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How to Upgrade to (and Downgrade from) the macOS Monterey

Tips • July 21, 2021

Apple unveiled the next major update for macOS at its WWDC21 keynote for 2021 and made the developer beta available for testing purposes. However, the first public beta for Monterey was released recently on July 1st. If you want to check out everything new with the new macOS Monterey update, follow the guide here.

The new update includes Universal Control, FaceTime’s SharePlay, Focus mode, Shortcuts app, Live Text, and many more to the table. So, read along for how to upgrade or downgrade from the macOS Monterey update.

[ Related: macOS Monterey vs. Big Sur: Is it Worth an Upgrade? ]

What do you need to know before updating?

Before you dive right into the updating process, you should know and consider a few things and understand that updating to a Beta update might bring a few risks with it. Let’s take a look at what you need to know before updating:

Backups – Backups are a necessary process of updating; they help you securely upgrade or downgrade to an OS and helps keep your data secure if you face any issues. So, always keep a backup handy and stored in someplace safe in the cloud to make the overall process much more seamless.

Compatibility – Know that the new update won’t be supporting the whole list of Mac devices, and here’s a list of the supported ones. However, if you don’t have a device from the list below, then you’re out of luck.

  • MacBook Air (early 2015 and later)
  • MacBook Pro (early 2015 and later)
  • MacBook (early 2016 and later)
  • Mac mini (late 2014 and later)
  • Mac Pro (late 2013 and later)
  • iMac (late 2015 and later)
  • iMac Pro (2017 and later).

Note: Monterey is very M1 specific and brings a lot of features that are M1-only. Features such as Live Text won’t work on Intel devices, and keep these in mind before updating.

Stability issues – The Beta update will also have stability issues as not all apps would work perfectly with the OS. You should make sure that you’re going to be affected by it to move on with the upgrading process.

Risks of updating –  There’s always going to be a risk that you may end up screwing something up or making a mistake, and well, this risk is something that you should be aware of. You can brick your device or make it unusable, but the chances of doing so are slim at best.

Cleaning up junk from your Mac – Removing junk system files and unneeded apps from your Mac will help speed up the upgrade and downgrade process. Not to mention you can free up a massive amount of storage space that you can use for any other thing. So, if you back up your data with Time Machine, cleaning up is an excellent idea because Time Machine creates lots of copies which can take up a lot of storage, so the less stuff on your device, the better and more seamless the upgrading process.

How can you make a backup?

Making a backup of your Mac should be your first step and is an overall easy process to get started with. All you need to have is an external storage device and your Mac. Follow the steps below to get your Mac backed up.

Time Machine backup – Time Machine is the inbuilt backup service from Apple and can help you backup all your data to an external storage device. You can do this by:

  1. Go to Apple menu > System Preferences, then click on Time Machine.
  2. Click on “Select Backup Disk” and let Time Machine do its thing.

Note: Time Machine backs up your data with automatic hourly backups for the past 24 hours. You can also make daily backups for the past month and weekly backups for all previous months.

iCloud backup – You can also manually store all your data to your iCloud account by simply dragging and dropping all your essential files. Just head on to the iCloud.com and drop all your files in and start iCloud backup.

Third-party backup tools – Finally, you can also use some great backup tools from fro third-party developers to help you make a backup reliably and seamlessly.

[ Related: The Ultimate Guide to Mac Backup in 2021 ]

How can you clean up junk from your Mac?

The upgrade and downgrade process can take up a whole lot of time, but you can improve the overall speed of the process if you have a clean Mac and organised storage space. So, how do you do this? Well, we have a multitude of options for you:

Optimize StorageOptimize Storage is a feature available to all macOS users. It is built-in into the OS from Apple. It lets you change your storage space by storing your data in the cloud whenever the need arises or by saving space by automatically reducing clutter, clearing the recycle bin, or even by deleting old movie shows that you have already watched. You can access the settings by following the steps below:

  1. Firstly, click on the Apple icon at the top-left corner of the menu bar and select the “About This Mac” option.
  2. Now, Click on the Storage tab and select “Manage”, and you’ll see the Optimise Storage screen pop up. Now, you can clean up your storage and save space using the tools available here.

Note: You can’t use Optimize Storage to clean up hidden junk files on your Mac. You would need a separate tool to clean those.

Use third-party tools to clean up junk – There are excellent third-party tools on the market that can help you clean up junk, remove clutter and improve the storage health of your Mac and here are some recommended cleaning software options for you to use.

How to join the Apple Beta Program?

Before you get to the downloading and installing process, you need to join the Apple Beta Program, and you can do so by:

  • Going to the website linked here.
  • Click on the “Sign Up” button and accepting all the conditions.

Note: If you’re a developer and have a developer profile, then use that beta build as your update package, and you can skip this step entirely. You can also enrol for the developer account by using this link and know that Apple will charge you a fee of $99 annually.

How to upgrade to macOS Monterey?

Now that you have a complete backup of your device and joined the Apple Beta Program let’s look at how you can install macOS Monterey on your compatible Mac. But before you do any of that, know that there are two available betas – The developer build and the public build.

You can get the beta builds here:

The developer build

The public build

Just go to the respective links above and Sign in with your accounts. You will then see the builds, and you can download them straight away.

Now that you have everything ready, let’s take a look at the processes all the upgrading processes:

The OTA Method (Easiest)

After you sign up with the Beta Program, you can head onto your Mac notification panel to see the available update ready to be downloaded. You can also follow the steps below if you didn’t get the notification.

  • Open the “System Preferences” and select “Software Update”. You should see the update there.
  • Click on “Update” and follow the on-screen instructions to download and install the update on your Mac.
The Public and Developer Beta Method (Medium difficulty)

After downloading the macOS Public/Developer Beta Access Utility from the beta links above, install the .dmg utility. This will download the update package for the respective installers, which will be roughly 12GB in size.

After the package has been downloaded, click on the package, and the installer will open up. Follow the on-screen instructions and install macOS Monterey.

Note: If you follow the steps correctly, you will have macOS Monterey on your device, and you won’t lose any data.

Fresh Install from a USB (Maximum Difficulty)

You can also use a USB drive to install a fresh build of macOS Monterey. All you need to do is follow the steps below.

  1. Run the beta installer you downloaded before and cancel it immediately.
  2. Connect the USB drive and wait for the Disk Utility to appear on the screen. (You need at minimum 16GBs free)
  3. Format the drive by choosing GUID Partition Map and Mac OS X Extended. Finally, change the drive name to “Installer” and click on “Erase”.
  4. Now open up Terminal and type in the following command: sudo /Applications/Install\ macOS\ 12\ Beta.app/Contents/Resources/createinstallmedia –volume /Volumes/Installer –nointeraction
  5. Hit the “Return” key on your keyboard and wait for the installer drive to be ready. After the process is done, turn off your Mac and insert the USB drive. Now hold down the “Option” key.
  6. You’ll be greeted with a boot options list, select your installer drive and follow the instructions on the screen to have a fresh install of Monterey on your device.

Note: This will wipe your system clean, and you would need to have a backup ready to get your data back.

How to downgrade to macOS Big Sur?

Bear in mind that downgrading your OS will entirely erase macOS 12 from your hard drive and won’t retain your data. So, be sure to have a backup handy in case you want to downgrade to macOS Big Sur. But before you do that, you have to enable something on your Mac. Follow the steps below to get it done quickly and easily.

  1. Firstly, Restart your Mac and hold down the Command+R keys on your keyboard to get to the recovery screen.
  2. Here, select “Utilities” in the top bar and choose “Startup Security Utility”.
  3. Finally, click on “Allow booting from external media”.

Note: You can now follow the methods below to get back to Big Sur with a clean install without any bugs or issues.

Re-install through Internet Recovery Mode (Easiest)

If you had Big Sur on your device previously, you could follow the steps below to have it revert back to Big Sur with ease. Follow the steps below to do so.

  • Restart your Mac and hold down the “Shift+Option+Command+R” keys.
  • This will take you to “Internet Recovery Mode”, and you can install Big Sur through it.
Recover with Time Machine (Medium Difficulty)

You can also use a Time Machine backup if you have one to revert to Big Sur. You can use the steps below to do so quickly:

  • Restart your Mac and hold down Command+R keys.
  • Choose the “Restore from Time Machine” option in the “Utilities” panel and click on “Continue”.
  • Now, click on “Continue”, and select a backup source and follow the on-screen instructions.
  • After the recovery process is completed, you will have Big Sur on your device again.
Use a Bootable Installation USB Drive (Maximum Difficulty)

You can also use a USB drive to freshly install a clean build of Big Sur but do note that you will lose all your data, and the overall process is only recommended to pro users. All you need to do is have a fresh USB drive formatted and ready to be made into a bootable drive.

  • Download the macOS Big Sur installer package from here
  • Connect your drive to your Mac and launch Finder.
  • Rename the drive to Installer
  • Open the Terminal and enter the following command:sudo /Applications/Install\ macOS\ Big\ Sur.app/Contents/Resources/createinstallmedia –volume /Volumes/Installer
  • Hit the enter key and type “Y” to start the process. After the process is finished, you will have a bootable USB drive with Big Sur.
  • Now, restart your Mac and hold the “Option key” (for intel devices) or the “Power button” (for M1 macs) on your keyboard
  • Now, you can choose the bootable drive, select your installer USB drive and boot with it to bring up the installation process. Follow the on-screen process, and you will have Big Sur back on your device.

Note: Follow this method only if you have a decent grasp of the Terminal and need a fresh install of the OS on your device.

Final words

Upgrading and Downgrading to the respective OS variants brings a lot of advantages and disadvantages as well. We hope that our guide above would’ve helped you upgrade to macOS Monterey or downgrade to macOS Big Sur without difficulties. However, if you still have any queries that you want to be answered, then comment down below so that we may help you out as soon as we can.