on the second-hand market so it's buyer beware. Also even on Windows you will be running an out of date and unsupported version of Java which no doubt has a bunch of security vulnerabilities by now.
posted by Lanark at 10:27 AM on September 4, 2020

if I bought a new Mini, could I step it back to 10.13?

OWC has a compatibility table here and the earliest Mac OS X to run on that model is 10.14.

OWC sells a lot of aftermarket hardware upgrades for Macs, so I trust their data.

That table suggests you would probably want to locate a so-called "Late 2014" Mac mini in order to run 10.13 on the latest Mac mini that supports it.

This is not much older than a 2012 Mac mini — most of the benefit in an upgrade would appear to come from a Thunderbolt 2 port in the 2014 model. There's not much difference in the integrated GPU.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 10:55 AM on September 4, 2020

Late 2014 Minis are barely an upgrade, if at all. Get a couple of 8gb ddr3 sodimms - the old ram is pretty cheap now (try eBay if you want to chance that), and relatively quite easy to upgrade. If you feel brave, make a usb install stick of your OS of choice, get a 500gb or larger SSD, and you can replace the old HD fairly easily by following a video (but between that and reinstalling the OS it isn't for the faint of heart).
posted by wotsac at 11:50 AM on September 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

Another option that would let you upgrade and still run your copy of CS5, get a new mini and use VMware Fusion to run your Adobe apps in a virtual machine with 10.13, while running the latest macOS on your mini for everything else.

It's been a while but I used to have a job that required a Mac or PC (I typically run Linux) so I ran Fedora in a VM for about 80% of my work. It was a little fussier than just running a laptop with Fedora, but not that bad. If you get a mini with a decent amount of RAM, I suspect you'll get better performance out of your Adobe software than you're currently getting and have the benefit of the most current release of macOS for everything else.
posted by jzb at 12:15 PM on September 4, 2020 [6 favorites]

Wanted to add: this Mini already has 16GB and has been upgraded with an SSD, so it's running pretty well. It's things like finding one of the USB ports is hosed, makes me realize the hardware won't last forever.

But there are some great replies here – thanks everybody.
posted by zadcat at 5:16 PM on September 4, 2020

FWIW, I have a 2009 Mac Mini, a 2012 Mac Mini and a 2015 iMac 4K. The older two both have USB port issues periodically, but otherwise the hardware on each is still chugging along. I replaced the hd with an ssd in both the Minis and maxed out their RAM. I just gave a 2001 G4 Quicksilver to a vintage computer shop here in my city; after I replaced the hard drive, it fired right up! I used it for two days solid this Summer to digitize the rest of our family's CD collection, as the SuperDrive in it still worked. It had a flakey USB port, too. In my experience, USB ports are the weakest points (besides hard drives and SuperDrives) in terms of hardware failure on Macs. If you want to be really careful, you could use an app like SystemPal to check the temperature in your Mini, which is a major cause of hardware failure. If it looks high, you could take things apart and clean out the fan, and even go so far as to replace the thermal paste on the chip. That's pretty advanced stuff, but there's videos on how to do it on YT.
posted by Slothrop at 10:10 AM on September 5, 2020

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