Big Sur and M1 Macs do not run 32-bit apps or games. Apple dropped support for 32-bit applications in macOS Catalina and the last macOS to support them was Mojave.
You can only install 64-bit apps on Big Sur and Catalina which for most people isn’t a problem as almost all major software is now 64-bit.
The latest Apple Silicon M1 chip Macs are also incompatible with 32-bit games or apps and if you’re trying to run 32-bit an M1 Mac, we recommend you skip to the section on 32 bit games and apps on M1 Macs.
If you try to run a 32 bit-app in Catalina, Big Sur or an M1 Mac, you’ll get the following “App is not optimized for your Mac and needs to be updated” error message:
However, the problem for some Mac users is there are still some older applications and games that are still 32-bit only.
The most notable program is Microsoft Office 2011 but there are also others like MetaTrader, Adobe CS5 and CS6, Aperture, older versions of iTunes, iBooks, iPhoto and some Steam games which are still 32-bit only.
The same applies to some music production or DJ software for Mac that have lots of 32 bit plugins that will no longer work in macOS Big Sur or on an M1 Mac.
How To Tell If An App Is 32 or 64-Bit
Here’s how to check whether the game or app you want to use is 32 or 64-bit compatible.
- Go to the Apple logo in the top left of your screen and select About This Mac > System Report
- In the left menu bar, scroll down to Software > Applications.
- In the last column on the right, you can see whether the game or application is 32 or 64 bit Intel compatible.
- You can also check if are any 32-bit apps on your Mac by going to the Apple logo and selecting About This Mac > System Report… > Software > Applications and checking the Kind field in the panel below
How To Run 32-Bit Games & Apps on a Mac
The only way to run these programs on macOS Catalina, Big Sur or M1 Macs is to install a virtual environment.
On M1 Macs you can’t install an older version of macOS but you can install an M1 ARM chip compatible version of Windows instead.
This enables you to open applications in 32-bit mode on a Mac.
There are various virtual environments you can use to play 32 bit games or apps but not all of them work on macOS Catalina, Big Sur or M1 Macs because some of them (such as Wine) are 32-bit applications themselves and don’t work on the latest versions of macOS.
We recommend the best way to install 32-bit apps on a Mac nowadays is by using Parallels.
You can download a free trial version of Parallels to try this for yourself.
Parallels allows you to run Windows and older 32-bit compatible versions of macOS (such as Mojave, Sierra and High Sierra) simultaneously so whenever you need to use a 32 bit app, you can just switch to your Windows or older macOS installation in Parallels.
Not only this, but Parallels works on M1 Macs and by allowing you to install Windows 10 on a Mac, it allows you to run 32 bit Windows games and apps on an M1 Mac. However, note that this only works for 32 bit Windows ARM compatible apps and games.
In fact, Parallels is no so well integrated with macOS that you can launch 32-bit apps from the Dock as if they were installed on your Mac natively.
Be aware that if you want to use a 32-bit plugin such as for a music application, the entire music production suite must be installed in the virtual environment.
You can’t install the 32-bit plugin in Parallels and expect it to work with your music software installed in Big Sur due to technological limitations.
Parallels has provided full instructions on how to do this below, using an installation of High Sierra as an example but the same method would apply if you were installing Mojave or Windows instead.
You can also check out our full review of Parallels for more.
32 Bit Games & Apps on M1 Macs
Running 32 bit games and apps in Big Sur on M1 Macs is more complicated than on Intel Macs.
Older versions of macOS in a virtual environment only work with Intel chips. So only Intel Macs can install older versions of macOS such as Mojave or High Sierra.
And Boot Camp does not work with M1 Macs so you can’t install older versions of macOS using Boot Camp on an M1 Mac.
So there’s no way to install an older version of macOS on an M1 Mac to run 32 bit games and apps.
However, M1 chip Macs can run Windows 10 using Parallels so if the 32-bit game or application you want to run is available on Windows you can run with Windows version on an M1 Mac.
It’s important to be aware though that M1 chip Macs can only run the ARM-chip compatible version of Windows 10. This means that the 32-bit game or app you want to use must be compatible with Windows 10 on ARM.
A few Adobe apps such as Lightroom are Windows 10 on ARM compatible but most Adobe software isn’t for example.
The good news is the latest version of Windows 10 ARM can also run other Intel only software as it can emulate what’s known as x64 which means almost all 64-bit software will run on it. The bad news is that it won’t work with 32-bit software and it’s currently only available in the Preview version of Windows 10 ARM.
The bottom line is, if the game or app is 32-bit Windows 10 ARM compatible you can use it on an M1 Mac. If it isn’t, there’s no way to play or use it on an Apple Silicon M1 Mac.
You can find full instructions how to install Windows 10 on M1 Macs here.
If you have any problems or questions about installing 32-bit applications on your Mac, let us know in the comments below.