Save money and the planet, repair/upgrade your old MacBook Pro rather than tossing it to buy a new one

"They" (Apple, and other consumer electronics companies) want you to keep buying new stuff every year. They've designed the system to come out with better-faster gizmos every year to make you believe last years new hotness is this years has-been. It keeps their profit margins up, their wallets fat, so long as you keep buying new stuff. But does it serve you in any way to stay on that treadmill, chasing the latest hot gear? Do that and you're constantly shoveling money in the direction of computer companies. Your 4 year old MacBook Pro may look long in the tooth, but it might be able to provide several more years of service -- if only it had a couple simple upgrades -- and only if you ignore the beckoning call of this years new marvel wonder laptop.

Upgrading, rather than replacing, your old computer will save you a ton of money - and you'll contribute to environmental goodness by stretching out the usable lifespan of your old computer.

There's two simple things to do that will breath new life into an aging computer:

  • Max out its memory, and
  • Replace the hard drive with an SSD.

Both memory and SSD drives are way cheaper than they were a few years ago. Maxing out the memory lets you do more without having the computer bog itself down with swapping data back and forth from the disk. SSD drives are hands down blazingly fast. Replacing the old style hard drive with an SSD drive is not only inexpensive, it completely revolutionizes your computer. Install an SSD in your old MacBook Pro and it'll feel like you've jumped on a rocket sled. It has to do with disk I/O throughput, because SSD's read and write data somewhere around a zillion times faster than old-school spinning platter hard drives. Since computers are constantly reading and writing from the disk, it means an SSD will make that old computer take off. Plus, SSD's use less power than spinning platter hard drives, meaning the battery will last much longer. Another simple upgrade is to max out the memory, and take advantage of the low memory prices available now.

On this page I'll be talking specifically about SSD and memory upgrades on MacBook Pro's built between 2009 and 2013. I've done several upgrades now, and am confident about the process. These are two of several easy-to-perform upgrades that can revitalize an old computer. The ideas here will work for many other laptop or desktop computers. It's just that I happen to know the MacBook Pro's very well, and can speak about this with knowledge.

Do you have an older MacBook Pro that feels slow? Is something failing on your MacBook Pro? Is the battery pack no longer holding a charge? Has the trackpad gone funky? Has the DVD drive stopped working? Are you looking longingly at a newer computer? If so, you're a candidate for upgrading your existing MacBook Pro. It'll cost under $200 in parts to install a 240GB SSD and 8GB of memory. A new MacBook Pro costs easily $2000. You do the math .. I'll wait .. what can you do with the extra $1800 you don't have to spend on a new computer?

Consider the machine I'm typing this on :- a 2011 MacBook Pro, 2.4 GHZ Core i5, 8 GB main memory, 480 GB SSD ... the cost for this was well under $500. I bought the computer used on eBay in January, installing the SSD for about $120, and have just ordered an 16 GB memory expansion, costing about $100.

A brand new 13 inch Retina MacBook Pro from Apple still has the Core i5, though running at 2.9 GHZ, and the combination of 8 GB memory and 512 GB SSD costs $1800. Upping the memory to 16 GB costs $200. Upping the SSD to 1TB is $500. Apple no longer offers a Core i7 option, whereas the 2012 Unibody MacBook Pro had a Core i7 option.

In other words, upgrading an older MacBook Pro (memory, plus SSD) gets you nearly the same performance as the currently sold machines at a much lower cost. The primary difference is screen resolution -- the Retina display is very high resolution -- and the speed of the I/O ports, thunderbolt 2 and thunderbolt 3 being far more capable than USB2 or USB3.

Reality check: You must some confidence with tools, and working with tiny screws of various kinds, and the mental competence to remember which part goes where. The tasks aren't all that difficult. Apple's engineering team is excellent, and once you're inside one of these computers you'll come away impressed with their prowess. It means these computers are built out of a lot of custom parts, full of fiddly bits, and you'll need to deal with that.

If you don't want to do the repairs/upgrades yourself, there are two ways I know of to save money by buying an upgraded older computer:

  • Buy from stores that specialize in refurbished electronics. One, refurb.io, specializes in refurbished computers. They have a constant stream of great deals on previous generation computers, and their machines come with warranties.
  • Hire a repair shop to do the upgrades or repairs

macbookpro-with-cover.jpegThe starting point for every repair on a MacBook Pro involves removing this back cover. As you can see, remove the cover and a universe of possibilities open up in front of you.