Do you keep your Macs for longer periods of time than do most of your friends? I’ve been accused of hoarding my old Macs; for example, keeping an original 2006 Mac Pro running long after it should have been retired. The same is true of a 2011 MacBook Pro; I only need to replace the battery, which is no longer holding a charge, and it will be as good as new.
The point is, Macs routinely have longer lifetimes than most personal computers, and it only takes a few tips, a bit of maintenance, and an upgrade now and then to keep a Mac running well, and extend its usable lifetime well beyond the norm.
Keep Your Mac Clean and Help It Keep Its Cool
Keeping your Mac clean can help it run at lower internal temperatures, which can prolong its life by not putting undue strain on internal components. At one time, it was an easy task to open a Mac up and clean out the dust bunnies that had collected over time. Now, except for the Mac Pro and Mac mini, the inside of a Mac is somewhat difficult to get to. But you should still inspect your Mac to ensure none of the intake and exhaust vents are clogged by dust and debris. If you need a bit of help in cleaning the interior, check out the Rocket Yard Tech Tip: Have You Cleaned Your Mac Lately?
Once you have your Mac’s cooling system shipshape, don’t forget that when you’re actively using your Mac, its location can have an impact on its ability to keep cool. When using a MacBook, don’t place it on pillows or soft material that can block airflow. Likewise, with desktop Macs, make sure the position they’re in doesn’t block airflow.
As long as we’re on a cleaning spree, don’t overlook the keyboard, mouse, trackpad, and display. MacSales.com has a nice collection of cleaning products that will help keep these peripherals looking good and working well.
Perform Routine Maintenance
Routine maintenance can do a lot to extend the life of your Mac. It not only can keep everything operating in top shape, it can also help find possible trouble spots before they start severely impacting you or your Mac.
Disk maintenance is often overlooked even though it can find, and in many cases, repair issues before they become problems. Disk Utility has long included a Disk First Aid feature that can be used to verify and repair problems. Running the First Aid tool regularly can help keep your drives performing at their peak, as well as let you know when problems are beginning to appear.
Another maintenance task that can be run to keep your Mac in good shape is Safe Mode, a special boot environment that will run a few tests as well as delete font, system, and kernel caches that can cause some very strange behavior when any of them become corrupt. You can find out more in the Rocket Yard guide: Safe Mode & Single-User Mode: What They Are, How to Use Them.
Over time, your Mac’s hardware may seem to be slowing down; more likely, you’re just using a lot more of your Mac’s resources than when you first got it. One way to help alleviate the slowdown is to increase the resources available to your Mac: more RAM, larger disk storage, or perhaps faster storage. All or some of these can speed up your Mac, giving it a longer usable life.
RAM upgrades: I try to buy Macs that have user upgradeable RAM, but this isn’t always possible, especially when Apple has soldered the RAM directly to the Mac’s motherboard. However, you may be surprised to learn that even some Macs that don’t provide easy user access to their internals still have RAM that can be upgraded.
When I need to upgrade my Mac’s RAM, MacSales.com’s memory guide is where I look to see what upgrades are available, and in many cases, view the upgrade video that may be available for a specific Mac model.
Storage upgrades: One of the best upgrades that I’ve performed for many of my older Macs is to replace the rotational disk drive with an SSD. This type of upgrade can really put the spring back into your Mac, and remind you of how impressed you were with your Mac’s performance that first day you brought it home.
Even if you have a more recent Mac with an SSD already installed, increasing the SSD size can be helpful, and the old SSD can be put into an external enclosure for additional storage.
You can use the MacSales.com SSD Flash Storage Upgrade guide for information about the SSD you need for your specific Mac.
Another storage upgrade option is to use a fast port, such as Thunderbolt 2 or Thunderbolt 3, to connect a high performance external storage solution to your Mac. This lets you enjoy the benefits of faster storage without having to take your Mac apart to replace disks. It also provides the possibility of building high performance RAID storage systems to meet your particular needs.
Battery Care and Maintenance
If you’re using one of the MacBook models, then you probably already know that the battery that keeps your Mac running when not connected to the mains is often cited as the reason for replacing the Mac.
The usual complaints are that the battery no longer holds a charge, won’t accept a charge, or when charged, has a very short runtime, perhaps an hour or less.
The solution to this type of battery problem is to either have the battery replaced, or to replace it yourself.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Batteries are considered consumables; they have a limited lifetime and are expected to fail at some point. Apple’s battery guidelines state that batteries used in the MacBook product line should retain 80% of their original capacity after a set number of charging cycles. The actual charging cycle or cycle count varies depending on the specific battery. You can find out more about how to check a battery’s cycle count, as well as how to check up on the MacBook battery’s current condition, in the Rocket Yard guide: Tech 101: Checking Battery Health on a MacBook.
Even though you know the battery will eventually fail, there are quite a few steps you can take to prolong its life:
Avoid temperature extremes: MacBook batteries generally have a preferred ambient operating temperature between 50° F and 95° F. Using your Mac on cold days can result in a temporary reduction in battery performance. Using the battery when the temperature is above 95° F can lead to permanent reduction in battery performance. Charging the battery when the temperature is above 95° F can cause further damage, reducing the battery’s runtime.
The MacBook battery also has a storage temperature limit of -4° F and 113° F. At colder or hotter temperature extremes, the battery can undergo permanent damage, even when not in use.
That’s not to say the MacBook’s battery is going to fail because you took your MacBook to the ski resort; just don’t take it outside on really cold nights. Likewise, Death Valley in the summer may not be an ideal place for your MacBook’s battery.
Battery storage: If you don’t plan to use your MacBook for a long time, it’s a good idea to have the battery at around a half charge and then power the Mac off; don’t leave it in a sleep state. This can help prevent a deep discharge from occurring, which can adversely affect the battery’s ability to hold a charge later. A half charge is the safest condition for the battery to be in when storing it for any lengthy time period.
Exercise your MacBook’s battery: You may be tempted to always leave your MacBook plugged into house current. This isn’t a good idea since keeping the battery at a full charge for an extended length of time can lead to an overall capacity loss and a shorter life. Instead, use the battery as it was intended: to power the MacBook from time to time.
Maintain Software With Updates
Keeping your software up to date can help keep your Mac operating in top condition. It may be that you’re happy with the version of the Mac OS you’re using now, and have no need for any of the new features in subsequent versions. But updating your system usually brings new security and performance fixes that may help extend your Mac’s lifetime.
System updates have also, on occasion, poorly impacted older Macs, so the decision to upgrade is bit of a tossup. I’ve always tried to keep my older Macs at the latest version of the operating system they support.
There are valid reasons not to upgrade, such as the need to use an app that is not supported under a newer version of the OS. So, the best thing is to do a bit of research before deciding whether or not to upgrade to a newer OS.
Back Up Regularly
The last suggestion for extending the life of your Mac is to understand that at some point, a failure may occur, or an upgrade to a newer Mac will be required. Having a current set of backups as well as archives of important data will make the change an easier one.
Stop by the Rocket Yard article How to Create a Robust Backup System in Three Phases for some suggestions on backup strategies.
How Old Is Your Mac?
If your Mac has a few years under its belt, let us know what year and model Mac you have, as well as how you’re using it, and any upgrades or repairs you’ve performed to extend its useful life.
For more tricks and guides for macOS Mojave, High Sierra or earlier, check out our Tech Tips section.