How long will the last Intel Macs be supported? macOS Sonoma gives us some hints

How long will the last Intel Macs be supported? macOS Sonoma gives us some hints

Aurich Lawson

A year ago, we compiled a model list of Macs spanning over two decades, complete with their launch dates, discontinuation dates, and all the available information about the macOS updates each model received. We were trying to answer two questions: How long can Mac owners reasonably expect to receive software updates when they buy a new computer? And were Intel Macs being dropped more aggressively now that the Apple Silicon transition was in full swing?

The answer to the second question was a tentative “yes,” and now that we know the official support list for macOS Sonoma, the trendline is clear.

Macs introduced between 2009 and 2015 could expect to receive seven or eight years of macOS updates—that is, new major versions with new features, like Ventura or Sonoma—plus another two years of security-only updates that fix vulnerabilities and keep Safari up to date. Macs released in 2016 and 2017 are only receiving about six years’ worth of macOS updates, plus another two years of security updates. That’s about a two-year drop, compared to most Macs released between 2009 and 2013.

The last of the Intel Macs are still on track to be supported for longer than the last PowerPC Macs were in the mid-to-late 2000s, but they’re getting fewer years of software update support than any other Macs released in the last 15 years.

As we did for Ventura, we’ll look at the data and discuss what Apple’s motivations might be in the absence of public statements or an update roadmap from the company. We’ll also discuss the future of the remaining Intel Macs, which likely only have a year or two of macOS updates to look forward to.

The data

Here are some high-level data points before we begin visualizing things. Some of these haven’t changed much since last year since we’re working with a pretty lengthy timescale (we’ve tracked every Mac since the original plastic iMac was released in 1998). My spreadsheet remains available here, in read-only form, so you can pore over the data yourself if you want; we have some notes on data collection at the end of last year’s piece.

  • For all Mac models tracked, the average Mac receives about 6.6 years of macOS updates that add new features, plus another two years of security-only updates. 2017’s crop of Macs will get about 6.3 years of macOS updates, a little under the historical average.
  • The average Mac receives updates for about 5.5 years after Apple stops selling it. Buying a Mac toward the end of its life cycle means getting significantly fewer updates.
  • The three longest-lived Macs are still the mid-2007 15- and 17-inch MacBook Pros, the mid-2010 Mac Pro, and the mid-2007 iMac, which received new macOS updates for around nine years after they were introduced (and security updates for around 11 years).
  • The shortest-lived Mac is still the late-2008 version of the white MacBook, which received only 2.7 years of new macOS updates and another 3.3 years of security updates from the time it was introduced. (Late PowerPC-era and early Intel-era Macs are all pretty bad by modern standards).

If you’re comparing to last year’s data, some of our numbers have shifted a couple of months in one direction or another since we now know the dates of the final security update for macOS 10.15 Catalina and the final non-security update for macOS 12 Monterey (we had previously extrapolated those dates based on Apple’s prior behavior). We continue to use extrapolated dates for currently supported macOS versions, assuming that each OS releases in October, receives non-security feature updates for about a year, and receives security-only updates for about two years after that.

Our charts—one for macOS feature updates and one for security-only updates—show an obvious valley between the PowerPC and Intel eras, the last time there was a major switch in processor architectures. With another year of data, we clearly see another shallower-but-sustained dip forming as the Intel era winds down and the Apple Silicon era spins up, a slow decline that begins to be visible for 2013–2015 models but doesn’t become historically abnormal until the 2016/2017 model years.


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