How old of a MacBook is still good for a student?
Best answer: An older MacBook Air or MacBook Pro from the last five years should still work well for most students, as long as it was released no earlier than 2018.
How old is too old for a MacBook?
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First things first: Whether you're getting a MacBook as a hand-me-down from a relative, finding it used on eBay, or buying it from Apple's Certified Refurbished store, we'd recommend buying one from absolutely no further back than 2018.
This is because you need a Mac that supports macOS 14 Sonoma, the latest operating system for Mac, which arrives in October 2023. Apple has noted it will only work on MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models from 2018 and later. Why does that even matter? For one thing, because updates often include security fixes. If you cannot update your computer any longer, than you may end up with a security issue. You may also find your much older Mac getting glitchier over time.
I think it goes without saying that ALL of the 2023 models are great picks. But you're here to find out about MacBooks from previous years. Here are the only older MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models we're currently recommending:
- MacBook Air (M2, 2022)
- MacBook Air (M1, 2020)
- MacBook Air (Retina, 13-inch, 2020)
- MacBook Air (Retina, 13-inch, 2019)
- MacBook Air (Retina, 13-inch, 2018)
- MacBook Pro (13-inch, M2, 2022)
- MacBook Pro (14-inch, 2021)
- MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2021)
- MacBook Pro (13-inch, M1, 2020)
- MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2020, Two Thunderbolt 3 ports)
- MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2020, Four Thunderbolt 3 ports)
- MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2019)
- MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2019, Two Thunderbolt 3 ports)
- MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2019)
- MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2019, Four Thunderbolt 3 ports)
- MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2018)
- MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2018, Four Thunderbolt 3 ports)
How do I know which model I'm looking at?
Click on the Apple logo at the top right of the screen and you'll see a drop-down menu. Select "About this Mac" and you'll see which model you have.
What about MacBooks from 2017 and earlier?
We understand many students are on a tight budget, so they can't afford the devices mentioned above. Of course, you can purchase an even older MacBook for word processing and web browsing. However, support will be massively hamstrung.
Plus, you may have some major trouble getting it repaired. Apple considers models they stopped selling more than five years ago to be "vintage." More than seven years, "obsolete." This doesn't necessarily mean that Apple will refuse to try and repair these older MacBooks, but they may not actually be able to. Apple may not have the proper parts nor training to do a repair on vintage or obsolete models. So, if you can get an pre-2018 model free or very close to it, maybe it's worthwhile, but otherwise we don't recommend it.
What about Apple silicon?
In 2020, Apple announced it would transition the Mac lineup away from Intel-based processors and introduce machines with in-house chips. The 2020 MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro were the first laptops to include Apple silicon. The 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro models followed in 2021. In 2022, Apple released M2 versions of the MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro. In 2023, Apple released the 15-inch M2 MacBook Air as well as 14-inch and 16-inch M2 Pro/Max MacBook Pro models.
If you have the funds, we'd recommend you select a MacBook model with an Apple silicon (M1 or M2) chip. Apple is likely to support these models for longer. You're still fine with an older Intel chip model, if you find a great deal, as long as it's a 2018 or newer model.
Who should get an older MacBook Pro?
The powerful MacBook Pro is an excellent laptop for anyone. Even the lower-end models provide ample power for most tasks such as writing, web browsing, and photo editing. Higher-end models are great for more involved work, such as complex computer science and engineering programs as well as creative applications like Final Cut Pro and Photoshop.
If your schoolwork involves using resource-intensive applications or video editing, you'll want a MacBook Pro. But even if it doesn't, if you can find a used or refurbished MacBook Pro for a reasonable price, a MacBook Pro will still serve you well in less technically-intensive fields.
Who should get an older MacBook Air?
The MacBook Air is also a great option, and it has traditionally led our list of the best MacBooks for students. These machines are slimmer and lighter than MacBook Pro models so they're easy to pop into a backpack and go. It may prove challenging to use, however, for those students who work with high-end engineering, coding, or content creation applications. But most students studying liberal arts, science, health care, and business should get everything they need from a MacBook Air.
Should you get a 12-inch MacBook?
Apple's one-port, now-discontinued MacBook was a relatively thin and light laptop. It was also never very powerful. While it would have been fine for students doing research and writing papers a few years ago, it won't be supporting macOS Sonoma, so we can no longer recommend buying one.
Where should you buy an older MacBook?
You can still buy some slightly older MacBooks brand new from Apple, such as the MacBook Pro (13-inch, M2, 2022), MacBook Air (13-inch, M2, 2022), and even the MacBook Air (13-inch, M1, 2020)
If you want to go older than that, you'll need to do some shopping unless someone you know is giving or selling you an older Mac. Your safest bet when buying an older Mac is probably to get a refurbished unit from either Apple's Certified Refurbished store. The next best option is Amazon Renewed. There are Macs available from those outlets at reasonable prices, and you shouldn't need to worry about scams. Just make sure that if you're buying used from Amazon, that it is Amazon selling the MacBook directly, not a questionable third party.
As long as you keep to the list of older MacBook models above, you should be able to find a MacBook at your price point. Be careful of buying one older than those; you might save some big bucks up front, but you could end up with many headaches and expenditures down the road.
Decided to go brand-new instead? Here are the latest models
The brand-new MacBook Air is here just in time for back-to-school. It sports the M2 chip, colorways, and form factor of last year's 13-inch MacBook Air, but with more screen real estate. It still only has two USB-C ports, but at least with MagSafe charging you don't have to worry about tripping over your cord during those late-night study sessions.
If you need more power than what you get in a MacBook Air, then the MacBook Pro is the way to go. Apple's latest has an M2 Pro or Max chip and a familiar form factor.
Apple's biggest, baddest laptop sports an M2 Pro or M2 Max chip and can be souped up with everything you need for even the most demanding coursework.
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Karen is a contributor to iMore.com as a writer and co-host of the iMore Show. She’s been writing about Apple since 2010 with a year-long break to work at an Apple Store as a product specialist. She's also a contributor at CNET. Before joining iMore in 2018, Karen wrote for Macworld, AppAdvice, WatchAware. She’s an early adopter who used to wait in long lines on release days before pre-ordering made things much easier. Karen is also a part-time teacher and occasional movie extra. She loves to spend time with her family, travel the world, and is always looking for portable tech and accessories so she can work from anywhere.