Ask LH: Is It Worth Upgrading An Old MacBook Pro?

Ask LH: Is It Worth Upgrading An Old MacBook Pro?

Hi Lifehacker, I have an early 2011 15″ MacBook Pro which is just about to hit its three-year anniversary. I have been thinking about upgrading it with a 500GB SSD, which will cost me about $380. I’m just not sure if it’s worth the investment, or if I’d be better off selling it on eBay and putting that money plus the $380 towards a new Retina 13″ MacBook Pro. Any thoughts? Thanks, SSD Switcher

Dear SSDS,

It’s usually recommended that a laptop be replaced every three or four years — if only to ensure it can keep up with the latest software applications. When you add expired warranties and general wear-and-tear to the mix, the recommendation definitely makes sense.

If you’ve got the cash, I’d go down the replacement route: this avoids reliability issues, saves you time and hassle and comes with that special feeling shiny new tech gives you (the Retina display really is something special).

That said, the model you want will set you back at least $1599 which is significantly more than a 500GB SSD. Selling your old MacBook will help to offset some of the cost, although the amount of money you make will obviously depend on its condition and specifications.

We’ve seen used 2011 MacBook Pros sell on eBay for anywhere between $400 and $1300, depending on the model. Take a look at sold/ended listings to get an idea of what your specific model might be worth.

You also need to consider the downgrade in screen size: two inches might not seem like much but it can make a big difference if you regularly use lots of fiddly applications at once. You might want to have a play around with one in store to make sure it fits your productivity style.

Well, that’s our two cents. If you’d prefer to keep your money in the bank and decide to do an SSD install, be sure to check our complete guide to solid strate drives. Good luck!

If any Mac owners have additional advice for SSD Switcher, fire away in the comments section below.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • I upgraded my 2009 13″ Macbook Unibody with an SSD and 4 GB of RAM, and it’s a completely different beast. It’s very usable no as a daily laptop, so long as you’re not going crazy with the multi-tasking. The only thing I really dislike about it now, is the low resolution screen, which can’t be upgraded.

    • Hi, I have the same Macbook and didn’t even think that I could upgrade the RAM! What RAM did you buy for it?

        • 2010 or later models support at least 8GB ram, though the documentation for apple says they ‘officially’ only support 4-6GB. This is a well tested fact.

        • This is not true….I have a late ’09 13″ Macbook 2.26ghz and you can indeed upgrade to 8GB….AFAICT your best bet is Crucial PC3-1066, I had an issue with PC3-1600 that was on sale as I was only able to use one of the 2 4gb dimms, swapped for 1066 and as was well….Also added a 120GB SSD and its a new machine. Unfortunately I went for the OCZ Trion 100 first bc it was on sale and did not google it first. Of course theres a conflict with the SSDs chipset and the chipset in that particular MB. Swapped it for an OCZ Arc for an extra $25 and all was well

  • First question should be what do you do with it?
    If you’re just Facebooking and reading Lifehacker, then do the SSD upgrade, if you’re doing something intense with it, then the upgrade to a new machine might be worth the investment.

  • Just buy the SSD anyway. Put it into your old Macbook and see how it goes for a few weeks. If you still need something quicker, take the SSD out, put the old HDD back in, format it and sell it off. You can put the SSD into your new Macbook and save yourself the Apple tax.

    • This idea kinda doesn’t work unless you go with the 13inch non retina, as all retina’s and even Airs use pcie SSDs

        • Buy a PCiE SSD with a $15 Sata adapter for your old PC. Then rip it out and put it in the new Macbook when you get it and throw the $15 adapter in the bin 🙂

  • Absolutely worth it to upgrade the old MBP, and a 480GB SSD is about $300-$350 and it makes it feel like a totally new machine. I have the exact same model MBP and it screams along.

    I am also getting one of these to add USB3 ports.

    If you have the i7, and 1680 x 1050 display on the 15″ currently, then definitely keep it. You can also remove the DVD drive and chuck a 2nd HDD in there. I have a 480GB SSD boot drive, and a 1TB HDD, I just put the internal DVD drive in an external case for the few times I need it.

    • If I were you, I would buy an adapter to remove my DVD “superdrive” and replace it with a large(1tb) Western Digital Black series drive and place a 120-240GB SSD in the Main drive space

  • I’ll second this, the SSD upgrade will feel like a totally new machine.

    I put an Intel 240Gb SSD in my early 2011 15″ MBP last year. I’d estimate that it roughly tripled the running speed of the macbook overall, with some things (like a search of my 12,000+ outlook inbox) being maybe 10x as fast. Though I do have the up-specced i7 model, and I took the opportunity to upgrade to 8gb ram.

    If you’re gonna do the upgrade, make sure you blow all the dust out of it while you have the case open. If it’s anything like mine, it’ll build up quite a bit after 3 years and this works wonders for how quietly it runs and how long it takes for overheat/CPU throttling to kick in due to clogging with dust.

    Finally, if you put an SSD in make sure you use Trim Enabler. Macs natively support Trim for their own SSD’s, but you’ll need an app like this to enable it on an aftermarket fitted SSD. Works a treat for me, haven’t had any dramas.

    Good luck!

  • Regardless, $380 for a ~500GB SSD is about $100 too much. Shop around! A Crucial M500 480GB can be had from Amazon for US$229, which is well under $300 including conversion and shipping, and it’s one of the best solid state drives you can buy.

  • Can anyone please advise which stores I can purchase SSDs from? I don’t want to go through the eBay trail.

  • I am using a 2009 MBP 13″, I have upgraded my RAM from original 2GB to 8 and I bought myself a 120GB SSD for less than 100$. The machine boots up in no time, it is super fast and I do not have this feeling that I need to replace it anytime soon.
    I have also replaced my DVD drive with a 500GB SATA hdd so I have plenty of storage, a fast machine, and plenty of cash in my pocket 🙂

  • Totally worth upgrading, I upgraded my early 2011 13″ MBP i7 model with an Intel 530 240gb SSD around new years, completely new machine and it just zips along now.

  • I have one of the new MacBook Pro Retina 13″ models and the SSD’s are now PCIE based. I get 620MB/s write and 720MB/s reads from this thing which is amazing. That’s faster than any SATA based SSD out there.

  • I took a slightly different path with my 2009 MBP; removed my optical (DVD) disk, moved the existing HD to that location and installed the SSD where the HD had been. Result … 250Mb (SSD) system disk + 500Mb (HD) data etc. Boot time and application start-up are screaming fast, and still plenty of disk left over for data. Still using it and haven’t missed the DVD at all.

    • Great idea this, I would do it if I didn’t occasionally need the Superdrive for commercial work.

      • Massively late (almost an anniversary) response to your point, sorry. 🙁
        If you buy (as I did) the SSD from OWC or MacFixIt, you can also get an external drive container into which you put the removed superdrive. Voilà! Fast Macbook and still got the superdrive to plug into USB on the occasions you need it.

  • I’ve got a similar setup to the upgrade you are describing for the older mac at home, and use a new 13″ Retina at work. You’ll find the upgraded mac does a fine job of video editing ect and the ssd will make it feel brand new. Also look into upgrading RAM at the same time, yours should be able to take 8GB or maybe more (Apple website should have a handy list of max specs). A setup like this can run a number of pretty intensive programs simultaneously. Also there are no major connectivity upgrades that your current model can’t do ie: your current one will have thunderbolt, video with audio via hdmi (with thunderbolt converter). Connectivity differences are that your current model will have Firewire while the retina has no FW but does have a HDMI slot (no converter needed). If you’ve got firewire drives or other devices like video cameras, this could be a factor.

    The main reason to choose the retina is for the screen. It really is remarkably better, so if you want something for still photo work its probably worth it, but in that case you might as well go for the 15″ retina, which is a substantial investment. Also a 13″ retina will be remarkably smaller than your 15″ unibody, so if portability is a factor that could be a selling point. One major issue with the retina models is that you won’t have this choice later. There is no way of upgrading later, so if you want a big hard drive in your laptop you’ll have to front up the money at the start. What you buy is what you work with until you buy a new one (kind of like an ipad!).

    TLDR version: Upgrade until it dies and then buy the shiniest new one.

  • I have a Mid 2010 macbook pro and i installed an 128Gb Samsung Pro SSD. The upgrade to SSD for these machines is totally worth it. So much quicker, like a new machine.

  • I have a 2009 13 macbook Pro and upgraded to 8 gb ram about 3 years ago and its still going strong
    (Also i put a 1TB 7200 HDD) I use this daily and it was 100% worth the upgrade. I’d say if you multitask it made the computer 100% faster.

  • Yup definitely work looking at especially with the 17″ model discontinued. Okay they are less portable but if you are giving demos and training on software the bigger screen does help. Great resolution, comes with a proper gfx card, thunderbolt and a 34 express card, USB 3 expresscard anyone?

    SSD all the way and and extra 8gig of ram. Perfect.

  • I would keep the macbook pro install a SSHD aprox 100 USD, add 16 GB ram apox 130.00 and call it a night.

  • Surprise surprise, just 2 years later, and the price of a 500 GB SSD dropped from $380, to just $120 USD. I bought a 2007 MacBook Pro, threw in a 240GB OWC SSD, and it’s a solid beast.

  • Surprise surprise, just 2 years later, and the price of a 500 GB SSD dropped from $380, to just $120 USD. I bought a 2007 MacBook Pro, threw in a 240GB OWC SSD, and it’s a solid beast.

    • So I’m considering upgrading an old 2009 MacBook Pro to basically just download some movies and music and run a new pioneer DJ controller on. I’ve got a new battery, 500 GB Crucial SSD and crucial 8 GB ram for about $400 with installation fees. im worried the computer will crap out on me and I’ll be screwed but I don’t feel like spending $800 extra for a computer I don’t really need. Do you think this is a good option to get at least 3 more years out of this thing with what I want to do?

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