Encouraged by the response from my post on whether a MacBook Pro is more future-pro than other Apple laptops I set about analyzing what lifespan Apple laptops have had in the past. By lifespan I define the supportability of a certain hardware configuration with a specific OS X version.
The purpose is to draw some general conclusions on how many - on average - versions of OS X you can expect to run on your Mac.
I’ll concentrate on laptops only because as Steve Jobs famously said, Apple is now a mobile devices company. Most users anyway buy laptops these days and I am in the market for a new Mac laptop too.
If you want to calculate how long your Mac will last you need to take into account two different factors:
- Hardware longevity
- Software longevity
I won’t spend too much time on this point. It’s generally accepted that Apple’s build quality and quality assurance are among the highest in the consumer electronics industry.
My direct experience confirms that too. Compared to an average PC, Mac hardware lasts longer and in the cases when you experience a hardware fault, Apple support is ready to help even with free repairs.
Software longevity is a different story altogether. It depends a lot on how long a company is willing to support old hardware. We need to stop seeing this point as how bad Apple is when they decide to make a device end of life (EOL) but consider that most of the time old hardware hinders the development of new software. Sometimes the old must go, must be rendered obsolete.
Of course there are market and profit reasons behind a decision to make a product EOL but Apple is in the business to make money, let’s not forget that.
To help me in the analysis I have used the data provided by Mactracker app. I personally thanks the developers for creating such a useful software that has helped me so many times in my life as a blogger.
In my table I have included all Mac laptops released since the first white MacBook. The table includes the model number and the graphics card used as well.
I have added this last column because in the case of OS X Mountain Lion many old Macs are not supported partly because of the old graphic chipset used.
The remaining columns show which Mac is supported with which version of OS X. The last column shows you how many versions of OS X that particular model has been able to use.
These are the results:
If you don’t take into account the models currently on the market - that ship with OS X Lion and will support OS X Mountain Lion - the laptops no longer sold were able to use the average number of different versions of OS X shown in this table:
The average calculation give only a partial representation of the expected lifespan of a Mac laptop.
The median calculation gives you more information. It shows you that the majority of Apple Pro laptops are supported on four different iteration of OS X.
This is confirmed by my experience. My MacBook Pro came with Leopard, then I installed Snow Leopard, Lion and potentially I could install Mountain Lion.
At first sight this should give you enough information to claim that MacBook Pros are more future proof.
Real world interpretation of the results
The math only tells you half of the story though. In the real world, and again my experience is backing this up, it is hard to have a performing machine on the fourth iteration of OS X.
I mean, my Mac is barely usable with Lion, I can’t imagine how slow it is going to be with OS X Mountain Lion.
The conclusion that I am inclined to draw from these numbers is twofold.
Contrary to what I believed before analyzing the actual data MacBook Air and Pro have similar lifespan. Buying a MacBook Pro because you think it’s more future proof might not be the right criteria to use.
When you plan to buy a new Mac, consider other factors instead:
- The possibility to run pro applications at a decent speed if you have this need (VMware, FinalCut Pro, Photoshop,…).
- Battery life.
- Screen size.
- If the machine you’re considering adapts to your way of working and your workflow.
At this point you might ask if I can tell you how many years you can expect to use your Mac laptop.
|Version||Name||Release date||Months from the prev. version|
|10.4||Tiger||April 29, 2005||18|
|10.5||Leopard||October 26, 2007||30|
|10.6||Snow Leopard||August 28, 2009||22|
|10.7||Lion||July 20, 2011||23|
|10.8||Mountain Lion||Summer 2012||12|
Even if hardware faults are not taken into account and if we take three as the right number of different versions of OS X you can realistically install on your Mac (the default one plus two upgrades), giving you a number is not easy. There are too many combinations between hardware and OS release dates that makes this calculation long and probably not useful for future forecasts.
Realistically you can expect to use your Mac for a minimum of about three to a maximum of four and a half years.
After that you can still use your Mac but should not count on being able to upgrade your operating system.
Things should change from this summer. Apple has pledged to roll out a new version of OS X every 12 months so we should be able to install more than three versions of OS X thanks to the shorter release cycle.
What is your mileage with your Macs?