Let's face it: a Macbook Pro is the most common machine for web developers right now. What is it about Mac OS that everyone loves? It is the native linux shell you get with terminal, the ability to use xcode for native iOS apps, the ability to test on safari browser, or maybe just the sleek, timeless interface? It's nice to have a powerful Macbook, but it's not nice to pay Apple's full price tag. My '09 Macbook started suddenly turning off on me, and I wanted something a little more powerful. Also, I really wanted to upgrade from the 13" screen to the 15". However, I didn't want to fork over the $2000+ to get my dream machine from the Apple store. Luckily, with some research and a little tweaking I was able to get a very solid machine for just barely over $1000. Here's how...
Buy Refurbished And Swap Parts
In my opinion, the easiest thing to swap out is RAM because those are nicely secured and can be clicked in and out. I bought a 2012 Macbook with the smallest amout of RAM (4gb total) could be upgraded to a max of 16gb. I used macofalltrades.com to find an Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch (Hi-Res Antiglare screen) with 2.3Ghz Quad-Core i7 processor (Mid 2012 model) for $899.99 + $18.18 shipping to my house in New Jersey. Then I went to amazon a found a two nice RAM sticks / cards (8gb each for a total of 16gb) for $77.51 plus $9.51 shipping. So, if we add that all up it's a grand total of $1005.19!
Upgrade The RAM
In my opinion, the RAM is the easiest thing to swap out. Make sure your computer is turned off when you do this. Take a look at the super tiny screws on the bottom of the macbook pro. You'll need a very small, fine phillips-head screwdriver to take these out, but once you have one it's cake. Unscrew the screws and take off the cover. The RAM sticks are secured with the gold part facing into the computer to be read and the rest of the stick held in place by little plastic clips. Honestly, it's much harder to take out the old RAM than it is to put in the new ones. There are usually two little black plastic buttons that you squeeze to "pop up" the stick. then you can gently pull it straight out. Do the same for the second one. Now you take the new sticks and put them in right where the old ones were. Then you gently push them down, and they should lock into place. Bazzinga! Now put the back on, screw the screws in, flip it over, and turn it on. Congrats; you should have a 16gb RAM mac now!
Go For The 16Gb
You might be tempted to just go with the 8gb RAM thinking that's enough and that you will never use 16gb. I'd recommend everyone to get the 16gb. Two 4gb sticks cost around $50, and it's really an awesome increase for only $20 more. If you decide you want 16gb in the future, your 4gb sticks are now worthless. Plus, you have to go through the trouble of taking the back off and pulling out the old sticks again. Trust me- get the 16gb.
Make Sure The Parts Fit The Macbook
It's very critical to make sure that the parts you are putting into your computer are actually meant to work with that computer because if they don't then the computer won't even work at all. Find the specific used Macbook you want to buy and then go shopping for parts. All Macbooks have a model number that looks something like this: "MD103LL/A". You should also look for the time of year the computer was made (eg. Mid 2012) in the description (or even in the title) or your RAM sticks and other parts.
Upgrade to 1 TB Hard Drive (Optional)
The hard drive is a little trickier because you need to make sure it fits your computer, and need to be sure to disconnect / reconnect it correctly. I haven't done this yet so I can't really say how difficult it is, but if you need to store a lot of large files / programs then you might look into doing this. Then you could most likely get an even better deal on the machine itself because you could look for ones with the smallest 250Gb hard drive (mine was 500Gb).
Upgrade Video Card (Optional)
If you're really into gaming then you might want to upgrade the graphics card as well. I casually play League and Tetris Battle, but I figured the NVIDIA GeForce 9400M 256 MB that it came with was good enough as I'm planning to use this mostly for developing.
It's important to realize that the screen size is something that can't be changed later so whatever screen size you choose you will have to live with. 13 inches, measured diagonally from corner to corner, is the smallest one and is definitely good enough for a lot of people. 15 inches is a little bigger, and I think this is where most people's dream computer lies. Notice though that Apple's price tag for the 15 inchers is especially high, and this is probably why you don't see more of them. Luckily, with my method of buying a cheaper 3 year-old 15 inch with only 4gb RAM you can find one for a more reasonable price. The 17-inch screens are cool, but it really feels like a monster laptop to me. If you care about portability than make sure you have a way to carry it and recognize how big / heavy it is.
Thoughts On Used Hardware
Apple has been making very solid laptop computer hardware that can last years and years if you take care of it. When buying I would look for a computer that's 3-5 years old. My computers condition was labeled "good", I am very happy with it. I don't notice any nicks in the case, and the screen looks perfect. However, the keys are a little, ehh, crunchy. In my first semester of college I spilled the green tea soda drink all over my keyboard, and they were sticky / crunchy until I had the whole computer repaired a year later. This computer's keys feel like that a little bit, but I was planning to use an external keyboard most of the time anyway. Of course used is not as luxurious as brand new and your used computer may have other imperfections, but sometimes it's better to be pragmatic even if you can afford to ball out at the Apple store. I'm willing to live with "good" condition, and in a few years I can always just get another $1000 power macbook pro if I need to. It's new to me, and it's got new a new life now.
The posts on this site are written and maintained by Jim Lynch. About Jim...