What To Do With An Old Mac (Part 3)

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Since that hasn’t always been the case, there are further options matching US government standards: the third level, a three pass secure erase, overwrites the data three times, and the fourth level, DOD 5220, seven times. Research has shown that the latter, as well as being slow, can actually be less effective than the former, so three pass secure erase is probably the way to go if you must.

Although a picture may sometimes be worth a thousand words, that’s not the case with computer auctions. Just looking at the outside won’t distinguish a base model from a fully loaded Mac that might be worth nearly twice the price or in some cases a 2011 model from a 2010, and so on. You’ll need to be precise.

iMac 27-inch Late 2011

iMac 27-inch Late 2011

To get an accurate and comprehensive description of your Mac, use the About This Mac option on the Apple menu. Click on More info for a summary of the key specs, then System Report for a much more detailed spec list (this varies in earlier versions of OS X). You can go to File > Print and use the Save as PDF option to get a copy of all the info, but be warned that the system report this generated for one of our Mac Pros was 382 pages long. Information like printer driver versions really isn’t relevant, so be selective in what you use for your listing, but if you mention that you can supply the full specifications as a PDF on request should put prospective buyers’ minds at rest if they have a very specific requirement. Most important are the exact model name (eg ‘iMac 27-inch Late 2011’), processor, RAM, graphics card and video memory size, and hard disk size and speed (eg ‘7200rpm’). Obviously, it’s a good start if you include all the information you’d want before you bought a Mac, but other buyers may be even pickier than you.

Having said you can’t rely on a picture to explain what you’re selling, a good picture will definitely help. The vital rule here is that you must take your own picture of the actual Mac you’re selling. Showing a vaguely similar machine in a photo you found through Google Images will just make you look like a scammer (as well as risking the wrath of the copyright owner). Using more pictures on eBay increases the cost of the auction, but it can help shift the goods; get your money’s worth by making every picture a good one. Take pictures of all the bits and pieces you intend to supply, and if there are any marks or dings on anything, be honest about them and show close-ups. Buyers will accept that a secondhand machine may not be perfect as long as they know what they’re getting.

Leaving a load of clutter in the background of your eBay pictures is a classic way to make your sleek Jony Ive masterpiece look like it came from a pound shop, so clear up and shoot it on a blank background, maybe a white bed sheet, or an attractive surface, such as a wooden floor or table. Manage the lighting as best you can to get a pleasant effect - no noisy shots under a dim tungsten bulb. eBay buyers won’t be expecting professional photography, but a bit of effort will avoid detracting from your kit.

Overkill Don’t pick the maximum security setting. It’ll take ages to overwrite the data seven times, and it’s not even clear that this makes it harder to retrieve. One of the middle options is fine

It’s by no means essential, but if you’re thinking about selling off a fair amount of stuff over time, consider a tool like iSale (about $30, from, which lets you quickly create new auctions and use templates for better page designs.

It’s not unusual for eBay auctions to get plenty of attention and questions. Even if people ask daft questions that are already covered by the information listed, try to answer promptly and with good grace. It can be difficult to sort the timewasters from the real buyers, but if you answer every question fully the real buyers will be more at ease.

There are some other things you can do to help increase the final price you get for your Mac. They may sound trivial, but every little helps.

Collect together as much of the original packaging and the supplied cables, discs and so on as you can put your hands on. Don’t be tempted to hang on to things like OS X install discs - they won’t work in other Mac models anyway, and selling software along with hardware while keeping the original discs puts you on the wrong side of the law. It’s not as if the Apple police are likely to break your door down in the search for one DVD that’s infringing a EULA, but a disgruntled buyer could call you out on it in feedback or even report you to FAST. The new owner should know to check that they’re getting the original media (and thus the license) for any software they receive, including operating systems, and will reasonably want it for their own convenience.

If you don’t have the Mac’s original packaging, consider buying a matching box on eBay before listing it for sale. This sounds quite ridiculous, but if you’re able to sell the Mac as boxed you’ll get more for it. Boxes for all sorts of Macs appear on eBay all the time, and if you spend a few pounds on one that looks in good condition, and include it in the description and pictures, it’ll push the value up.

One tip that’s often overlooked is that giving your Mac a good clean on the outside will make it look more desirable. Visible fingerprints on an iMac screen or marks on a MacBook case may not materially affect the product, but they’ll definitely affect how much a potential buyer wants it. Even after you’ve got your sale, the cleaner the Mac arrives the better the rating and feedback you’re likely to get from the buyer, and on sites like eBay this publicly visible goodwill can make a big difference when you’re selling other things in the future. Pay particular attention to the keyboard and mouse, which can get really grubby without you noticing, and check around the Mac’s fan outlets for accumulated dust. If you smoke, nicotine will have stained surfaces like the shiny white plastics on older Macs, so it’s worth a clean-up.

Amazingly, Apple has a support document specifically on how to clean all of its products ( HT3226). Predictably, it advises that you use only a soft lint-free cloth, because abrasive cloths, towels, kitchen roll and similar items could damage the product’s finish. For your own protection as much as the Mac’s, you’re advised to disconnect it from the mains before cleaning, and unplug any external devices and other cabling.

Select your system

Experts will tell you the only way to absolutely guarantee nothing stored on your hard disk can ever be retrieved again is by boring holes through it with an 8mm diamond-tipped drill, smashing it to pieces with a lump hammer, degaussing the pieces and then dropping the remains in the Mariana Trench. Or something. So it’s probably better just not to ask. It’s far from clear what type of person would be randomly buying computers on eBay to spend days trying to recover data from anyway.

Having erased the drive, you’ll need to re-install OS X ready for the next user. This will take a few minutes, but not ages. When you get to the point where Setup Assistant starts and displays the Welcome screen, hold the power button until it shuts down. When the buyer starts it up for the first time, it’ll be as if they’ve just taken a brand new Mac out of the box.

OS X’s Disk Utility

Seek and destroy OS X’s Disk Utility is all you need to reformat your Mac’s hard disk ready for a new home

Once you’ve backed up your Mac and securely erased it, you’re ready to sell it on to the next grateful owner. Many of the tips from here on also apply to selling other kit, including iPhones and iPads. Whether you use eBay or another sales channel, when putting a Mac up for private sale there are some basic rules you should always follow. The first is to provide an accurate description, because without that nobody will know quite what you’re selling. At best, that means they won’t want to bid for it (some buyers will email you with questions if they’re unsure, but others will just go and look at something else), and at worst it could mean you get a complaint when the machine arrives and isn’t exactly what the buyer was expecting.