Apple antique aficionados can boot to the future with OpenCore Legacy Patcher
Hackintoshing reaches a wider audience – owners of older Macs
FOSS Fest As Apple distances itself from older kit, the OpenCore Legacy Patcher tool should win new fans.
These days, there are two types of people who want to install and run macOS on unauthorized hardware: Owners of generic PCs who fancy Apple's admittedly shiny OS on their cheap tin, plus a new category – owners of still highly capable Apple kit that can't run the latest Apple OS.
Enter OpenCore Legacy Patcher. Known as OCLP for short, it's an offshoot of Dortania's OpenCore, a slightly older open source project that enables macOS to boot on generic – that is, non-Apple – PC hardware. OCLP brings this functionality to authentic Apple kit which is unsupported in recent versions of the OS.
OpenCore Legacy Patcher puts you a few clicks away from the forbidden pleasure of a newer macOS
As soon as Apple announced it was switching to Intel, that opened a patch for enterprising techies to run Mac OS X on Intel-based PCs, as we looked at in 2011. The Reg FOSS desk did it around then, turning an old Core 2 Extreme quad-core box with a cast-off Nvidia graphics card into a Snow Leopard "Hackintosh" which served very well for several years, driving twin 21-inch monitors for a capital outlay of a princely zero.
But now, there is a second category: Existing Mac owners. Ever since it announced that it was moving to the Arm architecture (as The Reg predicted two years ealier), Apple has increased the pace at which it drops support for older models of Mac. For instance, this vulture has a 2011 Mac mini connected to his TV for watching downloaded and streaming content: it's tiny, silent, highly reliable, and does its job without fuss. The snag is that it can't run even macOS Mojave. It's too old and maxes out at High Sierra, meaning that the only current web browser it supports is Firefox 115 ESR.
Each successive major version of macOS drops a few more older models from the supported list. The maxed-out 27-inch Core i7 Retina iMac on which this story is being written can't run macOS 13. Now that Apple has replaced its last Intel-powered model, the writing is on the wall for the x86 flavor of macOS. Inevitably, at some point in the next few years, Apple will stop offering new versions of macOS for its older Intel-based hardware, and eliminate those pesky freeloaders into the bargain.
In the meantime, though, this means that every year there are more owners of perfectly capable Apple kit that is already unsupported in recent OSes. At the end of September, Apple released macOS 14, and the oldest model it supports is the 2017 iMac Pro – at $5,000, too much for this impecunious hack. His newly upgraded iMac is now two versions behind.
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Fortunately, though, OCLP 1.0 followed a few days after Sonoma itself. OCLP builds upon OpenCore, itself just one year older, and itself is a friendly, GUI-driven app. If you already have a copy of the macOS installer, downloaded from the Mac App Store, it can use it. If you don't – for instance, if you're running on a machine that won't let you download recent versions – the app can download the installers itself. Either way, it uses the Apple installer to create a bootable USB key, patched with the necessary drivers to make it possible to boot on older, unsupported Macs. Then you can either install a fresh copy of the OS, or upgrade an existing copy.
OCLP's list of supported models is quite comprehensive and goes back to some models from 2008. The first couple of years of Intel-based Macs saw several models with 32-bit CPUs, which are, sadly, excluded: They can never run any 64-bit OS. Even with supported hardware, there is, obviously enough, a list of caveats. Apple has made a lot of changes over the last 15 years, notably the introduction of its Metal API, which only some GPUs support, and its controversial touch bar on some laptop models, which is controlled by a security chip called T1.
The practical upshot of this is that for most people, it's probably best not to go for the newest OS version the machine can run. In fact, we'd tend to suggest that you work out what you need – such as "run a current Blink-based browser" – and then go for the oldest version of macOS which will do what you need.
Apple hasn't stated when it plans to drop support for x86, and we don't expect it to. However, the new "Live Captions" feature in macOS 13 only works on Apple Silicon Macs, and macOS 14 has more. It seems likely that the next major release of macOS will still support Intel hardware, and maybe the one after, but that might well be the last.
Saying that, though, running an obsolete OS can still work well and even be fun. ®