What You Should Know Before Buying a Used MacBook

2012 Macbook Pro

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At one time, the MacBook represented the least expensive product in the Mac portable lineup. Built around a polycarbonate case and Intel’s Core 2 Duo processors, the MacBook provided great value and reasonable performance for an entry-level Mac.

The first MacBook was released in May of 2007; the last of the first-generation MacBooks appeared in May of 2010 and were finally discontinued a little over a year later, in July of 2011.

In April of 2015, Apple introduced a brand-new generation of MacBooks. No longer the least expensive Mac, the Retina-equipped MacBook was a sleek aluminum unibody Mac that offered exceptional battery runtime and an amazing display. It also introduced new technology, such as the use of a single USB-C port to be used for all peripheral connections, as well as for charging the MacBook’s battery.

The Original MacBook

What follows is a look at the 2009 edition of the first-generation MacBook, which can still be found at retailers specializing in used Macs, including Amazon.

The MacBook, Apple’s least expensive notebook, has a lot going for it, well beyond its good looks and processing prowess. It delivers a lot of technology in a small package. But packing all those goodies into the small form factor, and keeping the price below the $1000 barrier, meant Apple had to make a few design tradeoffs.

Polycarbonate Unibody Construction

The new MacBook borrows its unibody case design from its big brother, the MacBook Pro. But while the design concept is the same - milling the case out of a single billet of material to produce an ultra-strong and ultra-lightweight case - the material is different. The MacBook eschews aluminum in favor of less expensive polycarbonate.

The plastic polycarbonate case has a non-slip coating on the bottom that will help your MacBook stay wherever you set it down. The unibody case and non-slip coating make this edition of the MacBook one tough contender.

13.3-inch Display

The MacBook has a 13.3-inch LED-backlit glossy display that produces a very bright screen as well as vivid colors and deep blacks. On the downside, glossy screens have a very high potential for glare. Of course, this depends on the environment you’re using the MacBook in. In most cases, you can negate glare by simply turning the screen or adjusting the angle of the display.

One other problem with a glossy display is that colors, while vivid, tend to be less accurate than with a matte finish display. If color accuracy is important to you, you may want to consider the MacBook Pro lineup instead.

Multi-Touch Comes to the MacBook

The same Multi-Touch glass trackpad used in the MacBook Pro line makes its first appearance in the MacBook. The large glass trackpad supports one-finger taps, which are equivalent to left and right mouse clicks, as well as two-finger scrolling and gestures, such as the pinch to zoom in or zoom out, and the three-finger swipe, which lets you move forward and backward in web browsers, the Finder, and iPhoto. You can also use the trackpad to rotate images by simply inscribing a circle with your fingertip.

The glass trackpad was a high-end feature of the MacBook Pro; seeing it in the MacBook is a pleasant surprise.

Graphics Processor

The MacBook uses an NVIDIA GeForce 9400M as its graphics processor. Just last year, Apple fans were excited at the 9400M’s inclusion in MacBook Pros. But a year is a long time in the computer world, and the GeForce 9400M is at best an average performing graphics option nowadays.

The MacBook’s consumer-level graphics performance makes it a great choice for education, home, and professional work that doesn’t require high-end graphics capabilities.

Intel Core 2 Duo Processor

The MacBook is powered by a 2.26 Intel Core 2 Duo processor, the same processor line used in the Mac mini, MacBook Pro, and most of the iMac line. When it comes to performance, this processor is no slouch. With two processors on a single core, the MacBook has enough performance to handle just about any task you can throw at it without breaking a sweat.

Memory Limits

The MacBook is usually configured with 2 GB of RAM and Apple says they can support up to 4 GB. However, Apple bases its memory claim on the largest common memory module (2 GB) sold when the MacBook was first released. The 2009 and 2010 MacBook can actually use 4 GB memory modules bringing the total memory to 8 GB. Apple considers MacBook memory to be a user-replaceable part. Adding memory to a MacBook is a fairly straightforward task. Apple provides step-by-step instructions in the MacBook user manual.

You can probably save yourself a little bit of cash by purchasing a MacBook with the minimum amount of RAM and performing any memory upgrades yourself, using RAM purchased from third-party vendors.

Hard Drives

The MacBook has a 2.5-inch SATA hard drive and is offered with your choice of a 250 GB, 320 GB, or 500 GB drive. Along with RAM, Apple considers the hard drive a user-replaceable part and provides step-by-step instructions for replacing the hard drive in the user manual.

If you’re considering a MacBook with a hard drive larger than the default 250 GB hard drive, you can probably save yourself some cash by purchasing a hard drive from a third-party vendor at a price much lower than what Apple charges for a hard drive upgrade. You can use the original hard drive in an external case for backups.

Is the MacBook Right for You?

The MacBook is intended to be Apple’s consumer-level notebook. With a target audience of students, educators, home users, and small businesses, the MacBook is a great choice for individuals who need a small, lightweight notebook with good performance.

The MacBook’s main weaknesses are its average performing graphics system and its glossy screen. If these two features don’t concern you, then the MacBook may be a great choice, especially considering how easy it is to upgrade RAM and the hard drive.