How to Install MacOS Big Sur on a Mac

Nov 15, 2020 - 19 Comments

How to install macOS Big Sur

Ready to upgrade to and install macOS Big Sur on your Mac? MacOS Big Sur is here, with it’s redesigned user interface, new icons, new system sounds, and a refreshed general appearance. Of course, there’s plenty of new beyond the visual changes, with new features in Safari, Messages, Photos, and more.

Here we’ll walk through the steps to install macOS Big Sur, and so if you’re interested you’ll be up and running with the latest macOS in no time at all. This method will be covering upgrading from an existing version of MacOS to install MacOS Big Sur, we’ll have a separate article covering clean installs.


The requirements for installing macOS Big Sur are fairly straight forward; the Mac must be compatible with and meet the Big Sur system requirements, you’ll want to make a complete backup of your Mac and all important data using Time Machine or something similar, and you’ll need to download macOS Big Sur. You can certainly go beyond that and prepare for Big Sur, but if you’re all ready to go then it’s just a matter of committing the time to install it onto a Macintosh.

How to Install macOS Big Sur on a Mac by Upgrading

Have a compatible Mac, a full backup, and you’re ready to go? Here’s how to upgrade to macOS Big Sur:

  1. Complete a full backup of the Mac, with Time Machine or your backup method of choice
  2. Head to the Mac App Store and choose “Get” to trigger the upgrade process for MacOS Big Sur
  3. Get macOS Big Sur from the Mac App Store

  4. From System Preferences, choose “Upgrade Now” *
  5. How to download and upgrade macOS Big Sur

  6. Let macOS Big Sur download, when finished a splash screen to install it will launch automatically **
  7. How to upgrade to macOS Big Sur

  8. Click on ‘Continue’ and agree to the terms of service (after carefully reading the entire treatise, of course)
  9. Agree to Big Sur terms after reading them of course

  10. Choose the destination hard drive (by default, “Macintosh HD”) and choose Continue
  11. Choose the destination drive and install macOS Big Sur

  12. Let the installation complete, it can take a while to finish the upgrade, do not interrupt the installation

When complete, the Mac will reboot automatically into macOS Big Sur, and you’re ready to go.

macOS Big Sur desktop screenshot

Explore the new user interface look, check out the new wallpapers, enjoy the new system sounds, check out the new features in Safari, Photos, Messages, Finder, and more. There’s plenty to see and do.

And of course, stay tuned for a continuous stream of tips and tricks for macOS Big Sur.

* If you experience an error message trying to download macOS Big Sur, check here for some troubleshooting tips. Often simply rebooting the Mac and trying again in a few moments will resolve the problem.

** If you wish to make a bootable USB drive for Big Sur you’ll want to quit out of the installer before running it, as the installer deletes itself upon successful completion of the upgrade.

What has your been your experience with upgrading to macOS Big Sur? Did you install it right away, are you holding off for a while? Share any of your thoughts, experiences, and opinions in the comments!

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS X, Tips & Tricks

19 Comments

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  1. Glenn says:

    My IMac won’t let me load Big Sur. I bought the iMac at the end of 2012. It’s stuck on Catalina and won’t take anything newer. I can’t afford a new IMac.

  2. Jim says:

    Upgraded my mid 2015 iMac 27″ 5k yesterday, took about an hour total. So far performance has been excellent. No weird bugs yet.

  3. Bonk Wongler says:

    For those with 2013 and 2014 MacBook Pro 13″ models who have problems, Apple has come up with an support doc:

    If your Mac no longer starts up successfully, these steps might help resolve the issue:

    Press and hold the power button on your Mac for at least 10 seconds, then release. If your Mac is on, it turns off.

    Unplug all external devices from your Mac, including any displays and USB accessories, and remove any card inserted in the SDXC card slot. Then turn your Mac on.

    If the issue persists, reset the SMC as described for notebook computers with a nonremovable battery.

    If the issue persists, reset NVRAM or PRAM.

    If none of these solutions work, please contact Apple Support for further assistance.

    https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT211242

  4. Raymond Bellamy says:

    After installing Big Sur on MacBook Pro 2015, computer went very sluggish. Especially Safari, sometimes would not load. There was other bugs and it was not operating properly. Never had that problem after installing any other upgrade. Went back to Catalina. I will be reluctant to reinstall Big Sur even after any service pack updates. Catalina works fine.

  5. John Nipe says:

    Install took 7 hours, most of it due to false stall at the very end of installation. I turned off the iMac, rebooted and everything was okay – though I don’t think I would recommend. Only problem is SiliconLabs driver for serial to USB no longer works. SiliconLabs working on fix, in meantime a program called serial seems to be working gathering my weather console data into WeatherCat.

  6. Sal says:

    I waited two days. Total upgrade time was less than two hours. Every aspect of the install went smoothly. Upon first boot there was one issue with an outdated third party app but the OS itself appeared to be functioning just fine. No problems have occurred since that initial boot up.

    I’ve been using Macs since 10.3 Panther. To me, the aesthetics in Big Sur are beautiful. There are several small details which are too numerous to list but its much more pleasant to view and work with.

    One thing I miss is the calculator in the Notification Center. It was used more than expected over the years and was easily accessible.

  7. Rolf says:

    My advise due to my long experience with MACs, don’t do it.
    Wait for the 1st or better 2nd service pack. There is no reason for updating to the new operating system these days.
    And as we know every new version does not work faster.

  8. Robert Winckler says:

    Hi,
    I sent you a comment yesterday after I found that the Mail program had deleted all of my several hundred special Mailboxes that used to show in the left column in Mail. Those Mailboxes had hundreds of saved emails and there is no information in the new Mail app that I can find that tells me how to restore those Mailboxes. Further, I went to my TimeMachine and when I bring up Mail, those missing Mailboxes don’t show there either. Any idea how I can restore all that missing information?
    Many thanks,
    Bob

    • Erika says:

      I sympathize entirely. It happened to me about 6 years ago when I upgraded my reasonably new Mac to whatever was the latest OS at the time. Every folder and email disappeared in one foul sweep. It didn’t matter on what device I looked, they were all gone for good. I vowed I would never use the Mail app on the Mac again. Instead I use gmail through a web browser. However I have relented on the iPad and iPhone and still use the Mail app which seems to work just fine.

  9. Fred says:

    all installed – and now to deal with a bug in Big Sur and my HP printer. I have followed all advice as to reloading new driver for the printer from HP site, and I am still getting the Malware warning – twice – but clicking OK on each gets me my printouts.
    GGGRRRRRRR

  10. Mark Phillips says:

    Why is this upgrade sooo large. 35GB!!!
    I have a 7 year old MacBook Air 128GB and although I have the space to make the upgrade I am concerned it is going to limit my functionality in the future.
    Will my MacBook be compromised if I don’t upgrade.

  11. James says:

    If you have a slow or metered internet connection:

    Beware, the 12.8 Gb will self-destruct after installing. If you have two machines, or need to re-install you’ll have to download it all again UNLESS you take a copy first.

  12. Steve sutton says:

    It seems that NO Epson printers have drivers that will work with Big Sur.possibly other brands too.
    This is a total mess up by either Apple/and Epson!
    Printing facility is not paramount for me, but must be for many users. How urgently is this being addressed?

  13. Robert Winckler says:

    I upgraded to Big Sur today. The change took forever. I use a 21.5 inch iMac and was running Catalina. When I was finally able to get back into my data, I found that all of my several hundred MAILBOXES in which I have stored several years worth of emails that I need to retain, had all disappeared. There does not appear to be any instructions as to how I’m supposed to recover all of those Mailboxes.

    Any ideas?
    Many thanks,
    Bob Winckler

  14. Bryan A says:

    I may have been one of the first UK users to try this and my experience was quite miserable. At one stage it showed 8 days to go and it kept crashing, eventually doing nothing. I started a restore from one of my three Time Machine drives (belt, braces and a bit of string) and went to bed.

    On waking I tried again, exactly the same as you recommend, and it updated very quickly (I am on high-speed broadband) and efficiently. I use both Mac Mail and Safari and I am very impressed and pleased with the upgrade to Big Sur. I have only been a Mac user (iMac, since Snow Leopard, and MacBook Pro) and in my view it all feels faster and more efficient.

  15. Martin Mongeon says:

    I installed Big Sur on a iMac 19,1. At first performance was sluggish and it improved as the days went by. I did lose the capability to unlock my Mac with my series 5 apple watch though. Tech Support told me that this was a known issue and should be rectified in subsequent upgrades.

  16. Daniel says:

    I’m still trying to get a stable install on my mac mini. I get about half-way through the install, and the system automatically reboots. Once it boots up again I get the blinking file folder Icon. Rebooting does nothing. When I did an Internet restore, it took my mac all the way back to SIERRA, not High Sierra.

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