How old of a MacBook is still good for a student?
Best answer: If you have access to an older or hand-me-down MacBook Air or Pro from the last seven years or so, it should still work well as a tool for most students. Otherwise, look elsewhere for a newer machine.
What to look for in an older MacBook
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First thing's first: Whether you're getting it as a hand-me-down from a relative, finding it on eBay, or buying it from Apple's own Certified Refurbished store, you're going to want something from no further back than 2017 or 2018.
This is because, as a student, you'll want a Mac that supports macOS 13 Ventura, which will arrive in October. It's the upcoming version of macOS. Apple has noted it will work on MacBook Air models from 2018 and later and MacBook Pro models from 2017 and later.
Here are the only older MacBook models we're currently recommending:
- 12-inch MacBook, 2017
- 13-inch MacBook Air (2018)
- 13-inch MacBook Air (2019)
- 13-inch MacBook Air (2020)
- 13-inch MacBook Air (M1, 2020)
- MacBook Pro (2017), all sizes
- MacBook Pro (2018), all sizes
- MacBook Pro (2019), all sizes
- 13-inch MacBook Pro (M1, 2020)
What about even older MacBooks?
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, it won't communicate well with newer devices, and repair costs could be high.
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.
Who should get an older MacBook Pro?
The MacBook Pro is an excellent series of Macs because it's the most flexible of Apple's lineup. 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 scientific and engineering programs.
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 typically lighter than MacBook Pro models and offer fewer features that probably won't mean much to non-creatives. It may prove challenging to use, however, for those students who work with high-end scientific, engineering, or content creation applications. But most students studying business administration, early childhood education, or English literature 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. If you can get your hands on one of the final 2017 models at a great price, it's worth considering since it will support macOS 13 Ventura. However, for most folks, it just won't be powerful enough.
Where should you buy an older MacBook?
Unless someone you know is giving or selling you an older Mac, you'll need to do some shopping. Your safest bet when buying an older Mac is probably to get a refurbished unit from either Apple's Certified Refurbished store or Amazon. There are Macs available from those outlets at reasonable prices, and you shouldn't need to worry about scams.
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 that will work with macOS 13 Ventura. Be careful of buying one older than those; you might save some big bucks, but you could end up with many headaches.
Our current recommendations
Just in time for back to school
The brand-new MacBook Air is coming just in time for back-to-school. It's light and sports the M2 chip, making it the most powerful version of the MacBook Air. Of course, it only has two USB-C ports, but they did bring back MagSafe charging, so you don't have to worry about tripping over your cord during those late-night study sessions.
M2 chip in an old design
If you want power and performance but want to save a little money, the new M2 MacBook Pro 13-inch is a great comprise. You do have to settle with an older design with a Touch Bar and no extra ports, but it's still a very handy MacBook for students.
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Bryan M. Wolfe has written about technology for over a decade on various websites, including TechRadar, AppAdvice, and many more. Before this, he worked in the technology field across different industries, including healthcare and education. He’s currently iMore’s lead on all things Mac and macOS, although he also loves covering iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. Bryan enjoys watching his favorite sports teams, traveling, and driving around his teenage daughter to her latest stage show, audition, or school event in his spare time. He also keeps busy walking his black and white cocker spaniel, Izzy, and trying new coffees and liquid grapes.
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