A new MacBook is out of reach for your because of a tight budget? You don’t care about a thin design and know how to use a screwdriver? We have a look at the MacBook Pro 2008 and check how usable it is today.
We found a used and a bit unloved 15 inch model with a 2,4 GHz Core 2 Duo processor and 4 gigs of RAM. If you like, you can double that, but we wanted to keep it affordable. More important is replacing a mechanical harddrive by a SSD. We keep the optical drive because the machine shall be a home computer and so can play a DVD from your collection every now and then. Back to the future we go upgrading to USB 3.0. But one after the other.
Besides the fact that we cleaned the MacBook thoroughly, a lot of other service tasks were waiting. We were excited, however, how the MacBook would turn out, because it is a classic already: 2008 models are split at the bottom, so you can change harddrive and battery easily yourself. Furthermore, you can find an Express Card 34 slot on the left side, your chance to retrofit newer ports. Also beautiful: the LEDs that show you the charging status.
First step: Disassembly and cleaning.
The first step for everyday use is disassembly: As always we use ifixit’s manual and clean every part of the MacBook. Dust removal from the internals and the fans is especially important. For future use, new thermal paste on GPU and processor is mandatory. This paste helps move heat away from the chips to the heatsink. Is is very long lasting, but after three years it is a very good idea to apply some fresh material. We used Artic Silver 5, which is widely used in the industry and keeps the temperatures low.
The MacBook’s details have always been fascinating, but the 2008 model is very special: the Mid Wall, which divides the inner part from the battery, houses a mechanism, that holds the flap and the battery in place. Beautiful.
Spare parts are surprisingly cheap.
But let’s not get distracted and install a cost-effective SSD drive (we chose a Sandisk Plus with 240 GB) because the MacBook Pro’s internal SATA port only supports 3 GB/s anyway. In addition, we put in a new battery from Amazon for around 35 Dollars. After that, we install OS X 10.11 and are ready to the machine. Excellent we have to say. The Display still is great and bright, the fans inaudible during normal tasks and the SSD hides the age of the machine very well. Even the DVD drive runs without problems and buffers some minutes when you are in battery mode and then shuts off completely. That was very cool in the day and still is.
For about 200 bucks we made out of an unloved machine with a lot of scratches on the way to the scrap a great 15″ MacBook that is still very usable for everyday tasks. Nobody with a standard usage profile will miss a new machine that much. Surfing, text processing and editing a few pictures in Photos is still very much possible. The difference to new Laptops in the few hundred dollar price range makes the excellent display, finish, design and the just brilliant trackpad. On top there is OS X, of course.
Upgrade to USB 3.0 in two seconds. We have ten ports!
But wait, there is more! As we have an ExpressCard 34 slot, we do not hesitate to use it: from our Hong Kong partner we ordered an USB 3.0 card. There is no need for driver installation, just plug it in the ExpressCard slot, done! The chipset is natively supported by OS X, so it runs very stable, too. We now got a 15″ MacBook Pro with USB 3.0 that is fast enough for everyday use and runs about 2:30 to 3 hours on the non-original battery. The technical limit are YouTube videos with more than 1080p resolution. But who cares. Even 720p with 60 fps is possible.
Totally crazy in these days: we got ports for everything! Besides the just genius MagSafe there is Gigabit-Ethernet, FireWire 800, two USB 2.0, two USB 3.0, a MiniDisplayPort connector and Audio-In and Out (both also digitally). If you miss something, just use the ExpressCard slot for something else!
The 2008 model is still fast enough for everyday tasks and still seems up-to-date.
Disadvantages? Sure, there are a few. The machine is not supported by Apple’s macOS Sierra anymore, the newest version of the operating system. So we are stuck at 10.11. That should be ok though for the next few year. Furthermore, the is a patch, that allows the installation of Sierra, so if you feel lucky, you can install it.
An important aspect in running an older machine is, that you clean the inside an apply new thermal paste. You need to disassemble the whole MacBook for this task. If you don’t think that you can handle that yourself, just buy a refurbished one from an Apple geek or let it service for around 40 bucks. A nice side effect even with older MacBooks: they don’t look like an old piece of tech in your apartment, rather than a modern classic.
Also, battery change and installation of a new SSD in a few years is incredibly easy: open the bottom flap, insert new battery, close the bottom flap. There even is a manual printed on the inside of the case. This makes the 2008 machines very special in the Unibody universe. As long as the 2008 MacBook Pro runs, we use it. With a lot of sympathy.
If you now think about buying such an old machine because of the ExpressCard slot then you can only buy 15″ MacBook Pro machines form 2008. Every iteration after this one has a SD-card slot instead. If you only care about inner speed, you can chose models from 2011, which have the drives connected with 6 GBit/s. Especially this year has problems with the GPU though. So go for 2008 and 2009 models or 2012 we’d say. Wifi is n on all machines, the much faster ac was only introduced with the Retina MacBooks 2013.