Computer for my mother, a light user
July 3, 2013 5:28 PM   Subscribe

My mother's macbook is old and she needs a newer one but I don't know much about macs.

My mother has an aging macbook of some kind running 10.4.11, and because it's outdated, she apparently cannot:

video skype with others who have the last couple versions of skype
sync her newer ipod Nano
use Chrome
Run google hangouts (as a skype replacement)

The computer was bought during better times and we cannot afford to replace it with a brand-new Mac.

She is a light user--she skypes with her grandson, shops online, reads the news, and downloads audiobooks from the library for her ipod.

If we look at refurbs or used macbooks for her, what versions/generations should we look at? I really don't know much about them and both of us are overwhelmed by the information we find online.

I'm not sure she could get used to Windows right now, though we may have to go that way if we can't meet her needs and budget with a mac, I guess.
posted by birdseye to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
How old is it? Even the oldest MacBook can be upgraded to Snow Leopard, which is $19.99. That can run the latest iTunes, Chrome, Skype, etc. On top of that, maxing out the RAM and putting in an SSD would make things run well. I have the very first version of the MacBook with 2GB RAM and an SSD added and it's still quite servicable.
posted by zsazsa at 5:33 PM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your mom's problem is likely that she has a PowerPC rather than an Intel Mac. PowerPCs can't run anything higher than 10.5. A lot of the software compatibility problems are likely stemming from the fact that people are not making Mac software that doesn't require Intel processors.

FWIW I use a 2007 MacBook Pro daily. It's the oldest computer that will run the newest Mac OS (10.8) and it does everything I need. Anything newer than that, and Intel-based, would be a decent replacement for someone with light computing needs. (Note that 2007 MacBooks can NOT run 10.8 - the MacBook Pro model can, but it has slightly different hardware. 2008 MacBooks can run 10.8 - my wife uses one of this vintage. Check local resellers, refurbished models, or even CraigsList, you can often find someone dumping an older Intel Mac for not that much...)
posted by caution live frogs at 5:38 PM on July 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

caution live frogs: if it's indeed a MacBook, it has an Intel CPU.
posted by zsazsa at 5:39 PM on July 3, 2013

PS if the machine is newer than mine, by all means put a few bucks into upgrading the OS. That's issue number 2, if it is not a hardware compatibility problem, most new Mac software requires a much newer OS. Your mom is 4 versions behind. Imagine trying to find the Mac equivalent of Windows 98 software today... That's what she is running into!
posted by caution live frogs at 5:40 PM on July 3, 2013

(zsazsa - I don't assume "MacBook" in casual use means specifically a MacBook model; I know quite a few people who use the name as a generic for any Mac laptop, even as old as the black clamshell Lombard systems...)
posted by caution live frogs at 5:42 PM on July 3, 2013

Have you considered an iPad? It might do everything that your mother needs, and the price and weight would probably suit her as well.
posted by sueinnyc at 5:54 PM on July 3, 2013 [5 favorites]

This happened to my wife's Macbook... can't remember the name... the 13" one that came before the Macbook Airs. Macbook Mini's, maybe was the name? They're solid, plastic-y feeling, white, thick-ish.... erm, 5 or 6 year's old.

Anyways, this happened to her. She never updated the OS, and her Firefox/Chrome/Skype/what-have-you stopped working.

Rather than getting a new one (since her's was still going strong), we updated her OS. There was no direct-download of 10.8, so we had to order a DVD version of Snow Leopard off of Apple's website. Install that from DVD, which got us the App Store. From there, we could download the Mountain Lion upgrade from the App Store.

Total cost was ~$40. Somewhere around there. And now all the software can update and work normally.

Instructions from Apple's forums on how to do it.
posted by jms18 at 5:57 PM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yes, if it's running on Intel and not PowerPC, you can eke out some more time by upgrading to Snow Leopard, and maxing out the RAM. For reference, my mom is using my old 2006 Intel Macbook (one of the 13 inch white plasticky ones) with maxed out RAM and a recent Snow Leopard upgrade, and it's chugging along alright for her light usage. Changing out the RAM is a fairly simple process. It's just a matter of unscrewing the back, pulling out the RAM, and putting the new RAM in. If you do end up going this route, it'll probably cost you $100 or less, depending on the price of the RAM.

Refurbished models from Apple itself are all usually the latest couple of models, so you won't see much in the way of savings there. If you want a new-old Mac (and any Mac from 2007 or later running Snow Leopard will do for you), you'll probably have to hit up the likes of ebay or Craigslist.
posted by yasaman at 6:03 PM on July 3, 2013

I have a white MacBook from late 2008 (same kind jms18's wife has, it's just called a MacBook). Earlier this year it started getting really buggy and slow, and I deduced that it was from running 10.5, which was too old to support newer browsers, etc. I upgraded to 10.6 (very painless) and everything has been peachy. You can buy it online for $20.I was told that I shouldn't try to run anything newer than 10.6 because it would be way too slow.

I maxed out the RAM of my computer when I bought it, but if your mother doesn't have a ton of RAM and the computer will accept more, that is also an inexpensive way to give it a boost.
posted by radioamy at 7:01 PM on July 3, 2013

I have three Sony VAIO's: one is three years old (i3), one is two years old (AMD chip), and one is just a year old (i5).

They all cost around US$500. They work well (with this same cohort I also bought an Acer laptop for about the same price that died about a week after warranty ended last year; I replaced the hard drive and installed W7 and it works well).

I wouldn't buy anything cheaper.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:39 PM on July 3, 2013

OP: Can you tell us what the budget is? That will almost certainly get you better answers.
posted by Betelgeuse at 8:14 PM on July 3, 2013

The budget thing is a good question, but also how exactly old is the machine she has right now? the 2006 and 2007 macbooks are dogs now. The core duo/really early core2duo CPUs just did not age gracefully when it came to more modern software(and both of those would have shipped with 10.4 iirc)

The good news is that even 2008 and 2009 macbooks are cheap as hell now. Like, i've recently been seeing them for $400. I ebayed a functionally great but cosmetically meh one and only got about $240!

I'd look at 2008 and 2009 MacBooks, and the 13in macbook pros from that early timeframe. You should expect to spend something like 350-550 for one in decent shape depending how new it is. For a plastic macbook don't spend more than 450 and it better be awesome for that much(like, brand new battery just replaced. Immaculate cosmetic condition, maybe an extra charger, etc)

The issues with not being able to run software are a function of nothing supporting 10.4 though. Which is actually something that always irritated me on macs because plenty of stuff kept supporting windows XP.

Bear in mind that towards that purchase price you can likely get somewhere in the neighborhood of $250 selling the current machine, maybe even a bit more. There's no reason you should need to move away from a mac if you count in the boost in cash from selling the current machine.(And you'll likely make some broke student/the 13 year old version of me who won't care that it's older super happy by getting an actual honest to god mac for cheap!)

If you'd like further guidance memail me and i can search your local craigslist and find used ones that look decent and are at a competitive price, and tell you things to look out for. I flip laptops as a secondary source of income, and also service them. I've looked at an ungodly number of macs over time.
posted by emptythought at 12:42 AM on July 4, 2013

Is this a MacBook or an iBook? It's an important distinction - the MacBook is Intel and the iBook is PowerPC. If it's a MacBook, you can upgrade the OS and you're set. (And if you haven't already, max out the RAM.) My wife has a 2006 MacBook that is still being used every day as her primary computer.

And if it's an iBook, the iPad suggestion upthread is a good one. We just got the sales reps at work iPads, and they've pretty much lost their need for a desktop computer now.
posted by azpenguin at 8:16 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks guys, it's definitely a macbook, and she told me it definitely couldn't be upgraded ("the people at the apple store said so"), but she could be wrong. I will look into that more closely. That would definitely be within her means.
She says it is a "macbook 2". It has 1G of RAM, but I will also check into whether some more could be added, now that I have a clue.

She could not afford an iPad right now, though she does admire them. She can probably spend about $300.
posted by birdseye at 10:19 AM on July 4, 2013

A macbook 2 is a useful thing to know actually, that would make it a macbook 2,1 which is the merom/1st gen core2duo revision.(here's apple's page on it). It's true that it can't be upgraded much. The last version of OSX it supports is i believe snow leopard, and upgrading to that would if anything make it slower.

Those are dogs, like i was saying. Hot, slow dogs. They also have a crappy ram ceiling of 2gb if you want dual channel. You can put 3gb in, but then you lose dual channel mode and it makes it even slower(or you put in two 2gb sticks and end up with a gig you cant use, also crap)

Throw it on craigslist and buy any of the 2008 or newer models on that list and max out the ram. As i said, i sold one of those for about $250 recently.
posted by emptythought at 1:05 PM on July 4, 2013

If it is the Macbook 2,1, it can support Lion, and it shouldn't be slow, especially with max memory. But here's one more trick up your sleeve. Apple has Boot Camp installed on these computers. You can (provided you have sufficient hard drive space) install Windows on it if you needed to.
posted by azpenguin at 2:52 PM on July 4, 2013

$300 can probably get you what you need and not much more. If you decided not to upgrade the system in some way (I would back up all the data, reformat the drive, and reinstall the OS).

A new iPad mini starts at $329 (plus shipping, etc)

Apple does a GREAT job at refurbishing (I've only bought refurb products fromt hem and they are all still going strong).
Refurbished iPads and iPad minis go for $279

If she can switch to windows, there are Netbooks. If she can switch to Android there are a handful of tablets that could work, but I don't think she'll like that.
posted by jander03 at 11:55 AM on July 5, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. When we looked into the upgrade situation more closely (instead of just asking the kid down at the computer shop), things looked brighter. We got her some additional RAM and the Snow Lion DVD and she's just messaged me that it's all upgraded and working fine! Thanks for the advice--saved her a couple hundred bucks and lets her keep the mac!
posted by birdseye at 5:24 AM on July 11, 2013

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