Should I Upgrade My Mac or Buy a New One?

This is a question commonly asked on forums around the web. If you have an older Mac, then you can spend a little money now to make your Mac faster and better at running the latest OS and apps. Or, you could spend more money and completely replace your old Mac with a new model.
There are several factors to consider when deciding between an upgrade or a new Mac.

How important is it to you to have a fast, powerful Mac?
Even if you update your Mac, how soon will you need to replace it anyway?
What is your budget?
Let’s take a look at each of these factors. Hopefully, this will help you decide whether to upgrade or buy a new Mac.

How important is it to you to have a fast, powerful Mac?

What do you do with your Mac? On the one end of the spectrum, you may use your Mac to run your own business, doing graphic design, app development, business planning, at whatever your business does. On the other end, you could only use your Mac for simple personal tasks, like emailing friends and shopping online.
Ask yourself this: Do you earn some or all of your income through things you do on your Mac? Would a faster Mac help you earn more money? If a faster Mac would help you accomplish more in a day, then the answer is yes. But by how much?
This could be the deciding factor, without having to think of anything else. If having a fast Mac would help you earn more, accomplish more, or succeed more, then a small step like an upgrade probably isn’t a smart move. It makes sense to always have a fast, recent Mac. Spend the money and get a new Mac.
On the other hand, if having a faster Mac is simply a luxury, because you don’t use it for work, but only personal tasks, then whether to upgrade or buy new depends on your budget. You’ll still get some benefit from optimizing your personal time, but it may or may not be worth the money.

Even if you update your Mac, how soon will you need to replace it anyway?

As an example, let’s say it is 2017 and you have a 2012 MacBook Pro. You are considering an upgrade that includes a new solid-state hard drive to replace the old disk drive. You are also considering adding new memory. The total cost would be about $500, including professional installation. A new MacBook Pro would cost you $1,800.
So we’ve established that you are using your MacBooks for about 5 years before feeling they are getting old. That’s $360 per year. The upgrade will cost you the equivalent to 1.7 years. Let’s say 2 years. So you spend $500 and push back your next Mac purchase two year.
The downside is that at the end of the life of your current MacBook it will be 7 years old. Sure. the drive and memory will be new, but the processor, logic board, ports, screen and other parts will be very old, probably considered “vintage” according to Apple. Likely they will no longer support the latest macOS release, and the latest versions of some apps. So you have two more years, but you won’t be working at the same level as you would with a new Mac during those years.

What is your budget?

This is the biggest question, and one people often leave out when asking for advice online. Your financial situation is obvious to you, but not to others. Do you make $250K per year, have a second vacation home and high six-digits in your bank account? Do you make $40K per year, rent, and have virtually no savings? Something in between?
If you go out to eat every day, fly business class when you can and drive a nice new car, then you should probably don’t need to be putting off buying a new Mac by upgrading your current one. But if you need to stretch your dollar, then an upgrade could be a good way to do it.
You’ve got to weight this factor with the first two questions. If money is tight, but a faster computer will help you earn more, then you will want to prioritize it over other things. If you have plenty of money, but only use your Mac to email friends a few times per week, then an upgrade may be all you need right now.

Other Factors to Consider

So let’s say you decide to upgrade. You add memory and an SSD to your Mac. But the screen is still 5 years old. The processor, logic board, GPU, keyboard, everything else is 5 years old. There is a risk that something could go wrong with one of the original parts, making your upgrade useless. If the screen goes bad at year 6, you only ended up getting an extra year out of your Mac for the cost of memory and an SSD.
Also keep in mind that the version of macOS that you can run is determined by the processor and logic board of your Mac. Upgrading memory and an SSD will not allow you to load a new version of macOS that isn’t compatible with your machine. So you may get two more years with your Mac, but during those two years you may have to run an older macOS and perhaps older versions of some apps.

Consider Doing Neither, For Now

Another option is to save the money you would have used to upgrade your current Mac, and put that toward a new Mac next year. If your budget is tight, and you don’t use your Mac for work, then ask yourself whether you can get by for a little while with your current Mac. After all, if you spend money on an upgrade now, those improvements will only last for the life of your current Mac.

Summary

In most cases it makes more sense to buy a new Mac instead of upgrading your current one. Over the long run you will be using a fast, modern Mac most of the time and be able to use the latest macOS and software.
In some cases, if your budget is tight or you don’t use your Mac for income-earning tasks, then you may want to stretch your dollar by upgrading your Mac and keeping your current Mac for a couple more years. But you should also consider not upgrading and putting the money toward a new Mac in the near future.

Comments: 5 Responses to “Should I Upgrade My Mac or Buy a New One?”

    Kathy
    6/8/17 @ 10:03 am

    My problem is what do I do when my late 2009 17″ MBP dies! I really can’t manage on a smaller screen, it also has to be a laptop so the iMac doesn’t work. Less and less apps are being supported, I can’t have Sierra yet the old lady is still going strong with as many upgrades/replacements as I can get in there. Will Apple ever make a 17″ again? I hope so!

    6/8/17 @ 10:05 am

    Kathy: No, I doubt there will ever be a 17-inch MacBook again, at least in the near future. But keep in mind because new MacBook Pros use retina displays, there are many more pixels in the 15-inch MacBook Pro than in your old 17-inch. So the screen may be a little smaller, but it can hold more information and display it with greater clarify.

    George Hammond
    6/8/17 @ 10:34 am

    I have a late 2011 iMac that does just fine. I did add RAM so that I am now at 8gb. I will probably upgrade in the next few years, but the real question is to what. The large screen is nice, but having something more portable would be nice also.

    George Coder
    6/8/17 @ 2:14 pm

    I am in the same position with George Hammond. What is your answer to him?

    6/8/17 @ 2:31 pm

    Coder: I took Hammond’s last sentence as a pondering, not a question. My advice is to make the decision like you would weigh any other: how important is a large screen vs light weight? What other factors can you add in? The answer is subjective, so it will be different depending on what you really want.

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