Blog Post

How Long Do You Expect Your Macs to Last?


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 (s aapl) 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?

69 Responses to “How Long Do You Expect Your Macs to Last?”

  1. spoppers

    Let me count the Macs. I have an original G3, 266 that I have to fire up now and again to run something in OS8.6 or OS9.2. In those days we partitioned drives and this one can really reach into the past (my early days as a graphic designer.) I just retired my G4 mirror machine from my office- fully loaded with hard drives – the original 80GB, a 160GB, a 250GB and a new 500GB to hold all my music and photos – it is now being used as a server. I only retired it because of RAM limitations- just couldn’t run as many apps open as I need, including Illustrator and Photoshop, MYOB, Safari, Mail, Address book, etc. It is a true workhorse.
    I had a G5 imac that I sold to my sister, last year – doing great for her needs, a G4 ibook, I sold to a friend 2 1/2 years ago – he still uses it everyday for email and the internet.
    The replacement for it was the 15″ MacBook pro I am typing this on. It has a new 500GB hard drive, the third one – all still work, just need more storage.
    And last but not least, I have a new 24″ iMac in my office with a second
    22″ monitor hooked-up to it. It’s great. I have Parallels with Windows XP
    running on the second monitor (have-to-have it to run explorer based database for my business) and it is happily(and speedily) running all the apps the G4 RAM was choking on.
    How long will it last? I’ll probably use it at least four years – the G4 was my primary office machine for 6 years!
    I’ll want a new laptop – probably next year. And yes, I’ll easily be able to sell this laptop to a friend – at a good price.
    Am I happy with my Macs? You bet

  2. j o h n n y

    i had a quad G5 for less than a year bc mac went intel and i was so scared that all the apps will go intel too so i got me the mac pro and boy am i glad!!! i do get the weird feeling to have when an upgrade comes out, the products are so amazing!!

  3. gingermeggs

    I used to buy a new laptop every 12 months without fail (I was on a PC) – mainly because either anti-virus or general clunky software meant it was clogged, fubar or both. The hardware was also shabby, and cheap. Roughly $1500 was spent.

    I shelled out $4900 in 2005 for a top of the range PC laptop hoping it would last longer, as it was better quality with more impressive components… FAIL.

    Within a year it had completely died, right in the middle of the busiest period of my year.

    Within the hour, I had ordered a MacBook Pro (17″) online, delivered the next day. This was 2006.

    It’s now halfway through 2009, and I have used this laptop for over 18 hours a day, every day, for four years. It hums along just as it did the day I bought it.

    The last time I invested in anything to do with Microsoft was when I purchased an XBox 360… It got the red ring of death within months.

    Microsoft can rot in hell. My Mac is unreal.

  4. I drag out my Performa 550 ever so often to reassure myself that I am following the right path and it cranks up every time……I still cannot believe it.
    But ues it ddoes and it makes me feel so good!

  5. Applejacks

    I have had my PowerBook G4 12″ 867 for over six years. Yes, it will be a sad day when Snow Leopard comes out. However, I should be OK as I don’t have need for it. I can do just about anything I need to. Yes, Videos run a little slow but Office runs well and HTML 5.0 video runs quite OK. Most of my friends have replaced their laptops once if not twice in that course of time. I plan on keeping it for at least another year or so.

  6. I have been buying a new mac every year in the past three years. The first is a 15″ MBP, the second is a MBA, and the last one is a mac mini. Unlike other people, I keep the old machines around. I just put them in different locations of my house. The MBA goes with me on the road, the MBP sits in the kitchen, and the mini sits in the office. I use mobile me to synch these computers. The convenience of having a mac in almost every room is fantastic.

  7. I have a 13 Al MacBook (before it went pro) and still love it. My other computer is a 20″ intel iMac (first intel model) connected to a 23″ Cinema Display (the polycarbonate model not the Al model) running Tiger. I use my iMac for most of my work. Sure there are newer models but I can’t see myself getting a new model just for the sake of getting a new model.

    My wife has a 24″ iMac with a 20″ LCD external monitor. As a laptop she uses a 15″ PowerBook G4.

    So we both have newer and older models of Macs and are happy with them. Most of our Macs last 3-5 years before we replace them.

  8. I update my MBP every three years. At that point I still get a solid upgrade from my previous model and I’m always within warranty. I expect that the computer will last twice as long and sell it for cheap on eBay.

  9. I have historically kept my computers 4-5 years, PC or Mac. Of course, after year 2, I typically increase the HDD, add memory and add a few components. I’m not a museeum either – I’ve resold every computer I ever owned as they were in good working conditions…. the few hundred dollars are put toward the next purchase, like some have mentioned.

  10. I bought 17″ iMac in 2006. It’s the one with Intel Core 2 Duo (which is 64 bit). When I bought it, Tiger came with it. When I installed Leopard, it even became faster. I upgraded the memory to 2 gigs and it seems almost as fast as my Macbook Pro 2,4 Ghz in most aspects.
    I see a great value in Macs. So what if it’s 3 years old? After I install Snow Leopard to it, I expect to see even some increase in the performance.
    Then, I don’t consider the iMac as a gaming rig although Quake 4 does run very fine with it. Perhaps, if you are a gamer, it might be that the video card starts to show some limitations in latest games.
    But myself, I expect to use this cute, small footprint device as my “digital hub” for many years to come, probably at least three more years. Why not? It runs all iLife Apps without a problem and even most of the pro software like Logic Studio.
    I think Macs have great lifespan and considering how hassle-free they are and how great OS they have, I just can’t even think about going back to PC’s.

  11. Michael Burns

    My daughter is still using my old PB G4 15″ after 6+ years. My wife is still using her 20″ G5 iMac after 5 years and I’m still happy with my 15″ core duo MBpro after 39 months.

  12. scottybeats

    I’ve got a compaq presario that has lasted 9 years with no upgrading or real problems. just sayin, but as soon as snow leopard hits the shelves, that pc is taking a long walk off a short peir. I expect the mac to last just as long.

  13. My MBP 15″ is about 3 years old, and is on its last legs. I’m probably a month or two away from having to replace it (undecided if I’m going to go with the 15″ or the 13″ MBP).

    Interestingly, I’ve got a Dell Inspiron that’s 4 years old, which is still running strong. Windows 7 is surprisingly peppy.

    I suppose that shouldn’t be a surprise, considering everybody uses the same components these days.

  14. About once every 4-5 years. I bought my first iBook in 2000, then a 12″ PowerBook in 2005 and a new 13″ Unibody MacBook in January of this year. Unfortunately neither the iBook nor the PowerBook work anymore, which is why I was forced to replace them.

  15. I have a late 2006 macbook 2.0ghz core duo running Leopard. I have spent a little money upgrading the hard drive (7200rpm 200gb) and ram to 2gb a couple years back. I’m right around the 3 year mark now. It still works pretty well, no major problems other than some slow down here and there. I mainly do music composing, recording and editing in logic and garageband, basic web development in dreamweaver and photoshop, heavy web browsing and web apps, some hd video editing. In some of these applications, I can really see it chugging. I’ve already done 2 clean installs, but I think the benefit of that is fading. I’m really tempted by the new macbook pros. Do you think I would see a tangible benefit in terms of productivity by upgrading to the new macbook pros when snow leopard comes out? How long could I manage with my current macbook with the snow leopard upgrade…? Any thoughts? Thanks!

  16. It’s not exactly a Mac, but I do own an Apple LaserWriter Select 360 that I purchased new in 1995 for $1350… It is still my primary B&W printer and all our Macs can use it via Airport thanks to an AsanteTalk Ethernet adapter.

    OEM toner carts disappeared a couple of years ago but the generic carts work just fine.

  17. 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 :)

  18. Meghann

    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)

  19. 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!

    • 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.

  20. 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).

    • 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)/

  21. FabricofChaos

    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.

  22. ultim8macfan

    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.

  23. iMacUlate

    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.

  24. Adam Jackson

    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.

    • Bruce Mitchell

      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!

  25. Ayedoubleyou

    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!)