How long should a Mac last? Mac360’s Alexis Kayhill posed the question recently, and it got me thinking on the topic, especially since Alexis framed her column around the experience of a co-worker who had purchased a new unibody MacBook (on her recommendation) only to have […]


How long should a Mac last? Mac360’s Alexis Kayhill posed the question recently, and it got me thinking on the topic, especially since Alexis framed her column around the experience of a co-worker who had purchased a new unibody MacBook (on her recommendation) only to have Apple upgrade the 13″ unibody to Pro status with feature enhancement and a lower price a few months later.

I’m in the same boat, having also bought a unibody MacBook last February. Alexis says her friend “got burned,” though I think that’s a bit harsh. I don’t feel “burned” at all — more like a bit disappointed that I didn’t wait four more months, but you can drive yourself nuts second-guessing such things. I love the MacBook, and am already becoming convinced that it’s going to be one of my all-time favorite Macs. I just wish it had a FireWire port, which the new 13″ MacBook Pro does have.

My target for intervals between upgrading my main workhorse systems has been three years ever since I bought my first Mac back in 1992, and I’ve done pretty well at adhering to it. That would put replacement time for my MacBook in early 2012, which seems a long way off.

The way it usually plays out for me is that the first year I revel in the greater power and storage capacity of my new machine compared with whatever it replaced. At 18 months, twinges of slight frustration and dissatisfaction start to set in, especially after upgraded models have been introduced, but I really have nothing to complain about. However, by the beginning of year three, the aging Mac is usually beginning to feel compromised in some respects, and the hunt begins, although for the last three machines I’ve managed to reach or beat the three-year replacement benchmark.

Of course it helps that I like the challenge of getting useful service out of antiquated hardware. We still have two nine year old Pismo PowerBooks in very active service, and they’re great for what we do with them — text-crunching, email, Web-surfing, and so forth — “netbooks” of a sort, I suppose.

Actually, I still have most of the Macs I’ve ever owned, and only a very few are not in working order. Our six year old iBook G3 died suddenly last winter, but had been a virtually flawless performer up to the day it completely refused to respond to the power button — presumably a terminal motherboard issue. One of my daughters is still using my old 1999 WallStreet PowerBook, and the 17″ PowerBook that served as my primary workhorse between the iBook and MacBook is still in fine fettle.

As Alexis Kayhill observes, there’s a line somewhere between the disappointment that occurs when a newer, power and feature-enhanced, and possibly cheaper revision is unveiled, especially if it’s only shortly after you buy a new Mac. But there’s also the pride you feel when your Mac still looks good and works well five years (or nine years!) after you bought it.

Macs being generally more expensive than typical Windows PCs, at least up front, it logically stands to reason that they should have longer useful lives.

How about you? How often do you usually upgrade your system, and what do you consider a reasonable service life for Macs?

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  1. I had an eMac for about 4 years, and it is still going strong to this day. but on the other hand, i had a iMac all-in-one white flat screen (Without iSight) and it lasted about 3 years, then the logic board went out which left me the decision of buying a new logic board or, getting a mac mini for $100 cheaper. (the mac mini works great!)

  2. I would like a NEW MAC to have a product cycle of 7 months so then at my 12 month mark, i can sell it as “last-gen” and buy the newest model mid way into its product cycle so there wont’ be as many issues.

    So if a MacBook Pro 3.06Ghz was released June/09, I’d like a new model to be released in January so I can purchase it around April. I’l still get a nice price for my “last-gen” model (about 25% of what I paid for it) and be able to afford what’s new.

    I’ve never had a computer longer than a year so I’m hoping it will last long enough for them to leave positive eBay feedback but every one of the Macs that I sell comes with APP which is good for 3 years of warranty support from Apple.

    1. Geez, Adam, put me on your list of potential customers for your “last-gen” models! That’s exactly how I like to buy, as I don’t need to have the latest and greatest.

      Right now I’m using a 3 or 4 year old iBook and backup of a 9 year old Lombard PowerBook which is still going strong using OSX. Macs just don’t quit, in my experience (since 1988).

      Holler when you’re ready to move up, and help me upgrade!

  3. I don’t know about the reasonable life expectancy of a version of Macs, but I can attest to owning an original G3 iMac DV+ that is 10 years old or so. Running OSX 10.3.1 and my 3 year old uses it daily. Show me a 10 year old PC with original parts still running-or running Vista. Make mine a Mac.

    1. That’s pretty cool that it’s running a decade on, but wouldn’t 10.3 equate with XP or 2000, if not earlier?

    2. @Brian: not really. OSX 10.0 was released in March 2001, even before XP (October 2001); a few months after the release of 10.3 in October 2003, SP2 for XP came out (August 2004), so that would probably be the most suitable comparison.

  4. I still have my ’99 blue & white G3 running strong. I updated the hard drive, optical drive & ram. I have installed Tiger & it still works great for word processing, Internet & as a back-up when my wife takes our MacBook on the road.

  5. FabricofChaos Tuesday, August 4, 2009

    I got my first Mac that was the nicer iBook G4 the Sept before they switched to intel and felt the pressure right after that to get a new one. The new MacBooks were so much cooler than the old iBook. I toughed it out till the summer of 08′ and then upgraded to a fully loaded MacBook Pro 15″ with multi-touch. I’ve had it for a little over a year now and still feel no pressure to upgrade to anything else. I will have this one for at least the life of my AppleCare Plan if not longer.

  6. I had a PowerMac G4 Titanium (the first one to come out). I used it for 5 years until I eventually gave it to my ex when we broke up. Last I heard it was still up and running. I also had a Mac 512K, black and white. I think it was 2nd generation. Had no hard disc. I powered it up last in 2001, but I had lost all the system discs so I decided to get rid of it. I kindda regret having done so! Truth is, the machines itself will work for years. The software eventually becomes un-upgradeable. Eventually, it renders itself useless (for modern era tasks).

    1. Thinkpad come with four year warranties which apple does not match. Plus cannot really compare apples and oranges as the macs only work with very specific software and break compatibilityall the time and lets not even talk about the ridiculous prices that their logic boards fetch( as much as my thinkpad that came with three year warranty)/

  7. I bought my first iMac in November 2007 as Apple finally went to Intel CPU’s. After decades of fighting with PC’s and Windows (I am a MCSE) and hardware issues and a new computer every 6 months just to keep Windows running, I can honestly say that I don’t want a new Mac yet as this one does everything just as snappy as the day that I bought it. If I get another 2 years out of it, I will be impressed and pleased that a: I didn’t have to upgrade hardware every 6 months and b: that I haven’t had to fight a virus off of my computer in 4 years! For the money and the length of time that I will have this computer, it is a steal. I give kudos to Apple for a great product. BTW, if Apple will let you get a 3 year warranty when other manufacturers will not, that is a testament to how they feel about their hardware. If I didn’t think that my hardware would run with minimum problems for 3 years, I would not offer a warranty! It would be bad for the business’ bottom line. As long as Apple can continue to keep the level of quality for the price, I will continue to buy Apple and run every OS know to man on it!

    1. Every six months sounds a bit excessive. That either makes you very, very destructive … or indicates you might be exaggerating … just a bit. Not sure if I’m just lucky, but the youngest computer in my home right now is two and a half years.

      In fact, I spent most of the afternoon using my home-office desktop, which is nearly seven years old and it is running like a champ. I’ve been using it to play around with the Windows 7 release candidate. Oh, and it’s not a Mac, it happens to be a Dell.

      And nearly every manufacturer I know offers a three year warranties, even on the very cheapest of computers. I recently helped my brother purchase a dirt cheap Dell desktop (we got it for $250) off of their refurbished site, and I was ecstatic to see that the three year warranty (with in-home service) was included.

      I’ve actually been a bit alarmed that I can’t extend the three year warranty on my MacBook Pro (which is up in January). I’ve been very happy with the computer (even though I’ve had a raft of hardware related problems), and since the new models don’t have a user-replaceable battery, I’m not all that excited to purchase a new one. (Here’s to hoping that Apple has made that amazing new battery replaceable by June of 2010.)

      I just extended the warranty on a different Dell mobile workstation (taking it to a total of five years) for $150 bucks. It gives me another year to put together the money for computer upgrades. I, frankly, don’t know how most of you do it. Upgrading my hardware more frequently than every five or six years just isn’t feasible for the finances. I tend to like to run my computers until they die.

  8. I got an aluminum MacBook just over two weeks before it was bumped up to a Pro. I will admit, I was a little disappointed. It does annoy me when I don’t have the most up-to-date gadgets (the iPhone 3GS for example, because of the 18 month contract/no upgrade saga), but considering the fact that I am fourteen and relying on pocket money and my dad, it’s not feasible for me to be upgrading every time something new is released.

    So I’ve got over it, and got on with it, and I love my MacBook.

    When I am going to upgrade? I am hoping to keep it for two years, before passing it on to my little brother, as he conveniently, will be starting high school at that time. I will be starting my first year of college – the perfect excuse to get the latest model.

    (I also hope to get the fourth gen iPhone next summer, when my contract is well and truly out)

  9. I plane to replace my Mac’s every 4-5 years. My current MacBook is getting close to being 3 years old, and I expect it to last me about another 2 years, subject to a major failure :)

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