Breathing New Life Into a MacBook Pro

When my (mostly) reliable 2009 MacBook Pro finally bit the bullet in January of this year, I definitely wasn’t the happiest camper in the world. While it was definitely showing its age, it was still my personal laptop that I’d had since I went off to college in 2010. My husband was still using his 2011 MacBook Pro from when he went off to law school in 2011, though it still a model that had been showing its age too. His trackpad had crapped out, leading to a magic mouse being used; the battery was the original battery from its manufacture date; the RAM was 4GB, which is a fourth of what that model can officially support at 16GB; and finally, it still came with the original 5400RPM hard drive disk rather than the solid-state drives found in computers nowadays. Suffice to say, it was that model that now had two users using it regularly for the better part of a year.

Shortly after I was able to come across a refurbished MacBook Air (which I’ll be talking about in a later blog post this week), I decided to surprise my husband by renovating his own MacBook Pro while he was at work one day. Since it was the pre-Retina Unibody model, this was actually an easier task to undertake that I had originally expected it to be. It also helped there there was a computer parts store just a few minutes from our home, where I was able to pick up 16GB of DDR3 RAM and a ~480GB SSD (more popularly known as 512GB, they labelled it as 480GB of usable data) that was on sale. For the RAM, while there are cheaper brands on Amazon Canada, the brand the store sold was G.SKILL’s SQ Series for Mac. I decided to go with this in case there were any issues, as it’d be much easier to do the return in store compared to having to deal with Amazon. For the SSD, the Lexar NS100 models were are on sale; while they aren’t the most popular choice, with the usage it was going to get just from my husband, I figured this would be fine. Better yet was that I still had my own MacBook, which had one important part that I needed for my husband’s model.

After watching a few YouTube videos, I loaded up the guides from IFixIt.com and began working. The first step was to disconnect his battery; I didn’t replace it in this session, as I was still waiting for the RunPower battery replacement I ordered to come in. I decided to do the easiest thing first, which consisted of ejecting his old RAM cards and putting in the new parts. This actually gave me some frustration, as I couldn’t figure out exactly what I was supposed to be squeezing; naturally, when I figured out exactly what it was, I realized I was definitely having an Airhead moment.

From there, I made way to replacing his old hard drive with the new solid-state drive. For those of you who don’t know the difference, let me just say that swapping in a solid-state drives alone does wonders for your computer. They have no moving parts and load insanely faster; I could’ve just settled with that, but I wanted to do the full swap. After that was settled in place, I moved onto the most challenging part of this – the optical drive (or a CD drive, as it’s nicknamed). My husband’s MacBook’s optical drive was no longer working, but my old MacBook’s drive still worked, so I figured they’d be easy to swap out. Unfortunately, I believe I might have missed a cable somewhere as it’s not recognizing the drive yet. I still have to go back in and get the battery swapped out, so once I do that, I’ll have to update this article to let everyone know how it came out.

The last thing was formatting the drive and installing the operating system. Fortunately, any Mac connected to the internet can boot the operating system on a blank drive, so while this took about an hour to do, it was still better than having to find a version of it myself. Since the 2011 model only supports High Sierra as its highest OS, I used Dosdude’s Catalina patcher to bring my husband’s MacBook to 2019. After the patcher was installed and the computer was set up, my husband got to try it out; the first thing he said, of course, was just how fast his computer now was. We did notice that his fans were running at full blast and only stopped when the computer was shut down; it turns out this was a common occurrence of replacing the hard drive. I stumbled across a program called Mac Fan Control that lets you manually fix this. After using it the first time it happened, the fans have been under control since.

Overall, this was just something I decided to do for fun as a surprise to Andrew and I ultimately realized just how fun and easy it was. It only took me an hour to do everything, and it was nice getting to see just how accessible the older models were. I can definitely see why people make a career out of flipping old MacBooks now.

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