Flipping the switch and the 32-bitpocalypse

I think I’m ready to upgrade my Mac mini to Catalina. I know, I know: “But the 32-bitpocalypse! Are you ready to lose all that investment?” I think I’ve worked through that. Haven’t I?

The last few weeks I’ve been busy. I bought a smallish (0.5 TB) external SSD drive and backed up a good chunk of my Mac mini to it. Today I’ve been running tests on how it works booting on my MBP, not my mini. That’s because my underpowered mini just isn’t strong enough either in boot speed or  running off the external drive to make this a reasonable approach.

On the MacBook, however, the SSD responsiveness is pretty fine. Once booted, I’ve tested Office, Photoshop, and a bunch of other 32-bit apps and while they’re not going to win awards for speed, they run and appear to be stable.

That leaves me with the dilemma. Do I flip the switch? Do I go full Cat on my main work machine? It’s been a reasonably time since release, so what mine fields should I expect to encounter? I honestly don’t want to upgrade and then have to start restoring from Carbon Copy Cloner backups from regret. (My backups are run nightly so they’re there if I need them.)

What do you think? Pull the switch or walk away? I hate being out of step with the latest OS, even if I do have Cat installed on my MBP and am happily using it there. Give me your advice. I’m not ready to walk away from so many apps that I still use many times a week but I don’t want to freeze my mini in the past. Thanks in advance for your advice and suggestions.


  • With 32-bit closeout and the general (in)stability of this release cycle, updating to Catalina seems fraught compared to prior release cycles. I’m feeling particularly burned since the iCloud Drive bugs have caused me some permanent data loss, with silently deleted app data having percolated uncaught into my backup cycle. I never installed the iOS betas, only an SSD with the Cat beta with iCloud Drive turned off. !! To my surprise, I’ve at least ;had an easy time of upgrading my last few 32-bit apps so that front is all clear.

    Nevertheless, I really want the full SwiftUI dev experience on my main system…

  • Can one assume your Mac mini is of the 1.4GHz variety? Surely an external USB3 SSD will always trump an abysmal hard drive?

    I’m running Catalina on an external SSD on said mini and performance was transformed. Why not try it? What can you lose?

    • I long ago updated my mini’s internal drive to SSD

  • Oh, I see it’s a 2.6 Core i7. Certainly should run Catalina quite well compared to High Sierra.

  • What about adding a second internal drive, installing Catalina on that and being able to dual boot?

    OWC Data Doubler for mini

    • I bet I could go to one of the local repair shops and have them install it. I wonder how much it would cost…

      • It’s a bit tedious to install, but doesn’t take long. Get yourself a nice Samsung SSD and it’s worth it. Backup first of course!

        • I’m seeing both Samsung and Crucial mentioned as good vendors. Also, could I fit in a 2TB (about $200ish) or is 1TB ($100ish) all it could handle?

  • Since I upgrade to Catalina & iOS 13, IMAP is broken with the Apple email client on all devices. I have not lost any emails but it concerns me.

    I will move an email into a folder on my Mac but the change is not showing up on my iPhone. I have to delete the emails from my iPhone.

  • I say yes, you have a great deal of precaution, and if you decide after a while that it isn’t working out for you, you have the backups available. I think there’s no issue in trying it out.

  • Catalina is working fine on my iMac. I don’t miss any of the 32-bit stuff I lost. (I hadn’t opened any of those apps in years.)

  • This may sound like overkill, but have you considered installing the 32-bit apps on a Mojave VM and running *that* under Catalina?

  • My 2012 Mac mini is doing great on Catalina. The upgrade was pretty smooth even though it froze when activating Screen Time and had to be restarted (same on my MBP).
    I’m mostly using it as a Plex server so I’m not sure exactly how Xcode is doing.

    It’s a 2.5GHz i5 with SSD and 16gb RAM. So any spec similar or better should be fine.

    If you decide installing a second drive for dual boot I’m happy to provide support. Following iFixIt was straight forward and I’ve opened it so many times that I’m actually enjoying it now.

  • I don’t think it will work,
    but you could try putting your MBP as a target drive with a Firewire cable.
    Test if you can start your Mini with the MacOS of your MBP
    It cost nothing to try.

  • Hi Erica,
    I wanted to mention what I encountered when upgrading my 2012 Mini to Catalina about a week after it came out.

    I’m an Apple Developer too, so I rely on a bunch of tools “just working” that other user-level Mac folks might not.
    In the main, the upgrade went okay, but there were some surprises, most of which were traced to new versions of system software, and to their new policy of keeping (or assuming) system folders to be read-only.

    For example, my locally-served Apache website started spitting out PHP code instead of HTML. It turns out there was a new version of PHP installed (along with a new version of Apache, but still 2.x, whew!), and it created new INI files, that lost my custom settings, like enable flags, virtual hosts, and other such “esoterica”.

    It turns out there’s a ~/Relocated Items folder that is supposed to contain old versions of the things that it modifies. It’s trying to make the entire system mount point be read-only (I believe), so things like customized system config files are at issue. Anyway, I couldn’t find all my files there, so I had to go to TimeMachine for a few things. But I focused on restoring the website system (for now, my primary use).

    Also, when you go to upgrade things, you find out that internally a lot of the system is kind of broken now, due to these silent upgrades of internal system software, like Ruby, Python, etc. It’s not clear how well they communicated these to developers, but it seems likely that others were surprised.

    I’m not sure what has come to light about fixes for all these issues. Luckily for me, I was only using the website, and wasn’t too concerned about all the Gems and other internals working. But I wonder if there will be more reports of this (and hopefully fixes) as the weeks go by.

    Anyway, I hope these points are helpful to you and others.

    Best wishes,
    Mike Mehr

    • Really good points to consider. I remember running into the reorg problem early on, on my Cat laptop but I haven’t done any serious development on the laptop.

  • For me, you’ve just expressed sum of all my fears. Despite alternatives for most of the applications I prize, the inability to find decent replacements for Aperture 3, iWeb (yes), and Quicken, I have fashioned a hidey-hole that accepts and runs them.

    My attempt to get the Mojave running on Parallels to open Quicken’s qdfm files has put a stop to using an always-open Mojave option. For now, I work sans Catalina. But it may be for the best. There is less to worry about file formats and UI surprises.

    Best regards,
    Don O’Shea