Is the upgrade worth it?
March 21, 2014 11:42 AM   Subscribe

I have a late 2008 15" MacBook Pro. I'd like to cram it full of RAM and upgrade to a pretty high capacity SSD - is this worth doing or will the graphics cards, monitor, other relatively unreplaceable elements fry soon?

It has retired as the main computer in my life, as I do all of my "work" on a computer lent me by my job. I would like to turn it into a game machine, mostly to play games on Steam. I will also use it for streaming netflix, and my itunes account for my phone and ipad will back up here. I can't afford another one, and plan on spending about $500 on the upgrades (there are some other minor things I've not bothered to list). This isn't an insignificant amount of money to me, but is less than what it would take to buy a new Air or whatever. I'm not interested in a Windows machine - I have one of those. I probably will not be playing extremely graphics-heavy FPS, although it's not out of the question if it's possible. I like having the large screen for the Netflix, etc., because I no longer have a television. I want the extra hard drive space for my iTunes backups, photos, etc. BUT if the whole thing is going to go belly-up, I'd rather just buy the (smaller, so less good for movies/TV) Air than spend the $ for the upgrades then having to buy the notebook anyway.

Also, I will be doing the upgrade myself and enjoy such things.

Thanks in advance!
posted by LizardOfDoom to Technology (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Honestly, I think the money would be better spent towards new hardware - we're talking about a 6 year old laptop, here. Please keep in mind that the machine might be old enough that RAM for it is actually more expensive than for a newer machine, as well.

Also, you may want to keep in mind that games push hardware often more than other uses, so they'd do their best to show the weaknesses of the aging hardware.

In short, I'd save up the difference and buy new hardware, selling the old one.
posted by destructive cactus at 11:52 AM on March 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you choose to do this then the SSD will be transferrable to any new machine that you purchase, so that likely will be useable even if something else fails. The RAM probably won't really be transferrable, though, as newer machines almost certainly use different RAM.
posted by procrastination at 12:17 PM on March 21, 2014

It's not worth it. It would be better to get a later model Core i7 MBP that already has SSD, or put the money towards a current model. People are dumping MBPs to upgrade to retina MBPs, so there is decent availability.
posted by w0mbat at 12:31 PM on March 21, 2014

Actually, the SSD might not be transferable if your next new computer is a Mac laptop and Apple discontinues the previous-generation Pro, as seems likely.

A high-capacity SSD is expensive—your $500 budget right there. A hybrid hard drive would get you some of the benefit at a much lower cost.

I'm kind of in the same boat as you (I also have a 2008 Mac), and I feel like upgrading it would not be a good use of my money. I'm holding out for what I really want.
posted by adamrice at 12:33 PM on March 21, 2014

Oops, adamrice is correct. I retract my ssd transferability claim.
posted by procrastination at 1:29 PM on March 21, 2014

I traveled a lot with a early 2008 MBP, and replaced most of the parts through wear and tear while it was under Apple Care. Post-warrenty, the screen started getting wonky, in 2012 it was already very expensive to get a replacement screen - if there's any signs that the motherboard or screen are getting iffy, I wouldn't put any money into it.
posted by bendybendy at 1:47 PM on March 21, 2014

With some upgrades, that is probably a fine machine for most of your intended uses, thought I'd suspect that it will be underpowered for some games.

That said, it is a 5+ year old laptop. It could run another 5 years, or it could die tomorrow.

As others have noted, you can't expect to a RAM or SSD upgrade in a new Mac, though if your machine dies, you could probably sell the new parts it and recover some of your investment, or give it to someone and gain goodwill.

But, bottom line is that an 8GB RAM upgrade for that machine is maybe $80. A ~256GB SSD is $140. If that isn't enough storage, you could get a big hybrid drive (combined flash + spinning disk) for $100. That's not a huge amount of money, and you could probably skip the SSD or hybrid drive all together since it sounds like you aren't going to be doing a lot of multitasking.

I wouldn't put $500 it though.
posted by Good Brain at 2:51 PM on March 21, 2014

Yeah, I'd go for the 8gb RAM / 256ish GB SSD. Any more is liable to be lost.

It's got fair odds of lasting a while, but it is probably near end of life for the battery. OS support can't be counted on past Mavericks, and with it's passing will go security patches which would make it dangerous for web browsing. And while the C2D and the Nvidia graphics aren't strictly slow, they're going to limit what games you can play and how you play them. My 2011 15" MBP i7 already felt less than perfect playing Portal 2, and that's a substantially faster processor and a not especially challenging FPS.
posted by wotsac at 4:19 PM on March 21, 2014

How much gaming do you do, and can you give examples of games you play? I upgraded my machine (same model) with 8GB and a 128GB SSD, and put the original hard drive in the optical bay for my documents and stuff; system and application files go in the SSD. I can play Starcraft 2 and the Half-Life episodes at the next-to-lowest settings, but I don't game much.

If you use the same hardware setup as I do, I think it's worth it. Are you still on the original disk drive?
posted by curagea at 9:25 PM on March 22, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks for all the advice. The day after I posted my screen started flickering again (I've had that problem before with different fixes each time) and it started taking several minutes to switch between apps until it was sufficiently warmed up (after about an hour of use the old beast started to limber up). So I decided to do what I directly stated I wouldn't do and bought this ASUS. I bought it from a Microcenter near me, so I have some good "free" customer service should I need it. It cost half as much as a new MBP, and plays modern games on "Very Good" in 1920x1080 with no problems. I thought about getting this Lenovo, but when I got to the store I discovered that although it has a faster system, the build felt pretty janky and the model they had didn't have an optical drive (which I require). After tinkering around with the Windows 8.1 for a few days, I think I have it running the way I want it to. It's no MBP, but it also didn't cost 2-3K. I'll probably upgrade to an SSD in a year or two.
posted by LizardOfDoom at 8:59 AM on March 25, 2014

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