I’ve had a couple of people ask me recently about my Mac upgrade methodology so I figured a blog post was in order. I spoke about this issue on Mac Power Users Episode 014 Buying and Selling Macs if you want a more in-depth discussion. At present, I am a one Mac household with a 13” MacBook Pro being my primary machine. However, the same philosophy can apply to just about any setup. Here's my rationale... I am on a roughly two and a half year upgrade cycle with my Macs. I’ve been keeping to this schedule for the last 10 years or so and it seems to suit me well. Normally, I tell people that a Mac has a much longer life cycle than a typical PC and will easily last three to five years, perhaps longer. However, I like to be on the newer edge of technology so I stay updated more frequently.
Looking at product cycles, there tends to be major upgrades to machines every two to three years with a series of speed bumps and enhancements in between. Keeping myself on this cycle allows me to take advantage major enhancements to a product line rather than just the occasional processor and hard drive bump. Things don’t always work out this way, but when they do it’s a bonus.
It’s easy to be tempted to upgrade more frequently, especially when new machines are released and yours is no longer the latest and greatest. To help stave off the temptation, I usually try to treat my Mac to a little upgrade about mid-way through my upgrade cycle. Somewhere between a year and 18 months I’ll look at a RAM upgrade or perhaps putting in a larger or faster hard drive. Something inexpensive, usually $200 or less that will give my Mac a little refresh and speed boost to give it that “new Mac feeling” again and get me through the next year or so. This year, I think I may invest in a 500GB “hybrid” hard drive for my MacBook Pro that uses a combination of traditional drive technology and Solid State Storage for faster performance.
When it is time to upgrade, I want to get the best price I can out of my Mac so I can use that to offset the purchase of a new machine. Another reason to keep on a two to three year upgrade cycle is that a two to three year old Mac still has lots of life, and thus good value left in it. It’s also important to me that the buyer have a good experience. The reality is, stuff happens. For all you know, the Mac that has never given you a bit of trouble dies three days after you sell it to the new owner. This is always a tough situation because it’s really no ones fault (assuming you were honest and didn’t deceive the buyer) but the buyer will undoubtedly feel cheated. For that reason, I always make it a point to sell my Macs when they still have a couple of months left of AppleCare coverage. That way if anything happens, the new buyer is dealing with Apple not with me. AppleCare also adds to the resale value. (I also make it a point to warn any buyer that hard drives are temperamental and can die suddenly and without warning and educate them about the importance of backups.) I try to arrange things so that a Mac has two to three months of AppleCare remaining at a minimum when it is transferred to the new buyer.
To enhance the resale value of my Mac I make sure that it is in pristine condition and keep all the boxes, manuals and original accessories. I will also throw in all the upgrades I’ve made to the machine including the latest Apple software since the newest versions will come with my new Mac. I’ll first try to sell the Mac through my local Apple Users Group so I can deal with someone I know or have a connection to. If I’m able to do that, I’ll throw in as an added bonus some of my time to help the person setup the new Mac if they so desire. Selling the Mac to someone you know or through a network of friends is a much better and safer experience than dealing with Craigslist or eBay. Now I’ve built up a good reputation and I regularly get to visit my 500 MHz Titanium PowerBook and my 1GHz 12” PowerBook at User Group meetings. They’re still in good use and their owners are happy purchasers.
In short, the two and a half year upgrade cycle seems to work well for me. I can stay regularly updated with close to the latest and greatest machine while still getting good resale value out of my old machine. I’m afraid if I upgraded more frequently I’d be loosing more money on the resale and if I lengthened the period I’d potentially run into problems with the machine being out of AppleCare and possibly being behind the technology curve.
My upgrade methodology won’t work well for everyone. If you’re looking to get the most bang for your buck your best bet is to buy your computer and hold on to it for as long as possible. It’s not uncommon for a Mac to have a useful life of five years or beyond, especially if you’re performing fairly casual activities such as web browsing, email, word processing, etc. So do your own research and see what works best for your needs.