So, I have found some data on this question already but haven't been able to find a solution.

I had a 2009 MacBook Pro running El Capitan. Something is wrong with the motherboard and it won't boot. It has software on it that won't run on a newer OS than Maverick (such as Photoshop CS6). Therefore, I still want to use the drive if possible. Minimum, I need to get a lot of data, photos, etc off that drive.

I have a new MacBook Air with the M1 chip. I am able to mount the drive and look around and even run some applications but obviously not Photoshop. When loading the boot options at startup, the drive does not appear as a bootable option but can be seen when opening disk utility.


  • Is it possible to boot from this drive on this laptop? (I have been unsuccessful as of yet)
  • Is there any way to run this drive through another application to get it to work in full such as VirtualBox, Parallels, etc.?
  • Sounds like you've already solved the "copy the files off" / "use as secondary drive" part, since that should Just Work when connecting the drive to an already-booted Mac by some means. So I hope you already have backups of your photos now, not just on a single point of (possible) failure. Commented Sep 20, 2021 at 15:16

3 Answers 3


No. El Capitan is not compiled for Apple Silicon and will not be able to run on it.

There are efforts to run it in emulation software like QEMU (see this post on reddit), which would emulate an Intel CPU, however it is not officially supported.


No, but to get the data off the drive, you can just connect it and read the files. The filesystem is readable even when the OS won’t boot new hardware.

I would run migration assistant if you need help getting the data back, but the programs it’s better to buy an old vintage Mac or intel based one that can run an OS that meets your app needs or one to replace the exact OS needed.

Used Intel Mac mini are very reasonably priced for the ones that can’t run Big Sur or newer. Great headless machines to run all your old macOS versions and old apps.

It’s also still early days for virtualizing Intel CPU on Apple Silicon, so in several months you might have other options.


The disk is not bootable, since the earliest MacOS with drivers for the m1 is Big Sur. This is how it is for all macs. There is a way to run this in VM but it is very hard. I’m afraid that you’ll have to get an old Mac. If you’re good with tech you can try out making a VM with army: https://github.com/foxlet/macOS-Simple-KVM

  • Even more than that, I'd assume that an x86-64 Big Sur install of MacOS wouldn't boot on an AArch64 (M1) system, despite them being the same version of MacOS compiled for different CPUs. Unless even the kernel is a universal binary in Big Sur? Commented Sep 20, 2021 at 15:19

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