Advice Apple life hack

Upgrading Your Black MacBook

Are you ready to put your Mac laptop on an iceberg and send it off to the great Apple store in the sky? Has it reached that time in its life when it’s just too old to crunch, flip, burn, batch and boot?  If YOU are ready to buy a new laptop, but your wallet isn’t,  then maybe you should forget about crazy Eskimo rituals (legend or not) and warm up to extending the life of your machine, rather than putting it on ice.

You may not be able to afford a new computer every 1 or 2 years. Don’t fret. On average I have made my Mac laptops last well into their 5th year of use. Trust me, with the amount of time I spend on my laptop–the photo of my keyboard, below, should be a clear  indication of how much use my laptop gets–if it’s not keeping up,  I’ll be the first one to ditch it.

Worn Keyboard or Dead Mac?

But keeping up doesn’t mean I have to settle. My machine has to be fast. It has to deal with video editing plus all the other crap I throw at it. I can’t afford for my laptop to be a dog when it comes to handling http, .psd, .swf, .mov, ftp, etc…

My black MacBook (2 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo) is nearly 4 years old. It was expensive when I bought it. It will be expensive now to replace it. But I use it every day. I edit video, run Windows XP, manage websites, Photoshop, listen to music, process images, synch my iPhone, write blogs, do screencasts, video chat on Skype, watch Netflix and Hulu and earn a living all without a slowdown or any problems for that matter (knock on wood). On top of that, it’s only a MacBook, it’s not a Pro. How am I accomplishing all of this on such an “outdated” machine?

Don’t be fooled. Computer sales are just like car sales. You see a new car and your dopamine cells fire off telling you that you want that new car. Same goes for new computers. I never walk into an Apple store without getting a little weak in the knees after touching a new iMac or new Macbook Pro.

If temperance ever had a place, it’s when it comes to buying tech. With tech, you’ll never get ahead. I could go out today and buy the best laptop that Apple has to offer, and tomorrow they’ll have something better. Bigger screen, faster processor, SSD Drive, More RAM, Firewire 800 instead of 400, backlit keyboard…mmmm backlit keyboard…see that? I’m already fantasizing and I’m just writing you a note. Step away from the cash register.

Let’s put off the purchase of a new laptop for as long as we can. But let’s not suffer in the process.

But How? How do you keep your older laptop humming at peak performance and out of the closet (where your other tech has been accumulating) for as long as possible?

First lets explore how a perfectly good machine can suddenly feel old? Just forget the stuff you already know about defragging your hard drive, and file management. We’re well beyond simple shuffling of crap on your hard drive. Bottom line: An old machine is a slow machine.

Slowness evolves. New software is released. New technologies are used on the Internet. Updates and patches to your OS come creeping in. With every update your current hardware is taxed just a little bit more. All of this progress adds up to one thing and one thing only. Your machine is doomed.

Lucky for us (thrifty folk out there) there are specific, and relatively inexpensive, things we can do to our older machines to stave off the effects of old age. Much like what a good shot of Botox can do for your face these tricks can add a good 2 or 3 years of life to your laptop.

Three ways to extend the life of your laptop:

1. Upgrade your RAM

2. Stay current with your OS

3. Upgrade your Hard Drive

Max Out Your RAM

One of the first things you should do with any computer you care about (read: use all the time) is make sure you’ve got as much RAM as you can  a. afford  b. cram in the box. I’m not kidding. If you’re running your Mac with anything less than 2 gigs, or 4 gigs (even better), then you’re missing out on some real performance boosts in your machine. A little bummer about the Black Macbook is that while you can fit 4 gigs of RAM onboard, and the OS “sees” it, I guess the system can’t use all 4 gigs. Look, just spring for the 4 gigs of RAM. You’ll thank yourself. Rule of thumb, always, always outfit your machine with the maximum possible amount of RAM. When you chince on RAM you hobble your machine. You wouldn’t want to fly jet liner with only one engine would you? Yea, it’s just like that. The #1 way to extend the usefulness (and therefore the life) of your computer is by adding RAM.

Upgrade Your OS

For the Mac, the next thing you can do to speed up your machine is make sure you are running Snow Leopard. I noticed immediate performance benefits on my mac the minute I got Snow Leopard installed. Sooo much has already been written about Snow Leopard that I dare not belabor the point. But keep this in mind. When you do your upgrade do a FRESH INSTALL. Do NOT just overwrite your old OS with the new one. To really get the benefit of the new OS, you need to get rid of the gunk that has built up on your hard drive. Cultofmac.com has the best write up on how to do this.

Upgrade Your Hard drive

First of all, let me dispell the myth that the max hard drive size that will fit in the Black Mackbook is 250 GB. Not true. The drive I have in mine is 320 GB. I’ve been told that you can go up as far as 1/2 Terabyte. Had I know this, I would have done that, but alas, I fell victim to the myth. Anyway, when you’re looking at a new drive, storage size is not the only aspect to consider. When you are looking to boost your Mac’s performance drive speed needs to be factored in.

Note: I’m not going to discuss solid state drives (SSD) here. They are in a class of their own, both from a speed and price standpoint. If you can afford a SSD for your machine, and you’re ok taking a hit on how much onboard storage you can have, then go for it. Right now, SSD just isn’t there for me…but I’ve definitely got my eye on it.

For a regular SATA drive, speed is determined by how fast the the platter spins. Plus some drives have RAM on board to give you even more of a performance boost. You can either buy a 5400 or 7200 RPM drive. Faster the spin, the faster your seek times and, theoretically, the faster your machine will run.

Putting the 7200 RPM drive in my machine was  a bit of an experiment. I had no idea if I would be able to detect a noticeable boost in speed. I am pleased to report that I do notice a bump, and I think it’s more than just a placebo effect. Here’s what I’ve got running in my machine right now: 320GB Western Digital Scorpio Black 7200 RMP 2.5 SATA internal drive. But let me summarize my experience:

Things I like about this drive upgrade:

  • VMWare boots faster
  • Photoshop boots faster
  • Entire machine boots faster
  • More space than expected. I was not limited to 250gb as I had previously thought

Things I don’t like about this drive upgrade:

  • Slight vibration in the machine
  • Battery life cut down to 1.5 hrs.* Now I know Western Digital is supposed to deliver 5400 RPM-equivalent power consumption but I’m not seeing that.
  • Heat. My machine is definitely running hotter. (I’m tempted to put my old drive back in to see just how much hotter).

Really, there is no substitute for spending a little time maintaining your machine. Dust out the keyboard. Wipe the screen clean with microfiber cloth. Do not slam the lid when you leave. Also make sure that all of your software is up to date. You would not believe how many people are still running IE6. This is crazy. Upgrade your browser. Next make sure your hard drive is clear of clutter. Manage your files. Do that optimize thing you do. But beyond these simple do’s and don’ts you need to dig deeper to get every bit of life out of your laptop.

By upgrading key components on your laptop, including RAM and Hard Drive, and making sure your operating system is up to date you can extend the life of your machine by years.  Let’s save the icebergs for the polar bears, maybe a random grandparent or two, and keep your machines running longer.

P.S. A Note for Late Adopters:  Get With It!

Now, if you’re not on an Intel processor, then forget everything you just read. Going Intel was the best thing Apple could have done. And if you’re still using ANY Mac that predates the Intel chipset, then no amount of tinkering will help you. Give it up. Your devotion to that G3 or G4  is honorable, but it’s time to cut that box free.

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