MacBook Pro 2008, Review 8 Years Later

On the 13th of April 2009 at exactly 21:08 I ordered a new MacBook Pro from the Apple online store. This was the first 15 inch MacBook Pro with the unibody design and it replaced my PowerBook G4. It was only my second Mac and I've used it throughout high school, throughout college and now I carry it with me to work. It's been the best investment I have ever made. In fact I'm still using it today and I've used it to write blog posts, to create this website, to create video tutorials for my YouTube channel, to setup servers, …

In this post I'll review my 8 year old MacBook Pro. To see how well it has hold up over the years. It’s a tribute to a legendary computer (at least for me) and this seems like a fun thing to do!

My MacBook Pro (Late 2008)

Maybe I should start with an apology to Apple. I've been a bad customer for the past 8 years because I bought just one laptop. Than again, they shouldn't make them so well ;)

Enough jokes, so where do you begin a review of a product you've had for years? Let's start with the basics, these are the specs of my MacBook:

  • Type: MacBook Pro 5,1
  • CPU: 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo (P8600)
  • RAM: 2GB, DDR3 1066MHz
  • Dual GPU's: GeForce 9600M GT and GeForce 9400M
  • HDD: 250GB (5400rpm)
  • Introduced on October 14, 2008
  • Now declared: vintage!

"About This Mac" showing the specs of my MacBook

My model was the entry level 15" MacBook Pro at the time. It ran Mac OS X Leopard (10.5) and was so much faster than the PowerBook G4 it replaced. I quickly transferred all my files over to it, installed all my applications and started using it. I was very happy! The Intel Core2Duo was so much faster than the PowerPC G4 and the battery lasted between 4 to 5 hours, a nice improvement over the 12 minute battery life that my PowerBook had (the battery degraded very quickly).

Upgrades

Over the years I've done a lot of upgrades to my MacBook. This might seem crazy to new Apple fans but yes, in the past you could actually upgrade your MacBook yourself (without a soldering iron)!

The first thing I upgraded was the RAM. The notebook came with two 1GB RAM sticks. I (stupidly) ordered two sticks of 2GB memory from Crucial and bumped the system's memory to the maximum of 4GB. Not long after that I discovered that the maximum amount of memory could be bumped up to 8GB if you updated the BootROM. So naturally I updated the BootROM and ordered two sticks of 4GB of memory from Crucial in March 2012. They have been great so far!

Next stop: hard drive! In 2011 I started thinking about buying a SSD to use as a boot drive. They had finally come down in price and I ended up buying a 128GB Crucial M4 in August of 2011. If you hadn’t noticed yet: I was a pretty hardcore Crucial fan. I had already ordered RAM from them that worked flawlessly and I quickly get attached to a brand that sells me reliable products. So I later ordered memory and a second M4 from Crucial when I was building my Hackintosh.

The M4 SSD is still running inside my MacBook and I've used 100GB of it's capacity for OS X, my apps and my home directory. The SSD supports TRIM so I always made sure to enable it with Trim Enabler and later with trimforce. The performance of the SSD has gone down a bit over the years but it’s still a hell of lot faster compared to a regular HDD.

Say goodbye to the SuperDrive!

The SSD replaced my regular harddrive as a boot drive but I kept the HDD for extra storage. I threw out my SuperDrive, placed my HDD in an OptiBay/HDCaddy and screwed everything in place. Right now I only use the HDD for storing music, photos and downloads (I symlinked their directories to the HDD).

At the time I was worried that I might miss the SuperDrive. Just to be safe I also bought an enclosure that allowed me to use the SuperDrive with a USB cable. However I never really used it after that.

Performance

When I first started to use the MacBook it was blazing fast (understandable if you're coming from a PowerBook). It got even faster when I upgraded the RAM and installed the SSD. During my period in school I sometimes ran 2 virtual machines at once while still enjoying a very responsive computer. Many of my friends with much newer computers where envious.

That said, the performance is slowly starting to fall. I experienced the first real hit in performance when I upgraded to OS X Yosemite. To be fair with Apple: I never did a clean install of my Mac. In the 8 years I’ve had this MacBook I only once did a clean install. So yeah, try that with Windows!

Anyway, Yosemite brought the first hit in my performance. Some animations (and scrolling web pages) where noticeably slower and sometimes even choppy. Switching to the more powerful GPU did help a bit. When OS X El Capitan came out I finally caved and did a clean install. That got back the smooth animations!

I'm using the laptop everyday (at home and at work) and put it through its paces. Every day I use Safari, Chrome, Mail, Calendar, Messages, Spotify, SourceTree, PHPStorm, Sketch, MAMP, Dropbox, and iTerm. I often keep all of these open at the same time, coming close to utilising all of the RAM. Most of the time this works just fine. It's a bit slow at running PHPStorm (maybe Java is to blame?) but that's OK. Browsing around the internet with Chrome is also slow and frequently drives my CPU to the max. Safari is a little better though.

Because I use it so extensively, the fan regularly kicks in to cool the laptop down. iStat Menus frequently reports CPU temperatures of 72°C and peaks under full load at 80°C. Sometimes I annoy people around me with the loud sound of my fans but at least they know I'm working hard (or at least my Mac is).

Ageing

Overall the notebook has aged very well. There are very few scratches on it (except for on the palm rests) and the screen still looks better than some of the newest laptops out there. Talking about displays, my employer gives everyone a HP "EliteBook" that has a display with a resolution of 1366x768. To make the matter even worse it's a TN panel with incredibly bad viewing angles. I'm sorry but how can you call something like this "Elite"? How can HP be proud of this? My MacBook is almost 8 years old, has a LED display with a resolution of 1440x900. Oh and back then the MacBook costed roughly the same as the EliteBook does now. So much for technical advancements! Yes, I'm really frustrated about it and in fact I refuse to use the EliteBook I got from my employer (they are getting me a new MacBook now).

Back on topic now: besides from the scratches everything is still in great condition (except from the battery). Yes it’s a lot slower, it’s a bit thicker and a good bit heavier. However it is still my main machine!

Battery life

Anyway, let's move on. The battery life of the notebook isn't that great anymore. Originally it would last 4 to 5 hours when using the smaller, less powerful GPU. It dropped to about 2 or 3 hours when using the 9600GT. Throughout my years on school the battery held up pretty well and I could work a bit over 2 hours on a single charge. I tweeted a few times to say I was surprised and impressed with the battery and how I still had almost 100% of my capacity after many years of usage.

At the end of 2015 however the battery started to degrade fast. Right now I'm able to use it for about one hour before running out of juice and OS X is no longer reporting a healthy battery. Instead it shows "Replace soon". Still, could be worse: I know a lot of friends with non-Macs who needed to replace their battery after just one or two years. Also batteries aren’t made to last 8 years and still hold all their charge. I’m very happy that mine lasted so long!

Originally I wanted to order a replacement battery but decided not to because they are scarce and expensive. I didn't want a third-party battery either. But at that point I was pretty much used to getting just 1 or 2 hours of battery life. I always carry my charger with me and I dim the display when using it on the train ride to work.

The future

So what does the future bring for my MacBook? Well who knows! My employer is thinking about buying me a new MacBook. So in a couple of weeks I’ll probably retire my 8 year old MacBook Pro. Or maybe not. I’m thinking about using it as a homeserver and putting some VM’s on it to play with.

That being said, if my employer wouldn’t get me a new MacBook, I probably wouldn’t buy one myself. Don’t get me wrong: I really really want to buy a new MacBook Pro with a beautiful retina display. But honestly I can't bring myself to it because my Mac is still working so well (apart from some hiccups I detailed earlier). Yes it's slower and yes it doesn't have a super high resolution display but still.

There are also two aspects holding me back from buying a new Mac. Firstly, over the years the design of the unibody MacBooks allowed me to upgrade the RAM, removed the SuperDrive and put a SSD inside it. If I didn't do this I would have retired my Mac much sooner! So the thought of getting a new MacBook where I can only upgrade the SSD is pretty terrifying. What if I wanted to upgrade my RAM?

The second thing that I will miss is ports. My MacBook has a ton of ports that I can use. And while I don’t use all of them (heck, who even recognises the ExpressCard port?), I will miss the built-in Ethernet for connecting to networks. It’s no issue for me to carry an extra adaptor (one for VGA and one for Ethernet) but it makes me anxious because it’s something extra that I need to pack before going to work.

Do you even recognise all these ports?

I’m definitely not ready for a future where computers only have one port for everything (say USB type C) and requires you to use dozens of adapters. But hey, who would be so stupid to actually build a computer like that?

Conclusion

The conclusion is simple. If my MacBook would be a person I would marry it. I would try to spend every minute of every day with it. I would adore it and care for it.

Anyway, I will continue to use MacBook until it breaks down or until I receive a new one from my employer. One thing is clear: if I retire my MacBook I will keep it around for nostalgic reasons (just as I still have my PowerBook G4).

MacBook, thank you for the great times we had! You rock!

Closing the lit of my beloved MacBook. I'll definitely keep it around and show it to my kids, hah!

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