I recently saw Brad Taunt mention that he was installing Monterey on an unsupported Mac using OpenCore Legacy Patcher. This piqued my interest. My mid-2011 11-inch MacBook Air has been floating around my office unused for a while and I thought it was a good opportunity to give it a try.
I was aware of similar patchers in the past, but never bothered to use them. Instead, I was happy enough to install whatever Linux distribution caught my eye when I wanted to tinker. But in reality, I never really used them beyond the first week or two after setting up the system.
The problem is that I’m too invested in the Apple ecosystem. Despite my best efforts — moving to Fastmail for contacts syncing and using almost entirely third-party apps on iOS and the Mac — there’s still some system-level integrations that I rely on. The most prominent being iCloud Drive and Messages.
If I could install a more recent version of macOS on my trusty 11-inch MacBook Air, I could have access to those system-level features, I’d be able to work with software I’m a bit more familiar with, and get some more use out of hardware that’s over a decade old.
The OpenCore Legacy Patcher makes the process pretty straightforward. You use the app to download the upgrade, create a bootable installer, and then install OpenCore. You can then boot from the installer disk and install macOS as you would normally.
After installation, you’ll have to run the patcher app again to get the system to a state where it runs seamlessly — without displaying a boot picker, for example. But from that point forward it mostly runs without intervention. I haven’t had to touch the patcher app since I first installed it and I’ve been running it on my MacBook Air for a week or two.
The experience running Big Sur on such an old machine is a lot better than you might expect. It’s not perfect, of course, only having access to 4GB of memory is the biggest bottleneck, but I don’t have much trouble running a handful of apps at a time as long as I’m not pushing things too hard.
The system does run a bit warm and the battery life isn’t great — only about three hours or so when I’m using it as I normally would. But that was the case even when the laptop was brand new. This machine was from an era just before Apple made some pretty significant strides in battery life and even with a relatively new battery with just a few dozen cycles on it, it’s no where near the all day battery life that Apple offers on MacBooks of today.
For those that want a basis for comparison from a performance standpoint, I ran Geekbench 5 and received the following scores:
Single-Core Score: 476
Multi-Core Score: 969
Those aren’t particularly impressive, but are plenty for web browsing, email, listening to podcasts, and some occasional text editing and other productivity tasks.
But I wasn’t excited about installing Big Sur on this machine because of the performance. I was excited because of the form factor.
Apple just doesn’t make laptops like this anymore. It weighs just 2.38 pounds — about a third of a pound lighter than the M2 MacBook Air, which is the lightest laptop in Apple’s current lineup. Carrying around the 11-inch MacBook Air feels like nothing when compared to my 13-inch MacBook Pro.
The depth of the machine is also something I really miss. I know that everyone seems to like taller displays lately — Apple’s laptops are 16:10 and I remember seeing a lot of people raving about the Framework laptop’s 3:2 display. But I kind of miss a 16:9 display. It just allows for a much more compact footprint and I don’t really feel like I need more vertical screen real estate.
It is incredible that this little MacBook Air has some life remaining, though. Even after eleven years I can still get use out of it. I’ve replaced the battery and the trackpad, but everything has held up incredibly well. The hinge isn’t as tight as it used to be, but it’s still a lot better than most Windows laptops I come across.
If you have an old MacBook laying around and are looking for a good weekend project, I’d suggest giving OpenCore Legacy Patcher a try. At the very least, it’ll be a fun nostalgia kick, but you also might find that you can repurpose an old machine and get some more years of use out of it.