What To Do With An Old Mac (Part 1)

2/8/2013 3:53:17 PM

Getting a new Mac is a wonderful experience.

The pristine packaging. The smell of freshly milled aluminum.You know every penny spent has been worthwhile.

But now what do you do with the old one?

It’s no secret that Macs retain their value better than most computers. Not only do their simple, stylish designs age less quickly, but Apple’s attention to build quality means even very old Macs feel sturdy, and the lack of ‘budget’ options in the range means their specifications won’t soon age. This means you have two good options when replacing a machine: you can eke more life out of it in a new role, or get back a decent proportion of your investment on the used market.

What To Do With An Old Mac

What to do with an old Mac

Of course, it’s easy to decide you’re going to sell your Mac, but a little more complicated to actually do it, preferably without selling yourself short, spending months waiting for a buyer, getting stung by time wasters and scammers, or handing over your most private files to the new owner. Although it’s easy to list an item on eBay, a bit of extra effort will maximize the returns and minimize the hassle.

There are right and wrong ways to list items for sale, and following a simple process will help to ensure potential buyers feel more comfortable bidding and bidding a little bit more while weeding out those who plan to take advantage of the service’s loopholes to rip you off.

Once you do have a buyer, it’s also vital to ensure your bank details, logins, family photos, work files and emails are removed completely from the Mac before you ship it out by securely erasing the hard disk.

We’ll take you through all of these steps, but the very first is to work out whether selling your Mac is going to be worth your while. Fairly recent machines can fetch very decent prices, as we’ll see. But a 2001 ‘Dalmatian’ iMac, for example, despite being a unique product of its era, will be of largely academic interest now until its components notably the bulky CRT screen inevitably pack up, and is unlikely to go for more than a tenner.

Even the more popular vintage designs, such as 1990s PowerBooks and the G4 Cube, will only sell for three figures if they’re in near mint condition, ideally with the original packaging.

In general, anything pre-Intel is going to be hard to shift to someone who wants a Mac to use, rather than to add to their personal museum. An early Intel Mac (the transition from PowerPC began in 2006) should still be quite usable, ideally upgraded to OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard or if possible 10.7 Lion, but it won’t sell for a substantial part of the cost of a new system, so you might be better off making use of it yourself. A Mac that you bought in the last couple of years, especially if it wasn’t bottom-of-the-range, should be well worth putting up for sale.

How do you know what your Mac should sell for? If it’s recent from 2010 onwards - one way to establish a maximum price is to look in the refurb and clearance section of the Apple Store ( com/uk/browse/home/spedaldeals/mac) for a similar spec. There’s a regular turnover of stock here, so if buyers are prepared to pay Apple’s price, they won’t be looking elsewhere. Knock off at least another 15% for a realistic target.

eBay is, inevitably, where the largest volume of sales takes place. Go to (or whatever your local domain is) and search for the appropriate model in the Computers category, without being overly specific. You can then refine your search if necessary using the options that appear halfway down the left column. But don’t waste your time scrolling through all the results yet, because there’s no way of knowing what the closing prices of the current listings will be; a machine that has no bids higher than $39.5 a few hours before the end of its listing might end up at $788.5 or more as buyers race to the finish.

Browsing eBay will give you a good idea of how much you might get for your Mac and what kind of pictures are likely to catch potential buyers’ eyes.

Advantage Browsing eBay will give you a good idea of how much you might get for your Mac and what kind of pictures are likely to catch potential buyers’ eyes.

Instead, make sure you’re logged in (create an account if necessary), then, with search results displayed, scroll down and click ‘More refinements’ in the left column. At the bottom of the list of options that appears, click ‘Show only’, then tick ‘Completed listings’. Click Go and you’re now seeing all the auctions that have recently completed, with the price that was actually paid for the item, if it sold. Browse through a few results for the kind of spec you’re selling, and you should get a good idea of what’s realistic.

Having decided the likely cash return is worth the legwork, you’ll need to make sure you have all your personal and work files, folders, photos and other stuff backed up and ready to move to your next Mac. The simplest method is to use Time Machine to create a backup for you. If you use Time Machine as a matter of course to keep a backup, you’re already sorted; just click the Time Machine icon at the top right of the screen to check the last backup is up to date. If you haven’t had Time Machine running, all you need is an external hard disk that’s the same size as or larger than the one in your Mac (you can get away with smaller if the drive isn’t full) and a cable to connect it. You could borrow a drive just for the transfer, but frankly you’re crazy if you’re not keeping backed up with Time Machine, which takes no effort at all, and it’ s well worth investing in a drive purely for this purpose. Aim for one with the fastest interface your Mac supports; Thunderbolt drives are still rather pricey, though, so USB 3 is a good alternative with a recent Mac (only the very latest support it), or FireWire 800 with an older one. USB 2 will work, but you’ll wait longer for your backup.

Time Machine

All In one Time Machine makes it easy to keep a backup from which you can restore individual files or your whole system at any time

With the hard drive attached, all you need to do is launch Time Machine from Apple menu > System Preferences and click Select Disk to start a new backup. The more data you have, the longer the process will take, and you’ll need to allow hours for a big drive, but you can get on with other work at the same time. Once the backup is finished, you’ll have a perfect copy of your files, apps and settings ready to restore to your shiny new Mac.

How can you be sure your backup is OK? If you’re using a network attached disk - one that’s connected over Wi-Fi or Ethernet, including Apple’s Time Capsule you can Alt-click the Time Machine menu bar icon and choose Verify Backups. This is no more than a simple check to ensure the data exists, however, not to identify if it may be corrupted in some subtle way. You could use software such as TechTool Pro to check the digital and physical integrity of your backup disk. But you’ll only really be sure your backup is complete and free of errors after you successfully restore it to another Mac.

Time Machine backup

Multiple choice If you don’t already have a Time Machine backup, you can create one now. If you have spare drives available, you can even set it to back up to more than one at the same time

Do remember that it screwing up this process could leave you bereft of your digital life. A potential pitfall is that what you’re thinking of as a backup is only a backup as long as you still have the original. If you’re planning to erase your old Mac before copying everything off your backup onto a new one, you should backup the backup (one way to do this is to select more than one disk in Time Machine). Better to get your new machine ready beforehand and restore your backup to it while the old one is still there with all your data intact.

Nowadays there are plenty of belts you can add to your braces to avoid losing data even if Time Machine lets you down. Tools like SuperDuper or Carbon Copy Cloner will make an exact copy of a hard disk. Compared to Time Machine, using these third-party backup utilities is a bit more involved, but both are free and have proved incredibly reliable over the years. Essentially, the process for making a one-off backup is the same as with Time Machine: plug in an empty hard disk and leave the backup to run its course.

With the rise of online storage, or ‘the cloud’ as we now have to call it, there are further alternatives for backing up your Mac. You could use a service like CrashPlan to make a full or partial backup of your system to a remote server. The downside of an offsite backup is that it’ll take ages (likely days rather than hours) even on a fast broadband connection, and your connection will need to be unlimited. Again, if this is something you’re already doing as a matter of course topping up the backup with changed files is much quicker than making the initial upload - you’re already sorted, as long as the offsite backup is OK.

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