Buying a Used Mac

Why do I recommend that most people buy their Mac brand-spanking new? My reasons range from maximizing your investment, to not wasting time in the purchase process, to squeezing the most efficient production power out of your computer, to plain ol’ street cred.
Until recently, every time I looked at the options for used Macs — mostly on eBay — going the pre-owned route made little sense to me. Macs have long enjoyed a high resale value, but each new revision to the hardware used faster processors, accepted more memory and bigger hard drives. and better accommodated the latest OS X. So a buyer might save a couple of hundred dollars, but I would feel that their investment just wouldn’t last long enough to justify the initial savings.

Apple’s move to the Intel processors has changed the scenario. Macs that sport Intel Core 2 Duo are just marvelous. Also, from mid-2007 until just recently, the most popular, bread-and-butter models — iMacs, MacBooks, and MacBook Pros — have supported a maximum of 4 GB (“gigabytes”) of PC5300 RAM (“random-access memory”). Other specs such as bus speed and hard-drive sizes have improved, but in my experience, processor and memory are the most important factors in how a computer is going to perform the common day-to-day tasks of opening a document, loading a web page, or opening the average application.

Meanwhile, Mac minis didn’t change between mid-2007 and just this month. And while Mac Pros have seen some impressive gains in benchmarking, even the early versions of those machines would cut with a blazing saber through any tasks the average, non-professional Mac user could ever dream of throwing at them. The MacBook Air has remained quite static since its release.

So, yes, I’m suggesting that for many folks, a Mac from late 2007 will serve just as well as one from off the shelf at the Apple store. But eBay is definitely may not be the place to buy one, and definitely is. If you have a bit of patience, and some time, you can find a great machine at A MacBook, for example, might run you as little as $600.

Here are my requirements. If the machine you find on craigslist (or wherever) does not meet these, please do not spend your good money on it:

  • It has to sport an Intel Core 2 Duo processor or better, such as an i5 or i7. I don’t care what speed, but it can’t just be Intel Core Duo (note the lack of the “2”).
  • It has to be upgradeable to at least 4 GB RAM (memory)
  • It has to be either coverable by, or already covered by, the AppleCare Protection Plan (APP), which extends Apple’s hardware and software warranty to 3 years from purchase date. AppleCare can be applied to a Mac up to a year from original purchase date, so if the Mac you find is still young enough, and the original buyer didn’t get APP, be ready to buy it from Apple or Amazon or somewhere.

Note that if the Mac does not already have that 4 GB or AppleCare, you can use that as a bargaining chit. But if I may iterate: if it doesn’t have AppleCare and is older than a year, DON’T BUY THE MAC. Right before a Mac’s AppleCare coverage is going to run out, I strongly encourage you to take it to the Apple Store Genius Bar and asking them to give its hardware a once-over. If there’s anything wrong, they’ll fix it.

Author: jjmarcus

Apple Specialist, Mac Whisperer, Cloud Wrangler - Your Remote CTO

2 thoughts on “Buying a Used Mac”

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