Buy a new mac or upgrade the OS?
July 20, 2013 3:58 PM   Subscribe

My early-2007 Macbook Pro is still going strong, besides the fact that it gets very hot and that the battery is kaput. The biggest problem I have with it is that the OS (v.10.5.8) is far enough out of date that I can't update most of my software, and have a hard time acquiring new software. Is it worthwhile to upgrade to the latest version of OS X, or would I be better of just springing for a new mac?

I have a 2007 MBP with a 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 4GB of RAM. It still works pretty well for a seven year old computer. I've already upgraded the OS once, from Tiger to Leopard (10.5.8). But it's getting to the point where it's virtually impossible to update software and/or get new software for the computer, so I either need to upgrade to Mountain Lion or get a new laptop.

I feel weird dropping a large amount of money on a new computer when I still have a fairly functional machine. But maybe it's worth it, if my computer will perform better or be more dependable, or if Mountain Lion would be sluggish on my older MBP. I don't know enough to weigh the pros and cons myself.

My cheapest option for a new mac laoptop would be an entry-level 13" Macbook Air (the 11" would be too small for me). But I don't know how the 1.3GHz Dual-Core Intel Core i5 would compare to my 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor. The numbers confuse me--is the MBA processor a step down from my current one?

Both machines would have 4GB of RAM and a similar-sized hard drive, but of course the Air would have an SSD, which I understand is a major speed improvement.

I do a lot of word processing and web browsing, which I don't need a power monster for, but I also do occasional sound editing and photoshop work. I want a computer that can handle these applications when I need them--which is rarely, but it happens.

I don't want to spend $1000 for a computer that's a step down or even a lateral move from my old MBP. If that's the case, I'd rather just upgrade the OS. But are there compelling reasons to take the plunge?

Sorry if this is confusing. I'm not terribly tech-savvy.
posted by scarylarry to Computers & Internet (19 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
1. Save all your data.
2. Get a copy of the new OS.
3. Install FRESH. Don't upgrade, do a clean install.
4. Add on software that you need.
5. Put your data back on.

That should feel a lot better.

6. Get a new battery from eBay.
posted by hal_c_on at 4:03 PM on July 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

What's wrong with Snow Leopard? I use it on my 2009 MBP and it's my favorite. Totally fast, totally stable. What are your software requirements that aren't currently met? Also, replacing a battery is totally cheaper than buying a new laptop, so bite the bullet and do that if not for any reason but to make the thing easier to sell.
posted by oceanjesse at 4:05 PM on July 20, 2013

I think you need to get Snow leopard to access ML from the app store.

I have a 2008 MBP with a 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 4GB of RAM and it's running Mountain Lion. I work mostly in Toonboom Storyboard Pro (sort of a drawing, motion graphic, sound tool) and it plays 720 QT files pretty well.

The only down so far is intermittent browser slowdowns that occasionally stall page loads but that's just a recent thing.
posted by bonobothegreat at 4:24 PM on July 20, 2013

Yes, could you upgrade to Snow Leopard? My early-2008 Core 2 Duo Macbook runs Snow Leopard on 4GB RAM, used mainly for browsing, web development and light Photoshop work. Last fall I replaced the hard drive with an SSD, which sped things up noticeably. My original battery had expanded from age(?), so I also bought an el-cheapo knockoff version for around $25.

I hope the ~$250 for those upgrades will get me through at least another year with this Macbook, and so far, so good. I even think I should've shelled out for a real Apple battery, if only, as oceanjesse notes, because it would make selling the thing easier when the time comes to buy a newer machine.
posted by estherbester at 4:25 PM on July 20, 2013

1. Snow Leopard
2. Buy an SSD
3. Get a new battery

All that should run you about $200-$300 total, so a 1/3 less than the price of a new MacBook Air. The SSD will blow your mind with the speed improvement.
posted by Doleful Creature at 4:29 PM on July 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just FYI the new MBA processor is much faster than your old 2.2 Ghz one. So don't worry about taking a step down or laterally. The new computer would be faster. And btw I'd go for 8 GB RAM in a new computer, minimum.
posted by shivohum at 4:30 PM on July 20, 2013

Upgrade to Snow Leopard.
There's scant little you can't run on SL, and it's a solid OS that's still getting security updates from Apple.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:33 PM on July 20, 2013

This chart puts the new MacBook Air at over twice the speed of your MacBook Pro.
posted by O9scar at 4:35 PM on July 20, 2013

One thing you can do for the heat is to clean the fans. They get full of dust and don't work so well. Take off the bottom cover and gently vacuum around the fans. Don't let the tip of the vacuum attach or it might damage something. Don't let the air move the fans while you do it either.

I've done this a couple of times with my MBP. Be gentle and you won't break anything.

My Core 2 Duo runs Mountain Lion very well. It's not that expensive an upgrade either.
posted by nevan at 4:46 PM on July 20, 2013

OSX 10.8 needs at least 8gb of RAM to not feel sluggish and useless. I have a mid-2011 MBP and when I upgraded from 10.6 to 10.8, I had lots of trouble until I upgraded my memory. Check the maximum supported memory for your model. If it's less than 8gb, I recommend you buy a new one.
posted by deathpanels at 4:47 PM on July 20, 2013

I believe the 2007 is upgradeable to 6GB. I think 6 is workable, but considering:
  • you're looking at a RAM upgrade, an SSD, a new battery and a new OS, which will all run a few hundred dollars,
  • the 2007 can be sold for some money, so it won't be wasted,
  • and a new machine has other benefits like being lighter, quieter and having a better screen,
a new computer, which will come with 8GB, an SSD, a new battery and Mountain Lion, is not an extravagant purchase.
posted by michaelh at 5:40 PM on July 20, 2013

I have pretty much the same MBP and it runs OS 10.7 just fine. It also runs Logic 8, the CS 6 suite & Aperture just fine, though Aperture is perhaps a little draggy. The 2 drawbacks I have are limited recording capability in Logic because of the 5400 rpm drive, & I can't keep a bunch of apps open at once or it pages out to vm. No big deal, either way. My next expenditure is 150 clams for an external SSD to record to, & I expect it'll keep trucking for a while, yet.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:39 PM on July 20, 2013

I have a late 2008 white MB and I upgraded from Leopard to Snow Leopard earlier this year. Man oh man what a difference that made. It's not expensive, and it's definitely worth it. I went to SL because several people (including a "Genius" at the Apple Store) told me that anything newer would run too slowly on my computer. Everything works just fine now with SL, I can use the latest versions of Chrome, etc.

I was a little scared to upgrade the OS myself but it was a piece of cake. The hardest part was waiting for the disc to come in the mail (SL is the last release that you can't download, because it's the version that introduced the App Store).
posted by radioamy at 7:18 PM on July 20, 2013

Thanks for your replies, everyone! The consensus advice seems to be to stick with my current, functioning machine, upgrade to SL, get a new batt, and perhaps get an external SSD.

I love the suggestion to vacuum the fans--my mac can get hotter than the sun running only Firefox and iTunes, and I bet this will help a lot.

I would probably have sprung for a MBA if I hadn't asked this question, but now I think I'll make a small short-term investment in my MBP, and save up for a tricked-out laptop in a year or two. Thanks so much, everybody!
posted by scarylarry at 10:23 PM on July 20, 2013

Don't get an external ssd. Neither usb2 nor firewire are fast enough to take full advantage of the ssd.
posted by 6550 at 11:28 PM on July 20, 2013

Good to know, 6550. Saved me a small bundle.
posted by scarylarry at 11:49 PM on July 20, 2013

It is pretty easy to open a MBP and install a new SSD. There are videos on YouTube that show how to do it.

First backup everything you want to save/move to a new drive, or get an adapter/housing that will let you read your old HDD via USB.

1. Get a CD of Snow Leopard.
2. Get more RAM, (recommended, not needed).
3. Open it up and upgrade (both the RAM and) the SSD
4. Boot it up and do a new install of the OS on your new SSD. There will be a BIG IMPROVEMENT in performance.
5. Copy your files back in.
6. Get and install a new battery

Get a friend or local Mac expert to help if needed. If you were near me I would help.
posted by Leenie at 2:00 AM on July 21, 2013

I agree with most of what's in here, but i extensively used this exact macbook pro for a while, and eventually dedicated it as a media center.

* It will always run hot, that's just how the CPUs they used in this generation were("Merom" core 2 duo). However, blowing out the heatsinks via the "slot" around the hinge will greatly increase performance by preventing the system from dropping it's speed to avoid overheating when you're doing Serious Stuff, or really much of anything. Use a real compressor too, Like the big tank with wheels kind, not canned air or a little airbrush pump. You want to BLAST the dirt out. Fire in short controlled psst-psst-psst bursts so you don't overspin and damage the(somewhat delicate in these!) cooling fans. Dust should shoot out of the keyboard/vents like mad during this.

* Snow Leopard ran awesome on my one of these. It's a huge, huge upgrade from 10.5/leopard that you have right now. I could play 1080p HD video smoothly without it breaking much of a sweat. Big, chunky 4-8gb blu-ray rips too. I also did some serious no-joke work with gigantic files in ableton live, photoshop CS5, Premiere, etc. Stuff that makes lesser computers fall to their knees or overheat and explode. You do not need an upgrade to a new machine. I'm using a 2009 macbook pro and that one wasn't really that much slower than this one. I could still use that one to do everything i do today honestly.

* New batteries are like $30 on ebay. Don't be afraid to buy the brandless "replacement battery for macbook pro!" ones. It's an old machine, and they won't cause it to explode. Forget paying $80 for one. Just don't get the fake chargers if you need a new charger...(get those here. No affiliation, they just have good prices on warranted used chargers so you don't have to pay $80)

* If you get an SSD, get a cheaper one. Look for SATA II models on clearance as that macbook pro can't take advantage of SATA III speeds anyways. An ssd will make way more of a difference than more ram especially since you already have 2gb. I'd honestly get 4gb though. 6gb results in you not having a matched set for "dual channel", which means that the system can read the matched set as one large group of memory at a faster speed. You want that. So if you do get more ram, get two 2gb sticks(if you're curious, this is the correct set)

The new macs would destroy even my once herculean 2.66ghz macbook pro. speed in GHZ means nothing any more, it's entirely how they perform actual operations. There is no actual meaningful measurement in specs until the machine is tested nowadays, and leaps and bounds are made each generation despite the similar, identical, or even lower clock speeds. However, a weird point was reached in about 2007-8 where the average mid range to high end(and don't get me wrong, the macbook pros were always towards the upper range of mobile system performance especially in CPU speed) where a decent machine could complete even more strenuous tasks perfectly fine.

New machines excel more at performing the same tasks not just slightly more quickly, but with much less electrical power allowing less heat and longer battery life. The machine you have will continue to do exactly what you want perfectly fine and smoothly while pumping out a bit more heat with a fresh install of snow leopard and a few minor upgrades.

After all, i still know people doing what you describe on much older machines. This thing is fine. My answer would only be different if you were describing actual hardware failure type issues or saying you needed to do serious 3d modeling or lots of HD video editing or something.
posted by emptythought at 2:21 AM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hey, we have the same laptop, down to the RAM. I threw a 640gb drive in the thing to free up space, have installed every OS update since buying it, and am currently running 10.8 with no issues (aside from machine envy when looking at colleagues with newer models). I use it daily, and it does what I need it to do, even though some tasks are getting noticeably slow. I did not bump the RAM up at all, still running with the 4 gigs it had when I bought it. I would like to upgrade, but right now it works. I have never done a clean install on it. I have gone through the Library a few times and cleaned out some obvious cruft.

My biggest upgrade obstacle is the inability to swap out drives if I buy a newer MBP. Last time priced one out, to get a new model with the same hard drive space I have now, it would cost me $4 grand, which is a whole lot more than I want to spend right now. SSDs are awesome and all but I want internal storage. I work with lots of files (for work and for personal stuff) and don't want to dink around with deciding what should or should not be synced to the device.
posted by caution live frogs at 7:43 AM on July 21, 2013

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