Cheap Macbook Pro Replacement Notebooks

Dropped your Macbook Pro, etc. and need a cheap replacement? Don’t want to spend $3,000 on a new one?

Replacing the display screen at the Apple Store or a 3rd party repair service is in the $600 – $800 range, and the battery $200 (for 2012 A1398 and newer Thin models.) Note that Apple frowns on 3rd party repairs and may not accept future repair requests. The advantage of 3rd parties is that you have more control over what they do and when.

Good news!

You can get usable Macbook Pro 15.4″ replacements on eBay for $200 (2009-2011) to $700 (2012 A1398) including Apple AC adapter and free shipping.

13″ notebooks are even cheaper – I’ve seen maxed-out 2012 models in the $400 range.

That’s right, for the price of a battery update, you can get an entire machine. I did BIN on a $280 mid-2009 A1286 that was fairly maxed-out and is in looks-new condition.

I made some offers on 2012 A1398 models (my favorite because of the keyboard feel, SSD and Retina screen), but they’re in high demand, and the sellers know it.

The thick non-Retina 2012 is the last model that was heavily user-customizable, and had all of the traditional multimedia ports (Firewire, SD, DVD, etc.) for gig professionals (musicians, photographers, etc.)

Models starting at 2012 A1398 are really designed for office and home use, and require dongles to do anything unless you want to re-purchase all your external drives, etc.

So go with a $25 or $50 offer discount on recent models, or save the haggling for 2009-2011 models that are in less demand. They have the same keyboard, but the other features are different, and Mojave may not be officially supported.

Key Features to Consider

– always get a new battery (Macbook Pros require a functioning battery to operate,) unless you can replace it yourself. Pre-A1398 is easy. I’ve done it before on an A1398 – took a day and had to sand off the power connector key, so not recommended unless you’re handy or really determined. Tip: search for a Youtube video on how to use string or jute to remove he old battery cell glue.
– hard disk vs. SSD? size? Although SSD is faster, hard disks work fine too while they’re still spinning.
– Retina vs. non-Retina display?
– GPU vs. not? May help with newer versions of Mac OS X. NVIDIA is best-supported, AMD is not supported by the dosdude1 patch
– weight – 2009-2012 Thick models weigh 5.5 pounds, ok if you go to the gym. Not ok if you have back, neck or wrist problems.
– DVD drive (2008-2012)
– Get at least 8 GB RAM, unless you can upgrade RAM yourself.
– old OS X vs. new one: Apple officially supports El Capitan (2008-2011) and Sierra, High Sierra, Mojave (2012 – now.) The most sensitive software seems to be video chat software like Zoom and Skype, so make sure it works for you. “Docker (2019) requires a 2010 and macOS version 10.12.0 [Sierra] or higher.” but minikube/docker or dockertools still work on El Capitan with most hardware versions. Verify with:

# any output means supported
sysctl -a | grep machdep.cpu.features | grep VMX

– warm vs. cool?
– AC adapter or not?
– glossy (default) vs. matte (optional) display coating
– cover or case?
– box or not?
– free shipping or not?
– cosmetics are basically that. It’s nice to own a cherry one, but enclosure scratches or missing feet don’t affect how it works. The exception is that raised bottom crew heads will scratch tables unless you apply a cover.

The special screwdrivers needed are available with upgrade kits on Amazon or eBay, and also at Central Computer locations in the Bay Area. (ie. The 2012 A1398 uses one type for the bottom case screws and a different type for the SSD screws.)

What to Avoid

– original (old) batteries. I’ve seen some work from 2012, but some not.
– logic board/power glitches or any other flakiness
– damaged screens
– “Parts only” listings. Sellers are savvy, and when they say this, beware.
– the old 2 GB RAM Macbook Pro versions (silver/chrome key tops.)
– ensure there is a Mac OS X recovery partition. It’s needed for a few things, including enabling USB boot if necessary using csrutil disable, and fixing problems.

How to Compensate for a Slower/Older Notebook

If you’re using your notebook for surfing the web:

– use uBlock Origin to block ads and malware
– disable custom fonts
– click on the battery icon to see which apps are power hogs. (Quit docker when not using it.)

If you’re migrating your SSD from an old notebook to a “new” replacement one, there’s a wrinkle: the firmwares are not backwards compatible, so you may need to fully upgrade the OS to Sierra on the new computer first, then install the old SSD drive. Or it just might not work at all and you’ll have to consult an Apple Store expert.

macworld.co.uk: How to install new MacOS on an old Mac, install Mojave on older Mac
vice.com: The 2012 Non-Retina MacBook Pro Is Still the Best Laptop Apple Sells
osxdaily.com: How to Download a Full macOS High Sierra Installer App
macworld.co.uk: How to download old Mac OS X and macOS versions
macdaddy.io: Install Disk Creator (Use USB drive with activity LED.)
dosdude1.com: macOS High Sierra Patcher Tool for Unsupported Macs
Disable SIP without recovery mode
How do I disable System Integrity Protection (SIP) AKA “rootless” on macOs [OS X]
Reset NVRAM or PRAM on your Mac

Kingston Data Traveler G4 16GB did not boot (“no entry sign” icon) High Sierra on 2009 15″ with either dood or “Install Disk Creator” software.

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