What To Do With An Old Mac (Part 4)

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2/8/2013 3:53:26 PM

Liquids are one of the worst things for any Apple product, so keep them well away. Don’t get moisture into any openings, and don’t use aerosol sprays, solvents or abrasives. If you do buy appropriate cleaning fluids that are mild and specifically designed for the job, don’t spray them directly onto the product but onto your cloth. Don’t be tempted to use your vacuum cleaner to suck dust out of nooks and crannies, because this can cause a build-up of static electricity that could fry the insides; those cans of compressed air that camera shops sell are better to gently blast the dust out. Try not to blow dust bunnies into vents, though.

Be prepared to figure out how to ship your Mac to its new owner. Ads saying ‘Collection only’ or ‘Can deliver in Ipswich area’ are really not for the 21st Century. eBay has a deal with Parcel force where you can organize, pay and print shipping labels directly from your account, so that takes the hassle out of booking a courier, but you can also check prices with others: we found eBay’s deal was reasonable but not necessarily the cheapest. If you do get a local buyer, you might find it simpler to meet up to exchange your Mac for their cash, but... well, we’re not trying to imply that you’re likely to get mugged, but it has happened. Choose somewhere in public that you’re comfortable with, or just stick to couriers.

The whole exercise isn’t quite finished when you’ve received the money and your buyer has received the goods. There’s still the possibility of the buyer being unhappy with the Mac. If you took care to describe it accurately, that shouldn’t happen another reason to be as thorough and honest as possible about the specification and condition of the machine.

Unfortunately, no matter how diligent you are, it’s still possible to fall victim to a chargeback scam. Here the transaction appears to be proceeding normally; you receive payment via eBay and post off the goods to the buyer. The buyer then tells the payment company PayPal or their credit card issuer that the goods received were not as described. The money is taken back from your account, the buyer doesn’t return the goods, and you’re left with no Mac and no money. It’s left to you to prove your description was accurate, the goods were as stated and you acted in good faith. A number of cases have shown that neither eBay nor PayPal are always good at responding in these situations, so you may have to persevere to get it sorted out. There’s not very much you can do to prevent it happening, either, except to be scrupulous in your listings and vigilant for warning signs around your buyers.

A number of cases have shown that neither eBay nor PayPal are always good at responding in these situations, so you may have to persevere to get it sorted out.

A number of cases have shown that neither eBay nor PayPal are always good at responding in these situations, so you may have to persevere to get it sorted out.

If things go wrong and you end up in dispute with a genuine buyer, rather than a disappearing one, do use the services offered by eBay and other sites to resolve issues. They may be very slow, but they can work. Try to keep communications cordial at all times, even if the other party doesn’t, because once you stray away from that it’s less likely you’ll get a positive outcome.

If selling on eBay seems like too much hassle, or the search results don’t fill you with confidence that you’ll get a decent price, there are other avenues. The market in buying up used Macs is limited, but

a number of companies will give you an instant quote to take your machine off your hands. Those that deal in a wide range of gadgets tend to offer disappointing prices for recent models, and it may be tricky to get a precise quote online because their systems aren’t set up with an intimate understanding of Apple’s product ranges.

Specialist sites such as, operated by refurb and spares company The Bookyard Ltd, are worth a go, and if your Mac isn’t in mint condition you can say so and get an appropriate quote. As long as you describe your kit accurately, waiting in for a courier to pick it up should be the only hassle, with payment promised within a couple of days. Dealing with an established commercial outfit rather than a private buyer takes out some of the worry.

Alternatively, you may have a local Mac dealer who’ll take used items for cash, in part exchange or on a commission sale basis. Or you could look for a private buyer through your local newspaper’s classified ads or on a national site such as Gumtree. CeX (originally Computer Exchange) will buy or part exchange almost any working Mac: go to for a quick quote, or drop into a store if you have one nearby. Whichever approach you try, do a bit of online research first so you have an idea of whether whatever you’re quoted sounds like a good deal or not. With selling as with buying, it can pay to shop around.

What if your Mac is too old to be of any real value? Well, someone else may not want to pay good money for it, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t useful to you, or another member of your household. Without resorting to the fish tank or novelty coffee table options (although instructions for both are available around the web), you may well be able to find a productive niche for your outgoing kit.

Kids are obvious recipients of hand me downs, but distressingly picky. Any Mac that can be updated at least to Snow Leopard, enabling it to access the App Store and sync current iOS devices, should be a win. Remember Apple does tend to leave past Macs behind somewhat ruthlessly when it comes to software updates and OS compatibility, although of course that doesn’t mean they’ll stop running the versions they already have.

For example, Mountain Lion did away with support for quite a few machines: get the list of those still permitted at Even if your Mac is compatible, some of the new features may not work.

You may need to put more thought into passing on an older machine, and manage expectations to avoid frustration both for the recipient and for yourself, as honorary tech support supremo. But anything that can run a reasonably modern web browser and an old copy of Microsoft Office (or the iWork apps, although they’ll be less familiar to kids with typical Windows-oriented school IT provision) should be a lot better than nothing. Don’t be complacent about removing your personal information from the system before relinquishing it, though, even if it’s staying in the same house.

The capabilities of an old Mac, or even quite a recent one, can often be taken up a notch or two at little expense with a RAM upgrade or a bigger hard disk - the latter a rather fiddly job, but in most cases the work of a few minutes for your local Apple repair person. If you’re replacing a screen-less Mac such as the mini with another, you could either pass on the monitor as well or keep it and provide the lucky recipient with one of the very decent big-screen LCDs now available for under $315 (see recent issues for reviews, or try

On the other hand, you may not need a screen. An old Mac can be set up as an iTunes server with or without one (well, with, while you’re setting it up, then without). Connect it to you r network, copy your iTunes library onto it-you can do this with Migration Assistant, or via Home Sharing, as explained at kb/HT4527 then turn on Home Sharing on this and your other Macs and iOS devices and you can play your media from any of them without burdening your main Mac. Remember to adjust System Preferences > Energy Saver so the Mac stays on (you can schedule it to turn off for a part of each day when you’d never use it) and restarts automatically in the event of a power cut, and add iTunes to the default user’s Login Items in System Preferences > Users & Groups so it’ll re-launch if there’s an unexpected restart.

Alternatively, as we explained last year (MacUser, 27 April 2012, p44) you could install a third-party DLN A server app such as Twonky Media Server ( to stream to a smart TV, internet radio or standalone DLNA box.

Twonky Media Server

A Mac mini will plug straight into an HDTV via HDMI, so you could simply use it as a set-top box for iTunes and internet content. Or if it’s an iMac that you’ve replaced, why not simply use it as a flat-screen TV for a study or bedroom? It’ll play DVDs as well as iTunes purchases, YouTube and so on. You could even add a Freeview TV tuner, available for both aerials and dishes from makers such as Elgato.

If you really can’t find a use or a buyer for your Mac, Googling ‘donate computer to charity’ should find you someone who’ll take it for a good cause (though some companies advertising this look a bit Scammy); your local council may also know of organizations who want computers. Schools tend to be tied into IT schemes that don’t fit donations, but it’s worth asking.

Finally, Apple will take your Mac, iPhone, iPad or iPod back for recycling, and might even give you cash for it: our 2008 Mac Pro in good condition was worth an impressive $630.66. If there’s no cash value, collection is still free. See for details and an instant quote.