A Ready to Upgrade Your Mac Rant

August 22nd, 2013

In the old days, when I was young and foolish, I’d upgrade my desktop Mac every two years. Foolish? Well, it’s a sure thing that there was probably a healthy performance boost, not to mention a larger hard drive. Since I could get a decent return on selling my old Mac, the net cost wasn’t so high.

I fared even better back in 2009, though, when I acquired a 27-inch iMac, souped up with a few items selected on Apple’s Customize list. I bought the entire package, with an extra FireWire 800 backup drive, for less than $2,500, delivered. This was a fast decision; I had purchased a 2008 Mac Pro, with just a few options, when it first came out, and I was able to sell that huge box, along with a 30-inch Dell display, for $3,000. So I actually ended up ahead for once.

Segue to the summer of 2013. I still have that iMac, and it’s fast enough I suppose, though I have halfheartedly considered replacing the internal 1TB drive with a solid state version. Even if I wanted to go through the drudgery of opening the case for that exercise, the drive and upgrading from 8GB to 16GB RAM, would still cost upwards of $1,000. Would that be worth it for what would clearly be a noticeable performance boost? Maybe.

Another oh-so-obvious solution would be to await the arrival of a 2013 iMac, which will probably happen in October or thereabouts. I assume it’ll be faster than the 2012 model by 10-15% or so, and maybe Apple will find a way to reduce the upfront cost of going all solid state. If not, a Fusion drive (combining solid state and mechanical drives) seems just the ticket, and perhaps what I get for the older computer will cover half of the purchase price, or maybe a little less.

Other than the financial considerations, I am not as eager to upgrade a Mac as often as in the past. For one thing, the performance boosts year-over-year are no longer as substantial. There’s more of an emphasis on power efficiency, which doesn’t mean a whole lot on a desktop computer. Maybe Intel is hitting a wall, although their integrated graphics have improved considerably, making discrete graphics a less compelling option.

Overall, it does appear that people are upgrading less often, and when they do, they are apt to buy tablets rather than traditional personal computers. Certainly PC makers have seen falling sales. Mac sales aren’t immune, not that Apple has made huge strides in Mac refreshes in recent years. Yes, the MacBook Air has the “all day battery,” and the looks of the iMac were spruced up last winter, although you have to look at the thing from the side to notice much difference. The forthcoming 2013 Mac Pro is a huge sea change, but one that will only impact a small number of potential customers.

What this means is that the incentive to buy a new Mac is no longer as compelling. If published reports about the developer releases of OS X Mavericks hold true, and I see no reason for things to suddenly change, pretty much every Mac than can run OS 10.8 Mountain Lion will be upgradeable. That covers Macs from four to six years old, and if they are still working productively and efficiently, why replace the old box?

The days where a new Mac was a must have are gone. It is surely the twilight of the PC era, and if you think Mac advancement has slowed, take a gander at the Windows platform. The only real differences are tablets that very few want to buy. Windows 8 has done nothing to convince customers to upgrade; in fact, it may have convinced customers that they can survive quite nicely, thank you, with their current PC and Windows 7.

Sure, if Macs sales are no longer increasing by huge degrees, it doesn’t matter so much. Apple continues to invest in the platform, and OS X Mavericks, though it doesn’t appear so different, has loads of improvements that actually make Macs run better, and Finder tabs and other enhancements should make you more productive. If installing the OS is as smooth as usual, the incentive for you to buy a new Mac is lessened. Your existing machine will continue to work, and may even be a tad faster and, if a note-book, more efficient at using battery life after Mavericks is installed. How can you miss?

So when OS X Mavericks is released, I fully expect to download a copy the first day. Assuming no deal breakers, I’ll install it right away as well. The chatter from those with prerelease versions is that OS 10.9 is running remarkably well even ahead of the final release.

When the next iMac comes out, I’ll look at my checkbook and credit card balances and see whether upgrading makes sense. But if my current iMac continues to do what I need it to do, maybe I’ll just save my money.

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8 Responses to “A Ready to Upgrade Your Mac Rant”

  1. jim menzies says:

    But when you eventually have to buy again it will be a mac as you will by then have had 5 years + of usage something i never managed in my PC user days!

  2. Articles you should read (Aug. 22) …. says:

    […] “A Ready to Upgrade Your Mac Rant: In the old days, when I was young and foolish, I’d upgrade my desktop Mac every two years. Foolish? Well, it’s a sure thing that there was probably a healthy performance boost, not to mention a larger hard drive. Since I could get a decent return on selling my old Mac, the net cost wasn’t so high.” — “The Tech Night Owl” (www.technightowl.com) […]

  3. RB says:

    I mostly agree with the thought that if a software refresh brings your hardware up to a reasonable state, why by new gear. I, like many other Mac users, do the same thing as you: wait til the new gear is available to buy, sell your old gear to bring down the cost of the new. Not a bad way to keep the cycle moving.

    And to that I say – Keep on doin’ it!
    Apple doesn’t upgrade their hardware on a yearly basis, not even as often as the new processor rollout. Which gives most of their hardware a 2 to 4yr life with one owner. After that new hardware is bought, the old generally goes to a new home. Everybody is happy. Sure Apple may not be selling as much hardware initially but each time a person gets a second hand Mac (assuming that it’s their first Mac) it brings them to the Apple ecosystem. How much does Apple make off of that?

    As for myself, I’m looking forward to this fall with a rollout of new Macs. Maybe my 2011 MBP will get to go to a new home, while i’m working like a mad man on the fastest MacPro ever produced!

  4. robyn says:

    Good column. Helps all of us who reflect from time to time on upgrades and costs involved. Resale can be a hassle, though, so it’s good to do some future-proofing up front.

    The Macs do, indeed, last a long time. One of the computers we still use is an iBook G4 from January 2004! Upgraded it to Tiger, installed add-ins to keep Flash away (e.g., Click to Flash), and it still handles web browsing, e-mail, & letter writing quite well!

    Could it be faster? Sure. But for most operations, it’s quite decent. We have, however, an iPad in the house that has largely replaced it in regular use–that is much faster, much smoother, and more fun. To be frank, for most of the regular *computer* chores and heavier lifting (spreadsheet, PDF stuff), we use a MacBook Pro. Still, the iBook is where I’ve parked years of e-mail and docs as a backup and searchable archive.

  5. Paul says:

    I’ve read the title to this article repeatedly and it doesn’t make any sense. Therefore, not going ot read the body.

    “A Ready to Upgrade Your Mac”?!

    A ready to close this window.

  6. Andrew says:

    The case for laptops is a bit stronger. I bought a new 2012 MacBook Air, which was a huge performance boost from my 2010 MacBook Air. Then we got the new 2013 model which almost doubled battery life, so it was upgrade again.

    2012 from 2010 was significant enough in performance to make good sense. 2013 from 2012 in terms of speed or capability makes no sense at all, 10% speed boost at most. But with laptops, all-day run time or last year’s new retina displays on the MacBook Pro line are massive paradigm shifts in the usefulness of our computers. My new 11″ Air, like most Apple laptops, can even exceed its rated run time by turning off wireless and dimming the screen, as I might on a trans-Pacific flight. So configured, I actually used it for QuickTime movie playback for 10 hours (FIVE feature films) on my last flight and it still had 13% power remaining. Its officially rated for just over 8 hours of iTunes video.

    Desktops, however, are just not that compelling for frequent upgrades. Yes, video cards and processors get faster, but even the components from three years ago were quite fast. Laptops, with their integrated video (at least the Air models) are just now becoming fast enough for only moderate gaming.

    My 2011 iMac will likely stay with me a good three or four more years, but even this new 2013 MacBook Air will likely find a new owner in the next year, two at most.

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