How long will Apple support a MacBook?
September 18, 2022 2:03 PM   Subscribe

I want to buy a MacBook for extremely basic use with the sole priority being ongoing tech support from apple. I would also like to save money by being a refurbished model. I see some reasonably priced MacBooks online that would undoubtedly perform most of the web-based office stuff I need, but I am wary of buying an older model that Apple will stop supporting soon. How long does Apple support this type of thing? What’s the oldest model year I can buy that will continue to be supported for 3-4 years?
posted by bq to Computers & Internet (15 answers total)

Indeed the link above does explain it. In your case I would recommend a MacBook Air from perhaps 2019. You don't need the new M-series Apple-made chips for basic usage, I work online in tech and only recently retired a 2012 Air (by installing Zorin Linux on it, which works great).

I suggest the Air because the Pro and MacBooks from that era had iffy keyboards and few ports. The 2018 Air I think had the bad keyboard, and the 2017 had a lower resolution screen. So go for a 2019 if you can find one, or if you don't care much about the resolution, the 2017 will be cheaper and still supported for a while. The 2020 did improve things considerably but that's getting close to today's models...
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 2:43 PM on September 18

I think 8-10 years is a good rule of thumb, if you're not doing anything particular resource intensive that needs the latest hardware (I'm typing this from a 9-year-old model). Apple generally will provide updates for about that long and security updates for significantly longer, which is fine because you don't really need to be on the latest version of MacOS. That said, the switch from x86 processors to the M1/M2 may reduce how long they support pre-M1 models for.

In my experience, the cost of used MacBooks is so high that you aren't really saving much per year by buying a used one and using it for four years versus buying a new one (or Apple refurbished) and using it for eight years, especially when you consider the higher likelihood of repairs in the later years. If spending the cash right now is a problem, then by all means go for the cheaper used option, but if you're just trying to save money overall, I think you're probably better off buying an M1 or M2 refurbished model directly from Apple.
posted by ssg at 2:47 PM on September 18 [2 favorites]

AppleCare+ is worth considering in your budget for accidental damage in the 1-3 year window as well as month-by-month repairs afterwards.
posted by k3ninho at 4:29 PM on September 18

Just chiming in on the keyboard issue -- if you happen to get a 2019 model with a bad keyboard, it still qualifies for the free keyboard replacement program, which is great because in addition to a new keyboard and trackpad it also includes a new battery at no cost.
posted by theory at 4:32 PM on September 18

I wouldn't get anything older than an M1 now. The premium you pay for used Apple hardware is just too high to justify buying a computer with an uncertain future. And we just don't know how long Apple will support the old Intel macs. A 2019 MacBook will probably still be getting security patches out another 3-4 years. But you're paying something too close to new prices to get 'probably'.
posted by wotsac at 7:12 PM on September 18 [5 favorites]

i suspect others will have more savvy advice, but i will chime in to +1 @worsac on the caution around intel chip macs. my personal experience is seeing the trade-in to apple on my older MBA drop from $400 to $99 in a couple years, and i attribute this to the intel chips being dead to them.

you mention “web based office stuff”, and if any of that is microsoft office stuff, then i would also caution you to go with something as new as you can afford. it’s the ms office apps which are forcing my hand on a hardware upgrade.
posted by tamarack at 10:42 PM on September 18

Speaking as someone who went through a few years of hell with a 2017 MBP and then a 2019 MBP, I would recommend a new M1 MBA or MBP over anything older. The Intel ones are trash and lag so much and are considerably slower than the M1 models, and the keyboard and build components were so awful that I had to get repairs three times for two different models, including the factory issues with the butterfly keyboards. Apple is phasing out Intel support with lightning quickness, so I've been encouraging all my friends to buy new because of this reason.

It ended up being more cost efficient to get my current 2022 MBP, after factoring all the costs of repair. My last 2011 MBA lasted 6 years with rough wear, and I was pretty hard on my computers during the last decade due to a lot of things going on. Now I fully expect my current 2022 MBP to last me 8+ years with gentle care.
posted by yueliang at 10:51 PM on September 18

And as a follow up -- I treated my Intel MBPs extremely gently in comparison to my Intel MBA, but my Intel MBPs had so many hardware issues due to the butterfly keyboard that it ended up also fucking up my laptop screen and my audio, which resulted in an almost complete replacements of the internal components. I spent $700+ on those repairs...and then Monterey OS fucked up my Intel MBP. I was so fucking fed up with it that after doing a factory reset (and that troubleshooting process was sheer agony to the point that the Apple Support people told me I did the job better than them) I just traded it in and got a 2022 M1 MBP 15" and it was the best MacBook Pro ever, and basically was everything I wished for years.

The new MacOS is hostile to the Intel macs, and my friends with Intel Macs did not update theirs to Monterey after hearing my story and reading other stories online. M1 is such a massive overhaul and new phase for the entire Apple ecosystem that it makes no sense to purchase an older one for that reason, because of how tightly the entire system works.
posted by yueliang at 11:00 PM on September 18 [1 favorite]

(The reason why I spent $700+ on those repairs is because my 2019 MBP was one I bought from my friend after my 2017 MBP was stolen, and I already went through the free keyboard repair once with my 2017 MBP. When my 2019 MBP keyboard broke with the audio and had hardware issues with the screen as well, the repair shop informed me that this laptop had a firmware lock, and after some investigating, I realized that my friend bought a stolen laptop from Ebay. Hence the $700 in repairs because I couldn't get the laptop repaired with the free keyboard repair without having to replace all the other internal components. Do not buy refurbished unless it is from Apple directly, is my other cautionary tale. Just typing this out makes me sad lol, please don't go through what I did, these older models and buying it refurbished is absolutely 10000% not worth it just to save a few hundred dollars)
posted by yueliang at 11:11 PM on September 18

M1 or sooner is the only future proof option. I have one of each macbook at home (2019 intel chip, 2020 m1 chip), and it's really no contest.
posted by oceanjesse at 5:44 AM on September 19 [1 favorite]

One thing I would add is that the prices on Intel Macs have at least somewhat adjusted to reflect the doubts around their long term future. I still think it would be a mistake to buy one when the price on an M1 Air isn't THAT much higher.
posted by wotsac at 7:11 AM on September 19 [1 favorite]

I am still using a 2013 MacBook Pro. It cannot run the most recent versions of MacOS. The latest release to support it was Big Sur, which came out in November 2020. That said, it is still receiving security updates. So on the one hand, you can say that Apple support their Mac hardware for 7 years or 9+ years, depending on how you count.

But, as others have said, there are special considerations at this time.

There were a few years where the quality of Mac laptops declined. Many people attributed this to the influence of Jony Ive, who valued form (i.e. as thin as possible) over function (i.e. reliable keyboards). So there's a few years of Mac laptops you want to avoid: basically anything with a butterfly keyboard. (I would also do my best to avoid the Touch Bar.)

The other issue is that Apple has just gone through a CPU architecture change. They've done this several times before, and they have always supported the old architecture for a number of years. But there is still no question that the old architecture is fading away. It's likely to lack support for some new OS features. It may not continue to receive OS updates for as many years as would be the case without the architecture change.

For both of these reasons, I agree with others that you would do best to purchase an Apple Silicon Mac, if you can afford to do so. Used or refurbished is fine. But you'll be shortening the lifespan of your purchase if you get something with an Intel CPU.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 8:51 AM on September 19

Apple states that it will provide service/parts for its products for at least five years. Outside architecture transition periods (and excluding computers that were actually lemons), I would expect Macbooks to comfortably last 5-7 years (and could probably be pushed along for a few years after that) for light/ moderate use.

However I, too, would be hesitant to purchase an Intel based Macbook* at this point.

*Yes, Apple is still selling Intel-based Mac Pros, but Mac Pros and MacBook Pros have very different use cases.

Beyond Apple's official support, there is the big unknown about how long applications for Intel-based Macs will practically receive updates. (In other words applications may officially support Intel-based Macs, but may neglect the development of said application).
posted by oceano at 10:50 AM on September 19

Strictly speaking, the MacBook Air from right before the transition to M1 probably fits what you are asking for (oldest that will still get updates for 3-4 years). On a practical level, I think the M1 MacBook Air is going to be much better for you. (It’s a better computer and will get updates for much longer and should still be pretty affordable.)
posted by snofoam at 11:12 AM on September 19

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