[Reader question] Do I have a 32-bit or 64-bit Mac?

Do I have a 64 bit Mac?

Yesterday I received the following question from my reader Urs:

Does my iMac use a 32- or 64-bit processor architecture? Where can I find out from my iMac whether it has a 64-bit or 32-bit processor architecture. Unfortunately, I did not find any information under "System Report" for the CPU information.

Difference: 64-bit hardware and operating system

I suppose Urs' question is aimed at macOS Catalina no longer supporting 32-bit apps. This now leads to confusion among Mac users, because they do not know whether the Mac is running with Catalina and is already 64-bit.

From macOS Catalina onwards, no Mac can handle 32-bit apps. The hardware definitely could.

From macOS Catalina onwards, no Mac can handle 32-bit apps. The hardware definitely could.

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But these are two different things. A distinction has to be made here between what the Mac's processor supports and what the operating system can and what it "wants" to support. A Mac from 2018, for example, can easily support 32- and 64-bit software with macOS Mojave, but as soon as you have installed macOS Catalina on the same Mac, it no longer "wants" to support the old software.

The old Mac OS X and macOS versions before Catalina could all handle 64-bit AND 32-bit apps. In order to optimize the operating system, however, Apple decided at some point that, starting with macOS Catalina, they would no longer include support for 32-bit software in the system and would only support 64-bit apps.

64-bit hardware since PowerPC

According to the Wiki entry for PowerPC (PPC), this type of processor was designed for 64-bit right from the start. The PowerPC came in 1991 and was also installed by Apple until they switched to Intel processors at some point.

But you can already see that in 2020 you don't have to worry about whether your iMac "already" supports 64-bit or "still" runs on 32-bit. The likelihood of having a Mac so old that it still runs on a 32-bit processor architecture is relatively low.

On the side EveryMac.com I found a list that shows which Mac models have a 64 bit processor, whether they work with a 32 or 64 bit EFI and in which mode they start the operating system. However, this covers rather older Macs.

EveryMac.com has an extensive table (here just a short excerpt) that shows which architecture the corresponding Mac model supports.

EveryMac.com has an extensive table (here just a short excerpt) that shows which architecture the corresponding Mac model supports.

Is my Mac a 64-bit Mac?

Stack exchange I found a little guide that shows how to find out whether your Mac is running a 32-bit or 64-bit kernel:

To do this, go to the apple menu in the top left and select "About my Mac". Then click on "System Report" (on old Macs also "System Profiler") and go to the "Software" section on the sub-item "Extensions".

The system report shows what architecture the Mac processor is built on.

The system report shows what architecture the Mac processor is built on.

In this list you will find the lines "64-Bit (Intel)" and "Architectures". For me these results appear:

Architectures: x86_64
64-bit (Intel): Ja

Both indicate that my MacBook Pro works with a 64-bit processor.

There are also a few other points that can be used to tell whether it's a 32- or 64-bit Mac:

  • Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard was the last system that 32-bit Macs could run.
  • If the Mac works with Mac OS X 10.7 Lion or higher, the Mac must support 64 bit.
  • If the MacBook Pro has a black keyboard, it is a 64-bit Mac (the old 32-bit MacBook Pro models still had a silver keyboard).

I hope this post has resolved the 32/64 bit confusion. If you have any tips that I should add here, please let me know!

 

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