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Why I Bought a Used MacBook Instead of a MacBook Air

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The new MacBook Air (s aapl) is guaranteed to be on many a Christmas list this year, and I’ve been dead set on getting one ever since it was announced. So how did I end up typing this on a four-year-old black MacBook that I bought on eBay(s ebay)?


I won this MacBook on eBay for $330, minus shipping. The starting price for the MacBook Air is $1000. Like many potential Mac buyers, I’m a full-time college student. Buying the MacBook saved me $670 that I can spend on other stuff, like tuition, or food, which helps me remain alive.


One of the biggest complaints I hear about the new MacBook Air is that you can’t upgrade it yourself. The battery can’t be removed and you can’t upgrade the memory or flash storage after purchase.

I can do all of that on my used MacBook. I’ve already ordered a 1GB stick of RAM, and I’m looking at getting a 40GB Intel SSD. Currently, it has a whopping 150GB, 512MB of RAM, and a speedy 2 GHz Core Duo (s intc) processor. Even if right now it’s not winning any speed races, when I put the extra RAM in and upgrade to an SSD, it should perform almost as well as a new MacBook Air.

And yes, those upgrades will drive the price up by about $100, but that’s far less than what I’d spend on an Air.


I’m not a graphic designer, or a computer gamer, nor do I do any kind of video work. I’m a writer, and writing doesn’t take much in the way of resources. My entire documents folder on my main machine takes up about 30 MBs of space. I used to write on a substandard Dell (s dell) with broken hinges, and I managed. It’s nice to have the latest tech, but it’s also worth taking a step back and evaluating whether it’s also necessary, given your usage habits.

What About the iPad?

I’ve been using my iPad to take notes in class for the last few weeks, and it’s been frustrating at times. I’m not fast enough on the virtual keyboard to take effective notes, and then it’s annoying to have to go back and correct all the typos I make. That said, I do love how light the iPad is and how easy it is to stow it away. But that doesn’t make up for its deficiencies. For all the good an iPad provides, it still doesn’t have the power or versatility of a Mac running OS X.


I won’t pretend I don’t still want the MacBook Air, or that I don’t drool over it when I pass by the Apple kiosk at Best Buy (s bby). But I’m also happy with my decision, since my Mac is doing exactly what I need it to do, and doing it well.

What do you think? Am I insane for using an older computer rather than getting the fastest and shiniest new thing? Or is choosing the right machine for your current habits a better policy than investing in the latest and greatest? Tell us in the comments.

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47 Responses to “Why I Bought a Used MacBook Instead of a MacBook Air”

  1. I bought a second hand MacBook yesterday for 400€! I am worried if I overpaid! Can u please tell me things I should check before it gets late! If it’s not a good bargain I can return it!

  2. While I think your decision works great for you, I went in the opposite direction. I bought my white 2.0 Ghz Core 2 Duo Macbook in 2006 and it served me well. When I sold it on eBay last month (for $649), the buyer got an almost as good as new computer, which is amazing considering the life of a computer these days. As a writer you don’t need the processing power that I need as a photographer and graphic artist. I had maxed it out on ram, a 320 GB hard drive, installed and included Leopard and even threw in a partition with Windows XP and a new (extra) battery. Since I only need a portable to monitor email when I’m out, my iPad (with the wireless keyboard) suffices. If all I wanted to do was write, the iPad would probably do it for me. Even at home, I only go to the desktop to use Quark or Photoshop. The rest of the time, I’m good with the iPad.

  3. Living within one’s means is a very good thing to do, so kudos to you!

    Regarding the iPad, I use Apple’s standard wireless keyboard, not the dock. I got it used for $40. I don’t find it a hassle to carry at all. However, I do find myself forgetting to bring it when I need it! That’s because I often don’t need it, so I’m not I the habit of carrying it with me all the time.

  4. Magerags

    It is a great choice economically, but I don’t about you, but when I buy something old, yes it works, but it doesn’t fill that need for something that just is so amazing to use. I find it hard to put it into words , but if you spent your life just buying what you needed, not what you wanted your life what be boring as hell, there would be no spark.

    BTW I writ this on my iPad and I didn’t have any problems with the virtual keyboard, but that might just be me

  5. Shock Me

    I say this is a good decision. Most univeristy work is still a text heavy enterprise. So now you have a device (the Black MacBook)that works well for text entry and a kick-back device (the iPad) for all the reading you will have to do.

    Not having a job, your most important task is to minimize debt where possible. If your purchase was in cash you don’t have to apologize or explain to anyone.

  6. Hamranhansenhansen

    Yes, you are insane.

    You’ll be lucky to get 1 year out of your $450 notebook. A new MacBook Air plus AppleCare is a guaranteed 3 years at only $416 per year.

    The battery in your MacBook is so old it is a fire hazard. The MacBook lacks the latest Mac OS and the latest iLife. It’s much, much slower than a new MacBook Air, and has half the memory even after your upgrade. A hard drive that is older than 3 years cannot be trusted at all.

    I sympathize that a student is on a tight budget, but that is why you need AppleCare. If a new MacBook Air with AppleCare fails in any way then Apple fixes it for $0 within a few days. If your MacBook fails within a month of finals are you going to have the cash for a new one within 3 days to get back up and running?

    A MacBook Air for $999 plus $250 AppleCare (which you can buy just before the end of the first year) is $1249 but you will get a guaranteed 3 years of use, which is $416 per year.

    • All the things you say could fail are things that are replaceable. I can always get a new hard drive or battery, so unless the thing explodes then I think I’ll be fine. Yeah, it’s a little risky, but I’ve seen laptops with Pentium I processors that still work fine.

  7. Pustoolio

    About the iPad. You said “But that doesn’t make up for its deficiencies. ” I think you mean “But that doesn’t make up for my deficiencies.” As i’ve seen plenty of others writing very quickly on the iPad.

  8. I’m a techie, so I did know when the iPad arrived that it was already “old” in the way that it not has a front camera and one could not read books on it easily. The iPhone 4 came out with the frontfacing camera and the retina display… two things I wanted. Bought it! If I just want to take notes in class or within a lecture I could have gone with a wireless keyboard. But since I’ve already got a Macbook which I maxed out, I don’t feel like it.

    But… the Macbook was too heavy. I love the portability of the new Macbook Air. I’m so glad that I didn’t bought an iPad and had money left to buy an Macbook Air since I’m a multi-tasker even in-class: Dictionaries, Mindmaps, etc. It’s all in the flow and I do not need to spend more time at home making a perfect course notebook, since I already got it.

    Anyways… I just don’t like that this article is all about justifiying a decision based on money. It’s not like you got that what you wanted.

  9. For similar reasons I bought a used iBook for less than $200. I didn’t want to continue to take my MacBook Pro everywhere, and my G4 is dead. My iBook is perfect. It runs Office 2008 and, unlike the Air, it can run programs such as Rosetta Stone which require a cd/dvd player, so it is a perfect bus-commuter companion. Yes, it is old and scratched and hardly trendy, but it does everything I require of a computer, which neither the Air nor the iPad can.

  10. Think about adding a Livescribe Pulse smartpen to your backpack of good efficient tools. I’ve had mine for 2 yrs and used it for lectures and notes (it records while you write). Download your notes and recordings right onto your computer system and you can share with others if needed. It’s useful because we still have to write so it’s a natural extension to recording information.

    Living within your means is where you are today, living in the “now” means you’ll be somewhere else tomorrow. It’s all good!

  11. You made a wise choice. Except for weight and battery life, a MacBook does everything a MBA does better and the few pounds of added weight are well worth that $600 savings. I’ve reasoned precisely the same, although as a writer, the fact the Scrivener runs on Macs but not iPads was also a major factor.

    For class notes, if you’re accurate and fast with thumb-typing, you might get one of the mini-Bluetooth keyboards that sell on eBay for $20 and up. Put the iPad on the desk in front of you and type with the keyboard held in your hands in your lap. It’d add almost no space or weight.

  12. Shawn coulter

    Hey “PD” you must be a complete moron not to see the point of this article and what it was about. Slow news day or not I thought it was something to think about. Your just sorta a idiot.

  13. I was wondering what this article was really about since it has no message or purpose, and then realized it true meaning: it’s a slow news day, let’s fill up space with useless tripe.

      • That’s a ridiculous (and childish) statement, Alex. If you go to a movie, how do you know it’s going to suck or not unless you sit through it? If you walk out in the first ten minutes, you don’t know whether it was worth your time or not. Same when reading an article. But, if you’d like me to take your advice, I’ll refrain in the future from reading any article with your name on it, on the assumption that it will be some lame personal opinion about pretty much nothing. What’s next? What you chose for lunch today, and why?

    • I don’t understand people that just complain to complain. This person knocks the article because of a “slow news day”, but not only read the “slow news day” article, but then negatively commented on it.

      And no message??? The message seemed loud and clear to me. If you don’t need the latest and greatest that Apple offers, even though you’d really like to have it, don’t waste the money and go for the cheaper alternative. I would have to fully agree. I would LOVE the new Macbook Air. I have a 2008 MBP and still love it and will keep loving it until I can afford a new MBP or MBA.

  14. Your BlackBook is about 5 years old. Is it under warranty? If it breaks down, then you are out $330. The one advantage of buying new is you get the warranty. Besides, as a student, you can get a good discount from Apple, or your school.

    You have already spent $500 for the iPad and $330 for the MacBook, and $100 for the upgrades, or a total of $930. For $20 more, or $950, you can get the basic 11″ MacBook Air from many online retailers.

  15. I don’t think you’re insane for buying what you could afford. After you graduate and leave your (presumably) left-leaning ideals behind, you’ll start to make money. With money, your perceptions of what is a good “value” will change.

    I graduated University – I know what it’s like to live on a shoe-string budget.

    I promised myself that when I finally had money from working, I would never bother myself over the price on the menu of delicious-looking food. Yes, I can get a hamburger for $1. I can also pay $10 dollars and get a much better tasting hamburger in a more pleasing environment.

    The same is true for the computer. Yes, you can get a Macbook (or any other computer) for less money. But when you start making 40, 50, 60 thousand a year, and before you have a wife and kids, you’re not going to think $1000 is a lot for a new Macbook Air.

    You get to $100k a year or more, and it’s not even worth looking at the price tag of the machine you want. It’s what you want – you work hard – you earned it. If it’s the top-of-the-line 13″ air with 256 GB of hard-wired flash goodness, so what?

    So no – you’re not crazy. You’re just at a point in your life where the budget guides your decisions. Work hard enough, for long enough, and you’ll move beyond that.

  16. Kudos to you Alex! Getting the right machine for your purposes is totally the way to go. I do agree with @Dave though. The keyboard dock might have served your note taking purposes in class for a mere $69 instead of the $330 you ended up spending on your Macbook. Unless of course, you needed something new to sync that iPad of yours with? ;-)

  17. I believe you made the right decision. There truly is something to be said for buying something according to need and not putting yourself in debt or tossing money away for something new and flashy when something else will perform the job just as admirably. And honestly, until Apple can put a newer processor in the 13.3″ line, I’m not buying a new notebook. I hope the MacBook serves you well.

    • I am with you on the Core 2 Duo issue. Apple does not want it this way and when Intel and NVIDIA settle their lawsuits we should be able to have newer processor/video card combinations that support OpenCL and do not have to be on slower Intel motherboards. I am drooling over the MacBook Air too but I am holding out for something better in 2011. I want to put my early 2008 MacBook Pro into server duty.

  18. I’m still working on a 5-year-old G4 Powerbook with a titanium body. It’s pretty beat up and I can’t go any further on OS upgrades, but I’ve had three people offer me my purchase price because it make a good diagnostic computer. If you keep it in good shape, there is no reason you can’t make a mac las for some time

  19. what you’re really missing is the performance from the upgraded integrated circuitry. Better integrated graphics, faster FSB, faster and more efficient processor (even at the same
    GHz, you notice a difference.

    Your arguments for the cost savings are warranted, but if money is really a crucial concern, you shouldn’t care about the ssd. 2GB of ram a must though IMO, (dirt cheap:

    • champs794

      If simplicity was the point, then it seems like carrying around a separate dock defeats the purpose. Doing it well with a decent case and that keyboard gets you at least halfway to what he paid for the MacBook.

      • carting a separate keyboard around does seem likea hassle, but you can buy a case with a built in keyboard, if you have $99 to spare. Personally, I am quite happy with the built in keyboard. I have the Apple BT keyboard for when my Macbook is connected to a monitor in my office and have used it a couple of times with the iPad, but it kind defeats the purpose of the iPad.

    • This is very much what Merlin Mann would call a first-world problem, but the iPad plus keyboard combination is great in principal, but it’s difficult to decide exactly how to do it. The keyboard dock is nice, but you always have the problem of the dock bit sticking out and maybe breaking (though it seems pretty sturdy). A wireless keyboard is nice, but then you need a separate stand. A case with a keyboard built in is nice, but a bit expensive, and do you get a second case for when you don’t need the keyboard? And after all of that, if you occasionally need to do something that the iPad can’t handle, you may need to buy a laptop anyway.