get this question a lot
comes up when there's some sort of problem, but just because a computer
isn't working correctly doesn't mean it's finished.
There are a myriad of factors to consider when comparing repair options
Mac replacement - see below for a quick assessment and more detailed
Collect your machine specs
Apple logo (top-left corner) is
the Apple menu with "About This Mac." Open it and you will see your OS
version, Processor (CPU) type and GHz speed along with installed memory (RAM). The "More
Info" and "System Report" buttons have more specific details if
Age and obsolescence
Make a note of OS version (10.☐.☐), CPU (☐GHz + processor type), and installed
memory (☐GB). There
also be a serial number and model year in the About window that might
typically go obsolete before there's any sort of hardware failure -
which doesn't help much when it comes time to replace a Mac. First sign
is typically problems with internet functions such as unrecognized file
formats, missing images, inadequate security. A current and up-to-date
web browser is required, which requires a reasonably current OS, which
in turn requires a capable CPU. If you can upgrade your OS to one of
the latest versions, you're good to go.
If a machine never goes online, it will continue to do whatever it's
been doing until something actually does fail. Otherwise, the end of
the road for a non-internet
Mac is usually when
the printer dies and a new printer requires a current OS that the
Macs face obsolescence when an outdated CPU can not support the latest
Operating System. Apple continues to provide security
and app updates for OS versions prior to their latest release, but
has limited life remaining. If last OS your machine can support is 3 or
more versions behind, it is obsolete.
More info on OS versions and links to System requirements for each OS
are posted here: Tech
Yes... and no.
Generally speaking, the older
the machine, the easier it is to service and/or upgrade. If it is
capable of running the latest MacOS, it is well worth upgrading or
repairs in most cases, especially when compared to potential
limitations and the expense of new Macs - notebook models in particular.
and understand the fine print
MacBooks (Pro and Air) have changed considerably in recent years. The
Air models have always been limited in storage capacity and
port options; these are perfect for anyone dealing primarily with text
files - emails, documents - but
not so great for storing any quantity of photographs, music or video.
MacBook Pro models
typically have more storage and options, but that comes at a
All new Macs lost their optical drives years ago, so CDs/DVDs
require an external optical device now. Port types are
constantly changing and many have been dropped altogether - USB 1/2/3,
Firewire, Thunderbolt, to mention a few. These have been replaced by
the new Thunderbolt3/USB-C type which requires adapters for most of the
other port types and are also used for charging notebooks, replacing
the MagSafe connector. (See Ports and Adapters, below.)
MacBook models and iMacs after mid-2014 _cannot_ be upgraded after
purchase due to what Apple calls "onboard" RAM and "onboard" solid
state drive (SSD)
storage. This means memory is soldered to logic board, eliminating
sockets used previously and making upgrades impossible. Likewise
machines with a hard-wired solid-state
drive ("onboard" SSD), as these are also impossible to remove, upgrade
or replace after
New or used?
Before investing in a new Mac, it pays to ask questions, do your
homework, and understand what terms like "onboard" or "configurable"
mean. Know how much storage you will need (based on what you have
currently), how much RAM your apps and
OS will require, and what port types and adapters you will be using.
Investigate other relavent tech specs, too, especially if video,
photography and/or music is important to you. You may not want
to know about all the tech specs and details involved, but take the
time to learn these things. It matters.
Older i5 and i7 CPU machines
that shipped with conventional (2.5" rotational) hard disk drives
(HDDs, not blade-type SSDs)
provide many options. They come equipped with RAM slots and an
assortment of ports, too. These Macs are holding their value and
quite appealing when compared to limitations imposed by new model Macs
Change isn't always for the better
2.5" HDDs are cheap (2TB = about $70), and solid state drives in a 2.5"
package may also be installed. Most older MacBooks
have a full array of ports, SD card slots,
and some still have optical drives (CD/DVD) - if you care about such
things. These machines are easily upgraded to their maximum RAM (which
varies by model), and their hard drives are readily replaced and/or
upgraded. The newer the machine, the longer
its useful life
will be, but it should be noted that only the newest models will be
able to run Apple's latest OS, Mojave (fall, 2018).
around 2012, Apple began using high-rez displays in new Macs known as
the Retina display. Most people wouldn't know the difference unless
viewing two machines side-by-side, but there are many photographers and
graphic designers who appreciate the improved sharpness, clarity and
Retina displays add a few bucks to purchase price (and replacement, if
broken), but there was another change to _all_ Retina display MacBooks
that has nothing to do with the screen: Their batteries are glued to top case/keyboard/trackpad
assembly, which makes battery replacement as expensive as it is
Another recent development is the switch to "butterfly" type mechanisms
in notebook keyboards. A search for "butterfly keyboard" will produce
more than a few articles, videos and reports of problems with sticking
and missing keys.
(It should be noted here that there's no shortage of bad advice on the
UPDATE: Apple has launched a service program for butterfly keyboards here.
Add "onboard" (soldered) RAM and SSDs (mentioned above) to sealed
display modules, glued-in batteries, limited ports and butterfly
keyboards - the care, use and maintenance of these expensive new
notebooks takes on new significance:
- Backup is critical. If a non-removable drive
fails, it takes the machine with it. Conversely, if machine fails, it
takes the drive with it. In either case, copying data will be
impossible. Cloud backup? Better than nothing.
- Common SSDs that cannot store more
than 500GB will force users to store their data on the Cloud (iCloud),
and many people are not okay with that idea (for a variety of valid
- Keyboard protection is all but
mandatory. We've always recommended having a keyboard cover on
notebooks to protect 'em from spills (links on our homepage), but the
new butterfly keyboards are sensitive to dust, too. A cover should
prevent many malfunctions from normal use.
- Upgrading RAM is not possible after
purchase if RAM is "onboard" type. Same with "onboard" SSDs that cannot
be removed/upgraded later. (2TB SSD upgrade from Apple was $1400 when
last we checked.)
- Consider an extended Apple warranty.
Some percentage of lithium batteries will swell up over time (Techtales
page has a few examples of these), possible keyboard malfunctions, a
$400 Retina display, hard-wired RAM and SSD - problems with any one of
these will exceed cost of Apple's 3-year warranty (which DOES NOT cover
spills, drops or damage from handling, BTW). Having a protective case
and pair of kid gloves is also recommended.
Broadband = minimum 3Mbps.
download and install a new OS, or startup a new
Mac, you will be taken thru a few setup steps.
One is signing into iCloud. Don't.
You can sign in later. Another is encryption. Don't turn that on, either. If you
don't know what these things are, find out BEFORE you activate them.
If you happen to have a blazing-fast
connection to the
'net, cloud apps and storage will work pretty much as they did when
everything resided on your machine. If you have something less than
top speed you may notice delays accessing cloud apps, and if your
internet connection is
less than 3Mbps you technically don't have broadband at all.
these days is to depend on cloud services for
everything, from programs that used to be installed on your computer,
to cloud storage of your photos, documents, email and other files. Is
this a good idea?
As mentioned elsewhere on this site, cloud backup isn't a full backup, it's only a backup of
unique files (sans OS, network settings, apps). Proper backup includes all data copied and stored on an
external drive. Cloud backup is better than nothing, but recovery will
take a bit of time and effort. Cloud storage - assuming you're using
iCloud and not some bogus scam - cloud storage can be problematic as
well, putting your ISP, network connections, components and passwords
in the way. Data breaches are a threat, too.
System Preferences under
"Security and Privacy" is the FileVault tab which allows you to encrypt
all data. This may be useful for spies and political operatives, but it
is completely unnecessary for most of us.
It also has a few side effects: If you forget the password, your data
is not only lost, it's scrambled. Turning FV on compresses data storage
to some degree, so reaching a full drive with it on means a _very_ full
drive, beyond capacity in some cases. Some FV versions were known to
lockout troubleshooting routines, others can cause startup issues; and
turning FV off can take many hours, usually all night. Why complicate
matters? If it's off, leave it off - and don't turn it on when prompted
by a new OS.
disk drives, solid state drives and hybrid drives
drive capacity of hard drives (HDDs) to storage
capacity and price of
solid-state drives (SSDs). While SSD prices are less than half of what
they once were, they are still typically smaller and far more expensive
than conventional hard drives. A 1TB desktop HDD (that's 1024GB) costs
around $50; drive capacities go up to 6-8TB these days. A 1TB SSD drive
will be 6-7 times the cost and will probably require a (cheap) adapter
to install into a desktop computer.
Notebook SSDs may someday reach the 2-3TB capacity of current
rotational 2.5" notebook drives, but be prepared for sticker shock.
Newer notebooks (and some iMacs) employ a blade-type SSD that is
machine and model-specific and much more compact than the 2.5" drive
Hybrid drives are part
SSD (essentially an enormous cache) and part HDD, a decent compromise
between SSD speed and HDD storage at a reasonable price. Apple's Fusion drive setup uses two drives,
an SSD with OS and apps onboard alongside a second, rotational drive
providing storage. Older notebooks equipped with optical drives are
good candidates for this same arrangement since they have a second SATA
bus. A $20 adapter mounts an SSD and replaces the CD/DVD drive inside
The advantage of an SSD is, of course, speed. That is, read/write
speed, which speeds startup, opens apps faster and saves (writes) data
faster. Actual working speed is determined by RAM, but faster
read/write ops improves overall performance. What typically suffers
with SSDs is storage space - another reason people are being pushed
into cloud storage.
RAM when purchased
Newer, thin-case iMacs are somewhat complicated
to service, so consider making any/all upgrades at time of purchase to
save yourself the additional cost of upgrading later.
27" iMacs may have RAM upgrade doors on the back making RAM upgrades
easy, but many 21" iMacs must be disassembled to access RAM. In
addition, all Hybrid-drive iMacs require complete disassembly to change
their SSDs; upgrading/replacing these later will be very expensive.
use and software considerations
If you have mission-critical
software, check availability of new versions and check your software's
requirements before buying a new (or used) machine.
If you're like most people, your activity consists mainly of email,
internet, the occasional photo and some music, maybe a game or two. If
that's the case, there's no reason why you shouldn't keep your Mac
updated with the latest available MacOS and apps, and you have little
to worry about.
But - if you run a critical database, run a music studio, do video
editing or graphics, or use your computer to drive expensive machines
and equipment, you may have a lot to worry about. Especially if the
software and/or equipment you count on is no longer available.
Upgrades are easy and effective when you keep your computer current,
but there are situations when the need to upgrade can cascade into
major difficulties. For example:
upgrades contain significant changes to such low-level functions as
drive format, CPU type, and other things that have the potential to
make prior OS/software combinations completely incompatible. Apple, to
its credit, has made such transitions as painless as possible in the
past, with built-in emulation software to get us over the hump. But
these things don't last forever...
past three or more OS versions (i.e. 10.6 to 10.12)
with older peripherals/equipment attached
on a network of mixed machines/platforms
while running a custom (possibly extinct) database
the longer you put it off,
the more difficult and complicated the upgrade can become. We've had to
port critical client data (including maps, charts and graphs), from a
long-extinct '90s database into a modern program when the owner's
22-year-old Mac died. That job involved purchase and refurb of an
intermediate-age machine/OS, then converting all data - twice - in a
long, complicated, impossible-to-explain process that is best avoided.
Here at the shop, we run a custom one-off database written back in the
day when there was no canned software suitable for our purposes, a
2-part relational database that had to be completely rewritten with the
advent of OSX, and again a few years later, so we're well acquainted
with the issue.
Bottom line: Dragging an old database into the 21st century and trying
to make it work is more expensive, time-consuming and troublesome than
starting over with an all-new routine. Best thing is to stay reasonably
current and avoid falling into the gulf between antique and modern.
changes on new Macs
Thunderbolt 3 (aka USB-C) can support a variety
of connections, including an external display, Thunderbolt, Thunderbolt
2, HDMI, DVI, VGA, USB (and possibly Firewire). Each of these
connections requires a proper adapter.
Newer notebooks all have two USB-C ports compatible with connectors
listed above, but one port is also used to charge the battery from
Apple's new AC-adapters; new notebooks no longer use the MagSafe port.
MacBook Pro models will have a variety of additional ports, and
third-party expansion options are also available.
iMac ports include headphone, USB3, Thunderbolt
3 (aka USB-C), Ethernet, mini display port, and a camera card slot.
Firewire has been dropped but may be used with a proper adapter. 27"
iMacs with external RAM door may be upgraded easily, but 21" iMacs must
be disassembled to upgrade RAM.
External hardware compatibility
certain any critical peripheral devices or hardware will function with
a new or upgraded
Macs, and check System requirements for critical devices. Clients using
CNC machines, plotters/cutters, wide-format printers and other
expensive output devices should check for updates from device
manufactures before upgrading to avoid problems.
you really need to be portable?
your laptop or notebook computer never leaves your
desk, consider replacing it with a desktop model and get more bang for
your bucks. iMacs have bigger screens, more storage potential, and
wireless keyboard/mouse (or trackpad) that allows better ergonomics for
more comfort. Desktop machines don't get lost or stolen, they don't
suffer drops and spills, no battery/charger, and they're about the same
price as notebooks.
a MacMini or notebook to
iPhones and iPads can handle most portability needs these days (short
of sophisticated content
creation) and are much more convenient than lugging around a notebook. We see a lot of beat up
notebooks here... if you don't have to be portable, consider upgrading
to a desktop iMac.
to the wasteland of
television (if you haven't already) and switch to internet on your
flat-screen TV. Perfect arrangement is a MacMini with wireless keyboard
and mouse/trackpad, but notebook computers work nicely, too. Using a
computer means you are not limited to paid content, you have access to
the entire internet (including paid content and everything else).
If using a wireless keyboard/mouse/trackpad isn't in the cards, you can
use your iPhone or iPad instead. And using Safari (or your choice of
browser) from your computer is a vast improvement over software that
ships with flat-screen TVs. Watch what you want, when you want, on your
schedule, and leave legacy media behind.