My Macbook Pro Just Turned 10. Should I Throw It a Birthday Party or Throw It Out?

My Macbook Pro Just Turned 10. Should I Throw It a Birthday Party or Throw It Out?

Every time I hear someone say how much better a camera or lens or computer is from the previous model, I cannot help but think of how little you actually need to create nice images. 

I have been using my 2010 13” MacBook Pro continuously as my only computer for 10 years now. Yes, I said 10 years. Back in 2010, my Acer computer I got at the beginning of college took a dive to the ground and shattered. About to start grad school, I decided to get an entry-level Macbook Pro. At the time, I didn’t even own a camera, so editing images was the furthest thing from my mind. My old Minolta film camera was stolen a year or so before that, and it wouldn’t be until after grad school that I got back into photography and purchased a Sony a7. Over the years, I made upgrades to the computer — maxing out the memory at 16GB in graduate school and eventually buying a 512 GB SSD after I was back into photography. Since the time that I made my last upgrade to my computer, I’ve upgraded cameras to a Sony a7R II and increased my film camera collection quite considerably. 

Of course, you may be wondering how on earth my computer has lasted this long. If so, you’re not alone. Truth be told, the impending mortality of my computer is not lost on me. For years now, I’ve said, “it won’t last much longer. I’m just waiting for the next model to drop, and I’m going to go ahead and pick up a new computer.” That said, year after year goes by, and I am still rocking the same 2010 13” computer. Given the limited need for a computer in my life — my photography, writing for Fstoppers, and remoting in for work — I haven’t really felt the intense need to make the update very quickly. For the last several years, I kept telling myself that I just needed to wait out the awful keyboards Apple decided to put on the computers, but even that excuse no longer works. 

So now, my recent challenge is trying to think through what computer to upgrade to. Of course, with my improved life circumstances and what I perceive to be an increased demand for computational power, I feel like I should be getting a much-upgraded model of computer. Then, the realization strikes what is necessary to accomplish my work and how that’s different from what would be nice and what is complete overkill. Do I need the biggest and best Macbook Pro that money can buy? Absolutely not. Perhaps if I was a full-time videographer or something along those lines, the power would be essential to efficient product delivery. For me, however, I don’t think that I could be convinced that the biggest and best newest computer is necessary to use Lightroom or Photoshop. 

In the most extreme and taxing edits I’ve done (stitching 10+ photos or compiling 20+ photos for astrophotography), my computer still performs as well as I could ask for. Even further still, my fiancée occasionally edits some of her favorite photographs from our trips on her base model 2016 Macbook Air, and it does just fine. 

At the end of the day, photographers are great about talking all the specs they need to get the job done, but if you’re a hobbyist photographer, consider what you actually need. What are your experiences with delineating what you need from what you want? At what point is it overkill?   

James Madison's picture

Madison is a mathematician turned statistician based out of Columbus, OH. He fell back in love with film years ago while living in Charleston, SC and hasn't looked back since. In early 2019 he started a website about film photography.

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I had an '08 MBP and it started to have erratic behavior in '15, so I purchased a Refurbished '15 MBP. I suppose that I tend to keep gear longer than most but I can't seem to justify having the latest greatest when the older does what I need. I guess that's why I still have the iphone6 that I paid $299 for and cannot wrap my head around spending $1K on a phone. Use what you have until it no longer functions or does what you need.

I just upgraded my PC (granted, to a Ryzen 1600AF which is considered ultra budget by US standards, it is quite expensive and high end here), and I can't think how I would work with a 10 year old PC.

Throwing 1000 to 3000 24mpx RAW photos at even my last PC was an exercise in patience and deadlines come and go.

I just set up this new PC yesterday and didn't have time to test a workflow on it, but I suppose it will be greatly improved.

I think it would take me days to even cull those pictures in a lesser computer. Let alone edit and deliver.

And all that I work with lowly aps-c cameras, imagine if I worked some a7riv or something like that

My 27 inch iMac just turned 10! It still works great for photo editing. (I don't edit video). If it gets any slower I'll upgrade but for now it's been a huge bargain.

Funny as that might be, my dual core gen 1 surface pro can tether my A7R2 with no problems via capture one, and I suspect his dual core MBP could too. You don't actually have to keep everything in the bronze age ;)

Release dates mean a lot less than the CPU and amount of ram. What a silly response.

I have a PC I built 8 years ago that I keep trying to either upgrade or replace. I mostly do stills and been practicing video editing. I've visited PCPartpicker, OriginPC, and Letsbld dozens upon dozens of times to try to sway myself either way. But, at the end of the day, my machine still runs very well and I can't get myself motivated to spend the money for an upgrade or replacement. I think if I start doing more advanced video editing, it'll force me to finally upgrade or replace.

The thing is, if you are a hobbyist, there are no clear objective, external standards to define what you need. For pros, a cost-benefit analysis does this job, but since for hobbyists, the benefits are enjoyment, this formula provides no clear, across the board, answers.

A hobbyist equipment is determined basically by what they want and what they are willing to pay. It is a personal decision for each hobbyist. I see a hobbyists equipment decisions more a reflection of how they budget their disposable income than how good a photographer they are.

The point at which my hardware is making the task of editing my work (photo/video) less enjoyable or more tedious is the point where I'll throw money at the problem. You can't put a price on sanity.

my 2012 MB pro just got a new. battery and 512gb ssd. It has 16gb ram and I keep it on my desk in the office. It is about as fast as my 2017 MB pro, but heavier. It doesn't upload files as fast as it's USB 3.0 ports are limiting, and FW just isn't even that fast, and none of my external drives are thunderbolt. If you don't have a bunch of video to do, it'll be a good way to carry-on, without emptying your bank account.

I have a late 2011 iMac with 16GB of RAM and it is now practically useless for image editing. I got a 2018 MacBook Pro with 16GB and it works great. There is no comparison.

I think the interesting thing is in the last 8 years how little the cpu single thread speed has changed ( Most programmes only use 1 or 2 cores, unless your encoding video... Storage is much faster, CPU power usage is lower, ram is faster, gpu is much faster.

Actually, they are more multi threaded than most people think. Photoshop maybe not much, but still a bit.

And at least I will have Lightroom, Luminar and Photoshop open at once, so multiple cores can share the load.

But editing video really, really benefits from cores.

Ive got a 2010 MBP still going strong, its massive weakness is the screen now looks terrible because i also have a 2015 one with Retina... im not going to get into an argument about Macs lasting longer because im writing this on a 10yr old Windows based desktop PC, but it does impress me that the 10yr old computer still switches on and gets to work quickly and efficiently and doesnt seem slow at all. I reckon if my 2010 one had come with Retina it would still be my main machine, the CD drive even still works.

Just make sure you backup to the cloud, and also to an external hard drive. And find out how to blow dust out of it properly, if you don't already know.

Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh......... my 2008 notebook took 2 minutes to open an 18MP RAW file in Lightroom. My 2011 notebook took 1 minute to open an 18MP RAW file in Lightroom. My 2015 notebook took 8 seconds to open a 24MP RAW file in Lightroom. For some jobs, I have to batch process 1000 RAW files with adjustments into TIFF all in one go, with the 2015 notebook. It was about 1 minute to export each photo, so around 16.5 hours. Sometimes I messed up the settings and I wasn't happy with the results so I would redo it and wait another day for the batch process to complete. I don't have anymore money, but if I could, I would immediately get a new notebook which has double the processing speed and should technically do the batch process in half the time. If you're just doing 1 photo at a time and you're happy with the speed, then go ahead and keep using whatever notebook you have,but if you're doing batch processing that takes a lot of time, newer notebooks would help speed things up, but you need to go check some benchmarks, because a lot of companies advertise speedy CPUs but are actually thermal limited and slower than the older models.

I would say doing that volume of work you would be better served with a high end desktop, customised to suit your needs, laptops will never be able to compete with a good spec desktop.

If you buy a shiny new MacBook now, the problem you will have is that you will not be able to install/run your old copy of Lightroom, or Photoshop. You will have no choice but to subscribe to Adobe Cloud. It's hard to justify paying $9.99 a month for ever and ever, if you are only going to use it occasionally to edit photos. Better to stick with your 2010 Mac for as long as you possibly can.

My 2012 11" MacBook Air can do anything I need it to do, with modern Adobe software. If I need horsepower, I use the 2009 Mac Pro, though not running the latest OS, can still handle the heavy lifting for huge exports from LR CC. Sounds like you have exactly what you need still and that is the most important thing.

Still on my early 2013 15" MPB. My wife just got a new 13" MPB from work last week replacing her ~2015 one, and she hates it. The keyboard is nowhere near as good and twice as loud. Plus, the fans kick on constantly even when she's just working on a spreadsheet or presentation. I feel like I'm on borrowed time with mine as I've never had a Mac laptop last more than 5 or 6 years going back to the 2002 Powerbooks, but I have no idea what I'm going to do what this one craps out. I know it's personal preference, but I really hate the new keyboards, I don't want to pay for the worthless Touch Bar, and I can't stand the massive trackpad.

My media server runs on Linux Mint, and after spending some time on that, if I could get CaptureOne and Photoshop (or even just Afinity Photo) for Linux, I'd make the switch in a heartbeat.

Throw it a party! Any excuse for a party. I have had a few MBP, love ‘em. Having a big social distancing party tonight. Indian, beer, wife, MBP and a party. Let’s party people.

I have an early 2014 Macbook Air that is still working just as well. Yes, it might take longer to boot up when I start it. Other than that, I couldn't be happier. Occasionally, I think about getting a new one. As long as my current Macbook continues to work, I will continue to hold off. If it ain't broke don't fix it.

I couldn't agree more - I run a mid 2012 MBP and like you, I upgraded to an SSD and boosted the RAM and it is just fine, and I use it for both photo and video editing.

My '09 13" MBP is still going strong, and while I can't edit video on it, dealing with the occasional 24MP raw image it works just fine. I upgraded the RAM, replaced the battery and changed to an SSD along the way, so it's as fast as it'll ever be. My iMac has become the 'workhorse' now, and I got a newer PC laptop that runs circles around both in terms of speed, but I can't see it lasting 10 years like the MBP did.

I'm still on a 2007 MacBook Pro "Core 2 Duo" 2.33 15-Inch. Maxes out at OS 10.7; using 10.6.8 but booting over to 10.7 to use Adobe DNG converter, so I can access the raw files from my Canon 7DM2. Put in all the memory you could and upgraded to a 7200 750GB HD years ago. Use large external drives through the Firewire (800) and ExpressCard/34 as needed - EC34 for my PS CS5 scratch disk. If I had to replace all of the software I still use (aside of having to accept the PS CC bullsh*t), that'd run me many thousands more than the hardware itself. Yeah, I'd like newer stuff... but it works for me. Hobbyist. Occasional studio work as a volunteer. A cappuccino/latte is how I deal with the file processing speed delays. I drink a lot of coffee.

I've always gotten a lot more life out of my mac's than most people could ever get out of PC's. Prior was a PowerBook G3 Pismo, that lasted 10 years for me, then was used by my wife another 6 before we simply weren't able to use it anymore (browser compatibility, etc.) Starting to run into those kinds of issues with this MBP more and more.

I use my smartphone for web stuff mostly now.

p.s. I drive old cars as well.
p.p.s. Party sounds about right.

A macbook pro is one of the better Apple machines that do exist. In the latest lines everything is soldered on board (what gives the advantage that the chances on false connections drop - but the biggest disadvantage is - that in case of minor or major mainboard troubles - you have to give your data away).
I'd opt to keep this machine as long alive as possible. I'm not buying any Apple machinery - due to the fact that when i buy something - i want to be in complete control. I'm the owner, not Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon...
I'm running Sailfish on my smartphone - I'm using debian linux on my desktops/laptops. It's not better than the commercial alternatives - but it's the only reasonable way to be able to stay in charge. That's what matters. I pay, i decide, i'm the boss. And inside my pc's it's all with AMD Ryzen cpu's. There's no need to reinstall - i can just swap my ssd's - and continue working as i'm used too. Consistency is also an argument in favour of AMD.
One has to determine it's own priorities isn't it? So when you use a modern mac - be sure to encrypt your data! And make backups - lots of backups! (don't only use the cloud - it's fine as one backup - but one backup is no backup).

I had a 2013 MBP i7 , no problem at all . I jsut thought maybe 7 years is enough so this year upgraded to their new i9 once. So hopefully this one goes the 10 year .... I don't do video editing and my PSD files are less than 2 GB

Your 2010 MBP has fared considerably better than my 15 inch 2010 MBP, a model with a known logic board issue that failed twice, followed by a failed optical drive (remember them) and a failed trackpad. It will still work if needed but an iMac took over the editing work some years back. The MBP was replaced for a good by a PC laptop a couple of years ago that vastly outperforms the iMac, so I'm heading back to a wholly PC-based workflow shortly.

Coming from a pc “gamer” turned photographer, the difference will be night and day when you upgrade. You may not think you need to now, but once you do you’ll value faster hardware more. I’d also recommend a 144Hz IPS display to go with your computer upgrade.

That's ridiculous, no photographer needs to buy a 144Hz monitor.

I'd say to specifically avoid a high refresh rate monitor, you don't need 144Hz to edit photos or video, you need accurate colours and good contrast ratio. With a gaming monitor you'll either suffer in terms of colour accuracy... Or you'll end up paying a LOT more for something with high refresh rates AND good colour accuracy.

If he’s been editing photos on a 10 year old MacBook, then he doesn’t care about perfect color accuracy. Also, no, you don’t need 144Hz to edit photos, but it is nice to have and they are relatively inexpensive.

So you're saying rather than buy a monitor which will help him improve his work, he should buy a monitor with zero perceivable benefits to him... curious....

(If he has a 10 year old Macbook he certainly doesn't game, bro).

Upgrading is not just about performance. You don't mention SECURITY! Your old Mac OS is less secure than today's Catalina OS, and there comes a point where you can't update your Mac to the latest update, with the latest security features. Of course I don't know whether you upgrade your OS at all, you might be on the original OS that came with the Mac, some of my clients NEVER update their OS (before I get there). Even behind your router's firewall your Mac is less SECURE with an old OS than with the latest.

If you DO get a new Mac (and I REALLY recommend it), make sure any apps you need have an upgraded 64-bit version, do a clone backup (Carbon Copy Cloner), connect your clone backup drive to your new Mac (Thunderbolt or ethernet) and use Migration Assistant (during the setup, it will ask you) to import your data and apps to your new Mac. Easy-Peasy!

What you say is true; if you are being singled out by a thief or intruder. If you have riches to be unlocked on your device, get the newest, latest, greatest and most secure. Unfortunately, too many PC preferring software developers are one or two years behind Apple updates. Apple's revenue system is dependent on making its sturdy hardware obsolete with continuous updating and development. My older Macs on Mojave are less secure than my Macs on Catalina, but are less likely to be targeted than a Dell on Windows 10.