Should I fix or replace something that isn't all that broke?
July 28, 2015 8:00 PM   Subscribe

MacBookFilter: Help me decide whether to upgrade or replace my increasingly decrepit 2011 MBP. Snowflakes inside.

So I have a four-year-old MBP that's hard a hard life and is now showing its age. It got 4GB RAM and Snow Leopard, and while I'm happy with the current configuring it's shutting me out of more and more programs. (Adobe Creative Suite, Safari, and a bunch of others I can't remember right now.)

In addition, the DVD drive doesn't work (long story), the sound is buggy sometimes, and it's often annoyingly slow, to the point where it hangs and I need to force shut it down at least once a week. It's getting more and more obvious I need to do SOMETHING, I just don't know what.

My options:

1) Upgrade the memory to 8GB and install Yosemite (or whatever the latest version is.) My MBP is the last generation with upgradeable memory, and I'm fine paying Apple for it if need be.

2) Buy a new computer. I'd go with either the 13" Air (upgraded to 8GB) or the 13" MBP. I'm leaning towards a refurb MBP, since it's cheaper than the Air and it comes with equivalent/better specs, and I don't really mind the weight. Also, I don't really need headphones, so Apple's back-to-school offer this year doesn't really interest me- but I could be convinced.

I'm also curious as to whether my current MBP has any resale value: it's a wonderful little machine for the average user, with a recently replaced battery, and will probably benefit from the Mac equivalent of a formatting. I'd be happy getting $300 for it, but I don't know if that's realistic.

posted by Tamanna to Computers & Internet (21 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: As to my usage, if that will help narrow down answers: I mostly use my computer for word processing, and playing music, plus (rarely) Photoshop and Illustrator.
posted by Tamanna at 8:03 PM on July 28, 2015

If it hasn't got a solid-state drive, then that would probably be the most bang for your buck upgrade-wise. I got a couple more years out of my last decrepit MacBook by putting one of those in. It was like I'd gotten a whole new computer! For a while, anyway, given that the 2007 vintage of MacBook didn't really support SSDs properly. The 2011 models should do fine with them since it seems to have been a stock option at the time.

As for resale price, check sites like sellyourmac or eBay to get a range. You might be able to get slightly more selling it locally given the lack of shipping charges.
posted by asperity at 8:11 PM on July 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

Yeah, doing a solid state drive with higher capacity and a fresh install will help a lot. Plus the RAM. My husband is now using my old (mid 2010) MBP to do some developing but he wiped it and put in a new solid state drive.

I decided to buy a refurb MBP that has much more space and of course the retina display. I, however, am OFTEN working in photoshop. (I do graphic design as a hobby/Etsy shop.) So that factors into it. Before my old Mac took literally 5 minutes to open Photoshop, now it blinks open.

So, if you're comfortable replacing the RAM and SSD yourself (or can pay someone to do it) then you may want to try that. I was ready to throw (a lot) of money at the problem to really upgrade my primary machine. (Which I may also use for freelance or telecommuting.)

Edit: Keep in mind the newer Macbook Pros don't come with a built in DVD/CD drive.
posted by Crystalinne at 8:17 PM on July 28, 2015

Response by poster: One last thing, and then I'll stop threadsitting. My MBP is missing three of the four little black button-type things on the bottom. Does anyone know if those can be replaced? It's really starting to bug me.
posted by Tamanna at 8:20 PM on July 28, 2015

I recently replaced a (broken) 2010 MBP which had 8GB of RAM and SSD with a brand new MBP with 16GB of RAM. For the stuff I do, the additional RAM is nice, and the Retina screen is also pleasant. But overall it's not a huge improvement, and if my 2010 weren't broken I wouldn't have felt any need to upgrade. And yours is a year newer. If I were in your shoes I'd proabably upgrade the RAM, put in an SSD and be done with it.

However, you say it's had a hard life. I don't know what you mean by that, but if it's been abused and is likely to fail in some other way soon, it might be foolish to throw more money at it...
posted by primethyme at 8:29 PM on July 28, 2015

Definitely up the RAM. 8 gigs is good, but do 16 if you can swing it. I have an old Mac Mini that I recently upgraded from 4 gigs to 16, and it's like a whole new machine.
posted by Itaxpica at 9:20 PM on July 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

My wife has a 2009 MBP (upgraded with an SSD and 8GB), and it is stable as a rock. My 2012 is the same. You should not be having crashes or bad sound. Fresh OS install and if it doesn't work I'd replace it. You did correctly static discharge and used a quality DRAM part when upgrading the memory, right?

As for the feet, you might be eligible for a recall but even if not, you can get parts and glue them on yourself.
posted by wnissen at 9:29 PM on July 28, 2015

8gb and an SSD. A 2011 mbp isn't really much slower than a 2015 MBP, it just has worse battery efficiency.
posted by wotsac at 9:30 PM on July 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

First, the feet are replaceable (official replacements are something ridiculous like $26 shipped for a set of two). (The bottom case replacement program wnissen linked to affects a different Macbook model.)

Second, a RAM upgrade and an SSD install has kept my mid-2009 MBP running like a champ. I've done a staggered upgrade cycle (upgraded to 4GB RAM almost immediately; upgraded to 8GB RAM maybe 1.5 years in; and then put in an SSD around 4.5 years). Each upgrade really did make a noticeable difference in how things ran.

In your case, I would consider if the broken DVD drive or sound issues are dealbreakers (DVD drive probably isn't, since your replacements don't have them). Otherwise, I'd keep what you have going.
posted by smangosbubbles at 9:37 PM on July 28, 2015

Nthing RAM and an SSD. Much, much better bang for your buck than a new laptop.
posted by cnc at 9:39 PM on July 28, 2015

Last year I retired my 2011 MacBook and bought a 13" MacBook Air. While I hate the price inflation and planned obsolescence of Apple products, I do love my newish laptop (#2.) That said, I know of people with 2011 MacBook Pros that continue to look and work great so #1 might be the better option for you. I can't remember the exact prices but my partner has bought and sold all sorts of well-cared for Apple products on eBay; you certainly could try, too, but make sure to pack it well and insure your product, of course.
posted by smorgasbord at 10:12 PM on July 28, 2015

I'm typing now on a MacBook from 2008 (the first generation of the aluminum unibody MacBooks) and it's humming along quite nicely with Yosemite, 8GB of RAM and a new SSD. I'll probably replace it before too long so I can play around with VMs more easily, but I think it would be just fine for the sorts of uses you describe.

I'd definitely recommend doing these upgrades (including the OS, Yosemite gave me a noticeable performance boost) and seeing how you like it. If you still want more power, you can resell your souped-up machine for more than you would've gotten for it stock and mostly or completely cover the cost of the added parts.
posted by contraption at 10:12 PM on July 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

$60 8GB kit (4GB*2) 1333 MHz DDR3 RAM from or or even Amazon. Kingston, PNY, Lifetime, Viking, Crucial are all OK. Avoid a seller like "Parts Quick" or similar.
$100-200 This SSD in whatever capacity makes sense.
$0 Follow these instructions, all the 2011 MBPros look similar enough inside with the bottom plate removed for what you're doing. --or--
$[hourly labour rate] Or find an indie Mac store near you.

Do you need the data transfered over?
$20 A sled/enclosure/wire/adapter to read the old drive outside of the machine.
$[0+external hard drive] Time Machine backup, You are backing up right?

If you have a shop do the work for you, ask them to Install 10.8.
If you do the work yourself, just make an appointment at corporate owned Apple Store and have them put 10.8 on, takes 20 mins. Tell them "I put in a new hard drive. Can you /RESTORE/ 10.8 and iLife '13?"

10.8 Will run best on that machine. You can update to 10.10 or 10.11 later for free through the App Store.

Also, make a reservation at an Apple Store anyway and ask them to run Mac Resource Inspector and then Video System Test (MRI and VST). Some 2011 MBPros have video problems and it may be covered under a repair extension program.
posted by now i'm piste at 10:21 PM on July 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm using a mid-2009 macbook pro, 13", which I've upgraded to 8gb of RAM and installed Mavericks, which made a huge difference in its own right - vastly increased battery life and almost no crashes. I also put a larger hard drive in because I collect digital cruft, apparently. And, I've also put a new battery in.

Anyway, the basic chassis/keyboard/display on this one is just flawless and with the wear items on it now replaced I can see getting a few more years out of it. If it does what you need, then I'd probably keep it going. Do regular backups though!
posted by Rumple at 10:25 PM on July 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm in a slightly more advanced version of your situation. Having 8GB and an SSD in my 2011 MBP makes it feel slightly indulgent to upgrade to an entirely new machine; you can now buy a 500GB SSD these days for the price I paid for a 240GB drive 18 months ago. Also, if Intel's Skylake launches on schedule, the retina MBPs that include it are probably worth the additional wait before buying a new machine.

10.8 Will run best on that machine. You can update to 10.10 or 10.11 later for free through the App Store.

I strongly disagree with this. I have run 10.9 Mavericks quite happily on my 2011 MBP for nearly two years, and there are advantages to its memory and power management over 10.8 Mountain Lion; I only held off on upgrading to 10.10 Yosemite because of the well-reported issues with discoveryd. I will happily upgrade to El Camino 10.11 in the autumn, as it's more of a maintenance release.
posted by holgate at 10:30 PM on July 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

One last thing, and then I'll stop threadsitting. My MBP is missing three of the four little black button-type things on the bottom. Does anyone know if those can be replaced? It's really starting to bug me.

Rather than some fiddly annoying repair of the little feet, when i had this issue i just went on ebay and searched "Macbook pro 13/15/17(whichever one you have) bottom case" or "bottom plate", bought one for $15(!), bought one with mint condition feet, and screwed it on.

It doesn't even have to be the same year, a 2010 bottom plate will fit a 2012, etc as long as it's the same style.

That said, a cheap SSD and ram will make this computer super fast. Don't bother with a nice ssd. Even the cheapest one on sale at the time will do the job fine. I like the cheapo sandisks and crucials, and have directed more than a few people to them offline. Something like whatevers at the top of this list and then the cheapest ram. Those are auto updating links, that will choose whatever is cheapest from a reputable retailer when you click them.

There's not much to be gained from buying more expensive stuff. Even cheap SSDs are great now(you wont notice the tiny speed difference, especially on an older machine) and all ram is about the same unless you're building some crazy high performance system.

One of my longest surviving machines was a macbook pro i bought beat up with a trashed bottom plate, then replaced the bottom piece and upgraded it.

I also second the new machines not really being faster. They just have better battery life(and faster graphics, but not in a way that would effect you)

There's no reason not to run yosemite. It was smoother and faster with better battery life even on my older machines. Hell, mavericks was a decent upgrade on both my 2007 and 2009 machines before i sold them off.
posted by emptythought at 1:17 AM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

A while back I made the choice to sell instead of upgrading -- I checked the prices on a bunch of the "sell us your mac" websites that I had found linked in a previous question here and sold it to the one that offered the most money. It was a lot more than I would have expected for a three or four year old computer, but I guess Macs hold their value a lot better than I had realized. Upgrading is probably the best bang for the buck, but there are advantages to going newer, too -- you just have to acknowledge that doing so is a luxury, not a necessity.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:03 AM on July 29, 2015

Although Apple didn't sell them with 16GB, I believe the 2011 vintage MBP will take that much (check Crucial's website with your specific model), and the difference in price vs an 8GB upgrade ($100 vs $60 for the parts) is insignificant. You can't have too much memory.

A 500GB SSD will set you back around $180 vs $120 for a 250GB, so again I'd make the choice of the bigger drive. A 1TB drive is close to $400 so I wouldn't buy it unless I really needed it.
posted by mr vino at 5:15 AM on July 29, 2015

I was able to get about $600 for my 2011 15" MBP over a year ago; I'm sure they've depreciated more since then. But Macs generally have a decent resale value (esp. compared to PCs which, is basically zero). They do have trade-in value, so ask around at the local resellers. You will get dinged for things that don't work, like the DVD drive.
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:04 AM on July 29, 2015

I have the same era Macbook, and upgrading to 8GB of RAM and adding an SSD really helped. My only complaint about it these days is that it doesn't have a retina screen.

If your Superdrive is on the fritz you might want to just replace it with one of these. In my case I left my HDD right where it was and put the new SSD in the Optibay. Now I have a speedy system (because SSD) with plenty of space (because HDD).
posted by neckro23 at 10:21 AM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Cheap SSDs are fine if you have/keep good backups and don't mind using them. Otherwise, do yourself a favor and get an Intel, Crucial/Micron, or Samsung. I have had Sandisk, OCZ, Kingston, and a couple of other brands brick on me in the past few years. They generally don't fail like a spinning rust disk does, either. They just suddenly quit working entirely with no chance to recover any data at all.

I probably should have put Crucial/Micron last in that list of 3, as I have had one of those crap out on me, but that was when I was trying to use it as a cheap SSD cache for a RAID array, which it is not in any way designed to do.

Also, do yourself a favor and buy a size up from what you need if you can afford it. It will be faster (more memory chips to spread the load across) and last longer for the same reason. Most decent brands have some overprovisioning built in, but extra is always good for them, especially now that a lot of them use TLC memory.
posted by wierdo at 1:15 PM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

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