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How to match Mac systems with system requirements

Have you ever needed to look up the specifications for a Mac model that's only listed as "late-2008" or similar?

When Apple releases new software updates or even new devices, sometimes there are hardware requirements for which Mac models can be used with the new products. For instance, in the latest news on Apple's release of the OS X 10.8 developer preview, news of the system requirements came out suggesting some Intel Macs that can run Lion will not be able to run Mountain Lion.

In these requirement listings, models are usually referenced by the time frame in which they were released. For instance, you might see "mid-2010 MacBook Pro," or "late 2007 iMac," instead of specific processor speeds and other capabilities. In some cases you might see a model number such as "MacBookPro 5,2" or "iMac 7,1," and while this is a more specific reference for the system requirements, it still needs to be looked up.

The first thing to do if you see a system requirements listing is to launch the system profiler utility (called System Information in Lion), and select the Hardware section. In this section you will see your computer's model number listed, so if you are trying to identify a specific model such as "modelname x,x" in a requirements listing, then you can quickly look up this information here. On the other hand, if the requirements listing only gives a timeframe in which the computer was released, then looking up your system will take a few more steps and require some additional resources.

System profiler
In the system profiler utility you can look up the model name (circled), or use other information about the system's CPU and graphics controllers to match it to a specific manufacturing timeframe. Screenshot by Topher Kessler

With the system profiler report open, look up some of the following CPU information on your system:

  • Processor name
  • Processor speed
  • Number of cores
  • L2 cache size

In addition, go to the Graphics/Displays section of the profiler utility and see what video processors your system has, which might include Nvidia GeForce processors, ATI/AMD Radeon processors, or Intel GMA/Graphics listings. Note the specific model numbers for these along with the aforementioned information about your CPU.

With all of this information noted, you will then need to use Apple's support Web site (select the Mac section, then select your Mac family name followed by the Specifications link) or a third-party resource to match it up with the timeframe in which it was released. Some of these resources are:

  • MacTracker--This is a downloadable database of practically all of Apple's systems, which makes it easy to look up.
  • Apple-History--This is a good online resource for looking up Apple's systems
  • EveryMac--This is a technically detailed online database of Apple's systems
  • Wikipedia--Wikipedia has some great timeframe listings for the various Mac models, which can be easily looked up by searching for the Mac family name.
Wikipedia Mac model listings
In Wikipedia you can find the Mac model number and other hardware specifications for a certain timeframe release (click for larger view). Screenshot by Topher Kessler

Using these resources, browse through the models listed for your Mac model family (i.e., MacBook Pro or iMac), and then match the hardware specifications you looked up in the system profiler utility. In some cases the online resource will list the Mac model number (i.e., MacBookPro 5,1), which will make matching the hardware specifications much easier, but this is not always the case.

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