I lately received an attention-grabbing letter from a reader who needed to avoid wasting cash shopping for two Mac laptops for his college-age twins:
I’m at present looking for MacBooks… My twins are within the Junior yr of faculty and it is time to exchange their Asus Chromebooks (2011) and MacBooks from like 2003… So…which mannequin? Which ‘yr’ of development? What’s the best commerce off for refurbished Mac efficiency at ‘gotta purchase two’ pricing?
Sadly, my correspondent did not element why he needed to maneuver from Chromebooks to MacBooks. 2011 Chromebooks are a bit lengthy within the tooth, however there are some fairly superb 2019 Chromebooks available fairly inexpensively.
My correspondent additionally did not specify why, particularly, he was curious about MacBooks fairly than Home windows laptops. It could possibly be his children choose MacOS, or it could possibly be that they need some options or functions distinctive to Mac laptops. Since graphics and video manufacturing are among the Mac’s strengths (and Chromebook’s weaknesses), I’ll assume that the children want some video and graphic functionality — and machines that may deal with that load.
Shopping for used
Let’s lower to the chase: shopping for used gear can prevent cash, however will be dangerous as heck. That definitely applies to eBay, Craigslist, and Fb market purchases. With eBay purchases, you typically will not be capable of see the unit (or models) till they arrive at your door. The potential for outright scams is excessive.
The rip-off potential is there as properly for Craigslist and Fb market, however because you’re doubtless to have the ability to put your palms on the machine before you purchase, you stand a greater likelihood. That stated, to do a purchase order this manner, you must be very comfy along with your capacity to validate product mannequin yr and options, and the vendor needs to be prepared to allow you to spend time with the machine.
To be fairly sincere, although, I would keep away from these channels. The danger of spending loads (particularly for MacBook Professionals) and never getting what you want or count on is kind of excessive.
Understanding mannequin yr calculus
One of many extra attention-grabbing challenges in shopping for used MacBook Professional machines is knowing which mannequin yr you are shopping for. When shopping for a used automobile, you at all times wish to know its mannequin yr, however oddly sufficient, many Mac resellers (each the industrial ones and personal ones) appear to gloss over the manufacturing yr in favor of specs.
There’s a large distinction between shopping for a 16GB MacBook Professional from 2015 and one from 2009.
That stated, you have to do a specific amount of OS calculus. In line with Apple, the brand new model of MacOS (known as Catalina) which comes out in September will help MacBook Professionals and MacBook Airs going again to 2012, however solely MacBooks going again to 2015. These appear to be the identical fashions that can run with MacOS Mojave, which is the present delivery model of the OS.
You possibly can assume that sure fashions will drop off the OS help checklist every year. So within the fall of 2020, the 2012 MacBook Professionals and Airs are more likely to drop off the checklist. That is to not say they will not be usable, however it does imply that upgrades, particular options, and safety upgrades will not be obtainable.
For instance, I personal one 2011 machine which I could not improve when Mojave got here out final yr. I’ve three extra 2012 machines which I can improve this yr, however will hit OS obsolescence in 2020. There are hacky methods to bypass Apple’s OS limitation, however they’re nonetheless hacks.
I reached out to OWC, who sells refurbs. They inform me they’ve plenty of people who’re operating considerably older OS variations. However beware. It isn’t simply the OS that obsoletes. I received hit with Chrome not upgrading on a too-old machine. Even when utilizing different browsers, Gmail would not work. Apparently, Gmail additionally checks the OS model.
One of many issues with Craigslist, eBay, and Fb sellers is that they usually will not specify the yr of the machine you are shopping for. I spoke to a lot of sellers, who claimed they themselves had no concept. For those who encounter a vendor who claims no data of mannequin, ask for a serial quantity (it is obtainable on the unit or within the About this Mac dialog beneath the Apple menu). Then run the quantity by means of Apple’s Test Protection web page. It’ll typically provide you with mannequin yr data, in addition to another particulars.
If a vendor will not provide you with any particulars earlier than you see the machine, keep away from them.
Guidelines for getting a used machine
So for example you determine to disregard my recommendation and purchase a machine from a neighborhood vendor. You are going to wish to do some hands-on testing. Here is what you need to do.
Step 1. Earlier than the highway journey, get an About This Mac snapshot
As talked about above (and as you need to know for those who’re braving shopping for a used Mac regionally), About This Mac is a small display positioned beneath the Apple menu. Have the vendor take a photograph of that display and textual content it to you. That ought to provide you with mannequin, serial quantity, quantity of RAM, OS at present operating, and sort of storage. If any of these specs trouble you, cease proper right here.
Step 2. Make a bootable USB drive
Realizing the mannequin yr of the gadget your contemplating will assist with this step. You will wish to select a USB 2.zero, three.zero, or USB C-based drive, relying on how previous the gadget is. Usually MacBook Professionals earlier than 2012 supported USB 2.zero, from 2012-2015 supported USB three.zero, and after supported Thunderbolt three and USB-C. Take my recommendation, although. Do not buy a Mac that does not help USB three.zero or later. It’s going to simply be too gradual.
If doable, use an exterior SSD drive. If you do not have one, you should utilize a big thumb drive and comply with these directions from Apple. I like to recommend putting in MacOS Mojave, since that is the currently-shipping product.
Here is a fast observe: if you do not have a Mac already to make this exterior boot drive, that is okay. You will simply have fewer backup exams you possibly can run when contemplating the Mac you are looking to buy.
Step three. Pack your bootable USB drive, an SD card, a set of headphones, a CD, and a DVD
You will wish to convey a fundamental check equipment with you once you go to see the gadget you are contemplating. First, convey the exterior drive you pre-configured a model of MacOS on. Subsequent, convey a set of headphones (ideally with a headphone jack, fairly than a USB connection). It will assist you to check exterior audio. Pack an SD card to check the interior SD card slot, if one exists. Lastly, for those who’re taking a look at a 2008-2012 MacBook Professional, convey a CD and DVD with you to check the interior drive.
Step four. When you arrive, rigorously look over the machine
Here is the place you are going to do an intensive bodily inspection of the machine earlier than booting it up. You wish to discover any dents, scratches, and, particularly, any apparent harm. Take a look at every of the ports to see if any is out of alignment or crushed. Study the display for scratches or harm. Some MacBook Professionals have seen screws. Test to ensure they’re all in place and never stripped or lacking. If the machine appears to be like too crushed up, you may wish to give it a cross. That stated, some scratched up Macs nonetheless work nice and the scratches might properly prevent some bucks.
Step 5. Test the facility adapter and boot the beast
Make sure that the facility adapter is plugged in and boot the machine. It is a good time to look at the facility cable. Make sure that it isn’t badly kinked, bent, or cracked. Energy adapters can be found elsewhere to buy, however they don’t seem to be cheap. If the machine boots on exterior energy, however the adapter appears to be like crappy, ask for a reduction.
It is best to be capable of boot all the way in which into the machine by means of to the desktop image. If the machine will not boot, and you do not have an exterior startup disk, stroll away now.
For those who do have an exterior startup disk, begin enthusiastic about how a lot you need the vendor to low cost the machine. Then, connect your exterior drive to the Mac, maintain down the Possibility key (and maintain holding it) till you see the Startup Supervisor. Select your drive and see if the machine will boot utilizing your drive.
If you cannot boot the machine utilizing both method, stroll away. This deal is a bust.
Step 6. Test community and show
The only manner to ensure the community is operating is to go to YouTube. Don’t be concerned about operating Chrome right here. Simply launch Safari and be sure to can get to YouTube. If the vendor says there is not any obtainable community connection (or for those who’re in a public location), attempt organising Wi-Fi. If you cannot check the community, interval, then simply stroll away.
For those who can check the community, go to this YouTube video. Scale it to full display and run, searching for caught pixels or dots on the display. This check runs although a bunch of fundamental colours and may assist inform you if there’s discoloration or lacking or caught pixels. If in case you have display issues, stroll away from the deal.
Step 7. Test the keyboard (particularly on late-model MacBook Professionals)
I like utilizing the keyboard viewer, however you may as well open Notes or TextEdit. Sort a whole lot of textual content, verify caps, caps lock, perform keys, and repeating keys. Make sure that the keys that repeat cease repeating. Additionally verify the trackpad and ensure it tracks along with your fingers as anticipated.
Step eight. Test drive, ports, and digicam
If there’s an optical drive, take your check disk, insert it and see if it performs. Plug in your SD card and see if the machine reads it. Take a look at your exterior drive in every of the USB ports. Attempt your headset and ensure it really works. Fireplace up FaceTime or Picture Sales space and ensure the MacBook’s digicam works.
Step 9. Test drive standing
It was that you may verify the S.M.A.R.T. standing of arduous drives. With Apple’s new APFS and SSDs, S.M.A.R.T. is just about out of date. I choose to make use of Disk Utility to run First Assist on a drive and see if any errors present up. Errors on the drive could possibly be brought on by a foul drive (which is replaceable) or unhealthy drive controller chips (which aren’t). I would advocate strolling away from any machine that fails the First Assist scan. If the vendor does not need you to run a scan, run away.
Step 10. Test the well being situation of the battery
Apple particulars a collection of easy steps for ensuring the battery nonetheless has life in it. This features a take a look at the Mac’s notion of the battery’s situation and its cycle rely. Take note of the max cycle rely listed for every mannequin on this web page, after which the cycle rely you discover on the machine you are contemplating. In the event that they’re too shut, do not buy the machine. You will want a expensive battery alternative sooner fairly than later.
Step 11. Run Apple Diagnostics or Apple Take a look at
Relying on how previous the machine is you are taking a look at, you need to take into account operating Apple Take a look at or Apple Diagnostics. I wrote an article on how to try this right here.
Step 12. Be certain you have got an Administrative login and the Firmware password is disabled
For those who made it this far, you are in all probability contemplating shopping for the machine. Be sure you have an administrative login to the machine. You possibly can verify this by shutting down, booting again up, logging in with what you suppose is your administrative account, and taking a look at Customers & Teams in System Preferences and ensuring the account you are logged into says “Admin.”
Lastly, be sure that there is not any firmware password. Apple particulars find out how to activate and off a firmware password, and here is a brief information for what to do if you cannot disable the password. If you cannot flip off the firmware password before you purchase the machine, do not buy the machine.
I nonetheless do not advocate shopping for a Mac from a neighborhood vendor that does not honor returns. However for those who should, the above checklist ought to show you how to make a profitable purchase.
Industrial sellers who will honor returns
My advice is to solely purchase a used machine from a industrial vendor who you already know will honor returns. These embody Amazon’s Renewed program, OWC, and Apple Licensed Refurbished machines. If you get your machine, you may have seven to 30 days to totally check it out. Be sure you know your return interval. When you get your machine (or machines), load them up totally and check them rigorously.
On the subject of Amazon, you are able to do a seek for used MacBook Professionals by mannequin yr, however the firm does not checklist them that manner. As an alternative, they checklist the mannequin variety of the Mac, which makes it tougher to know what you are taking a look at.
If you are going to be shopping for a used Mac laptop computer, you’ll want to bookmark these pages:
These are Apple’s pages. They checklist each mannequin numbers and supported OS variations.
What to purchase
Relying in your price range, I would advocate a 2014 or 2015 MacBook Professional. Later machines have had infamous keyboard reliability issues, and you will not save that a lot on a purchase order. 2016 and later MacBook Professionals additionally misplaced all of the ports aside from Thunderbolt three. 2015 and earlier MacBook Professionals are way more versatile relating to ports (with out a dongle).
MacBook Airs are superb machines, however they are typically a bit underpowered. Till this yr, that they had older-style screens. I would additionally keep away from fundamental MacBooks as a result of they’re anemic out the gate.
Here is my information for making trade-off choices on new purchases. The TL;DR model is I like to recommend getting a MacBook Professional with not less than 16GB RAM, not less than an i5 (get an i7 for those who plan to do a lot video enhancing), and an SSD of not less than 256GB (however you may limp alongside on 128GB).
A pattern search
On the day I wrote this, I did a seek for used MacBook Professional fashions. My aim was a 13-inch 2015 i7 MacBook Professional with 16GB RAM. Here is what I discovered.
On Craigslist in my space, I discovered three Mac laptops on the market. They included an “ipad mini and MacBook Professional” for $700 with no indication of both mannequin yr or configuration, a mannequin listed as 2013 MacBook Professional (additionally with no configuration data) for $400, and a 2011 MacBook Air with an i7 processor, 256GB SSD, however solely 4GB RAM for $247.
The final machine shouldn’t be unhealthy, besides that it is already at max reminiscence with 4GB. With right now’s workloads, you would be arduous pressed to get a lot performed with such restricted reminiscence.
On Fb in my space, I discovered a 2012 MacBook Air for $400 with no configuration data. I additionally discovered a $300 2012 15-inch i7 MacBook Professional, however it additionally had solely 4GB RAM. The casing was a bit battered, however the excellent news is that for about $50-75, it could be doable to improve this unit to 16GB. One other $50 or so would improve the arduous drive to SSD. So for those who’re adventurous and prepared to take an opportunity, you may get a reasonably good machine (as soon as upgraded) for about $400-450. That is not unhealthy.
On Amazon, I discovered two maxed out 2015 13-inch MacBook Professionals for $2,049 every. These weren’t a part of Amazon’s Renewed program, so returns are a giant query mark.
On OWC, I discovered a 2015 13-inch i5 MacBook Professional containing 8GB RAM and 128GB SSD for $1,079. The corporate gives a $30 SSD improve, which might take the machine to 256GB. I would advocate that. Whereas most people can get by on 8GB, the 2015 MacBook Professional has RAM soldered onto the motherboard, so upgrades aren’t doable.
Apple’s refurb web page did not have any 13-inch MacBook Professional fashions sooner than 2017. That they had an 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD i5 unit for $1,zero19. That is sixty bucks lower than the OWC unit from two years earlier, however with the extra problematic keyboard and fewer ports. If I needed 16GB RAM, I might have needed to take a 2018 unit with a 1TB flash drive for $2,249.
Now, let’s examine these used/refurbished fashions with a brand new 2019 buy. A base 2019 new i5 MacBook Professional with 128GB and 8GB of RAM is $1,299. A extra best configuration of 16GB RAM and 256GB flash storage takes the machine as much as $1,699.
Is used value it?
There’s loads to love about among the older MacBook Professional fashions, most particularly the wide selection of ports constructed into the machines. As you get to 2016 and past, you are restricted to some Thunderbolt three ports and a keyboard infamous for its issues.
For an expert like me, used might be not value it. As we have seen, there’s a few 300 greenback financial savings shopping for used from a good vendor, however your choice of configurations is lower than you’d have for those who purchased new, straight from Apple.
However I haven’t got twins in school. When confronted with that sort of expense, the flexibility to avoid wasting 300 bucks — twice — provides up shortly. It definitely appears value buying and selling a number of years of OS upgradability down the road (presumably as soon as the twins are out of college and shopping for their very own computer systems) for bills proper now.
The 2012 machine I discovered on Fb was additionally intriguing. For those who’re prepared to spend the time testing and upgrading one thing previous, it is doable to avoid wasting loads and nonetheless get an excellent machine. Again in these days (earlier than the butterfly keyboard) Apple typically made laptops that lasted so long as a tank.
The underside line, as at all times, needs to be realizing your distinctive wants. Is the longest doable improve life extra necessary than saving a couple of dollars now? Is having an built-in photograph card reader and a few USB three.zero ports extra necessary than a bunch of Thunderbolt ports? Is saving $600 value some doable hassles down the road?
I can not actually reply any of these questions as a result of I haven’t got twins in school. I can not think about what it takes to steadiness the stress and satisfaction of that state of affairs. All I can do is want my correspondent (and anybody else in his place) the most effective of luck.
Oh, and yet another thought. There are a whole lot of very good, very cheap Home windows laptops. Simply sayin’.
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