Buying a low-end Macbook?
October 31, 2014 8:35 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking at buying a low-end Macbook for web browsing and MS Office (primarily Powerpoint). Basically, it's coming down to a 2009 or 2010 Macbook, as I'd prefer to run Yosemite, but I want to keep my budget below $500. I have used a friend's 2009 Macbook fairly regularly and I'm happy with its general performance, but I have a few specific questions.

My questions are:
1. Is the 2010 perceptibly better than the Late 2009 model? The price increase is marginal, but I'm not seeing anything to make even a marginal price bump worth it.
2. Is it likely that the 2010 would be upgradable to the next version of OSX but the 2009 wouldn't? I'm assuming that they will just not support any Macbooks on the next version, but is there something about the 2010 that would separate it from the 2009 regarding OS upgrades?
3. I'd prefer to buy from an established vendor, but there are so many online that it's hard to judge. I'm leaning towards Mac of All Trades based on their prices, but I'm wondering if you know of others that are trustworthy and cheap. A brick-n-mortar vendor in the North Carolina Triangle area would be amazing, if such a thing exists.
4. If I buy from an individual on Craigslist or similar, are there things I should watch out for or quick tests I can run before purchasing?

And if you or someone you know has a 2009/2010 Macbook that they are looking to part with, a MeMail wouldn't be a bad idea...
posted by Rock Steady to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
Watch out for old and aged batteries for machines of this age. My 2008's battery no longer takes a charge and a new battery will add > $150 to the cost.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 8:41 AM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


These Mac models are compatible with OS X Yosemite:

iMac (Mid 2007 or newer)
MacBook (Late 2008 Aluminum, or Early 2009 or newer)
MacBook Pro (Mid/Late 2007 or newer)
MacBook Air (Late 2008 or newer)
Mac mini (Early 2009 or newer)
Mac Pro (Early 2008 or newer)
Xserve (Early 2009)
http://www.apple.com/osx/how-to-upgrade/

I think my big concern would be RAM*--like, maybe figure in the price of upgrading the RAM into your purchase. Also, the battery will probably be at the point where it may only last for a few minutes unplugged.

*for instance, it looks like the mid-2009, 13" MacBook maxes out at 4GB of RAM. I'm not sure how speedy Yosemite is going to be on 4GB of RAM... maybe Google a bit to get an idea of what people with 4GB on older machines are feeling about their upgrade to Yosemite.

If working on the go isn't needed, you could pick up a Mac Mini for $500 (of course you'd need a monitor and USB keyboard and mouse too).
posted by blueberry at 8:46 AM on October 31, 2014


I've had disappointing results running Yosemite with less than 8Gb of Ram, but YMMV.
posted by Oktober at 8:49 AM on October 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm running Yosemite (10.10) on a mid-2009 Macbook Pro 5,3 with 8 GB RAM, and I consider it a downgrade in performance coming from Mavericks (10.9). It works, but it's laggy. By comparison, Mavericks seemed to run faster on my machine compared to both Lion (10.7) and Mountain Lion (10.8). I wouldn't buy a machine from this era to run Yosemite if I were you, you're only going to wish you had waited another year and saved up another thousand dollars. I think 8 GB RAM is the minimum acceptable amount to run this OS, and I also think my performance would be much improved if I had an SSD and a i5/i7 processor instead of my dual core 2 processor and 5400 RPM drive. I mean, if you look at the timeline of Intel's processor architectures, you're talking about one step up from the Pentium 4 processor compared to Haswell, which is three generations ahead and considered current (Core -> Nehalem -> Sandy Bridge -> Haswell).

Have you considered one of the new Mac Minis? Now is the time to buy. I'd get the fusion drive or SSD + 16 GB RAM upgrade combo if I could. That would put you under a grand (assuming you already have a keyboard, mouse, and monitor), and would keep you set for at least a few more years just based on the processor architecture alone.
posted by oceanjesse at 9:19 AM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


On the other hand, if you wanted to buy my 2009 Macbook Pro, I might be ok with that. Just know that I'd be using the money to do exactly what I'm suggesting you to do. :P
posted by oceanjesse at 9:27 AM on October 31, 2014


Here's a useful comparison.

The main differences are the processor (probably not significant), video-out capabilities (only significant for certain users), and the graphics card (significant, though probably not for day-to-day use). Both machines can be upgraded to 8 GB of RAM, which you absolutely should do.

I would not bank on either machine running whatever comes after Yosemite.
posted by AndrewInDC at 10:12 AM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


My general rule of thumb: Don't buy a computer that's older than your car.
posted by Wild_Eep at 11:14 AM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


Just FYI, there is a deal on refurbished late-2010 MacBook Airs with 11.6" screens right now for $500. Not the greatest spec-wise, but it comes with Lion, which it will run quite nicely. If there's not a particular reason you need Yosemite, I think this might meet your web browsing/Powerpoint needs nicely.
posted by puritycontrol at 12:32 PM on October 31, 2014


I have a mid-2009 Macbook with 8G RAM that is my primary messing-around-on-the-internet machine and podcast manager. Performance on Yosemite was unacceptable and I walked it back to Mavericks. Performance on Mavericks for web browsing and iTunes is fine, better than previous OSes. It can stream Netflix ok most of the time if I'm careful to shut everything else down, but streaming HD sports are a non-starter. It also has a failing battery that needs to be carefully managed-you can get an hour out of it if you dim the display and play a podcast, but it basically needs to be tethered to a power cable for anything more than half an hour of real use.

My general rule of thumb: Don't buy a computer that's older than your car.

I guess I should see if I can get my 2000-era graphite iMac back!
posted by Kwine at 1:21 PM on October 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


I have a mid-2011 MacBook Air that runs Yosemite (10.10) well with 4 GB. It feels as performant as it was under Mavericks (10.9). If you can raise your $500 budget by $270, you could get a fairly modern refurb from Apple, which seems to be less risky than getting a laptop via eBay or Craigslist.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 2:10 PM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'd prefer to run Yosemite, but I want to keep my budget below $500.

People have differing expectations of speed and usability I know, but I don't see those two requirements as fitting together very well. I would either scale up the budget or scale back the OS expectations. For that vintage machine, I would be running 10.6.8, which is still very functional apart from Safari which is now starting to break a bit on some complex sites. Firefox works fine though.

I also wonder whether buying so close to the edge of obsolescence makes good financial sense. If you spend $500 now, you will probably end up with a machine that isn't worth much at all when you're finished with it. If you spend $1000 now you might be able to sell that machine for $500 in two years, so you've still only spent $500 in the end but have a better machine to use in that time.


1. Is the 2010 perceptibly better than the Late 2009 model? The price increase is marginal, but I'm not seeing anything to make even a marginal price bump worth it.

From what I can see in MacTracker:
Processor: Intel C2D "Penryn" P7550 @ 2.26GHz -> "Penryn" P8600 @ 2.4GHz
Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce 9400M -> GeForce 320M
Max RAM: 8GB -> 16GB (both 1066MHz DDR3)
Batt life: 7hr -> 10hr (when new, obviously)
Geekbench 2 score: 3245 -> 3375 (about 4%)

That's not much, but every little bit helps and these are both going to be pretty slow.


2. Is it likely that the 2010 would be upgradable to the next version of OSX but the 2009 wouldn't?

That seems unlikely. They're pretty much the same architecture.


3. I'd prefer to buy from an established vendor, but there are so many online that it's hard to judge.

I've used Other World Computing a number of times and found them good to deal with and competitive. YMMV of course.
posted by mewsic at 6:43 AM on November 1, 2014


I have a 13-inch, Aluminum, Late 2008 Macbook and I was able to upgrade to 8Gb of Ram. I also replaced my hard drive with a SSD drive.

After these two upgrades my 2008 macbook performs fairly well for browsing and office under Yosemite.
posted by vegetableagony at 5:00 PM on November 18, 2014


For posterity, I'll note that -- thanks partially to all of your advice -- we ditched the low-end MacBook idea and decided to go with an iPad Air and a keyboard cover, and to switch the workflow in question to Pages/Keynote from Word/PowerPoint. So far it's working great, but I did find out they have some 2006ish MacBooks at my University's surplus department for sub-$200, and I may pick one of them up next month for the occasional thing that might require an actual mobile computer.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:05 PM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


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