Quick guide: Upgrading older Intel Macs

These suggestions should help you tweak a little extra usable life out of your older Mac.

Quick guide: Upgrading older Intel Macs

[ABOVE: The first Intel Macs shipped in January 2006.]


Check your Mac specifications. Launch System Profiler (redubbed System Information in OS X Lion) for these and check how much RAM you have installed in Hardware>Memory. Do you have empty slots?

It makes sense to install more RAM (memory) in any Mac, though you should ensure the memory you get is compatible. Use Crucial's Memory Advisor tool to assess if more memory is available for your Mac.

The reason RAM makes such a difference to Macs is because apps make use of it in order to run. If there isn't enough "real" (RAM) memory available they use Virtual Memory, which can impact performance. This means it makes sense to install RAM. It is possible that you might not need any more memory for what you want your older Mac to do, here's how to check:

  • On OS X Mavericks launch Activity Monitor and check the colored Memory Pressure graph under your list of running processes: If this is relatively flat and green your system may not need RAM.
  • On older versions of OS X look for the Page Out column in Activity Monitor: If there's numerous instances of this then more RAM may help.

In general, installing more RAM improves Mac performance.

Upgrade the drive

It can make sense to upgrade the hard disk inside your Mac. However, you should use System Profiler/Information to find out what kind of disk is already installed: Is it a Serial ATA (SATA) or Parallel ATA (PATA) drive?

Installing hard drives is challenging because you need to ensure you use a compatible drive, and in some Macs the installation process is complex and replacement drives may have become expensive. Before you begin such a project please explore:

  • iFixit: This site hosts numerous self-help guides for Mac models. Check their information to assess how complex drive replacement is for your Mac.
  • Apple: Apple maintains a collection of user manuals. Check your Mac's manual to see whether Apple provides drive replacement instructions. It does if it sees this as user-upgradeable.
  • eBay: If you decide that drive replacement is an option for you and your Mac, search eBay for compatible drives for your machine (you should be able to check this in the iFixit guides). You don't need to purchase the replacement here, this step is designed to help you figure out how expensive compatible drives might be. In some cases the cost may be prohibitive.
Quick guide: Upgrading older Intel Macs

[ABOVE: Processor upgrades like this Sonnet Crescendo are hard to find and difficult to install, but were once a popular way to get more life from Macs.]

Upgrade the software

Is your Mac running the best version of OS X that's available for it? Check the maximum supported version of OS X for your Mac. Recent Macs can upgrade to OS X Mavericks using the Mac App Store, while older versions of the OS can be purchased on disk from Apple's online store.

When you have installed your best available OS for your Mac, be sure to run Software Update until all available system updates are installed.

Internet stuff

Web browsers and email solutions for older Macs with older processors or OS X versions include:

  • Mozilla's Firefox browser and Thunderbird email apps, which are compatible with Macs running OS X 10.6 and beyond.
  • Macs running OS X 10.4 or 10.5 should check Firefox fork TenFourFox  and TenFourBird, which are compatible with pre-Intel G-series processors.

Print & Scan

If you can't find the driver for your printer or scanner, visit:

  • Gutenprint, a good source for print drivers.
  • VueScan developer Hamrick: High quality scanning drivers that support older scanners. (Pre-Intel Macs must use version 9.0.96).

Mavericks Tips and Tricks

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