Buying a Secondhand Macbook, in detail

Macs rock.  Here is an update of previous post [ed: lost to the sands of time] on buying secondhand now covering hardware differences, where to buy in Australia, Applecare warranty, and why they hold their value.

I’m a big fan, because its the very best way to recycle, and its cheaper!  I’ve had really good experiences, having bough a Powerbook secondhand, sold 2 macs to friends, and advised several other friends on satisfactory purchases.  I’ve covered everything that comes to mind, and included links to more information where relevant.

Terms you should know

There’s an infinite amount of lingo, right? In this case you should know:

  • Polycarbonate – refers to the white plastic Macbook
  • Unibody – is the new aluminium model of Macbook and Macbook Pro
  • iBook – is not a Macbook!  The iBook is white, and similar looking to a Macbook, but a completely different vintage.  Still a great little unit if you own one, but don’t settle for less than a Core2Duo
  • C2D, Core2Duo – Two cores (processors), using 64bit architechture. Older computers are still fine, but this is the current generation, and there are plenty around for reasonable prices.
  • Combo Drive – CD burner, DVD player, no DVD burning
  • Super Drive – Burns CDs and DVDs
  • Blue Ray – Get real!!
  • Multitouch – the Macbook trackpads allow you to use multiple finger swipes and clicks for scrolling, right clicking, and other functions.  This is an awesome feature!
  • Applecare – is the Apple warranty.  Read more below.

Major differences between models

You can compare the specs of different models of Macbook at  This site is an invaluable resource which will compare the nitty gritty of 3 computers side-by-side, and provide in depth specs, articles and upgrade options for all.

These are crucial differences for most people:

  • DVD burner – Pay attention! Super drive does, Combo drive does not.
  • Multitouch – newer models can recognise up to 4 fingers, most recognise 2 fingers.  Make sure you get (at least) two finger multitouch, otherwise its a dealbreaker for me!
  • Firewire – as of the Unibody, there are only Firewire ports on Macbook Pros!  Polycarbonate MB to the May’09 model still have Firewire.. sneaky advantage if you need this for capturing from your Video Camera Apperatus.

Further differences to look out for are:

  • Hard Drive capacity – anywhere from 60gb to 320gb.  Very easy to upgrade yourself on the cheap.
  • Included RAM – is often upgraded by the user, so look out for the bargain individuals!
  • Maximum RAM – all the C2D can all handle 4gb+, so why worry?
  • Graphics Card – All the 2009 models Poly and Uni have the Nvidia GeForce 9400M.  Great!  Regardless, unless you’re planning to render crazy huge photoshop docs, or play hard in FCP, no worries!!
  • Video port – the polycarbonate MB has mini DVI out, and the Unibody has mini Display Port.  This is a consideration if you already own an monitor external monitor.  In any case, all of the MBs from the last few years support a second monitor, and adapters are available from the Apple store..
  • Battery life – Varies wildly.  In short: newer is better (up to 7 hours) than older (starts as low as 2.5 hours).  If you’re buying an older MB, the battery may already be fatigued.
  • Backlit keyboard – handy if you work on the plane… I switch it off.

What doesn’t change (much)?

  • Wireless, LAN, Bluetooth connectivity
  • Size / Form factor – the unibody is marginally thinner, but they’re both pretty handy.  Same goes for weight.
  • Screen surface – I think I’m right in saying that the C2Ds are mostly glossy..
  • Keyboard features (layout changes a little)
  • USB 2.0 ports (only 2!)
  • Kensington keylock port (for chaining your lappie to the desk, lest it try to sneak off)

The operating system!  Lets face it: OSX is the killer feature of these babies anyway, so rest assured that you’re in for a treat regardless of which you buy.  Even the old iBook remains a thoroughly useful unit for office work, movies and music, surfing and light photoshop!  This is the key to Macs holding their value, and the other factor is Applecare…

Applecare is transferrable!

Applecare is Apple’s extended warranty.  It is excellent value for a number of reasons:

  • Things do go wrong, and the warranty means that you can take it into a service centre (eg. Nextbyte has 2 locations in Melbourne, 8 nationwide) and have it seen to.  It has saved me three times in the last 5 years.
  • Having such a transferrable warranty is great for resale value.

Yes, Applecare is transferrable!  I bought my Macbook for $1750 (trainers discount) in late 07, owned it for 18 months, sold it for $1150 with another 18 months warranty to go.  Everyone was happy.

Other great things to know:

  • You can purchase Applecare anytime inside the initial 1 year factory warranty period, and not at all afterwards, so this is another great way to distribute costs if you’re buying a fresh unit.
  • You can buy Applecare on eBay cheaper than from Apple!  Compare ~$200 to $400+.  I’ve done it.. check it out yourself.
  • Applecare is model specific: you can’t use Applecare:iMac for a Macbook.

IANAL!! An extreme crop of  Section 6: Transfer of Plan from Applecare conditions for Asia/Pacific: may make a one-time permanent transfer of all of your rights under the Plan to another party, provided that: (a) the transfer must include the original Proof of Purchase, the Plan’s Certificate and all of the Plan’s packaging material, including printed materials and these Terms and Conditions; (b) you notify Apple of the transfer…

You can manage registration of warranty at the Apple support site.

Could you buy new with an EDU discout?

Worth considering: if you are employed by a Registered Training Organisation, or enrolled at a recognised institution, there is a discount which may be as much as $150 on Macbooks.  Read more at Apple.

You can still buy from your local: I provided them with a letter from my employer on company letterhead and a payslip, if I remember correctly.

DIY refurbished

If you’re trying to repair your own Macbook, or think you might get a bargain on eBay with or broken screen or suchlike, then you head over to Mac Fixit for parts and Mac Repair Guides for instructions.  If you’re handy with the tools, you might repair it yourself for around AU$300!

Where to buy Secondhand Macbooks in Australia

My updated list for searching for secondhand Mac hardware in Australia:

My Roundup of Tips

  • Narrow your search to Core2Duo Macbooks.  Then you’re looking at contemporary computers: all will run the latest version of OSX (10.6 at time of writing)
  • Look out for Applecare included, or the opportunity to buy it.  Applecare is a must!
  • You can Upgrade RAM and Harddrive size easily.  So maybe you can do it later, and distribute the cost.
  • More RAM is more fun. (see the previous point)
  • Even the little 13″ Macbooks drive lovely big 24″ monitors

Epic post!  I wish I got a commission, but for now I’ll put this down to public service.  Comments / suggestions welcome.

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  • LM

    this is great information – just wondering though, If I buy a secondhand laptop from whirlpool or ebay do I need the original receipt to claim a warranty service in the first 12 months? I have just bought a brand new macbook from someone who got it as a gift.

    • tim

      Nope – you can check to see if it is still under warranty by following the links on the right of the Apple Support page under Self Service. You’ll need to enter your serial number. Basically.. if you have the hardware, and its under warranty, they’ll fix it.

      As an aside, apparently Apple will keep records of stolen Macs if a police report and serial number is provided to them.

      If your lappie is still within warranty, definately buy applecare extended warranty – its worth it every time!

  • Tim Osborn

    ah, and new wave systems has rebranded as