Pimp this old MacBook Pro
November 27, 2014 4:41 PM   Subscribe

My girlfriend would like it if her old MacBook Pro could run faster and have Windows. I don't know how to do this - that is where you come in... Help please?

Mid - 2009 MacBook Pro, 2.26 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 2 GB Memory (1067 MHz DDR3), OS X 10.9.5. How do I go about getting this machine to run a little faster, run Windows, and run a Windows version of MS Office? I have a vague understanding that this is possible and something that a layperson can set up. Is that true? I don't know the specific steps to go through and what exactly I need to buy.

It look like I can buy memory and it is easy to pop in to increase the memory from 2 GB to 8 GB. Is there a better brand of memory than others? Is this my first step? I have heard of Bootcamp and Parallels - do these programs do the same thing? Which one do I get? Is this the second step? I guess I need to buy Windows and MS Office - what version of Windows do I want to run on this machine? Could it run Windows 7 Pro? Do I want to upgrade to Yosemite once I get the new memory in? Or, will Yosemite just bog it down? Is there a tutorial for all of this somewhere?
posted by fieldtrip to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Getting an SSD drive will help a lot as well.
posted by backwards guitar at 4:52 PM on November 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Boot Camp makes your machine 'dual boot' - turn it on, and you can either run Windows, or Mac. Boot Camp Assistant (built into OSX) makes it easy to install Windows - it will ask you how much space you want dedicated to Windows, ask for a Windows installation ISO or DVD, then reboots (either from the disc or a USB it can prepare for you) and installs Windows.

Parallels (and VirtualBox) lets you run Windows inside OSX. It's a 'virtual machine'. It's slower than running just Windows through Boot Camp, becuase you're effectively running both operating systems at the same time. VirtualBox is free, you'll need to buy Parallels. If you want faster, don't go this route.

If you don't need OSX at all, you can just install from a Windows disc and erase everything.

If you just want Windows so you can run Office, you can already get Office for Mac (possibly for as little as $15 with a qualifying student, government or business email address).
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:52 PM on November 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes, upgrade the RAM to 2x4GB. Any name brand RAM is fine.

The other upgrade option is to replace the hard drive with an SSD, which will be much faster. You can get a 240GB for about $100 now.

Here are instructions for both.

Parallels runs Windows inside OSX. This is only desirable if you sometimes need Windows, but generally use OSX. Performance is worse and there can be some hassles. If you want to mostly use Windows, it would be better to set up with Windows only or dual boot with Windows and OSX with Bootcamp, which lets you run one or the other. Either Windows 7 or 8 would be fine.

Here is how you install Windows with Bootcamp.
posted by ssg at 4:54 PM on November 27, 2014

Response by poster: Great answers so far, thanks. Very good point about just buying Office for Mac. That might be the best way to go - there was some reason I thought she wanted Windows but I don't think it is actually necessary. Does anyone swap files back and forth (say Word or Excel files) from Office on Mac to Office on PC and vice versa? I can remember doing this with a consultant at work a few years ago from my PC to her Mac with Word documents and having all kinds of problems - is that still the case or do you just have to save in a specific format or something?
posted by fieldtrip at 5:27 PM on November 27, 2014

Does anyone swap files back and forth (say Word or Excel files) from Office on Mac to Office on PC and vice versa?

I do this (personal mac at home, office computer is a pc) and there haven't been any issues for basic stuff like commenting and track changes in Word, looking at spreadsheets, editing a powerpoint, etc. I think Office cost me about $10 via a discount of some kind; it was cheaper by an order of magnitude than I had expected. It runs ok on my three year old macbook pro but not at lightning speed.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:09 PM on November 27, 2014

MS Office for Mac and Windows files are identical. No one can tell the difference.

Installing MS windows on a Mac just to run MS office is counter productive.
posted by Mac-Expert at 7:56 PM on November 27, 2014

So I have the same computer, but I've upgraded the RAM to 8GB and put in an SSD. With those two upgrades, it runs Yosemite (and Windows 7) like a champ.

One thing to keep in mind if you're thinking about putting an SSD in is that the SATA connector in this model is shared between the hard drive and the optical drive, resulting in each only getting 3.0Gb/s speed. So getting the absolute best SSD isn't really necessary, because the computer can't use it.

The other thing you should know is (if possible) get a 64-bit version of whatever Windows version you're going with: 32-bit versions can't see/use 8GB (they cap off at 3.74GB, from what I've seen).
posted by smangosbubbles at 7:56 PM on November 27, 2014

I run Office for Mac at home, Office for Windows at work. I email some fairly complicated Word and Excel docs back and forth - no issues at all.

If you want to see if you qualify for a cheap Office installation, the magic google term is 'home use program', or 'hup'.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 8:51 PM on November 27, 2014

Do consider whether the money is better spent on a new device rather than a five year old computer that might not have that much life left in it before something non-replaceable dies. A modern Atom processor will give an old Core 2 CPU reasonable competition.
posted by Candleman at 10:22 PM on November 27, 2014

I've had really good luck ordering parts from crucial.com. The site also makes it really easy to find compatible memory and hard drives/SSDs, either by downloading a scanner or by entering info about the computer on the website.
posted by SpiralT at 1:43 AM on November 28, 2014

I run a mid-2010 MBP in a Windows world. I have no problems sharing Word, Excel and PowerPoint files, even very complicated ones with formulas, macros, embedded videos, etc, etc. I do have some issues with Outlook connecting to my Exchange server at work, but I suspect that is not related to the Mac and more to do with our network and firewall.

I've updated this machine with both 8GB RAM and a solid state hard drive, purchased from Crucial. Installing both was very easy with instructions from Instructables. I've probably bought myself a couple of extra years on this machine with these upgrades.

I've run both Boot Camp and Parallels on this machine. Boot Camp works fine, it's just a bit of a pain restarting every time you want to switch between the two operating systems. I would advise not running Parallels unless absolutely necessary. It is very resource intensive and will suck the life out of your machine. Only go this route if there's a piece of software you absolutely must have and cannot find a Mac version of it. If you're just looking to run Office, then get it for Mac; Microsoft just released the 2014 version of Office and it looks pretty nice. You could probably find used copies of Office 2011 or 2013 on eBay and they'd be perfectly fine.
posted by slogger at 6:08 AM on November 28, 2014

Don't try to swap powerpoint files back and forth between windows and mac and have them look perfect on both sides. Especially if you're doing anything that relies on absolute position or formula fonts. But in general office 2013 for windows plags well with office 2011 for mac
posted by noloveforned at 11:43 AM on November 28, 2014

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