Which used mac laptop to buy?

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by quickmac, May 6, 2015.

  1. quickmac, May 6, 2015
    Last edited: May 6, 2015

    quickmac macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Feb 22, 2011
    #1
    Preface: If you want to skip the backstory, theres a TL;DR at end.

    I had a Macbook and a Macbook Pro as my primary machine from about 2006 to early 2013 (sold the MB for the MBP after 3 yrs) and also have had a few old ones just to mess around with (2003 iBook, 2006 MBP).

    In early 2013 due to some financial issues (had recently built a gaming desktop PC) and changes to software at one job (which wasn't usable on Mac at the time) I sold the MBP 2009 model for a Thinkpad. At the time it was a decent deal and worked out for about a year or so. But yada yada yada, the Thinkpad is now a little more than 2 years old and no longer useful for work/school. In fact it's probably about to fail completely. Every Mac I've ever owned has been pretty flawless even after 3-4 years still like new.

    That said I'm still a broke doctoral student and am comfortable with Mac OS X and also comfortable with upgrading, troubleshooting, and fixing older Apple laptops. For laptop needs for next 2-3 years I really just need a dependable machine that can go in and out of a backpack daily, do word processing, run a few apps, and access the internet. It also needs to have a Superdrive/CD drive. Not worried about retina displays or anything. Would prefer non flash based HDs and upgradable RAM.

    Honestly I'd prefer to spend under $600 on one. Maybe even less if possible.

    The question of course is how old could I go before it really becomes an issue of being completely obsolete/unrepairable? I;ve seen as old as 2005 models for sale on sites like Mac of All Trades. But most seem to be around 2007-2011 models. Oh and I'll readily eat crow and apologize for older posts where I thought moving strictly to PC instead of all Mac or a mix of Mac/PC was the greatest idea I never should have had!

    What would you guys recommend? What's the oldest you'd go for word processing/daily commuting use/web browsing.

    Thanks!

    TL:DR: Need a used Macbook/Macbook Pro for low cost for word processing/web browsing/but also daily heavy use and commuting.
     
  2. firedept macrumors 603

    firedept

    Joined:
    Jul 8, 2011
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    #2
    You can get a 2011 MBP in good condition for that amount. Maybe even a 2012 with a little patience and searching. I have a 2010 MBP 13" that I have upgraded the RAM & hdd's. I am sure as long as nothing fails hardware wise that I will still get another 2-3 years out of it.

    It is currently running Yosemite with no issues and I do even more with my machine than you are planning. Do a little searching and I am sure you can find a machine in your price range that will last you at least 2-3 years.
     
  3. bunnspecial macrumors 603

    bunnspecial

    Joined:
    May 3, 2014
    Location:
    Kentucky
    #3
    I started out working on a PhD, but ended up deciding to leave with a masters degree when I got tired of school :)

    In any case, I bought a late 2011 13" new in the spring of 2012(after my second Toshiba in 3 years died) and did the majority of my masters/doctoral work with it.

    As I sit here typing this, I am awaiting what I hope will be the final draft of my thesis from my advisor so I can tweak and submit it in the next 36 minutes. At this very moment, I'm using an early '08 15" MBP. I paid $90 for this computer on the Marketplace here, then put a $30 500gb hybrid drive in it and a new Ebay battery. It came maxed at 6gb of RAM.

    I bought this computer primarily for the screen real estate, which has made writing my thesis MUCH easier(I also used a 17" last generation Powerbook with a 1680x1050 screen a fair bit, but found that it started to get uncomfortably slow for writing as the document size grew). My 15" Macbook Pro won't win any beauty contests, but it works great for my intended uses. I'll actually probably continue using it as long as it lasts with some frequency, as I prefer the keyboard on it to the "Chicklet" boards on newer MBPs. This computer is also pleasantly fast running 10.9. It can officially run 10.10, although I haven't upgrade it because I don't like it :) .

    I also have a mid '09 pre-Unibody white Macbook that cost me a little over $100. I had to replace the battery in it(I opted for a gently used(6 cycle) OEM battery for about $50, as my experience with cheap aftermarket batteries in these computers has been very poor). I also put an SSD in it. It had 4gb of RAM, and I haven't upgraded it past there because it gets VERY costly for that particular model. It is peppy with 10.10 installed(officially supported). My one criticism is that I find the LCD somewhat low quality compared to the LED displays on my two MBPs, and even next to the LCDs on Powerbooks. The '09 model Macbooks can run 10.10, although ones older than that can not run it(officially at least). The system requirements for 10.8, 10.9, and 10.10 are all the same.

    Those are just two older, relatively affordable systems that I have personal experience with and recommend. The only caveat with the 15" is that they are known to have GPU issues. It was suggested to me to use a 3rd party fan control and be aggressive with my fan settings to keep the GPU temperature low. It was also suggested to be very careful about doing anything graphics-intensive. After I submit my thesis(meaning in the next hour) I'm probably going to redo the thermal paste on it.

    In general, any 13" MBP is going to be a safe bet and will also run 10.10. If you move up to a 15", you need to do your research as there are known issues with GPUs on many of them, and also I believe the late '07 ones are the earliest that can run 10.10.

    Another affordable option worth considering is the Unibody Macbook. I'm not sure when it was last updated, although it was quietly discontinued in early 2012. These have some known cosmetic issues and also lack Firewire, but in general are solid computers.
     
  4. quickmac thread starter macrumors 6502

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    Feb 22, 2011
    #4
    That's great to know. You know I'm impressed it's running Yosemite and that's even better knowing you're still using it for relatively more intense tasks.

    ----------


    Thanks for the info. I've had my share of troubleshooting with previous 15 inch MBPs, both my own and working on friends' ones over the years. I do agree the 13s seem to do better and even though I'd like the bigger screen, I appreciate the lighter load lol.

    That's great to hear that both your Macs are doing quite well and it's amazing 2007 ish models can run 10.10. I completely regret not sticking with Macs for my laptop mobile needs but so it goes.

    I'll have to check out the marketplace here too. My initial reaction was just to go to the Apple Refurb site, but I don't want an Air, and some of the older MBPs are a bit expensive there.

    Also good luck with your thesis. I wrote one of those a few years ago, on a mac!
     
  5. firedept macrumors 603

    firedept

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    #5
    Unfortunately you will not have access to the Marketplace. You need to have 250 post and 6 months time to access it.
     
  6. quickmac thread starter macrumors 6502

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    Feb 22, 2011
    #6
    I've been here over 4 years and only 9 posts shy of that. So I best get to it!
     
  7. bunnspecial macrumors 603

    bunnspecial

    Joined:
    May 3, 2014
    Location:
    Kentucky
    #7
    Thanks for the good wishes(it's now well past midnight-the official due time-and I'm still waiting on the final draft).

    In any case, I actually started writing on my Quicksilver G4(dual 1ghz) using Office 2008 and Endnote X4. I gave up on that computer(even thought I still use it A LOT for other stuff) when it was taking 5 minutes to insert a citation from Endnote.

    After I gave up on the Quicksilver, I actually did a fair bit of work on my Dual Core 2.0 G5(again, Office 2008 and Endnote X4) with dual monitors that I have set up at my work desk. The G5 and(relatively speaking) massive amounts of RAM(10gb) in this computer are better suited to the demands of two badly written programs(Word 2008 and Endnote) interacting with each other. I could have actually done the whole thing on this particular computer with relative ease-even this afternoon when I was doing a fair bit of work on it(it has Chemdraw, which I needed and none of my Intel computers have). The only problem with using it was my talkative co-workers.

    As I mentioned, I used a 17" DLSD Powerbook(A1139) a fair bit, along with its 15" counterpart(A1138). The more advanced G4 processor in these along with the faster memory bus made up for some of the deficiencies. Again, though, both computers(which have virtually identical specs-even down to the same model SSD installed in them) started to bog down when I started hitting around 40 or 50 references in Endnote.

    The bulk of it was written on the 13" MBP, but again after I bought the 15" it took over main writing duties for the reasons I listed above(plus the iMessage integration-not available on PowerPC but built into 10.9-made communication with my adviser a lot easier when working). Make no mistake-my 15" is very "battle worn." It has some chips in the plastic surrounding the top case, several of the keycaps have heavy wear(the A is completely illegible and the E is nearly there), and there's a squiggly pressure mark about an inch and a half long in the lower left of the screen. It was advertised as having a bad hard drive and with the catch not working. I bought the hard drive(or hybrid drive, more correctly, along with another identical hybrid and a 120gb SSD) from the same person selling the computer. When opened the computer to replace the hard drive, I spent probably an hour using my pocket knife, a screw driver, and a dental pick cleaning compacted "crap"(for lack of a better term) out of the latches. After doing this, the latch works fine.

    Since you mentioned a preference for non-flash storage, I'll also put in a plug for hybrid drives. It takes a little bit of time to "break in" one of these while they learn what files you access most frequently. It then caches these files to a small SSD(usually 8 or 16gb depending on the drive) while the platters provide bulk storage. By some of the tests I've seen, they can reach about 70% of the performance of an SSD with a cost/gb not much higher than a platter drive. Mine has sped up noticeably over the past two weeks. Of course, SSDs are dropping dramatically too-not too terribly long ago, $1/gb was the norm. I was looking on Newegg recently, and they had a 500gb Samsung Evo 850(one of the higher end SSDs) on sale for $189.99, or $.38/gb.
     
  8. firedept macrumors 603

    firedept

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    #8
    Thanks for the chuckle. I see you persevered and made it. I picked up 3 MBP in the Marketplace last year. Some good deals there and the sellers are really decent to deal with. I would much rather deal with people on the boards than somewhere like Ebay or Craigslist.
     
  9. z31fanatic macrumors 6502a

    z31fanatic

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2015
    Location:
    Mukilteo, WA USA
    #9
    $600 will get you a 2012 classic MBP every day on ebay.
    Four days ago I won an auction for a 2012 cMBP 13" with i5/8/500 and only 91 battery cycles for $605. There can be decent deals if you are patient.
     
  10. ApolloBoy macrumors 6502a

    ApolloBoy

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    San Jose, CA
    #10
    It was only updated once in mid-2010, basically it got a better CPU, inertial scrolling and audio output through the Mini DisplayPort. I seem to remember that it was pulled from retail in 2011 and then it was only sold to schools until early 2012.

    Anyway the mid-2010 unibody MacBook is a pretty solid choice for a cheap Mac; I used it as my main computer up until very recently and it's surprisingly capable with a RAM upgrade and an SSD.
     
  11. nickprete11 macrumors regular

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    Philadelphia
    #11
  12. brdeveloper macrumors 68020

    brdeveloper

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    Location:
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    #12
    A 2011 13" Macbook Pro seems to be a good choice. But you should really go to the flash storage route with this (or any other) model. Using HDDs as system drives these days is pure masochism.

    Other option almost as good enough (and cheaper) will be the 2010 Macbook Pro or the 2010 White Macbook. They support up to 16GB of RAM and with SSDs they're pretty up to date. I'm still proud of my maxed out late-2009 Macbook.
     
  13. quickmac thread starter macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Feb 22, 2011
    #13
    Thanks for the tips. I see technically the Non-Retina Macbook Pro they still sell is basically a 2012 model. They sell refurbs as low as like $800 for them but like you said they have the slower drives. I didn't know the 2010 White Macbook also supports up to 16GBs, I wondered why I suddenly saw more of them in the wild.

    I still miss my maxed out 2009 MBP. Should've kept it lol. I'm leaning slightly more towards a refurb 2014 Air at this point but will keep my eyes open for the models you mentioned.

    Part of my concern for going "that far back" is that even though they're built tough and as you say can be maxed out easily, I have concerns about their lifespan. A 2010 used without warranty could run for 5 more years or could fail tomorrow. A 2013-2014 one from Apple Refurb can have up to 3 years of AppleCare. Sure costs more, but I'm torn between going the older route and maxing out and doing my own repairs, or paying a little more, getting older but less old with warranty and hoping it conks out under warranty so Apple replaces it!
     
  14. brdeveloper macrumors 68020

    brdeveloper

    Joined:
    Apr 21, 2010
    Location:
    Brasil
    #14
    I agree with you. A 2010 White Macbook can be a big deal if you can get it for around ~$250. Then you install like 2x4GB modules on it (or 16GB, but 8GB is enough) and a 250GB SSD. The final cost will be like ~$420. If it fails tomorrow, just get another used Mac and you're still saving money.

    Perhaps the best for your needs would be a 2014 13" MBA with 8GBs of RAM and a 250GB SSD and warranty/Apple Care still active.
     
  15. quickmac thread starter macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Feb 22, 2011
    #15
    Thanks for the follow up. I saw a 2014 13" Air with 8 GB of RAM on Refurb, but someone snatched it up before I could get cash together for it. But yeah I'm keeping my eye out.

    You make a good point about getting an older Mac, maxing it out, then if it dies just doing it again.
     

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