We get this question a lot lately...
It usually comes up when there's some sort of problem, but just because a computer isn't working correctly doesn't mean it's finished.
There are a myriad of factors to consider when comparing repair options to Mac replacement - see below for a quick assessment and more detailed options.


Collect your machine specs
Under the Apple logo (top-left corner) is the Apple menu with "About This Mac." Open it and you will see your OS version, Processor (CPU) type and GHz speed along with installed memory (RAM). The More Info/System Report button has more specific details if required.

Make a note of OS version (10.
.), CPU (GHz + processor type), and installed memory (GB). There should also be a serial number and possibly a model year listed in the About window that might also be helpful.
Age and obsolescence
Macs typically go obsolete before there's any sort of hardware failure - which doesn't help much when it comes time to upgrade. First signs are usually internet issues; unrecognized file formats, missing images, inadequate security. A current web browser is required, with an up-to-date OS, which may require a new CPU. But, if you can upgrade your current OS to one of the last two or three versions, you're good to go.

If a machine never goes online, it will continue to do whatever it's been doing until something actually does fail. Otherwise, the end of the road for a non-internet Mac is usually when the printer dies and a new printer requires a current OS that the machine cannot run.

Macs go obsolete when an outdated CPU cannot support a current OS version. Apple continues to provide security and app updates for OS versions prior to the latest release, but the machine has limited life remaining. If the last OS your Mac can support is no longer getting updates, machine is obsolete.

More info on OS versions and links to System requirements for each OS are posted here: Tech Support/Upgrades

Yes... and no.

Generally speaking, the older the machine, the easier it is to service and/or upgrade. If it is capable of running the latest MacOS, it is well worth upgrading or repairs in most cases. Otherwise, it depends on machine's OS upgrade options. If, for example, machine's OS capability ends with 10.13 (High Sierra), then it's useful life will end when Apple drops support for 10.13 - which won't be anytime soon. If end of the road is 10.11, it probably has a year or so left. When compared to potential port limitations, upgrades and expense of a new Mac, repair/refurb of existing system might be best option. All depends on machine age and OS compatibility.

MacBooks (Pro and Air) have changed considerably in recent years. The Air models have always been limited in storage capacity and port options; these are perfect for anyone dealing primarily with text files - emails, documents and such. Putting photos, music or video on an Air will quickly consume available storage due to the size of these file types. MacBook Pro notebooks typically have more storage capability - larger SSDs - but that comes at a significant price, especially when compared to conventional drives. Plus, some notebooks cannot be upgraded after purchase because RAM and SSD may be soldered to logic board.

All new Macs lost their optical drives years ago, so CDs/DVDs require an external optical drive. Port types are constantly changing as well, and many have been discontinued: USB 1/2/3, Firewire 400/800, mini video and Thunderbolt 1, to name a few. Most of these have been replaced by Thunderbolt3, aka USB-C, and adapters are available for most older port types. MagSafe 1 and 2 have also been replaced by that same USB-C port used for charging internal battery. (See Ports and Adapters, below.)

Read and understand the fine print
Many new MacBook models and iMacs after mid-2014 _cannot_ be upgraded after purchase due to what Apple used to call "onboard" RAM and "onboard" storage. They've apparently dropped the "onboard" designation, but the problem remains: Memory (RAM) is soldered to logic board, making upgrades impossible. Likewise machines with a hard-wired (soldered ) solid-state drive, as these are also impossible to remove or upgrade after purchase. (Having a backup is critical.)

Some iMac models face the same dilemma, since disassembly and service of the newer models can be quite tedious and troublesome. Just adding RAM to a 21" iMac can be a three-hour job now; used to take less than 5 minutes.

Before investing in a new Mac, it pays to ask questions, do your homework, and understand what terms like "onboard" or "configurable" mean. Know how much storage you will need (based on history and use), how much RAM your apps and OS will require, and what port types and adapters you will be using. Investigate other relavent tech specs, too, especially if video, photography and/or music is important to you. You may not want to know about all the tech specs and details involved, but take the time to learn these things. It matters.

New or used?
Older i5 and i7 CPU machines that shipped with conventional (2.5" rotational) hard disk drives (HDDs, not blade-type SSDs) provide many options. They come equipped with RAM slots and an assortment of ports, too. These Macs are holding their value and may look quite appealing when compared to limitations imposed by new model Macs (see below).

2.5" HDDs are cheap (2TB = about $70-90), and a solid state drive in a 2.5" package may also be installed. Most older MacBooks have a full array of ports, SD card slots, and some still have optical drives (CD/DVD) - if you care about such things. These machines are easily upgraded to their maximum RAM (which varies by model), and their hard drives are readily replaced and/or upgraded. The newer the machine, the longer its useful life will be, but it should be noted that only the newest models will be able to run Apple's latest OS, Mojave 10.14.

Change isn't always for the better
Starting around 2012, Apple began using high-rez displays in new Macs known as the Retina display. Most people wouldn't know the difference unless viewing two machines side-by-side, but there are many photographers and graphic designers who appreciate the improved sharpness, clarity and color saturation.

Retina displays add a few bucks to purchase price (and replacement, if broken), but there was another change to _all_ Retina display MacBooks that has nothing to do with the screen: Their batteries are glued to top case/keyboard/trackpad assembly, which makes battery replacement an expensive proposition.

Another recent development is the switch to "butterfly" mechanisms in notebook keyboards, resulting in complaints of sticking, missing and malfunctioning keys. In fact, Apple has launched a service program for butterfly keyboards here.

Add "onboard" (soldered) RAM and SSDs (discussed above) to sealed display modules, glued-in batteries, limited ports and butterfly keyboards - the care, use and maintenance of these expensive new notebooks takes on new significance:
  • Backup is critical. If a non-removable drive fails, it takes the machine with it. Conversely, if machine fails, it takes the drive with it. In either case, copying data will be impossible. Cloud backup? Better than nothing.
  • Common SSDs that cannot store more than 500GB will force users to store their data on the Cloud (iCloud), and many people are not okay with that idea (for a variety of valid reasons).
  • Keyboard protection is all but mandatory. We've always recommended having a keyboard cover on notebooks to protect 'em from spills (links on our homepage), but the new butterfly keyboards are sensitive to dust, too. A cover should prevent many malfunctions from normal use.
  • Upgrading RAM is not possible after purchase if RAM is "onboard" type. Same with "onboard" SSDs that cannot be removed/upgraded later. (2TB SSD upgrade from Apple was $1400 when last we checked.)
  • Consider an extended Apple warranty. Some percentage of lithium batteries will swell up over time (Techtales page has a few examples of these), possible keyboard malfunctions, a $400 Retina display, hard-wired RAM and SSD - problems with any one of these will exceed cost of Apple's 3-year warranty (which DOES NOT cover spills, drops or damage from handling, BTW). Having a protective case and pair of kid gloves is also recommended.

Broadband = minimum 3Mbps.
When you download and install a new OS, or startup a new Mac, you will be taken thru a few setup steps. One is signing into iCloud. Don't. You can sign in later. Another is encryption. Don't turn that on, either. If you don't know what these things are, find out BEFORE you activate them.

If you happen to have a blazing-fast connection to the 'net, cloud apps and storage will work pretty much as they did when everything resided on your machine. If you have something less than top speed you may notice delays accessing cloud apps, and if your internet connection is less than 3Mbps you technically don't have broadband at all.

Privacy and cloud access
The trend these days is to depend on cloud services for everything, from programs that used to be installed on your computer, to cloud storage of your photos, documents, email and other files. Is this a good idea?

As mentioned elsewhere on this site, cloud backup isn't a full backup, it's only a backup of unique files (sans OS, network settings, apps). Proper backup includes all data copied and stored on an external drive. Cloud backup is better than nothing, but recovery will take a bit of time and effort. Cloud storage - assuming you're using iCloud and not some bogus scam - cloud storage can be problematic as well, putting your ISP, network connections, components and passwords in the way. Data breaches are a threat, too.

Encryption: FileVault
Located in System Preferences under "Security and Privacy" is the FileVault tab which allows you to encrypt all data. This may be useful for spies and political operatives, but it is completely unnecessary for most of us.

It also has a few side effects: If you forget the password, your data is not only lost, it's scrambled. Turning FV on compresses data storage to some degree, so reaching a full drive with it on means a _very_ full drive, beyond capacity in some cases. Some FV versions were known to lockout troubleshooting routines, others can cause startup issues; and turning FV off can take many hours, usually all night. Why complicate matters? If it's off, leave it off - and don't turn it on when prompted by a new OS.

Hard disk drives, solid state drives and hybrid drives
Compare drive capacity of hard drives (HDDs) to storage capacity and price of solid-state drives (SSDs). While SSD prices are less than half of what they once were, they are still typically smaller and far more expensive than conventional hard drives. A 1TB desktop HDD (that's 1024GB) costs around $50; drive capacities go up to 6-8TB these days. A 1TB SSD drive will be 6-7 times the cost and will probably require a (cheap) adapter to install into a desktop computer.

Notebook SSDs may someday reach the 2-3TB capacity of current rotational 2.5" notebook drives, but be prepared for sticker shock. Newer notebooks (and some iMacs) employ a blade-type SSD that is machine and model-specific and much more compact than the 2.5" drive configuration.

Hybrid drives
are part SSD (essentially an enormous cache) and part HDD, a decent compromise between SSD speed and HDD storage at a reasonable price. Apple's Fusion drive setup uses two drives, an SSD with OS and apps onboard alongside a second, rotational drive providing storage. Older notebooks equipped with optical drives are good candidates for this same arrangement since they have a second SATA bus. A $20 adapter mounts an SSD and replaces the CD/DVD drive inside the machine.

The advantage of an SSD is, of course, speed. That is, read/write speed, which speeds startup, opens apps faster and saves (writes) data faster. Actual working speed is determined by RAM, but faster read/write ops improves overall performance. What typically suffers with SSDs is storage space - another reason people are being pushed into cloud storage.

Storage (drive) and RAM upgrades may no longer be possible
Be advised: Newer MacBooks and iMac models are a bit more difficult to service than their older siblings, so ask lots of questions before you buy and make certain you understand options and limitations. As they say, "the devil is in the details" and there's no shortage of details these days. Simple service procedures that used to take 5-30 minutes on older models (up to about 2012), can now take 2-3 hours or more - no joke. Apple clearly wants you to buy all upgrades at the time of purchase, as upgrading later can be quite expensive - and, in some cases - is not even a possibility.

One example involves the difference between 21" and 27" iMacs: The 27" iMac has a small door on back of machine, making RAM upgrades easy, but 21" iMacs must be completely disassembled to access/upgrade RAM.

In addition, all Hybrid-drive iMacs require disassembly to change their SSD drives; upgrading/replacing these drives later will be costly.

Another example - perhaps the worst - involves newer MacBooks that may have RAM soldered to logic board, making upgrades impossible. Worse still are models that also have their solid state drives soldered to logic board; a drive failure will take entire machine with it, while a machine failure takes all data (making data backup more important than ever).

Computer use and software considerations
If you have mission-critical software, check availability of new versions and check your software's System requirements before buying a new (or used) machine.

If you're like most people, your activity consists mainly of email, internet, the occasional photo and some music, maybe a game or two. If that's the case, there's no reason why you shouldn't keep your Mac updated with the latest available MacOS and apps, and you have little to worry about.

But - if you run a critical database, run a music studio, do video editing or graphics, or use your computer to drive expensive machines and equipment, you may have a lot to worry about. Especially if the software and/or equipment you count on is no longer available.

Upgrades are easy and effective when you keep your computer current, but there are situations when the need to upgrade can cascade into major difficulties. For example:
  • Upgrading past three or more OS versions (i.e. 10.6 to 10.12)
  • Upgrading with older peripherals/equipment attached
  • Upgrading on a network of mixed machines/platforms
  • Upgrading while running a custom (possibly extinct) database
Some OS/Mac upgrades contain significant changes to such low-level functions as drive format, CPU type, and other things that have the potential to make prior OS/software combinations completely incompatible. Apple, to its credit, has made such transitions as painless as possible in the past, with built-in emulation software to get us over the hump. But these things don't last forever...

Change is unavoidable
Unfortunately, the longer you put it off, the more difficult and complicated the upgrade can become. We've had to port critical client data (including maps, charts and graphs), from a long-extinct '90s database into a modern program when the owner's 22-year-old Mac died. That job involved purchase and refurb of an intermediate-age machine/OS, then converting all data - twice - in a long, complicated, impossible-to-explain process that is best avoided.

Here at the shop, we run a custom one-off database written back in the day when there was no canned software suitable for our purposes, a 2-part relational database that had to be completely rewritten with the advent of OSX, and again a few years later, so we're well acquainted with the issue.

Bottom line: Dragging an old database into the 21st century and trying to make it work is more expensive, time-consuming and troublesome than starting over with an all-new routine. Best thing is to stay reasonably current and avoid falling into the gulf between antique and modern.

Port changes on new Macs
Apple's new Thunderbolt 3 (aka USB-C) can support a variety of connections, including an external display, Thunderbolt, Thunderbolt 2, HDMI, DVI, VGA, USB (and possibly Firewire). Each of these connections requires a proper adapter.

Newer notebooks all have two USB-C ports compatible with connectors listed above, but one port is also used to charge the battery from Apple's new AC-adapters; new notebooks no longer use the MagSafe port. MacBook Pro models will have a variety of additional ports, and third-party expansion options are also available.

iMac ports include headphone, USB3,
Thunderbolt 3 (aka USB-C), Ethernet, mini display port, and a camera card slot. Firewire has been dropped but may be used with a proper adapter. 27" iMacs with external RAM door may be upgraded easily, but 21" iMacs must be disassembled to upgrade RAM.

External hardware compatibility
Make certain any critical peripheral devices or hardware will function with a new or upgraded Macs, and check System requirements for critical devices. Clients using CNC machines, plotters/cutters, wide-format printers and other expensive output devices should check for updates from device manufactures before upgrading to avoid problems.

Do you really need to be portable?
If your laptop or notebook computer never leaves your desk, consider replacing it with a desktop model and get more bang for your bucks. iMacs have bigger screens, more storage potential, and wireless keyboard/mouse (or trackpad) that allows better ergonomics for more comfort. Desktop machines don't get lost or stolen, they don't suffer drops and spills, no battery/charger, and they're about the same price as notebooks.

iPhones and iPads can handle most portability needs these days (short of sophisticated content creation) and are much more convenient than lugging around a notebook
. We see a lot of beat up notebooks here... if you don't have to be portable, consider upgrading to a desktop iMac.

Use a  MacMini or notebook to replace TV
Say goodbye to the wasteland of television (if you haven't already) and switch to internet on your flat-screen TV. Perfect arrangement is a MacMini with wireless keyboard and mouse/trackpad, but notebook computers work nicely, too. Using a computer means you are not limited to paid content, you have access to the entire internet (including paid content and everything else).

If using a wireless keyboard/mouse/trackpad isn't in the cards, you can use your iPhone or iPad instead. And using Safari (or your choice of browser) from your computer is a vast improvement over software that ships with flat-screen TVs. Watch what you want, when you want, on your schedule, and leave legacy media behind.