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Checking AirDrop compatibility in OS X Lion

Apple's new AirDrop file-sharing technology is a convenient and welcome addition to the OS but requires specific Wi-Fi hardware and will not work on all systems.

One new welcome feature in OS X Lion is the new AirDrop file-sharing technology. Unlike previous file sharing that required specific permissions setups, protocol enabling, and other configuration, as long as you have an active wireless card, then with AirDrop your system should be able to automatically detect other nearby Lion users and be able to send them files with a simple drag and drop action in the AirDrop window.

AirDrop is a technology that automatically discovers and sets up a quick ad-hoc network among computers over Wi-Fi networks, and provides an interface for file sharing. This is different than Apple's existing Bonjour technology that automatically discovers systems and sharing services on an established network, but is similar to Apple's existing ad-hoc networking options that you can enable for any networking interface--just attach two Macs together with an Ethernet cable and the systems will establish a basic IP network using self-assigned IP addresses.

System Information Utility
Check this location in Apple's System Information utility (previously System Profiler) to see if your Wi-Fi card supports AirDrop (click for larger view).

Unfortunately the AirDrop technology requires specific capabilities of the Wi-Fi adapter in your system, and some of the Wi-Fi controller chips in earlier model Macs may not work with the technology. These Macs include the following:

  1. MacBook (mid-2008 or earlier)
  2. MacBook Pro (mid-2008 or earlier)
  3. iMac (late 2008 or earlier)
  4. Mac Pro (late 2009 or earlier)
  5. Mac mini (early 2010 or earlier)
  6. MacBook Air (late 2010 or earlier)

To check to see if your system is AirDrop compatible, go to the Apple menu and select "About This Mac" and click "More Info..." Then click "System Report" to open the System Information utility. In the utility, expand the Network category and click "Wi-Fi," and then check under the Interfaces section of the report to see the AirDrop support status. If the report says "Supported," then AirDrop will work for your system.

The Mac technical Web site XLR8YourMac has a small article that outlines some Wi-Fi controller model numbers that do support AirDrop, so if you have one of the older systems and cannot use AirDrop, then you might consider getting a replacement Wi-Fi card that uses one of these controllers, which can be found on eBay and other online locations. Do keep in mind that if you replace your Wi-Fi card, then you chance voiding your AppleCare warranty, and also chance harming your system if you are not careful, so proceed with caution.

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