When (and When Not) to Replace Your Old Mac

Dr. Mac’s Rants & Raves
Episode #138

A reader recently asked me how long he could expect his Mac to last. To be precise, here’s exactly what he said:

I have a 15 in. MacBook Pro that I purchased in 2009 and love it…I do consulting, and run some small business matters with this computer and depend on it heavily.  I back it up with a separate hard drive via Time Machine. I've never had any issues with it.

Question: What is expected 'life' of these machines? I would rather go buy a new one if the one I have is at risk of dying of old age.

Since some of you are surely facing a similar situation and have the same questions, here is what I think:

First, regardless of your Mac’s age, if it doesn’t already have an SSD (Solid State Drive) and you’re still booting from an archaic mechanical hard disk, you’ve got to replace that rotating anachronism with a sleek, modern SSD. Trust me, upgrading from a hard drive to an SSD will make your Mac easily feel twice as fast. And yes, I know I don’t know what Mac you have, but whatever it is, it’ll feel twice as fast after the SSD goes in. If you’ve never experienced the dramatic difference between using an SSD and using a hard disk, your boot times will go from minutes to seconds and most applications will launch instantly with only a bounce or two of their dock icons.

My go-to source for SSDs has been Other World Computing for years. They offer excellent do-it-yourself SSD upgrade kits starting at just US$109 for a 120GB SSD. The kits include instructions, all the tools you need, and even an external USB enclosure so you can use your old hard drive after you remove it.

Or, of course, you can have it upgraded by an Authorized Apple Dealer or Apple Store, though you’ll surely pay more than if you did it yourself (which isn’t that difficult with many Macs).

Moving right along to the actual question of how long a Mac will last, it’s been my experience that most Macs are reliable for at least 7 or 8 years, as long as you’ve taken proper care. That being said, I know of many ten-year old (and older) Macs that are still in service and working great.

I keep my Macs until they either feel too slow and can’t be upgraded any further, or until they die — whichever comes first. Since, as you know, I am obsessive about backing up, having a Mac die unexpectedly might be a hassle and an inconvenience, but it won’t be a disaster.

I recently handed my 2008 MacBook Pro with 8GB RAM and a 480GB SSD over to my wife and replaced it with a 2014 MacBook Pro with a Retina display, a faster processor, 16GB RAM, and a 1TB SSD.

Bob's handed down MacBook Pro

Glamor shot of my wife’s seven-year old MacBook Pro, still working like a champ.

In the meantime, my wife has had no issues with it and hasn’t complained about its speed (or anything else about it for that matter). Since her data is backed up, too, it’ll probably remain in service until its dying day or until I get another new Mac, whichever comes first.

And that’s all he wrote…