How do I get the most out of an old Macbook (~2008/9 model)?

Denise E February 6, 2014
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I bought my first Macbook in 2008, the tail end of the Tiger OS (upgraded to Leopard). Now I am using a MBP (purchased in 2013) for my day-to-day usage.

There is nothing wrong with the old Macbook, but I got the new one as I was worried about an inevitable lack of security updates as my machine got older. I’d like to keep using my Macbook, since the hardware is still functioning really well. It does have an outdated hard drive capacity (160GB, compared to my new MBP’s 750GB), which means storage might not be the ultimate ideal use (I have a 320GB ext HD, but that’s full now so gonna have to get a new one).

Would love to know how I can continue to make use of my 2008 macbook.

  • Should I completely wipe the hard drive and ‘start again’?
  • What can I still use my macbook for (short of connecting to any networks for fear of security risks)?
  • Is it worth continuing to use my old macbook on the Internet at all?

Many thanks!

  1. Steve
    February 11, 2014 at 9:05 pm

    If you have a 2009 MacBook with nvidia graphics card it will run mavericks 10.9 perfectly well with 2gb ram ,even better with 4gb

  2. Oron J
    February 7, 2014 at 12:21 pm

    Jan's reply pretty much says it all. In terms of speed, every new version of the Mac OS runs a little slower than the previous one, but the difference is small, and as long as you have enough RAM (2GB is "just enough", more is better) your machine will run just fine.

    In terms of the hard drive, if replacement is easy (it isn't on all Macbooks), then replace it. Your drive is getting on in years and even if it works fine just now, the chances of it failing are growing by the year. SSDs are excellent, but provide relatively low storage for a high price. If you feel you need more than, say, 128GB, I suggest you get a hybrid drive such as the Seagate Solid State Hybrid Drive (SSHD). These cost only a little more than a mechanical drive, and have similar capacities (500GB and up), but have a small flash cache which gives them a read performance which comes close to a real SSD. I've installed such drives for several clients and they have transformed their machines.

    • Denise E
      February 7, 2014 at 2:17 pm

      Thanks for this, really helpful to know about the SSHDs, I'll look into it. I'm quite happy replacing the drive myself as I have opened my MB up and taken the drive out before. (Followed a tutorial though!)

  3. A. Lawrence
    February 7, 2014 at 7:14 am

    I have a Macbook Pro from 2006 which I run Mavericks on. It runs well with just 4gb RAM. It has a 160gb 5400 rpm drive. A SSD will speed up your machine and they are reasonable. It sounds like your Superdrive may be dying. It can be replaced and or another hard drive put in its place. When was the last time you used a CD or DVD?

    • Denise E
      February 7, 2014 at 2:21 pm

      Yeah, having a 4GB RAM has been one of the best things I got for my Macbook! :) Now all I have to do is to buy an OS upgrade.

      The last time I used a CD - a real long time ago. I can't even remember when. But my CD drive made those noises even when I was still using DVDs regularly.

  4. Jan F
    February 6, 2014 at 9:39 pm

    The 2008 MacBook is perfectly capable of running OS X 10.7 (Lion) which is still receiving all the security updates.

    First step is to get OS X 10.6 on the device so you gain access to the Mac App Store.
    If you don't have access to or can organize a 10.6 installation DVD you can purchase one from the Apple Store for $19.99.

    Once you got 10.6 running and therefor the Mac App Store you cannot directly purchase 10.7 as it will only list the latest release, OS X 10.9.
    In order to get 10.7 you have to contact the Apple Mac support who can issue a purchase order for 10.7 and will unlock it for your Apple ID upon payment.

    There may be other means to get 10.7 installed on your MacBook but this would be the official way.

    From a hardware perspective:
    Technically nothing speaks against continued use of the 160GB hard drive if it seems to be in good condition and doesn't make any noticeable noises.
    If you want to make the most out of the old MacBook I suggest swapping it with a Solid State Drive and upgrading the RAM to 4GB. It's going to feel (almost) new.

    • Denise E
      February 7, 2014 at 3:56 am

      Ahh, thanks for this - I was told by the apple store guy that my computer would run slower if i did an upgrade - so i decided against it. is that true? otherwise, I may as well just go out and do what you suggested - get a SSD.

      I upgraded the RAM to 4GB when I bought my macbook, so its been running real sweet.

      When I do open the lid, (i think its my CD drive) makes an appalling noise - the new MBP doesn't. I did look it up before, and apparently it's a normal noise? that's probably the only 'issue' that i've faced with this machine.. aside from having to replace the hard drive twice due to a 'manufacturing flaw'.

      Your reply has made me real excited about the new life I am gonna get from my old MB!

    • Jan F
      February 7, 2014 at 4:55 pm

      My experience is that Snow Leopard (10.6) runs noticeable faster than Leopard (10.5) as they got rid of all the obsolete PowerPC code. I have mixed feelings about 10.7 ~ it may run slower than 10.6 but overall it's still fine. Either one should be an improvement to Leopard.

      The problem with staying on 10.6 would be that a lot of third-party (especially free) software have moved to the "10.7 or later" support. Apple has also stopped updating Safari for 10.6 which is a clear sign that it will soon reach it's end of life too.

      I wouldn't be too concerned about the noise of the drive as long as it is working...?
      If the sound you are hearing is the same as the eject/insert CD noise that should be normal. My understanding is that MacBooks do that every time they are powered on or wake up from sleep to see if a CD/DVD is in the drive.
      If it does break eventually you can still decide whether you are willing pay for the repair (price varies highly, it's about $200 here) or get an external USB drive which you can get for $35 on Amazon (non-Apple branded).

      Before upgrading my iMac at home I wanted to test-drive a SSD in a Mac so I installed one in my 2006 Mac Pro at work. It's still in there after 2 years despite I payed for it on my own expense.
      They are certainly more expensive than a normal hard drive or SSHD (see Orons post) but in my opinion definitely worth the money.

      one example:

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