My Oldest Low End Mac, a MacBook Pro, Turns 10 Years Old

A Mac I acquired brand new ten years ago this month, the first aluminum unibody MacBook Pro, is now the oldest of three modern low-end Macs I currently own which I have purchased (not counting two vintage ones that were given to me), and the story of how it became my computer was the result of a trip to the Genius Bar at the Apple Store to repair the screen of an aluminum PowerBook G4, itself a low-end Mac at the time of purchase and when brought in for service.

15″ Aluminum PowerBook G4

This aluminum PowerBook G4 that I bought used on eBay in March 2008 was the very last in the entire PowerBook line to ever be produced. Released in October 2005, it was the 15-inch 1.67 GHz model with a dual-layer SuperDrive and a high-resolution screen. It was that screen real estate that attracted me to that particular version, and it was for that reason I chose it for an upgrade and sought it out on eBay.

15" Hi-Res PowerBook G4

15″ aluminum PowerBook G4 with 1.67 GHz processor, dual-layer SuperDrive, and high-resolution screen. (Photo: Courtesy of Apple)

I found one that was in the condition that I wanted, mint, and at the price I was looking for, $999, and happily bought it. However, when I received it, it was not disclosed to me that the display had an issue on the lower left corner of the screen which was dimmer than the rest. While minor and not too noticeable unless you stared at it — I honestly felt I could ignore it — it eventually became annoying and a critical factor in my workflow, such as editing images in Photoshop. So after less than a year under my care, I finally decided to take the plunge and get the screen repaired.

I brought in my PowerBook to the Genius Bar to find out how much it would cost to repair, and the screen replacement would be $300. After a short debate with myself if this is what I really wanted to do, I gave in and turned in my computer for service.

Other PowerBook Models

12" PowerBook G4

12″ PowerBook G4 (Photo: Courtesy of Apple)

Before that, I had two other models of the aluminum PowerBook G4. First, I had been using a 12-inch 1.5 GHz model which I bought “open box” at a substantial discount at CompUSA in 2006 after wanting something much more powerful and portable than what I was previously using, a PowerBook G3 — my very first Apple notebook computer — a 2000 model, the “Pismo” as it was also known as, that I bought used in 2001 or 2002 which I, shortly thereafter, had upgraded from its stock configuration (I believe 500 MHz?) to a 900 MHz processor from a company called PowerLogix.

Size Matters

After a while, as much as I loved that little machine, the diminutive screen size was just not cutting it with all the things I had going on, and in November 2007 I would upgrade to a 15-inch 1.5 GHz model that I also bought used on eBay which only lasted for a couple of months in my possession before I eventually decided I wanted a more souped-up computer with better and higher specs for a PowerBook: thus the 15-inch 1.67 GHz model with a dual-layer SuperDrive and a high resolution screen.

I actually was trying to get the aluminum PowerBook G4 with a high-resolution screen in the first place back in 2007 when I was searching for a larger display, but it wasn’t in my budget at the time with its price still well above $1,000. I only wanted to spend between $500 to $700. Originally, I was content with the high-end 1.5 GHz model which I got for $627.75 because I read that the 1.67 GHz model with a high-resolution screen was not much faster in general terms. I did want the dual-layer SuperDrive, however, so I bought that and upgraded my optical drive on the 1.5 GHz model. Also, I had planned on getting a 1.83 GHz processor upgrade from a company called DayStar Technologies. That would have been a pretty fast PowerBook G4 sans the high-resolution screen. Ultimately it was the larger display that I really needed and wanted for my daily computing, so that’s what I went with in the end.

Of course, granted, I could have gone with a 17-inch model or even stayed with the 12-inch model and connected it to an external monitor, but both of those options, especially the latter, weren’t exactly portable. The 15-inch model and a high-resolution screen were the best of both worlds.

For a comparison of the screen resolution progression throughout my upgrade cycle, here is a list by model:

  • 1024 x 768- PowerBook G3 (2000), a.k.a. Pismo
  • 1024 x 768- PowerBook G4 12-inch 1.5GHz
  • 1280 x 854- PowerBook G4 15-inch 1.5GHz
  • 1440 x 960- PowerBook G4 15-inch 1.67GHz DLSD HR
  • 1440 x 900- MacBook Pro 15-inch (Late 2008)

So while the Apple Store sent out my PowerBook for its screen replacement, after a week or two, I received an email from Apple to call them in regard to my repair. The rep on the phone informed me that because my PowerBook was no longer made, they did not have the replacement screen in stock for my machine and it would take an indefinite amount of time to acquire the part. Therefore, I had two options: one, the repair would be free of charge and they would get the part through whatever channels possible, or two – they would give me a new PowerBook for the price of the repair.

15″ Unibody MacBook Pro

I asked the rep, “A brand new PowerBook? The same one as I have now?” The rep said, “Yes. A brand new PowerBook. The same.” Then he clarified, “But because we don’t make that model anymore, it will be the PowerBook now, a MacBook Pro.”

As exciting as that sounded to me, I did not immediately jump for joy and take the offer and told the rep that I would need to think about it and would get back to him with my decision. I really liked that PowerBook and was hesitant to give it up because it wasn’t made anymore and how often is it that one could find a three-year-old computer in pristine condition as if it had just been bought from the store?

15" aluminum unibody MacBook Pro

15″ aluminum unibody MacBook Pro (Photo: Courtesy of Apple)

By the same token, the new design of the aluminum unibody MacBook Pro was stunning to behold, as I had already gone to the Apple Store to check out and test drive the notebook computer soon after its release. I especially loved the black keyboard and the keys’ mechanism itself, which felt great to type on.

The one thing I just couldn’t get over was that glossy all-glass display because of the reflection of light on the screen with no anti-glare option available, and I felt that characteristic would be a huge turn off for daily computing. But it was certainly and most definitely a faster machine than the PowerBook with its, in essence, “dual” processors and more modern/advanced components.

And I would be getting a brand new computer valued at $1,999 for the $999 I paid for a three year old computer plus the $300 repair fee on top of that. How could I pass up that deal?

After mulling it over and weighing the pros and cons, plus asking a couple of my friends for their advice and what they would do in the same situation, I finally decided that I would take the offer of the newer MacBook Pro and relinquish my older PowerBook and turn it in to Apple for the trade.

Since there were two stock configurations available — an entry-level model with a 2.4 GHz processor and a high-end model with a 2.53 GHz processor with practically double everything else such as RAM, VRAM, etc. (and a third build-to-order option with an even faster 2.66GHz processor, the highest of the three) — I asked the Apple rep which version I would be receiving, and he said the entry-level model with a 2.4 GHz processor. I then inquired whether I could pay the difference and upgrade to the high-end model with the 2.53 GHz processor, and he said no but that I could take it in to the Apple Store and see if I could exchange it there.

So when my new MacBook Pro arrived, I left it in its box and shortly thereafter took it in to one of my local Apple Store locations to see if I could exchange the 2.4 GHz model for the 2.53 GHz one. As luck would have it, for some reason, the manager at that location could not accept my machine because he said the product was not in their system. I thought maybe it was due to being acquired for “free” and directly from Apple versus a retail store. I left dejected but would try my luck elsewhere at a different Apple Store location after that — and two days before Christmas, I got an early present for myself. At the second store, I succeeded in getting the entry-level model exchanged for the high-end one and happily forked over $498 (plus tax), which was the price difference between the two notebook computers.

For a comparison of the specs between the two stock configurations of the aluminum unibody MacBook Pro 15-inch Late 2008 — and the reason why I wanted the high-end model versus the entry-level one — see the following article on EveryMac.com: What Are the Differences Between the 15-Inch “Late 2008/Unibody” MacBook Pro Models?

I eventually got accustomed to the glossy screen of my MacBook Pro and liked its much more vivid, vibrant, brighter, and clearer display. Working on it on a daily basis was a very enjoyable experience with its close to twice as fast processors versus the 1.67 GHz speed of the three-year-old aluminum PowerBook G4 that it replaced. And the MacBook Pro would be my first ever Intel-based Mac, finally moving me into the future of Apple computing, two years after the company made the move to the new chip in 2006.

Upgrading My MacBook Pro

Of course, I was not content to leave the machine in its stock configuration and would eventually upgrade its paltry 320 GB hard drive to a 500 GB one, both at 5400 RPM speeds, and bump the RAM up from 4 GB to its maximum of 8 GB. I also bought an SD card ExpressCard module, something that later revisions came standard with built-in sans the ExpressCard slot, which Apple removed (something I valued with my machine because, with that expansion capability, I could add almost anything new that it did not ship with). Much later, when the new technology was released, I swapped out the 500 GB 5400RPM hard drive for a similar capacity drive but with hybrid SSD onboard and a faster 7200 RPM spindle speed. I also removed the internal dual-layer SuperDrive and installed a hard drive caddy that allowed me to put in a second internal hard drive; I chose a 750 GB 7200 RPM — the highest capacity and speed at the time — as additional storage.

With AppleCare purchased for the machine, I held off on taking it in for service until the last possible date before the expiration of the extended warranty because I could not afford to be without my computer at work. Thankfully, since my AppleCare expired on December 23, 2011, I had the two-week break over the holidays (as an educator at the time) to be without my MacBook Pro and brought it in to the Genius Bar to have some issues fixed. In order to not void my warranty for modifying my computer with unofficial/unapproved upgrades, I took out the third party hard drive caddy I had put in and reinstalled the optical drive that it came with before bringing it in for service. I don’t recall how much I paid for AppleCare, I think $249, but the total price of repairs under warranty (thus not actually billed) was $734.09, which more than exceeded the value of the price for AppleCare.

Here’s what the Genius Bar replaced on my MacBook Pro (not counting the $39 for labor):

  • logic board at $487.50
  • top case with keyboard at $146.59
  • power adapter at $61

Everything would come full circle with that Genius Bar trip, and I technically today still have a brand new MacBook Pro in my possession with the repairs performed restoring my machine to original factory condition.

The sole exception is the operating system currently on my computer which is Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard which I installed on the machine the very day it was released, having pre-ordered it online and receiving it (shipped) at its launch back in 2009. Originally coming with 10.5 Leopard, I have only upgraded to the next version of Mac OS X — though I did dabble with 10.7 Lion for a short time, installing it on the second hard drive that was previously in the optical drive slot — and never moved past that version because I needed support for Rosetta, which allowed me to use all of my applications which were crucial to my work that were PowerPC native and were not written to run on Intel-based Macs.

I left the optical drive in after that Genius Bar trip and chose not to put back in the hard drive caddy that allowed me to install a second drive for additional storage. I have since upgraded the 500 GB 7200 RPM hybrid SSD hard drive with a 1 TB 5400 RPM regular hard drive which I put in last year at this time because I was running out of space and was down to about 8 GB of free disk space available.

Also, I recently purchased through eBay on a USB flash drive Mac OS X 10.11 El Capitan, the maximum version of the operating system compatible for my MacBook Pro, should I ever decide that I want to move past 10.6 Snow Leopard and have the latest and greatest OS possible for my machine. Or, if I ever decide to part with my computer, I can sell it with that version of the operating system, 10.11, installed.

My Other Macs

Right now, my aluminum unibody MacBook Pro sits on my desk in my bedroom unused and serves as my computer with archives of my life’s work from 2006 to 2013 (everything else before that, beginning in 1996 when I started my career, is saved on a WD MyBook 1.5TB external hard drive). In fact, I rarely use or touch any of the three Macs I currently own — the other two, an 11-inch 1.6 GHz MacBook Air from mid 2011 and a 20-inch 2.66 GHz aluminum iMac from early 2009 — and nowadays, ever since becoming visually impaired in 2013 and completely losing my eyesight, primarily use my iOS devices such as an iPad mini 4 and an iPhone SE for my daily computing because of the ease of use with VoiceOver, a built-in screen reader software in iOS and MacOS, on those devices versus on Macs.

Of the 13 Macs I have purchased over the years — beginning in 1998 with my first ever Mac — this aluminum unibody MacBook Pro is only the third of three bought brand new (except for one that was brand new but Apple Certified Refurbished), two “open box” at a substantial discount, and the other eight all used and low-end when purchased, which includes the aforementioned aluminum PowerBook G4.

The story of how one low-end Mac begat my current low-end Mac — albeit brand new when originally purchased — is quite an interesting one, in my opinion, and certainly one I have Apple to thank for. And as much as I really loved that aluminum PowerBook G4 with the high-resolution screen and couldn’t bear to part with it, I came to love that aluminum unibody MacBook Pro even more and in hindsight it benefitted me more than I would realize with its overall faster specs as well as its more modern and advanced components, serving me better in the end. A great decision on my part and one I would make in a heartbeat if I had to do it all over again!

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