Should I update MacOS on a 2009 MacBook Pro?
April 5, 2019 3:04 AM   Subscribe

I have a mid-2009 15" MacBook Pro Intel Core 2 Duo 2.8 GHz with 8 GB RAM, currently running MacOS 10.9 Mavericks. My question is, will I notice a slowdown if I update to the latest MacOS? (10.14 Mojave)

I'm a big believer in keeping old computers running for longer by not updating the operating system. For example, I have two iPad 2s running perfectly well on iOS 5 and 6 respectively, which I'm sure will be pretty much reduced to sludge by the latest iOS. (I had that happen to a Nexus tablet.)

The MBP runs absolutely fine and still feels fast and responsive. However I am unable to install some (non-critical) software and the constant update nag is annoying. And I'm aware there's a potential security risk. Should I update it?
posted by snarfois to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I just noticed Mojave won't install on a model that old. So will the MacOS updater know to install the latest compatible version? (Perhaps 10.11 El Capitan).
posted by snarfois at 3:07 AM on April 5, 2019

10.9 has a ton of unpatched security vulnerabilities. (As does that version of iOS for that matter). Some of those vulnerabilities are 'this piece of custom html that any advert on the internet might show you will instantly own your machine' level. Some of them might be a remote root that doesn’t even need you to click on a link.

If you use a browser that’s kept updated (i.e. Firefox or Chrome) then you’ll probably be safe from drive by internet hacks (which mostly come via subverted adverts on mainstream websites), so long as you only ever connect directly to trusted networks behind some kind of firewall.

So it really depends on what else you run on the thing & where you connect it to the Internet & your risk profile: If you take it to DefCON then it’s probably going to be toast. If you accidentally install a malicious app from the Mac App Store, it’s toast. If you connect to a public wifi somewhere where someone happens to be scanning for vulnerable machines, it’s toast. etc etc.

Personally I would stick an SSD in the thing (it’s a very cheap upgrade & a huge performance difference for the price) and either

1) install 10.11 + hope that Apple continues to release patches for serious security bugs. Use a browser that gets regular updates (Firefox or Chrome, since Apple don’t seem to be patching Safari on 10.11 any more - Apple last patched 10.11 in July 2018 according to security patch page & their last Safari patch didn’t include 10.11, so it looks like El Capitan might have been dropped from support. Apple never explicitly says that they’ve dropped old OS versions, so it’s all guesswork unfortunately.)

or 2) Install Ubuntu on it.
posted by pharm at 3:40 AM on April 5, 2019 [6 favorites]

Instructions for installing El Capitan are here btw.
posted by pharm at 3:41 AM on April 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm a big believer in keeping old computers running for longer by not updating the operating system.

That's . . . not a safe thing to believe, if those devices will be connecting to the internet in any way. Take pharm's advice, and consider retiring the pads.
posted by aspersioncast at 4:59 AM on April 5, 2019 [9 favorites]

I have a Late 2011 Pro. The best thing you can do is drop an SSD in it, max out the RAM. I'm typing this on the MBP running High Sierra (10.13.6). Update to the highest Mac OS Version you can (Probably El Capitan). You won't have Bluetooth 4.0 or Handoff, but if you don't know what it's like you won't miss it. (I have a 2017 Air, and it's not the "killer feature" it was advertised to be.)

With all the security leaks the past few years, I'm not taking any risks. I really didn't notice any noticeable slowdowns when I updated my MBP. The RAM and SSD upgrades might even make your MBP feel faster. There are some great deals on SSDs at Amazon right now. Also, the Unibody MBPs are the last ones you can physically update the hard drive relatively easily.
posted by Master Gunner at 5:02 AM on April 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

You should try to update to at least macOS Sierra (which is still getting OS updates)
The Mac OS updater will NOT offer that as an update automatically, so unless you already downloaded the DMG image while it was available, you will need to find a copy. Most independent Apple repair shops will be able to do this.
posted by Lanark at 7:48 AM on April 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

Yes, Some 2009 MacBooks can run High Sierra, so definitely upgrade to that if you can.
posted by pharm at 8:22 AM on April 5, 2019

Apple really put work into optimizing the newer mac os updates for older hardware, as they have been with iOS(the low point was really the treatment the 4/4s/5 got with updates). El Capitan was noticeably faster on my 07(!) imac before i sold it on, and ran great on a unibody white macbook i refurbished for a friend

Even beyond the security concerns, which should be reason enough, this isn't a bog-down update like the dark ages of 10.7-10.8 were. They've been equidistant since 10.9, and improvements on my hardware since 10.10
posted by emptythought at 9:42 AM on April 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

Yes, update to El Capitan. It will not slow down your machine in its present configuration. If you swap out your HDD for an SSD it will run faster than it did when you first got it - you will be amazed.

I had a late 2008 MBP (basically the previous generation to yours) for almost ten years up until last autumn. When I put in an SSD a few years ago it was a revelation how much faster it ran (maxing the RAM out at 8GB also helped).

El Capitan was the end of the line as far as what my hardware officially supported - and will be for yours as well - but it is possible to run a newer OS. I used this fairly easy hack to run Sierra and it worked well. I can't vouch for how well Mojave will do, but you should be able to run High Sierra (sans the features that your hardware won't support) with no problems. Just make sure to follow the instructions for your specific model closely and do swap out the HDD for an SSD before updating beyond El Capitan.
posted by theory at 10:16 AM on April 5, 2019

El Cap plus SSD. As emptythought says, the most recent MacOS releases genuinely improve performance on older hardware. The Kingston A400 line is not quite as fast as the top-tier SSDs, but is perfect as a cheap upgrade to a spinny-disk.

There is a Mojave patcher, but caveat patchor. If you can get to High Sierra you get APFS, which is a nice-to-have.
posted by holgate at 7:58 AM on April 6, 2019

Response by poster: I'm now seriously regretting updating MacOS as I've got the "progress bar stuck at 100%" freeze problem, and nothing I've tried so far has worked.

(Tried restarting in Safe Mode, tried resetting PRAM, ran Disk Util First Aid, and even reinstalled MacOS again. Still stuck.)
posted by snarfois at 5:04 PM on April 6, 2019

Install to a nice new SSD, then copy any data you want from the old HD with a USB->SATA adapter.
posted by pharm at 5:33 AM on April 7, 2019

Response by poster: In case anyone comes upon this thread, I ended up taking it to a repair shop (not Apple Store), who fixed something unspecified about the motherboard, installed a new SSD, and just did a clean install of El Capitan.
posted by snarfois at 3:02 AM on June 7, 2019

« Older "Red hair? That's not red, it's orange."   |   Can I get what I need from a mentor I don't trust? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.