Do you have an old MacBook or iMac that just isn’t running as well as it used to? So do I. It’s a 27-inch iMac from 2009. It sports a 3.06 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 4 GB of DDR3 RAM. It’s been a great machine for me over the years, but these days (6 years after I bought it) it’s a bit too slow and frustrating for my liking. So I have begun the process of deciding whether to buy a new Mac, buy a refurbished mac or spruce up my old Mac myself and get a bit more life out of it. Depending on how old your Mac is and what condition it is in, you may come to a different conclusion, but in my case I’ve decided I want to see what I can do to pump some new life into my old Mac—on my own.
Being a tech blogger, the very first thing I wanted to do was check with a couple of experts to see what they had to say on the subject. Jeff Suovanen (JS), a technical writer with iFixit (the free repair manual for everything) and the lead technician from Mac Of All Trades (a leading site for buying/selling used Macs) were kind enough to answer a few questions for me. Here’s what they had to say.
What does a non-technical person need to know before attempting to refurbish their older Mac product?
JS: For most first-timers, the biggest barrier is their own fear—but in reality, there’s nothing particularly difficult about working on Macs. If you arm yourself with a few basic tools and take advantage of all the great web-based resources out there, like the free guides on iFixit, Mac repair can be accessible to virtually anyone.
LT: If you don’t keep backups of important files, now is the time to start. The computer and it’s parts are replaceable, but your family photos, personal documents, and other files often aren’t.
What does an individual need to do in order to get their old Mac running as fast and as up-to-date as possible?
JS: Once a Mac’s OS and software are optimized, RAM is probably the most common performance bottleneck. Fortunately, upgrading RAM is usually inexpensive and straightforward; for many people, it’s their first experience with electronics repair. If you can replace the batteries in your TV remote, you can replace a stick of RAM. From there, consider upgrading your standard hard disk to a SSD for better response times across the board.
LT: Upgrading the memory (RAM) is usually inexpensive and simple to install. If replacing the hard drive is an option, installing a Solid State Drive (SSD) is likely the single-most impactful upgrade you can perform. As for software, the best thing to do in situations where your Mac has slowed down over the years is to effectively start over with a “clean install.” Back up your important files, erase the hard drive, and install a fresh copy of Mac OS X.
How old is too old for a Mac to be refurbished and still be of any real use?
JS: This often depends more on the individual than the computer system—we all have different expectations for things like boot-up and response time, and older systems may not be capable of running current software. But almost any system that still works can be useful for someone. Many local charities will happily take your aging Mac and find it a good home.
LT: A Mac will only be too old when it cannot be upgraded to do what you want. Plenty of our customers buy Macs that would be “too old” for most users, but these units can still run legacy applications they’ve been using for years. Not only does their Mac run the older software they need, it also cost significantly less than a newer Mac!
What is the bare minimum that a person can do for a “quick boost” to performance for an old Mac?
JS: Updating your software and clearing out unused programs makes for a better experience on just about any Mac—and it’s free! It’s also important to maintain adequate hard drive space—if you have less than about 10% storage remaining, back up and delete whatever you can, or consider upgrading to a higher-capacity drive. Giving your OS that extra bit of room to work can make a big difference.
LT: There are a lot of “popular” paid utilities for the Mac that claim to speed/clean up your Mac and correct errors, when in reality they seem to cause more harm than good, so please do your research before installing new software. Mac OS X does a good job of maintaining your system on its own, but if it’s running very slow, we would recommend performing a backup and “clean install” of OS X as mentioned above.
What is the absolute maximum length a person can go to to redo an old Mac system? Would it even be cost efficient?
JS: The logic board ties everything together, and that tends to be the limiting factor. You can upgrade virtually everything else—processor, RAM, hard drive, video card, and so on—assuming you use components that are compatible with an older board. Eventually, you’ll find your logic board just doesn’t support the latest technology, regardless of what you’re willing to spend! Even so, Macs are hardy machines, and they know how to use a little to do a lot. Having the latest technology often isn’t as important as simply keeping your Mac in good order.
LT: Most Macs don’t have a significant upgrade path – usually it stops at upgrading the RAM and hard drive, and it’s usually inexpensive. Some advanced users will even replace their DVD drive with a second hard drive or SSD, or go as far as replacing processors or retrofitting updated components into older Macs. The cost and labor can be significant, so if you aren’t a tinkerer, you may want to consider trading up to a newer refurbished Mac that better suits your needs.
Featured image via Christopher Phin on Flickr.