How old a Mac is too old?

Short answer: If you have a PowerPC Mac you should recycle it. If you are using an Intel Mac make sure you are running at least OS X 10.6.8 Snow Leopard. If you are unsure of what kind of processor you have or what version of OS X you have, click the  (Apple) menu and then choose About This Mac.

One of my favorite parts of Macintosh ownership is knowing that the quality and advanced specs mean your computer is going to last you a very long time. But like all technology, it eventually becomes obsolete. The problem is that Apple does not announce when this happens – they just stop releasing updates. This is particularly a problem for businesses where new purchases might need to be justified or where future purchases need to be budgeted. There is no official document you can take to management and say “see, my computer will be obsolete next month”. Instead we must rely paying attention to when Apple releases security updates to newer systems that don’t make it into older systems. So what I’m going to tell you isn’t based on any official recommendation from Apple, but based on what Apple isn’t saying.

Why is running an obsolete system dangerous? Running obsolete software can be dangerous on computers that contain sensitive information. While hacking Macintosh computers is not a prevalent problem, it’s easier to hack an obsolete system that hasn’t closed all of the known security holes.

Is my hardware obsolete? Simply put, PowerPC Macs are obsolete. You will never see an update from Apple for them again. The only hope for them is to send them to be recycled or to install Linux on it, which is well beyond the scope of this article. All Intel Macs can be upgraded to a supported operating system, though there is no telling at what point Apple will be dropping support for the earliest Intel Macs.

Is my software obsolete? The oldest version of OS X that is still supported by Apple is OS X Snow Leopard and it is still available on their online store for $19. All Intel Macs can be upgraded to Snow Leopard, though you might have to make an inexpensive RAM upgrade first. Not only is this Apple’s current cut-off point, but it’s the cutoff point for most third-party software developers. Current versions of Firefox and Google Chrome both require at least Snow Leopard.

What if I insist on using an obsolete system? Though I really suggest you don’t, if there is no arguing with you I recommend:

  • Only use the Opera browser. They typically support older systems for longer than any other browser, and their software is not very popular which means that they are not typically targeted by hackers.
  • Disable all sharing services found in the Sharing section of System Preferences.
  • Enable the firewall in the Security & Privacy section of System Preferences.
  • Don’t visit sketchy websites such as file sharing sites, bootleg movies and TV shows, or porn.

What can I do to avoid reaching obsolescence? It might cost slightly more, but it’s not a bad idea to replace your Mac every generation or two. Macintosh computers hold their value extremely well so selling your year old Mac will give you a large chunk of change toward a new one. As it approaches obsolescence the value starts dropping fast so it’s better to resell while you can still get something for it.