Is my laptop on its last legs?
February 11, 2020 5:44 PM   Subscribe

Hi everybody. I'm increasingly beginning to wonder how much longer my MacBook Pro, purchased new in the fall of 2009, is going to last. Certain websites, including but not limited to The Onion, don't load properly, and it's increasingly common for sites in general to take an inordinate amount of time to load at all.

In addition to that, for perhaps a couple of years or so I've gotten the following notification when I go on Google: "We've detected you're using an older version of Chrome. Reinstall to stay secure." Much more recently, I've started getting this notification when I go on YouTube: "We’ll stop supporting this browser soon. For the best experience please update your browser." The problem is that my computer seems to be too old to accept updates. And unfortunately I'm neither very computer literate/savvy (understatement), nor financially in a position to simply buy myself a new machine altogether. Are there any free (or low-cost) ways to squeeze another year or two of service out of it, that don't require a skill set that I simply don't have? Or is my computer essentially telling me that it will soon be time to take it to the back of the barn and put out of its misery? By the off-chance that it helps provide context, this is the information I obtain when I click on "About this Mac": Mac OS X Version 10.6.8, with a 2.26 GHzIntel Core 2 Duo processor and 2 GB 1067 MHz DDR3 memory.

Thank you.
posted by DavidfromBA to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm guessing it is this MacBook Pro?
2009 MBP

I think you should be able to upgrade to 10.11 (El Capitan).

I would suggest upgrading the ram to 8 GB, and going to a local computer shop with "Mac people" who will have the upgrade disk dmg's to get you from 10.6.8 to a newer version of macOS.

You could also consider upgrading the internal hard drive to a solid state disk, give the whole computer a nice boost for a little cost. But not essential.
posted by nickggully at 5:52 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]

@nickggully: Yes, that seems to be the same model I have. Thank you for your suggestions; much appreciated.
posted by DavidfromBA at 6:03 PM on February 11

Yeah, upgrading to El Capitan should suffice for most sites. My wife’s computer is a 2009 MacBook; I just upgraded and haven’t had any trouble. I did end up buying a new MacBook Air because LogMeIn no longer supports El Capitan, but wen browsing is fine.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:04 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]

I would highly recommend using Firefox as your browser. It’s almost certainly going to make web surfing far less painful than the ancient version of Safari you’re probably using. Even older Macs like mine (late 2009 iMac, OS 10.9) can run the newest version of Firefox without issue.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:21 PM on February 11 [3 favorites]

@Thorszdad: Actually I've been using Google Chrome for quite some time, just not the hassle-free version for the reasons mentioned in my question. I tried clicking on Safari yesterday just out of curiosity, but nothing seemed to load at all. I recently tried switching to Firefox but to no avail.
posted by DavidfromBA at 6:24 PM on February 11

Upgrade the RAM and the hard drive to an SSD if you can. And another +1 for Firefox once you upgrade to 10.11.

The problem is that you are going to be out of security patches even if you go to 10.11.

I would not put too much money into upgrading it beyond some RAM and an SSD if you can. The SSD you can recycle in another machine. At 11 years old it's well past its shelf life.

If it were me I'd put Linux on it to wring the last bit of life out of it, in order to keep security updates going. But if you're not comfortable with that, then I'd go with the latest macOS you can squeeze onto it.
posted by jzb at 6:29 PM on February 11 [3 favorites]

I'm typing this on a slightly newer (Early 2011) MBP that is chugging along just fine with 8 GB of RAM and a new SSD and battery. I would look around for another older (but not quite so old) Mac that someone you know has sitting on a shelf, or is available on craigslist/facebook marketplace.
posted by rockindata at 7:38 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]

Dumb question - have you tried updating your version of Chrome? It's really easy and free -

1. With Chrome open, you should see in the top right corner a set of three dots in a vertical line. Click on that, then on the resulting menu click on "Help". You should get a second menu - one of the options should be "About Google Chrome". Click on that.

2. You will be brought to a page about your version of Google Chrome - and Chrome should automatically start checking if there are any updates it needs to install, and if there are, it will start installing them automatically. You will be asked to click a button to re-launch Chrome when it's done.

That's it! I've literally just done that while I've been typing this comment, and I'm posting this before I click that "Launch". It may not fix everything, but it may be a bit of help.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:05 AM on February 12

@jzb + rockindata: Thanks to you as well. All feedback is appreciated, and will be carefully considered.

@EmpresCallipygos: I've tried that more than once, but something always went wrong. As a matter of fact, years ago I was able to successfully update the version of Chrome, and it was indeed a quick and straightforward process, even for someone as computer illiterate as myself. Unfortunately, it no longer seems to accept updates.
posted by DavidfromBA at 7:10 AM on February 12

Not having current security-related patches (for OS, browser or both) is simply not an option.

A new computer is expensive, but that's peanuts compared to the cost of ransomware, identity theft and/or just plain old Theft Classic. (That's to say nothing of the sort of losses that can't easily be measured in money. Or the possibility that your unsecured system will be used to launch attacks on others.)

Installing Linux on your old laptop may be a useful option. It's free, you'll get timely security updates, and it's surprisingly performant on older hardware. If you have a Linux-savvy friend who can help you with the install and show you the ropes, that will make the process easier.

If your whole use-case is web browsing, maybe a Chromebook would do what you need? They're surprisingly cheap, and web browsing is what they're for and good at. (Caveat: As the name implies, the assumption is you'll be using Chrome. Chrome -- and ChromeOS -- are Google products. Google is an advertising company. You are the product being sold, not the consumer. Firefox is a strict upgrade over Chrome in terms of putting the interests of the end-user first. Running Firefox on ChromeOS is possible but painful.)

Do you have any friends with old (but not decade old) lappies they're not using? I know I'm always delighted when I can give some well-loved hardware a good home instead of having it become another piece of e-waste...
posted by sourcequench at 8:54 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]

You can try to install Neverware CloudReady, which will basically turn it into a Chromebook for free (the home version is free). You will need some way to back up the data on the computer though, like Google Drive or Dropbox, just as if you were installing Linux or upgrading the hard drive.

I used this exact same laptop (with more RAM) up until a few years ago. It may look like a modern laptop but is extremely underpowered for today's internet (browsers are basically operating systems now). My four year old smartphone which is on the verge of obsolescence has the same amount of RAM and is faster in many aspects.

If you really have to get another device, maybe consider an iPad (the cheapest one) and a bluetooth keyboard, if your work can handle it? It's not a "laptop" but in terms of performance and support, it's going to run circles around the equivalently priced Chromebook.
posted by meowzilla at 11:11 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]

Just a reminder, if your computer IS on its last legs, and you have anything on it that you may want to use again, be sure you're backing up. Either to an external drive or to the cloud (or both). You'll be glad you have that in case of total failure.
posted by hydra77 at 1:06 PM on February 12 [2 favorites]

n'thing hydra77. Back. It. Up.
posted by ewan at 3:05 PM on February 12 [2 favorites]

Installing Linux on your old laptop may be a useful option.

Absolutely. Here's a link to the best Linux distributions for beginners.
posted by bendy at 7:34 PM on February 12 [2 favorites]

I'm using a 2009 MacBook Pro that's very similar. I'll Nth the suggestions to upgrade it to its max OS (10.11), with a few additions:
- 10.11 is still compatible with major browser updates. However, I have been getting slowdowns on some sites (mainly the Gizmodo family, including the Onion) with Chrome. Those are less annoying on Firefox and Safari.
- You *really* need to upgrade your current spinning hard drive to an SSD. It's faster in general, and (IMO) Mac OSes from 10.9 on work very slowly on spinning drives. I can't recall the cite, but I think it has something to do with the OS expecting to manage scads of small files as part of the basic plumbing, and the seek times for all those accesses on old drives are cumulatively pokey.
- Upgrading the RAM to 8GB would also make things smoother and faster.
- You might run into a hitch getting OS 10.11, since Apple doesn't "sell" it in the App Store now. It's possible that when you connect, it'll recognize that that's your max OS and allow you to (no-cost) buy it. However, when I spoke to an Apple store staffer about my difficulty getting my already-downloaded OS 10.11 installer to run (for a clean-installed backup system), he said that Apple wasn't signing the security certificate for that any more for civilians. He said if I brought in the Mac, they could probably get that to work on their within-Apple network. So that might be a plan B for you.
posted by NumberSix at 8:37 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]

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