back to article Need a new computer for homeschooling? You can do worse than a sub-£30 2007 MacBook off eBay

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned laptops — particularly those deemed "cheap and cheerful" — into a desperately sought-after commodity as education and work moves to the home. Institutions and parents alike are waiting longer and paying more for machines - even the so-called cheap laptops. Of course, there's another way. There' …

  1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Did this with a BlackBook

    Got a black Macbook 2,1 for €20 a couple of years ago, fitted it with a new battery (another €20 from Aliexpress) and Librebooted it (it's one of the few machines that can be modified entirely in software). Currently running Trisquel Lite to keep it fully "libre". Lent it to my daughter as an emergency PC for university, though she complained about the weight...

    Of course, as it's libre, there are no drivers for the webcam (a plus in my book) but you can easily attach one via USB if necessary.

    The only problem is that it gets hot quite quickly - some people have drilled holes in the underside in front of the internal fan to improve ventilation, but I haven't been that brave yet.

    1. MatthewHughes

      Re: Did this with a BlackBook

      > "The only problem is that it gets hot quite quickly - some people have drilled holes in the underside in front of the internal fan to improve ventilation, but I haven't been that brave yet."

      Potentially silly question, but have you changed the thermal paste? The stock paste used on these machines isn't very good, and if it hasn't been changed, it's almost certainly flaky and brittle by now. A fresh blob of Arctic Silver should improve thermal performance. Also, consider cleaning out any dust from the innards!

      1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

        Re: Did this with a BlackBook

        No, I haven't changed the paste yet, though overheating is a known issue on these due to the lack of ventilation (Apple put in a fan but didn't think to allow the air to go anywhere).

        1. Steven Raith

          Re: Did this with a BlackBook

          I can highly recommend a good thermal paste do-over - I had an, er, 2008 perhaps Macbook and it would run fans full blast all the time (and to be fair, I was hammering it) but once I redid the thermal paste and cleared out the vents, sure, it'd still run hot when being pushed, for just general odds and sods it was pretty quiet and cool.

          Steven R

      2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Re: Did this with a BlackBook

        The plastic fans are shitty in the MacBooks: I had to replace mine twice.

    2. Oh Matron! Silver badge

      Re: Did this with a BlackBook

      Ex AASP here....

      Removing the keyboard (I did at least 100 of them) is shocking simple, but I URGE YOU TO REMOVE THE FAN AND COMPRESS AIR THE DUST AWAY. Because of the design of the air inlets at the back, and the propensity of people to use them on their bed whilst watching movies, etc, they used to suck as an extraordinary amount of dust.

      The fan is held in by three screws, so easy to remove. You don't even need to disconnect the fan from the logic board (but be careful: those connectors aren't the most robust)

  2. Liam Proven

    Top tip for a Lion browser

    I have a 2008 white MacBook as an emergency spare if my SO's 2009 MBP suddenly dies.

    It dual-boots Xubuntu 20.04 and MacOS 10.7.

    No, there are no mainstream browsers for Lion, although Opera supported it later than most. But there's a Firefox fork that works well:

    https://parrotgeek.com/fxlegacy.html

    I found it worked extremely well on every modern site I tried. Makes Lion pretty usable again, combined with an old version of iWork or LibreOffice.

    1. Jason Hindle

      Re: Top tip for a Lion browser

      I have one of those... Haven't switched it on in years. Thanks for the browser tip. As for Office, it still has a perfectly usable copy of MS Office, from that period, installed.

      1. Wellyboot Silver badge

        Re: Top tip for a Lion browser

        Yes, The MS Office will be perfectly usable, I'd guess 80% of it is still inside the current version.

    2. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Top tip for a Lion browser

      Waterfox Classic also runs on 10.7.

  3. karlkarl Silver badge

    For £30 you could get an ex-business surplus ThinkPad like an X61.

    And that not only will run the latest consumer OS but is also generally much better supported on free operating systems like Linux and BSD with a much more recent Core 2 Duo processor.

    It is a hard choice because I like the novelty of a PowerPC laptop but ThinkPads are just better in the long run for everything I do.

    That said, I suppose with Linux these days, other than slightly less packages, you don't even notice you are running a non-intel machine. I am eying up those Talos II POWER9 machines from Raptor Computing for my next workstation (due for a replacement in another 3-4 years).

    I also dislike the look of macbooks oddly enough. They look like toys rather than tools and the OS just feels like an "old" install of FreeBSD with an ugly heavy window manager.

    1. Snake Silver badge

      For sure, older ThinkPads for the win. Also, especially if you stick with Windows, older-model (not *too* old) Dell Latitudes, the mid-generation ones still made with metal and with lots and lots of eBay parts availability.

      Both those are the only laptops I recommend, really, even when someone tells me that they are looking to buy a new model. Unless you're ready to drop coin on a really nice machine, you can buy a recent ThinkPad or Dell out of business lease that originally cost multiples of what their budget for that new one is, yet get real quality, reliability and easy self-servicing.

      1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

        I have a Latitude e6220 with memory maxed out and an SSD, still a very usable machine and solid as a rock. Shame about the 768p screen, though apparently it is possible to add an HD screen (the same as the Thinkpad x220) with a little jiggery-pokery.

        1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

          Second hand Latitude E5550 here, with 16G ram and a 2T spinny disc. Running stock Mint Cinnamon without a worry, and plenty quick enough for full HD video viewing.

          I can't remember the last time I bought a new laptop - certainly some years ago.

          1. Down not across Silver badge

            Latitude E7240, i5, 8G RAM ,256G mSATA SSD, 1920x1080 (sadly glossy touchscreen as it was only one with decent resolution), smartcard reader/NFC , wifi, 3G. Running Devuan nicely.

            Still see new, unused keyboards, wrist rest/touchpad and other various spares on fleabay.

            Looking at the current ultrabooks, the final stumbling block is always WWAN. Maybe I'm odd in wanting it just built in rather than rely on tethering, but choices are very limited (and I could buy stack of these second hand ones for what one new would cost).

            1. an it guy

              Old Dells are fine

              I've got an old Dell D820 (yep, 2008-ish), and upgraded from XP => Windows 7 => Windows 10 Pro. I replaced my wife's laptop with an SSD as 40+ chrome tabs were a problem, and I got her old HDD, and the D820 is reasonably usable even with only 4 GB of ram (it doesn't support more).

              I'm not trying to lose it as it has a 1440x1200 screen, which is bigger than many new laptops, so meh. keeping it as it works quite well, and handily handles a 1TB HDD. Works for me

      2. Danny 2 Silver badge

        Nah, I bought a Dell on Gumtree for £50. I booted it up to test it and it seemed fine. Burned out later that day, the seller must've been using freezer spray.

        I used to sell Pi's on Gumtree, customised for whatever, and I'd replace it if it failed. Second hand laptop market seems full of chancers and criminals.

    2. MatthewHughes

      Older ThinkPads are surprisingly pricey right now, compared to what they went for prior to the pandemic! I think it's for the reasons you mentioned -- they're usable, even if they're quite old.

      1. PTW

        Pricey thinkpads

        You're not kidding! Laptops Driect are selling "refurbed" T440's at £410! And I thought they were getting expensive on fleabay when they appeared at over £200

        1. karlkarl Silver badge

          Re: Pricey thinkpads

          T440 is an i5! That is far too new.

          Try something older. OK, perhaps not necessarily a PowerPC G4 in age but still.

          Perhaps a T60 if you wanted something large:

          https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Lenovo-ThinkPad-T60P-14-Laptop-with-Intel-Core-2-Duo-2-16GHz-4GB-RAM-250GB-HDD/164441727755

          https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/IBM-Lenovo-ThinkPad-T60-Genuine-Intel-R-Core-2-T5600-1-83GHz-4GB-500GB-HDD-Win7/114456415523

          Both will beat the pants off a G4 macbook.

          1. Roland6 Silver badge

            Re: Pricey thinkpads

            Plus with the T60/61 you can get a 14/15-inch 1400 x 1050 screen ....

      2. Snake Silver badge

        Well luckily I bought my stupid-level, lightly used ThinkPad before manure hit the fan. -_- P71, Xeon, Quadro P4000, 4k with calibration. I've maxed it out, 64GB, 3 SSD's plus DVD-RW, because I could and I'm planning to do video work; editing 4k eats you alive. Good timing on my part. For damn once :p

    3. davidp231

      Thinkpads

      "It is a hard choice because I like the novelty of a PowerPC laptop but ThinkPads are just better in the long run for everything I do."

      The Thinkpad 800 series would be the best of both worlds.

    4. Steve Graham

      My main machine for the last few years has been a Fujitsu Lifebook from 2011. Intel i5-2520M. It was an ex-corporate machine with no memory or disk and cost me £40.

      The screen and keyboard are perfect, and the original battery is showing 84% of the original capacity.

      Its predecessor, a Thinkpad T61, is now my home server.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Old laptops as servers...

        You might want to reconsider this. Have you checked the power usage of that idling laptop recently? I had a similar setup with a Dell and was shocked how inefficient the power bricks / charging circuitry are when I bothered to measure it. I figure if it feels warm to the touch, the power saving from switching to e.g. a 4GB Raspberry Pi 4 will pay for itself in about year. USB3 to SATA adapters are also very cheap nowadays.

    5. Mage Silver badge

      ThinkPad like an X61.

      Yes. an old PC is far more sensible than ANY old Mac, unless you want to run an old Mac OS.

      Non-Apple means cheaper parts, maybe even a replacement new laptop keyboard for under €15. Batteries, RAM. HDD, media bays, screen hinges, even screens or replacement GPU boards on some laptops.

      Old Apple gear is for Apple fans and collectors, not for the school kids to run Linux. The kids I know with old computers are using larger netbooks and old thinkpads with Linux. All of them free from offices upgrading.

    6. Waspy

      Some of the finest keyboards to ever exist

      Have an upvote, old ThinPads are amazing, I have an X201 and X220 and they run great on Solus and Zorin OS respectively, although the 201 has an annoying hardware-level bug that turns the wifi off a lot. They also have some of the finest keyboards known to man. Except perhaps my Dell E7250, a laptop my partner had left lying around from an old job that I resurrected with Zorin. The keyboard is unbelievable.

  4. chivo243 Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    NIce collection!

    You need a Clamshell in the mix. I have one in Lime Green. I installed Deepin on white a pre-polycarbonate, wasn't the greatest experience.

    1. MatthewHughes

      Re: NIce collection!

      Clamshells are crazy expensive! Every time I try to bid on one, they end up going for north of £100, even if they're in pretty dismal condition!

  5. Arbuthnot the Magnificent

    Recycle!

    Not much experience with Mac, but I'm writing this comment (in the pub, it's Friday) from my 2010 Panasonic running Artix Linux - less than £100 on eBay for a reasonable i5 with 8GB of RAM, one SSD install later and it runs really well. I also recently set up a Dell Latitude i3 that my old employer threw away for my sister. Plenty of scope for cheap computing, as long as you move away from the bloat and planned obsolescence of MS.

    1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
      Linux

      Re: Recycle!

      Probably about 6 months too late for this, but, if you've been good to your IT folks, obsoleted work laptops may be available.

      I have a couple (Dell M4400 and E6400), won at a raffle they held to dispose of corporate gear that had exceeded its statistical (but not practical) lifetime. They replace laptops on a 3-year cycle. Withdrawn ones are still perfectly useful, but not worth the hassle of repairing...or something like that.

      You'll need to spring for a new HDD (around $80 for a SSD, so no worries about mechanical damage, and faster, to boot) and install Linux on it. Its not too well known, but once you remove Windows, the remote management and antivirus software, those laptops are quite zippy running Linux Mint.

      There's wisdom in remembering your IT bods at holiday time. They remember you at equipment disposal time.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Trouble with laptops is that unless you buy a toughbook, they are inherently fragile.

    Second hand laptops tend to come with broken screen hinges, worn out mousepads. duff batteries and intermittent power inputs.

    A second hand desktop PC is far better bet and they can often be picked up free or almost free. I've rescued them out of skips in the past.

    1. Steven Raith

      I'll agree that second hand desktops can give a lot more bang for buck, but if you're spending <£100 on a laptop:

      A: It'll be of a certain vintage

      B: If it's a popular one,being of a certain vintage that means *tons* of teardown tutorials on Youtube

      C: Parts will generally be cheap.

      Broken screens can be replaced without too much trouble, just a little patience. Same for trackpads. Batteries are cheapy cheap, and the power input? most are on a daughterboard that can be swopped in a fairly straightforward manner.

      I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm a twenty year, died in the wool IT tech so I have certain skills and attitudes that make me think things are easier than they are to a layman, but on the flipside, I fucking hate working on laptops - all those fiddle bits - and even I have done literally all of the above, while drunk. if I can do it after a bottle of Merlot while singing along to Death in Vegas songs, you genuinely can too.

      Buy something really cheap, and broken, and just try it. Chances are you'll spend a takeaway dinner and an evening in the pub on it.

      Worst case, you have a brick on your hands, but have learned something.

      Best case, you can charge beer for swapping screens out.

      Steven R

      Powered by red wine and anger at laptop manufacturers for using plastic clips bloody well everywhere.

    2. druck Silver badge

      I've been after a 2013 vintage i7 4770 desktop for a while, but they are still going for £100 to £150 on ebay, which is hardly giving it away.

      1. seldom

        I've got one, the 4770k. It's been running at 4.5GHz since 2014 and there's no reason to sell it.I would love to have an excuse to upgrade, but unfortunately I haven't found one yet (my wife is very technically competent and the primary provider).If you have a good excuse, sorry, reason that I could use to buy something newer then let me know.

        1. druck Silver badge

          Sorry, if I could convince you to upgrade, I wouldn't be after the 4770 myself!

          It's the model of an old desktop I had at work, it has USB 3 and it's plenty fast enough, much faster than vastly more expensive laptops I've had since.

  7. chuckufarley Silver badge

    Well, it ain't no MacBook...

    ...But my 32-bit HP Pavilion laptop with an AMD A6-6310 runs all manner of distros rather well, if I don't want to do more than browser the web and watch movies. And as long as I don't run a bloated desktop environment but Mate or XFCE4 with lightdm is very usable. I'm a little worried about it's future because if Firefox and Chrome get too much bigger I might have to switch to minimal DE like Enlightenment.

  8. keithpeter
    Coat

    Zoom Machine...

    ...mine is a Thinkpad L440 which cost a bit more than £30 (more like £100) but has i5 and 8Gb. Runs Mint linux and allows the installation of the Zoom application and the Microsoft Teams linux 'beta' application.

    I use this machine with its flatteringly vague webcam for teaching and the obligatory online meetings (the ones I can't get out of). I just use the mechanical hard drive it came with. No problems, everything works but lid-close suspend appears not to be available on this cheaper Thinkpad model (didn't work in Windows either, googling yields nowt).

    1. Tomato Krill

      Re: Zoom Machine...

      So, this is a bigger question really than belongs in a forum post but in terms of actual applicability in real life, in the experience of the masses what’s the minimum vintage to aim at if you assume these things are necessary:

      Chrome/Firefox run like not a dog

      Support for audio, HD playback and Webcam

      Zoom, Teams, Skype

      Libreoffice

      That’s really it I think, add on not-terrible printer support but that’s likely not affected by the hardware only the distribution it’s capable of running.

      What’s the lowest cost solution do we all think?

      1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

        Re: Zoom Machine...

        Probably something with a Core2Duo or equivalent CPU, that can handle at least 3 or 4 Gb RAM and an SSD, so what would have been a high-end machine around 2007 or 2008. Laptops of that era often have decent (non-chiclet) keyboards, too. I have a couple of Pentium M (i.e. single-core) machines from 2006 that (IMO) are just about acceptable (running Linux) but whose limitations would probably not be tolerated by most users today.

  9. nintendoeats

    If prices of new computers keeping going up...

    will my SGI Indy eventually be worth 5 grand again? Maybe then somebody will port a modern browser to IRIX.

  10. mickaroo

    Been There, Done That...

    Did all of the stuff that the article says to my wife's 2007 vintage white Unibody MacBook.

    2Gig of RAM, 120GB Samsung SSD, cleaned the heat exchanger (dead cat, I think), new thermal paste, installed Linux Mint with a MacOS skin on it. ET VOILA! Runs like a charm.

    The only thing it won't do is connect to my router with WPA/AES encryption. But falling back to TKIP works.

    1. Steven Raith

      Re: Been There, Done That...

      Is the wireless module in those swoppable? I think my 2k8 unibody was, and if it is, it's just a PCI-E device, so as long as you have drivers - which Mint will - then you're sorted.

      Steven R

  11. Snowy
    Alert

    I wonder...

    how much the price of these will go up now you have written this article :O

    1. theOtherJT

      Re: I wonder...

      I already can't see any of these on ebay for less than £100 so I don't know where on earth they got that £30 figure from.

  12. katrinab Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    My Mid 2010 MacBook Pro can run High Sierra, which is 2, soon to be 3 versions of MacOS out of date. It had a security update pretty recently. Runs the latest versions of Chrome and Firefox, runs Office 2019, and the latest versions of Zoom, Teams, Skype, WhatsApp, Remote Desktop, Citrix Workspace, and so on. The version of Safari that ships with High Sierra can browse modern websites fine.

    It’s on its 3rd replacement battery, I maxed out the RAM to 8GB, and replaced the mechanical drive with a 1TB SSD.

    Latest version of VMWare Fusion it will run is v8, we are now on v12. That will allow Windows 10 to run, though only at a barely useable speed after stripping out most of the bloat. Server 2019 fares a bit better. Windows 8 runs at a useable speed, but it is Windows 8, so otherwise not really usable without extensive modification.

    It is definitely not a gaming computer.

    It only has USB 2, and Firewire, but there aren’t really any modern peripherals that use it. It can output to one external monitor at 1080p with an hdmi adapter or 1440p with a displayport adapter.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      I've got one of these that will be going on E-Bay when I can get round to it. 2010 MBP is a good machine and as you point out you can change the most important components: mine has a new disk and new battery. Apple's upgrade policy sucks.

  13. Danny 2 Silver badge

    Very persuasive article

    I've never bought Apple, ever, but in the 2020 laptop drought you make a good argument.

  14. Spoonsinger
    Coat

    'Mum, what the heck is Linux?'

    "I don't know. A rebrand of Ajax maybe?.Ask your dad, he's in the shed"

  15. Andytug

    Talk to your friendly local recycler....

    We have a local firm that takes ex-business laptops and refurbs them, new SSD, etc. I've kitted the whole family out with them over the last couple years. Start at less than £150 and go up depending on spec, way less than half the price of a new one.

    Just got myself a refurb i5 8Gb RAM 14" Thinkpad, and it's great, plays World of Warships no bother at all.

    SSDs are what makes an old laptop so much better, wife has a Toshiba she really likes (because of the keyboard mainly), had it about 3 years and it was 2nd hand when we got it, £40 for an SSD and an hour or so to re-install W10, and it's at least 10 times faster. Cheap upgrade that really extends the life of a laptop.

  16. Old Used Programmer

    Another option...

    ...for kids and school (since that was part of the article).

    I've set my grandson up with a Pi4B-4GB, 19" 1280x1024 monitor, Logitech K-120 keyboard, Logitech Marbleman trackball, PiCamera v2, and an adapter for the the "gaming" headset he already had. Handles everything his school throws at, except for my adamant insistence on NOT turning of the pop-up blocker--which their state standardized testing wants. (My response to that is: Find a test package written by competent programmers.)

  17. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    GPU hell

    The Apple laptops with dual GPUs aren't recognized by many Linux distros. It took me days to find one that would boot with a visible primary screen and then another day to find a driver to correctly set the active GPU.

    If you're going low-end, a used cellphone with a desktop mode isn't too bad. It's definitely less technical to set up.

  18. mark l 2 Silver badge

    I bought a 2007 Dell Latitude D series without a hard drive in 2011 for £40, used it as my daily driver until last year when the motherboard died. I ended up breaking it for parts and managed to get £20 for the LCD on ebay plus a few quid for other bits such as CPU fan, memory etc

    I have now upgraded to a second hand 2016 Thinkpad I got for £80 from ebay, and thanks to running Linux it was just a hard drive swap and I was up and running again in minutes.

    Although there is a risk that something could fail on them after a few months buying a used laptop, I am willing to take the risk. As I could buy two and keep one as a spare and still have money left from the price of the cheapest new laptop from the likes of PCword

  19. pc-fluesterer.info
    Alert

    Beware 32-bit!

    The choice of Linux distros that are 32-bit capable will narrow as time proceeds. Mint 19.3, supported until April 2023, is available for 32-bit. The successor Mint 20 is not! And the basis for Mint 20, Ubuntu 2004, has several aspects not welcome (packet format 'snap' and the corresponding proprietary app-store is one of them).

    I am in the process of migrating many machines (mine and customer's) running Mint to LMDE. That is based on debian directly without deviation over Ubuntu. LMDE 4 still is 32-bit capable. Only backlash is that currently it comes with DE Cinnamon which is a resource-hog, not quite apt for elderly machines. But just replace it by DE Mate an you're done. :-) Happy ever since ...

    1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

      Re: Beware 32-bit!

      I suspect that Debian/Devuan (and Slackware) will continue to support 32-bit for a long time yet (Debian still supports PowerPC, 68k and SPARC, after all!) which is why I generally recommend antiX, MX Linux or Refracta on 32-bit machines, and EXE or Q4OS for those who prefer KDE3-style retro looks.

  20. Michael Habel Silver badge

    Where the Hell are you sourcing 2007, Macs for 30£? I think that alone should be the story. Given how a 2010s Mac Pro with 2x Harwell era Xenons are still going for no less than a 1000€s over here. A Macbook of that vintage no less than a 150€, and then as defect, a working one? Hell they want about twice that much.

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