How old is too old for a Mac?

I have a Mac Pro (Late 2013), one of the trash can ones. I am planning on retiring it and getting a Mac Studio, but I am wondering about MTBF and if I need to move quickly or move slowly on ordering the Mac Studio. (I’ve already bought some new dongles and adapters and such for the Studio, I’ve specced one out but haven’t ordered it.)

The thought I am stuck on is “it works until it doesn’t”, that is, I slightly expect some part to just die and then the machine is unusable (until fixed but fixing it is not my plan). It does have a slight problem with some sound playback (from a big-number OS upgrade) and I think one of the graphic cards went (I swapped the dongles and ports around and the monitors work again and I didn’t test it). Besides those two issues, it works just fine for what I do (basic email, web, Word, Google Docs, Python and R for computational social science which is when I need it to be a workstation which it still does great at).

I love how it looks (it’s a NeXT Cylinder!), and I know that my concern about it being 10 years old and dying suddenly is more about me as a human being having 10 fingers than any scientific knowledge I have of these or other Macs suffering major failure at 10 years (I have no idea what any MTBF measures are for ~10 year old Macs). I am kind of having what I might call a Spock (Star Trek) problem: emotionally I think the machine is awesome, but logically I know it will die and perhaps soon.

So I wanted to throw that out to the community since people here are smart and will probably think of some things I have not thought of and which are good thoughts to have. I do love the machine, it’s beautiful, but I don’t want it to die and then I’m stuck for a while without a desktop (I also have a somewhat old powerbook which is fine for travel but not so much long-term day-to-day).

Thanks!

The one thing I’d say for sure is that there are rumors that Apple may introduce at WWDC in June an updated Studio with M3 series chips (M3 Pro and M3 Max at least, and possibly M3 Ultra), so I’d at least wait that long, if you can.

If you can’t - the M2 versions are really great machines and will be for some time.

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I’d say that’s your answer right there. If you, for whatever reason or reasons, want to ensure you have a usable desktop machine going forward, replacing your old computer right away makes sense. Or to look at the decision another way, which would be more painful for you: “missing out” on some usable life or having to scramble to buy, configure, and populate a new computer quickly?

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For me it would come down to – if my income depends on the Mac Pro and it dies, how quickly could a new Studio arrive at my place?

If it would only take a couple of days from order to delivery, I’d be inclined to:

  • have at least two complete, functioning backups of the Mac Pro
  • take my chances and wait to see if an M3 comes out at WWDC and how long before they’re available for shippping

If the Mac Pro died before then I could use the PowerBook for a day or so until an M2 Studio arrives and is fired up from a backup.

If it were to be 2 or 3 weeks from order to delivery of an M2 and the Mac Pro was playing up or I was really concerned about it I’d order the M2 now.

If my income doesn’t depend on the Mac Pro and I can do basic stuff on the PowerBook – does it really matter how long it takes to replace?

I have an M1 Mac Studio which I love. My wife and I also use a 2012 Macbook Pro with a new 2TB solid state drive. Another option in your case would be to buy another Mac Pro 2013 as a backup — I saw some just now on eBay for $225. Why wait? Recently someone discovered a vulnerability in the Apple silicon chips.

https://arstechnica.com/security/2024/03/hackers-can-extract-secret-encryption-keys-from-apples-mac-chips/

Since your current computer works, if you had a backup, you could wait until your ideal computer is available.

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I don’t like to give specific advice, because everybody’s situation is different, but some rules of thumb I follow for my machines.

  • You MUST upgrade it once you can no longer get security updates for Internet-facing software.

    For me, this is primarily the web browser. Which is why I’m going to be replacing my 2011 laptop soon - because Firefox will stop updating it this fall. Everything else I use on that computer is not Internet-facing, so I don’t care as much (I run Microsoft Office, but only with my own documents, never with downloaded content.)

  • You SHOULD upgrade if you start encountering problems that are likely hardware related. It’s much easier to migrate content to a new system when the old one is still working. Yes, you can migrate from a backup (and everybody should be regular making backups), but it is often easier if you can actually use the old computer during the transition period.

    And if you wait for the old computer to fail, then you’ll be stuck without a computer while waiting for the new one to arrive (unless you have a few more at home that can pick up the slack).

  • I don’t concern myself with numbers like MTBF when deciding how long a computer will last. It’s a somewhat useful number when comparing similar products to decide which to buy, but it really isn’t applicable to individual systems. Much like how mortality statistics for a demographic can’t tell you when a specific individual will die, even if he belongs to that demographic.

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I have a Mac Pro (Mid 2010) still going strong. I second @doughogg. If you do, you could try updating to Ventura via OCLP on one of them.

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According to this web page in the section on “The Fix”, Apple’s M3 chip has a function (not available in M1 and M2 chips) that can prevent hackers from utilizing the vulnerability in these chips.

https://www.zetter-zeroday.com/apple-chips/

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Like so many vulnerabilities, one critical piece of information (which this article doesn’t make clear) is whether it can be exploited by scripting on a web page or if it requires an app running locally on your computer.

If the former, then it’s a massive problem, because some random ad inserted into any web page could contain the malicious code.

If it’s the latter, then you’d have to first download and execute the app. Standard Internet safety practices (don’t download or run any apps that don’t come from a trusted server) will probably be enough to keep you safe.

The big issue (as the article says) is cloud servers. A crook could install and run malware on a cloud server in order to exfiltrate data from other users running software on that same server.

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The 2nd article that I posted above says in part:

Matthew Green, a cryptographer and computer science professor at Johns Hopkins University, calls it a clever attack.

It’s also theoretically possible for an attacker to pull this off by embedding malicious code into Javascript on a web site so that when a computer with an M-series chip visits the site, the attacker’s malicious code can conduct the attack to grab data from the cache. The researchers didn’t test a web site attack, but Green says the scenario is plausible. It would also be a more concerning attack, he notes, because attackers could scale it to attack thousands of computers quickly.

Green says the risk for most people from the GoFetch application-style attack is probably low.

“We’re talking about high-end users, like someone who has a cryptocurrency wallet with a lot of money,” he says. But he notes that in theory this attack might be used to break the TLS cryptography that a computer’s browser uses to encrypt communication between their computer and web sites, which could allow attackers to decrypt that communication to extract a user’s session cookie for their Gmail or other web-based email account and use it to log into the account as them.

“I’m not saying it’s a practical attack I’m just saying that’s the kind of threat you might be worried about,” he says, “You can get [other] very high-valued keys potentially” including their iCloud keys to access backed up data.

As I understand it, the mitigation for this attack is to not use preemptive processing when doing cryptographic operations like Diffie-Hellman or elliptical key exchange. Honestly I think for M1 and M2 users this means that these operations will take double the number of fractions of seconds than they already do. It’s an interesting vulnerability, but one that’s mitigated by slightly slowing down what is a pretty fast operation on these processors.

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Joshua Long, Intego’s Chief Security Analyst, has a blog post on this subject.

“Unpatchable” flaw in Apple M1/M2/M3 chips:
GoFetch is the new Spectre

(Spectre refers to a 2018 chip vulnerability.)

https://www.intego.com/mac-security-blog/unpatchable-flaw-in-apple-m1-m2-m3-chips-gofetch-is-the-new-spectre

Apparently the M3 chip has a cpu “switch” to handle the problem. I don’t suppose Apple will offer an M3 CPU upgrade for my Mac Studio M1. :slight_smile:

It will interesting to see if Apple can pull off some digital wizardry.

I use it until the hardware no longer functions.

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Generally speaking…unless you have zero internet facing apps this is not a good idea IMO…either use it as long as it’s still getting security/macOS updates from Apple or do not use it for anything internet facing. I’ve still got a late 2014 mini running at home but using Apple’s normal N-2 approach it will likely stop receiving updates in the fall so I’ll either retire it’s functions completely or replace it with something in the M series…it’s lightly used so even a base M1 model would meet its needs…and I might even retire it’s functions completely. It serves as one of the two network CCC destinations for my roll your own version of Time Machine which simply doesn’t function reliably for network destinations despite being a former sysadmin and having used Macs and been a consultant since the 90s…and I like having two of those destinations (my M1 Studio is the other one) for daily driver laptop backups.

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There are also rumors that the M3 Studio upgrade won’t come until later, or never make an appearance, with an M4 Studio released late next year.

As always, the time to buy a new machine is when you need one.

For what it’s worth, I’ve had an M2 Studio for seven months now, and I’m deliriously happy. (You may want to discount the opinion of a delirious person, however.) You might want to consider whether a Studio is overkill for your applications, even your work with R.

Sure, but my point was if you can get by for another 6 weeks it might be worth it to see if Apple has updates to the Studio (for perhaps the same price.) If it turns out that there are no M3 Studios announced at WWDC, then the decision may be easier.

(FWIW there are also rumors that the M4 will be announced this year at WWDC and the Studio will skip the M3 altogether - but, who knows?)

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There have been several threads here over the last few months about what to do with older Macs that aren’t receiving macOS updates any longer and are running out of web browser options. For Intel Macs, the answers range from limiting their Internet-facing usage, to installing Windows or Linux, to using OCLP to run a modified version of a current macOS release on unsupported hardware, to sending them to the recycler.

I’ve experimented with all of those options (except recycling) on my 2012 MacBook Pros, and I plan to write a summary post about them after Linux Mint 22 is released this summer. (Linux Mint 22 will be a “Long Term Support” or LTS" release that will be supported for five years, i.e., into 2029.) Linux Mint is one of the most popular flavors of Linux, and many consider it to be the most user-friendly distribution.

However, it is worth mentioning that Mint is based on the Ubuntu flavor of Linux, and the newest Ubuntu LTS version, v 24.04, was just released. Right now, I prefer using Mint over Ubuntu for subjective reasons, but I note that Ubuntu LTS likewise is supported for all users until June 2029, with a “Pro” option to extend support for an additional five years after that. Ubuntu Pro is free for up to five personal systems and paid for commercial systems or more than five personal systems. A default installation requires 4 GB RAM and a dual core processor, though there are slimmer versions that should work with less RAM or slower CPUs.

I don’t want to suggest that installing and configuring Linux always works or is without complications, but it has gotten a lot easier recently. Nonetheless, for people who use their computers primarily for web browsing and don’t require Microsoft Office or other Mac/Windows-only apps, Ubuntu or Mint can be excellent ways to get a few more years out of vintage Mac hardware.

Maybe I’ll stop procrastinating and do a series of posts about each alternative, rather than writing up The One Post to Rule Them All™.

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I would like see that…especially with the how to’s for installation if it’s not obvious from looking at the download website for them. I’m not sure what I would do with my 2014 mini if I installed some form of linux…but all it does now is serve as a destinaion for CCC backups of laptops using the Remote Macintosh option…and I suppose that a linux SMB share would work for that just as well…but otherwise I’ll just retire it if/when it’s replaced with an Msomething mini.

For most people contemplating Linux on an older Mac, the main advantage to installing Linux simply would be running apps and an operating system that will receive security patches and bug fixes for at least several more years. That’s why it’s a particularly good fit for people who use computers mostly to browse the web, watch Netflix, etc. or who have one or two appropriate use cases in mind, like file serving or media serving.

You should be able to run up-to-date versions of Firefox, Chrome/Chromium, Brave, and even Microsoft Edge for years to come on a current Linux LTS release. Your other use case of using your mini as a CCC network destination also should work very well.

Another potential advantage is that you likely will have more direct control over your machine, with fewer intrusive “enhancements” from Apple and others, like unwanted AI functions and ads.

The main disadvantage is that you lose the ability to run native Mac software, like Photos, Pages, Keynote, iMessage, Music, Microsoft Office, Photoshop, etc., which can be a dealbreaker for a lot of people. Some tools have web versions that may be good enough for occasional use, but they generally aren’t as full-featured or fast as native tools, e.g. MS Office, Pages, Numbers, and Keynote. I’ve heard good things about an app called Cider that provides access to Apple Music subscriptions and local music, but I haven’t used it myself.

The key thing is to go into it with realistic expectations.

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Thanks…and I actually know all of that. That mini is sitting in our entertainment center and the only thing it does is provide 1 of 2 destinations for my CCC Time Machine like network backups that actually works as TM randomly and inexplicably doesn’t. Since it’s not used for anything else…the only thing it might become is a Linux based version of the same destination…so my expectations for it would be low. Whenever it’s finally abandoned by Apple I will either just ditch it or get a refurb base M1 mini…that’s got more than enough for what it does…I could replace it with a newer Intel mini but there’s not much cost savings for that route.