How To Extend the Life of Your Old Mac, and Why That Won't Be Possible With Today's Models

I never understood the appeal of Macs until I dipped my toe in the water with my first Macbook Air in 2011. I'm still using that laptop today where in the same time period many PC laptops have come and gone, but sadly, that may not be the case for Apple desktops and laptops that you buy today.

YouTuber Luke Miani takes a tour through Mac history, taking a look at some of the best Macs for upgrading to (somewhat) modern-day specs, specifically talking about why the 2009 iMac, with its reasonably powerful (for the time period) graphics cards beat out its newer 2010 and 2011 brothers for running MacOS Catalina (with a hack from DosDude). It's a great way to keep machines from the junk heap when they could be otherwise functioning for light-duty photo work or storage.

Like Miani, I've upgraded the SSD in my Macbook Air to 1TB with a kit from OWC, and now it has more storage space than even my 2019 Macbook Pro and iMac. The speedier, newer SSD even makes the machine functional to edit photos on, albeit with an older screen that's not known for being the most color-accurate. That said, even the slightest of upgrades turns this old machine into a great commuter laptop that lets me edit photos on the way to work while only having to carry something the size of an iPad, with a lot more functionality for photo editing than an iPad because it can actually run Photoshop.

Desktops of similar vintage had a lot of room for customizations beyond just an SSD upgrade. As Miani shows, pulling off the front screen reveals some leeway to upgrade the memory, in some cases graphics processors and CPUs, and also the removal of the optical drive for better airflow.

While this is great for those still hoping to continue rocking their older iMacs, this sadly will likely not be the case for Macs going forward, at least not Macs you can buy now.

For one, with the announcement of Apple Silicon, there's definitely an end-of-life planned for Intel-based Macs. As software transitions to run on the new processors, more and more older Macs will be shut out of potentially important software for photographers, such as Adobe Photoshop or Premiere Pro (and yes, you can still edit 1080p video just fine on a 2009 iMac, something I was doing until 2018.) That said, this kind of transition could be a boon for companies that continue to support Intel-based Macs. This also means that if you buy any of the Macs available today, you might not get the 10 years you may be expecting out of them. They'll still be plenty fast, but they will likely not be able to run the latest and greatest software in just a few years because of the processor architecture changes.

More than this, many of the upgrades Miani talks about are just not possible. Apple's made a nasty habit of removing the ability to upgrade laptops and desktops, essentially making what you buy the final word as far as upgrades go, and making you pay for it all up front at the time of purchase.

Do you have an old Mac sitting around? Take a look at the video above for how to breathe some new life into your old workhorse.

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12 Comments

Michael Krueger's picture

Compared to cameras and lenses a computer is a cheap investment and not something you should ignore when time equals money and you edit photos or video for a living.

Edison Wrzosek's picture

I knew this article was going to be garbage the moment I saw the name Wasim as the author...

Remove the optical drive for better airflow, really??? It does almost JACK for airflow on the older iMac's, removal of this drive was usually only done to either replace a defective one, or install a caddy to convert the bay for a standard HDD or SSD upgrade, not to increase airflow!

Oh, and iPad Pro + Affinity Photo = photo editing powerhouse; Photoshop for iPad is gimped by Adobe, you can thank them for that disgrace, since Serif Software proves the iPad can do pretty much EVERYTHING a desktop Mac can do in the photo editing realm.

"They'll still be plenty fast, but they will likely not be able to run the latest and greatest software in just a few years because of the processor architecture changes"

What are you even implying by this load of BS? Because of the transition to Apple Silicon, or because somehow Intel will change its CPU instruction set architecture so radically that software in a few years won't be able to run on 2020 Intel Mac's anymore? Developers will continue to create software for the Intel architecture well into the future, despite the Apple Silicon architecture change, just look at the PowerPC to Intel transition.

Wasim COMPLETELY forgets to mention that newer Macs now come standard with larger, server-grade SSD's, and 8GB to 16GB of RAM as standard, and the 27" iMac and Mac Mini is still user-upgradable for memory. And with the advancement of TB3 ports, storage expansion is mostly a moot point. Newer Macs have better lifespans ahead of them than anything in the past.

This is another uneducated, misinformed article that servers as click-bait at best.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

To your points - I remember the PowerPC to Intel transition in my workplaces - it wasn't as smooth as advertised, and Jeffrey Puritz makes a good point - at the end of the day, Apple will likely sunset these systems from operating support a lot earlier than usual. Non-sanctioned upgrades (like Luke mentions in the video) are OK, but not always the best idea.

We're both speculating here, but no need to trash me personally - I think your thoughts on this could have just as much chance of happening - in fact, I hope it's the case instead of the sad future I've painted here.

Chris Edwards's picture

I've never understood why people can't simply present a rebuttal without being disrespectful to the other person. Kudos to you for taking the high road.

Quentin Decaillet's picture

"I knew this article was going to be garbage the moment I saw the name Wasim as the author..."
And yet you still took time out of your day to read and even comment on the article. If you don't like his articles, just skip them already and read the other ones…

Edison Wrzosek's picture

Very well, I'll remember how prevalent cancel culture is around here, and that one who spots BS and wishes to call it out is not welcome, as the BS is preferable in order to garner more clicks.

Check

Jeffrey Puritz's picture

My 2012 Mac mini (Quad core i7, 16GB, 256GB SSD) is still holding its own but will not be allowed to upgrade to this year's OS. In 1 or 2 years Apple will stop providing security updates for Catalina and I will then have to replace her. It makes me sad.

Edison Wrzosek's picture

You can keep her going with non-sanctioned macOS updates; I’ve done it to a few older machines, and whilst the results have been mixed on machines older than 2011’s due to their graphics cards, with the 2012 you should be fine.

Jeffrey Puritz's picture

fingers crossed :-)

Bryce Carlson's picture

One way I actually just did a couple weeks ago is to install a Linux distro. My 2010 Macbook (non-pro) was getting long in the tooth, and was sluggish running OSX (plus, it wouldn't receive any more major updates.) Well, upgrading the RAM to 8GB and the original HDD to an SSD did little to improve things, the old dual-core Core 2 was holding everything back. However, once I installed Linux, it's like a new machine; the sluggishness is gone, it's snappy and responsive again.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

That's awesome news! Would you mind sharing which distro you used and how you got it working? I'm actually trying to install Elementary OS on a 2006 iMac and it's not going well.

Quentin Decaillet's picture

Cleaning my mid-2014" Retina MBP once or twice yearly and changing the thermal paste regularly has helped the most so far for me. I'm still working on it on a daily basis, and the perfs are more than decent for most of my needs :)