Thanks to Apple’s move to its own chips, the Mac has been running lately, after a frustrating spate of bad keyboards, bad ports, and overheating with pre-M1 machines. But not all old Macs are bad — many are still cherished by their owners. For example, the Internet-enabled MacBook Pro and 13-inch MacBook Air from Intel were both very popular and continued to hold the fort at the affordable end of the MacBook lineup for many years.
These laptops may not be considered “fresh” according to the new standards set by Apple, but they are still supported by the latest version of macOS. It was somewhat upgradeable, easy to repair, and had plenty of spare parts available. Within the used community, even Macs with soldered components are seen as valuable, and handy repairmen fix, update, and add software support to older hardware long after Apple has moved on to something new.
YouTuber Collin Mistr, better known as dosdude1, demonstrates his skillful approach to upgrading and retrofitting old Macs on his channel. The videos are far from polished but they do show how tweaks and tweaks and upgrades can give old Macs new life. “The first machine I ever got was a water damaged MacBook from eBay for really cheap. One day I just decided to learn how to fix it. Then I got really good with surface mount soldering and over time I got different gear for [ball grid array chips]Mister said. Whether it’s a soldered RAM or CPU upgrade beyond factory specs, Mistr does it all with a combination of custom firmware tweaks and chipset swaps.
“[The 2015 MacBook Airs] They are actually very straightforward because Apple actually, when they were developing them, intended for them to work with 16G of RAM…you don’t have to modify the system ROM. Meester says his heaviest upgrade was to the 2015 11-inch Air, the final year for this body style. “I took the CPU and RAM from my top-spec 2015 MacBook Pro and plugged them in and made the 3.1GHz Air.”
Meester cited pioneering work from a small company in Malaysia that sent him parts for testing. iBoff, run by a guy named Bo, keeps Macs running longer due to user demand. The craziest Bo modification replaces the Thunderbolt chip in the 2011 and 2012 MacBook Pros. Newer storage technologies like NVMe SSDs can usefully increase performance, but not all Macs from the past can support these devices natively because of the Thunderbolt chip.
“Customers started asking if we could add NVMe SSDs to the MacBook Pro… After much consideration, prototyping and error, and stability testing, we successfully launched the NevBolt.” The NevBolt runs a cable from where the Thunderbolt controller would sit and adds a high-speed M.2 slot and a 2.5″ SATA drive into the optical drive bay – it even offers the option to connect an external GPU (something like Thunderbolt 1 Macs I didn’t support completely).
Other iBoff products add M.2 drives to devices that only have soldered storage space. The whole story changed when Apple started soldering SSDs in [logic board] For MacBooks 2016 and up, Bo said. Soldered SSD [has a finite life]So we found a way to replace the dead soldered SSD which prompted us to do some more homework on this issue and we are able to install NVMe SSDs [in these models]. “
Oldest Macs, Newest Software
With older Macs dropped from Apple’s supported list, the Open Core Legacy Patcher project is taking off, using tricks learned when running macOS on non-Apple hardware and giving away its utilities for free. “The goal is to extend the life of Macs that Apple no longer wants to support. For me, it’s really important for low-income people, people from other countries… in Brazil [Macs] Four times the price [of elsewhere]says Mykola Grimalyuk, project leader. “In the current scope of the project, we’re only targeting 2008 or later Macs… We want to support every Mac that’s been dropped since then. We support 88 models, if I remember correctly.”
The Open Core Legacy Patcher allows unsupported devices to run newer versions of macOS but sometimes with less functionality and making routine updates difficult for beginners. “You can’t give [an OCLP-enabled device] to a sixth grader and say, “This is your laptop for school.” Just because something, like when you update the OS, Apple nukes all of our patches, so you have to fix the OS. We have mechanisms in place that try to notify you…but that can only get through to end users.”
The future hurdles may be too great
There may be a hard reality for these savvy hardware and software hackers. With the advent of tougher security, things like Apple’s T1 and T2 chips, along with device management software, could turn old Macs into trash, with little hope of resuscitation or repair. “I know Apple’s claims [Activation Lock] It’s mostly for anti-theft, which it actually prevents, but they try to hide from you that most of the locked devices you find out there, on eBay or in surplus sales, are locked not because they were stolen, but because the organization that has the devices didn’t know the lock was there. In the first place,” says Colin Meester.[Apple] They don’t care… they’d rather destroy the device than reuse it.”
People like Bo, Mistr, and Mycola, have their work cut out for them. Older Macs still surf the Internet just fine, can run newer operating systems with a little bit of work, and can even get hardware boosts far beyond what they were designed for. With so many Intel Macs reaching retirement age, there’s never been a better time to pick one up and set it aside for casual use. “It saves people money, it means there’s less e-waste, and more people have a chance to get into a Mac for a lot less money,” says Mikkola. “Especially if you see a Mac on the side of the road…just pick it up, build it, and give it some love.”
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