How to download MacOS Big Sur

Apple has officially revealed the next version of MacOS, called Big Sur, and it’s one of the biggest updates to date. Important changes include new notifications, new themes, a much faster Safari experience, and an upgraded Messages app. Sound exciting? Then you’re probably anxious for a download.

Unfortunately, the public version of Big Sur won’t be available until later in 2020. Apple only offers a developer beta at this time so that app creators can work on compatibility. However, if you’re still curious and are willing to jump through hoops, you can preview Big Sur right now. We’ll show you exactly how to do it.

Note: Do not install this developer beta if you’re not willing to take risks. Given its certain instability, this release is better suited for a Mac you don’t primarily use, such as a spare MacBook. If you want to test drive Big Sur on a Mac you use daily, wait until the public beta.

Step 1: Check to see if your Mac is compatible

This should be your first priority. As with all MacOS updates, some Macs will be left behind by the new software. You certainly don’t want to go through the process of acquiring the developer beta if your Mac isn’t even compatible!

Here are the cutoff points for Macs, so you can tell if your current machine can handle Big Sur or not:

  • MacBook (12-inch): From 2015 models on, Big Sur will work.
  • MacBook Air: From 2013 models on, Big Sur will work.
  • MacBook Pro: From the late 2013 models on, Big Sur will work.
  • Mac mini: From 2014 models on, Big Sur will work.
  • iMac: From 2014 models on, Big Sur will work.
  • iMac Pro: All iMac Pro models will work with Big Sur.
  • Mac Pro: From 2013 models on, Big Sur will work.

If you’re good to go, then move on to the next step. If not, time to buy a new Mac!

Step 2: Make sure you are part of the Apple Developer Program

The developer beta is strictly meant for app developers, which means not just anyone can download and use it. To qualify, you must be part of the Apple Developer Program. If you already are, no problem. Move on to the next step.

If you are not signed up as a developer, you cannot move on without completing this step. The process begins by heading to Apple’s Developer webpage and selecting the blue Enroll button at the top. You will want to enroll as an individual, and you will need to provide your Apple ID, name, and address.

Select Start Your Enrollment, sign in, and confirm two-factor authentication.

Next, agree to Apple’s terms and conditions, and then arrange for payment. Apple requires a $100 annual fee to stay in the Developer Program, and you’ll need to pay upfront for access.

When your developer account is set up, you’re ready to go!

Step 3: Protect your data

By nature, betas are unstable, and developer betas are even more so. There’s a chance of serious bugs corrupting your data, and you need to be prepared in case that happens.

Our best suggestion is to thoroughly back up all your data by using an external hard drive and Time Machine to create a full backup copy. You can find Time Machine in System Preferences on your Mac. Simply make sure it is enabled, choose Select Backup Disk…, then pick your external hard drive as the backup destination.

There is another option if you don’t have an external drive and still want to try the beta. You can partition your Mac’s drive and silo off a space to experiment with Big Sur. This is a little more complicated, and you need enough local storage to manage two operating systems. If you are interested, we have a guide where you can learn more.

Step 4: Sign up and download the beta

Now you are prepared for the beta. Start by visiting Apple’s page for the developer beta version, and select the blue Download button in the upper right.

Next, sign in to your Apple Developer account. Once the developer page opens, scroll until you see the option to Install Profile. Select this button to download the MacOS Big Sur Developer Beta Access Utility.

Now it’s time to use it.

Step 5: Install Big Sur

Go to the Finder or Dock > Recent Downloads to locate the Access Utility file, which should be labeled macOSDeveloperBetaAccessUtility.pkg. Select it to download Big Sur.

After the downloader has finished, it should automatically notify you that an update is available for the Big Sur developer preview. If you don’t see any notifications, reboot your Mac and check for updates again using Software Update in System Preferences.

Now update to install the Big Sur beta. This update could take some time, but be sure to check on it regularly to see if Apple needs you to make any decisions. If you partitioned your drive, this is the time when you need to be entirely sure you are downloading in the right partition. You will probably also have to agree to join Apple’s beta program and any associated terms and conditions.

Eventually, your Mac should start rebooting and installing Big Sur in full. When it’s finished, your Mac should boot into Big Sur and allow you to use the new developer beta. Again, you may run into issues given this is not a public release, so be wary.

Have you decided to wait for the public beta instead? That’s great. Apple allows you to sign up to hear the latest about all its public betas for Big Sur, iOS 14, and more on this page.

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