Buying older Mac, is Mac OS X compatible?

Hi, everyone. I’ve been using Scrivener for Windows for a couple years and really like it, but getting frustrated with page setup limitations now that I’m venturing into CreateSpace. I’ve decided to buy a used Mac to get the most out of Scrivener. Probably won’t use it for much else.

The problem is I’ve searched this board but still clueless about compatibility of older Mac OS versions with current Scrivener for Mac. The Mac I’m looking at has Mac OS X as the version. Will this work with the most recent version of Scrivener for Mac?

The Mac model I’m considering is a 2009 iMac MB417LL/A 20-Inch desktop, 2GB RAM.

Any advice or insight much appreciated :slight_smile:

When you’re buying a used computer, it’s a good rule of thumb to make sure you’re buying one that can handle the current OS. You’re already buying behind the curve; you don’t want to find out in six months that some application you just have to have is only supported on an OS you can’t run. You might start off only running Scrivener, but over time, your workflow might grow to include other helper apps. Many of those only come from the App store, and getting hands on a version of older Mac OS for older machines that can do that is a trip down Frustration Freeway.

Here’s the download page for Scrivener for the Mac:

Current version 2.8.1 works with Mac OS 10.6 and later, including 10.12 “Sierra” (the current). On the same page, you can see you can download Scrivener 2.5 for Mac OS 10.4 and 10.5, as well as Scrivener 1.54 for Mac OS 10.4 through 10.6. Keep in mind they’re working on Scrivener 3.0 as well, which we know will require a 64-bit OS version. If you’re going to spend a bit more money for used Mac that comes with a 64-bit Mac OS install, you might as well make it current.

I just went through this myself – took a little bit of time, but I was able to find a decently spec’d Mac mini on eBay that runs the current version of MacOS, for under $400. A little more money than I’d wanted to spend for what was essentially a single-purpose box – but it saved me hours of frustration. Totally worth it.

I echo Devinganger’s thoughts. Mac OS X is on major upgrade #12 (Sierra) – the machine you’re considering was shipped with major upgrade #5 (Leopard, if I remember correctly). That’s a lot of major upgrades under the bridge… Also according to MacTracker, it won’t run the latest upgrade (again Sierra, #12). You’ll be stuck at #11 (El Capitan.)

Be sure you check out which version of Mac OS X is on your older iMac–under the About menu, choose menu item “About this Mac.” Ask the vendor if you can’t check it personally. Really, I wouldn’t suggest a version of OS X below Mountain Lion (major upgrade #8) because that introduced the Mac App Store, and too much software is now distributed only through the App Store.

Good luck, and I hope you find a machine that fits your budget and has the capabilities you want.

Several responses:

  1. El Capitan wouldn’t be a bad version to be stuck at (many of us think Apple’s annual upgrade of the MacOS is unnecessary), but…
  2. …you can’t get hold of any OS after Mountain Lion apart from the latest one except by download from App Store, and they’re gone, but…
  3. …the latest apparently won’t run on that machine…
  4. However, the App Store was available from 10.6 Snow Leopard, not Mountain Lion

The version of OS X on the machine isn’t mentioned, but if it’s 10.6.8 or later, and only to be used for Scrivener, it’s not such a bad idea (browsing in anything earlier than 10.7 is not a good idea).

Here is where I am going to disagree, based not solely on my years of working in IT – knowingly settling for a used machine that cannot run the current version is a waste of money. Not that I’m saying one is then obligated to run the current version, merely that a machine that can’t run the current version is in my experience going to end up in tears and ruin.

In part, this is because people are people. The only people who use a machine solely for a single application are people who are forced to. The rest of us may start off with good intentions, but over time, we end up using more and more of the functions on the machine. The browser. Then a new browser. Then I need a citations manager. Etc. Cutting off your compatibility options before you even start inevitably means you will be sad at some point sooner, rather than later, because you will not be able to install/upgrade an app you really want to.

For an example outside of the Mac arena, looking ahead to the day when Scrivener for Windows finally makes it to 3.0 and release date – it will be developed using the QT5, and as far as I know, QT5 does not run on Windows XP. If that’s true, everyone who hangs on to older kit for the express purpose of running XP is going to be mighty miffed because they can’t upgrade to the new version of Scrivener that solves all their issues. And the person who was counselled into buying older used kit is going to be doubly so. (This is not based on any statement L&L has made, so NOBODY QUOTE ME AS GOSPEL. I’m just a guy who reads support statements and plays with dependency charts and what-if scenarios, that’s all.)

Based on the outlook for Mac Scrivener 3.0, I would not recommend purchasing a Scrivener-focused machine that can’t run Sierra.


Absolutely right. But that leaves quite a few machines to choose from. I’m currently running Sierra and the Scrivener 3.0 beta on a late 2009 white MacBook (8MB RAM, 250GB SSD). Anything older than that won’t run Sierra.

If you still have a suitable separate screen from your Windows days, like devin above, the used Mac that I’d go for is a refurbed Mac Mini, 2014 vintage (you could buy a new Mac-format keyboard and mouse relatively cheaply to go with it). You will almost certainly need more RAM (not for Scrivener, but for ease of use of other applications you might eventually install) than the 2Gb the iMac that you currently have your eye on offers; from memory, the 2014 Mac Mini offers a minimum of 4Gb. Note that unlike with older Mac Minis, you can’t increase the RAM once bought. A 2011 Mac Mini - for which you can increase the RAM after purchase - would also be a possibility. But as long as you have a suitable screen, a Mac Mini would most likely offer the most bang for your buck. And the 2014 vintage will definitely run Sierra, and therefore Scrivener for Mac 3 - as, I believe, will the 2011 vintage, if a little slowly.


Does that mean Scriv 3 will only run in Sierra or later? I only ask because I recently upgraded from 10.6.8 (where I was MOSTLY happy) to Mavericks 10.9.5, and for several reasons have no intention to upgrade again for some time yet.



Remember any modern Mac can also run Windows, using BootCamp, Parallels, &/or VirtualBox. I’d recommend shelling out for a newer Mac for all the reasons described above – but depending on what your Windows box is, you can update it as well.

Yes, a good point. But it’s worth stressing that if the OP wants to run Windows and Windows applications on his or her used Mac, an increased amount of RAM will be needed - definitely not 2Gb. Probably a minimum of 8Gb; when I tried to run Dragon Naturally Speaking and MS Word for Windows - two quite chunky programmes, it’s true - on my 2011 Mac Mini using Parallels, I found I needed 16Gb of RAM to get it to proceed at anything more than a crawl.

Damn. Good job the current version of Scrivener is so useful - what I can’t have I won’t miss…

(Does make me wonder though - what’s in Sierra but not earlier versions, that Scrivener needs?)

Again, speaking from personal experience and not as a rep of L&L, my guess is that it’s the opportunity to tie a new major re-write to a single underlying OS code base instead of having to build in bugfixes and workarounds for previous OS versions.

How far back would be far enough? Somebody is going to be unhappy no matter where you draw the line. Might as well make the code, that is a complete forklift from 32 bits to 64 bits, and contains what we are told are massive new rewrites of various features, as linear and non-cluttered as possible while you’re getting it rolled out and supported against a userbase the size of Scrivener’s…

That’s pretty much it. In particular, Apple seems to be becoming increasingly … casual about maintenance of some of the older toolkits, with increasing numbers of bugs that need to be worked around. Supporting older versions of OS X would mean dragging all of that into the new Scrivener 3.0 code base, and therefore all of the associated testing and support burden as well.


Dragon is chunky enough that I would want a minimum of 8 GB to run it as a native Mac application. Add the extra overhead of Parallels and Windows and yes, you’re looking at a real memory-eating pig.


I was fortunate that the 2011 Mac Mini had replaceable/augmentable RAM (which allowed the Parallels/Windows/Dragon/Word proposition/pig to run about acceptably). Then the 2014 Mac Mini came along - notoriously with soldered-in RAM! Doncha just love Apple? Now there’s talk of the launch this year of a new but different Mac Mini. But all I want to know is - will the RAM be soldered in? :confused:

I get your point. Unfortunately, since Apple went to a ridiculous annual release of a new OS (I don’t much care for Microsoft, but at least they space their OS upgrades sensibly) many users are left frustrated by incompatibilities in SOME software but not others.

To give you examples : until recently I was still running Snow Leopard, where I could run iTunes 12 (though I keep to 10), FileMaker Pro 10 (my latest version) and later, Firefox (latest), Chrome (latest until last year), Photoshop CS6, and many other current software. However, Safari was a sticking point so I recently upgraded to Mavericks. Now that release - 10.9 - was a complete new architecture, especially in the areas of memory handling and CPU usage. Since then, OS releases have been more cosmetic and also contain more stuff compatible with iOS, but generally Mavericks is the “You need 10.9 or later” benchmark for software (it used to be 10.7). Just about all Apple apps run in Mavericks and pretty much most other software, especially the ‘big beasts’.

So I would say that Mavericks is where you “draw the line”, since you ask. But if that cannot be, then I simply will not be - cannot be - a customer for Scrivener 3.

I have a 2011 Air and haven’t been able to upgrade past 10.9.5. Just can’t handle it. Already it can’t take the latest Office update, which I’m sure exposes it to a host of security issues, and there are no email clients available that can run on it. Basically, there is no current software for this machine. So, I wouldn’t get an older Mac period, and based on what I’m hearing, the new MacBook is not all that. Get a Surface Pro.

I am typing this on a late 2010 13" MacBook Air, which is currently running Sierra 10.12.5. It only has 2GB RAM. I don’t use MS Office, but I do have the latest version of NeoOffice—in case someone sends me a .docx with such badly formatted tables that Nisus Writer Pro has problems with it—and that runs without problem. The only thing I have discovered is that the Bluetooth version built in is too out of date to work with anything other than a mouse or keyboard. Everything else I use is fully upgraded and runs without problem. As for email clients, I run GyazMail, which functions perfectly. For the rest, it is slow and I do think it is reaching the end of it’s ability to handle further upgrades.

So I don’t know why your 2011 MBA should be less functional than my earlier version.

But to the OP: I wouldn’t buy a much older machine. It may run Scrivener v. 2, but to me it would be a false economy, as it would soon lack the ability to run up-to-date versions of software.