It’s important to know the signs of poor computer health. Some of these can be fixed with software and other require a trip to a service point. And sometimes you’ve got to admit defeat and concede it’s time to shell out for another.
When a computer reaches a certain age, the cost required to repair or maintain it is often outweighed by the benefits of sinking your money into a new model instead.
Today we’ll look at a few of the warning signs, what you can do about it, and consider the right time to say goodbye.
1. You’re Constantly Running Out of Space
Despite Apple’s best attempts to add automated storage optimization to Sierra, many of us still see the “Your computer is running out of space” message on a daily basis. For laptop owners, the problem is compounded by the dependence on solid state drives, which provides excellent performance and peace of mind but lackluster capacity.
There’s plenty you can do to add more storage to a MacBook. This includes replacing your optical drive with an SSD, getting imaginative with your card reader, or simply embracing a stack of external drives. Two of the most effective things you can do from a software perspective are moving your media libraries elsewhere and storing device backups externally.
Assuming you’ve tried all of that, you could always replace the drive with something of a larger capacity. In my case, that would be something like the $600 1TB replacement SSD from OWC, a sizeable upgrade from my current 256GB. But $600 on a laptop that’s already five years old, with numerous dead pixels, a dodgy Bluetooth chip, and outdated hardware simply isn’t worth it to me.
If the cost of upgrading the storage seems steep considering the age of your machine and the cost of a replacement, it might be time to move on. Just make sure you go big on storage next time!
2. You Can’t Upgrade to the Latest macOS
This is an easy one. Each time Apple releases a new version of macOS, they revise the minimum system requirements. If the upgrade is deemed too demanding for older machines, those machines will be excluded from the release. At the time of writing, High Sierra is awaiting its release and will be compatible with:
- MacBook Pro or Air: 2010 or later
- MacBook: Late 2009 or later
- iMac: Late 2009 or later
- Mac Mini: 2010 or later
- Mac Pro: 2010 or later
Running an older version of macOS isn’t a huge issue, but it may cause issues if you want to use an application that relies on the modern release. You can usually find legacy software for older versions of the OS, but from Apple’s perspective, your machine has reached the end of its life cycle.
You’ll also miss out on the latest and greatest features included in the release. A few years ago that would have been something major like iCloud or the Mac App Store. These days its things like being able to unlock your Mac with your Apple Watch. A lack of security updates probably poses the biggest immediate threat.
Software incompatibility and a lack of security updates are of concern, but you can probably live without most of the latest and greatest macOS additions.
3. The Hardware Just Isn’t Good Enough
4K video is no longer a distant flicker on the horizon, and even if you’re not publishing in full 4K, you still stand to benefit from higher resolution footage. While most five-year-old laptops can handle full HD video, things slow down considerably when you quadruple the resolution.
Editing in 4K on my laptop and only using 57% of my memory (with iTunes & Safari open). My last MacBook couldn't even load 4K.
— Ariel Julia (@uhhangel) July 9, 2017
Proxy editing — the process of transcoding footage for speed during the editing phase — can help immensely, but only pricey video editors like Adobe Premiere can do it. For high-performance 4K video editing, you’re going to need to upgrade your machine. Even photo editing can take a hit when moving from 10MP images taken with your old camera to 24MP RAWs that exceed 25MB each.
RAM upgrades can provide some relief, but you’ll be limited depending on the age of your machine. For MacBook Pro owners who purchased their machine after 2012, the RAM is likely soldered directly to the mainboard, so don’t bother. Check iFixit for more information about your specific model.
This is probably the most justifiable reason for purchasing a new machine, beyond catastrophic hardware failure. If poor performance means your Mac can no longer satisfy the purpose, you should consider a new machine.
4. Battery Life Isn’t What It Used to Be
All rechargeable batteries lose their capacity for a charge after time, referred to by manufacturers as cycles. Each time your battery fully charges and fully depletes, that counts as one cycle. According to Apple, “Your battery is designed to retain up to 80 percent of its original capacity at 1,000 complete charge cycles.”
You can check your battery condition by holding the option key and clicking on the Battery icon in your menu bar. For a more detailed look at your battery health, click on the Apple menu > About This Mac and select System Report in the window that appears. Scroll down to Power and you’ll see the current number of cycles recorded for your battery.
Batteries are not expensive to replace, and for around $90 you can buy a replacement. You’ll find instructions for fitting it yourself online, and you’ll only need a set of Torx screwdrivers, anti-static strap, and some patience. You can also take your computer to a service point to have the work done.
Apple will service and replace batteries in most MacBook models for between $129 and $199. Your local computer shop would probably do it for cheaper including parts and labor, but they’re not necessarily Apple-certified. If you’re confident opening up your machine, your best option would probably be replacing it yourself.
Probably the cheapest way to breathe new life into a MacBook that no longer holds a charge, but don’t expect any performance bumps.
5. Your Mac Is Falling Apart
Right before AppleCare for my MacBook Pro ran out, I took it into Apple for one last service. There was a clicking problem with the trackpad, they isolated the issue, and agreed to replace it. They ended up replacing the entire mainboard simply because that’s how the mid-2012 Retina Macbook Pro is built.
my macbook keyboard broke (see the two missing buttons? don't) so i used my usb keyboard from my childhood 1998 imac. i'm a tech prodigy pic.twitter.com/4FzaIcFfSy
— splendora (@hollabackgirly) August 25, 2017
Maybe your power adapter flickers in certain positions — you can replace the cable, but you probably can’t do much about the port. Broken keys can be replaced, but those that no longer register key presses will likely require replacing the whole keyboard (and if it’s anything like the trackpad, the entire mainboard too).
And then there are the other parts that seem to fail one by one: card readers that no longer read cards, optical drives with dud lasers, crackling speakers, smashed displays, or a sudden rash of dead pixels. When the list starts to grow considerably, money spent on fixes will likely go further when spent on a new machine.
USING MY OVERHEATING MACBOOK TO IRON MY CLOTHES cuz I'm broke af
This is what a 4 yr college degree gives you (& -$30,000) pic.twitter.com/m8RoqFavsY
— Trav (@travpiss) August 22, 2017
An old computer is a bit like an old car. You know that the passenger side electric window doesn’t work and there’s the previous owner’s Maroon 5 CD stuck in the stereo, but you can limp on without those features and still get from A to B. At some point something will stop working that requires real attention, and that’s when you need to decide whether to repair or scrap.
A long list of small problems can quickly become a big problem. Don’t cough up for pricey repairs when a replacement machine will perform better and last longer.
6. Major Software Issues Are Frequent
Major software issues are related to the daily performance of your Mac. If the OS is frequently freezing and becoming unresponsive, if you’re seeing onscreen gibberish and graphical artifacts, or if your machine turns itself off or restarts at random; you might have underlying hardware issues.
It doesn’t hurt to try reinstalling macOS to diagnose the issue. This should be at the top of your list once you’ve tried all the usual tricks for diagnosing and fixing frequent software issues: resetting your SMC and PRAM, clearing enough space to breathe, and uninstalling intrusive kernel extensions.
If nothing works, it’s time to reinstall macOS from scratch. You can back up your personal documents with Time Machine, then reinstall the bare necessities until you’re happy the problem was software-based. If you’re still encountering the same issues, then it’s time to consider replacing the machine.
A fresh macOS install can indicate whether your issues are software or hardware-based, at which point you can take it to a service point for proper diagnosis (or bite the bullet and look for a new machine).
The Final Curtain
If you’ve accepted your fate, it’s time to move on with the purchase. You could opt for a brand new machine straight from Apple, try and save some cash by opting for a refurbished model or go second-hand for the biggest savings.
Will you be extending the life of your current machine with a few upgrades, or is the expenditure just not worth it for you?
Image Credit: IzelPhotography/Depositphotos