Reduce, Repair, Reuse, Recycle

Apple’s “Ready to Recycle” Message

When it comes to computers and tablets, I tend to try to keep using them as long as absolutely possible. I am writing this post on a Mac Book Pro from 2013 (it is a mid-2012 model, but was manufactured on 2013-10-07 according to the excellent Coconut Battery application). That makes it 9 years old, but with some memory and storage upgrades over the years (it now rocks 16GB of RAM and a 2TB SSD), it feels almost as fast as newer Intel based laptops for most of my everyday tasks.

Yet it is obsolete. Today, I discovered that one of the applications we use for work will no longer run on Mac OS Catalina, the last version compatible with this laptop. So, now I am faced with having to make a choice. Apple’s own website tells me the very computer I am typing this post into is “ready to recycle.”

Switch OS

One option would be to switch to an open source operating system, such as Ubuntu and potentially keep using the laptop (chances are it would run better too as Mac OS seems to be becoming more buggy with every update).

The obvious downside to this is that I have a 2TB SSD with all my data on it, in Apple’s file system format. That would need to be copied to another drive, reformatted, and then whatever is still needed copied back. Some of those files are also Apple software format documents, which would either need to be converted to another format, or copied to one of my other Apple systems and only be usable from there.

Switch Hardware

The other option would be to buy a new Mac. Since I use this one 100% from my desk at home, I don’t need it to be another Mac Book Pro. A new Mac Mini, which could connect to my existing monitor, and use my existing Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, would be ideal. I can also get a handy external “dock” that would allow me to add the 2TB drive from the current MBP as an external drive, and give me more ports than the mini comes with.

The switch hardware option could also be combined with switching OS, but that just gives me all of the disadvantages of both options. The only possible advantage being the hardware might be cheaper, although high quality hardware for running something like Ubuntu would probably not be a lot less than the Mac Mini.

Used Mac Mini

I did check on eBay to see how much used Mac Mini computers were selling for, but oddly they seem to be very close in price to the latest M2 version, even for an older (2018/19 era) Intel system. That makes very little sense to me, especially if I am looking to keep it for another decade.

Upgradability and Repairability

One of the things i liked the most about the 2012 era Mac Book Pro was that I could repair it and upgrade it myself. That is what allowed a machine that is almost a decade old to still be usable as a daily driver today. Modern Macs have sacrificed that. Checking the repairability score card for the latest Mac Mini (the M2 models from early 2023), we see this very clearly. Repairability Score Card for the 2023 Mac Mini M2

While iFixit didn’t have their cards for the older tear-downs, the first paragraph of the mid 2012 MBP teardown says this:

While its sibling with the Retina display may have stolen all the press, today’s MacBook Pro is nothing to scoff at. It’s way more repairable, upgradeable, and hackable than its sleeker, 0.24″-thinner, one pound-lighter sibling. This isn’t much of a surprise to anyone, and neither is the very respectable 7/10 repairability score (compared to 1/10 for the MacBook Pro with Retina Display). Mid 2012 Mac Book Pro Teardown

Right To Repair (or Upgrade)

There has been a lot of commentary in recent years about companies blocking the ability for their customers to repair products they bought. They have implemented numerous technical barriers, such as cryptographically signed components, or invalidating warranties, to prevent regular people, or even third party businesses being able to repair some devices.

Apple has been at the cutting edge of a lot of this, though they are by no means the only company doing it. Repairing iPhones and iPads has been made increasingly more difficult, with some repairs risking turning the device into a paper-weight if replacing a component is treated as tampering by the software. On their computers, they have moved from modular designs to fully integrated designs where the only option for replacing a damaged component, like a connector, is to replace the entire system board. They also make it impossible to buy replacement parts directly from them, meaning that even for older systems, quite often the only parts available are after market copies with unknown brands, and unknown quality.

Not Obsolete

Imagine if the cars we bought only lasted 5 years, or even 10 years, before they were declared obsolete. Imagine if they were also only repairable by their manufacturer, or its approved agents (dealers). While some vehicles in the US have been locked down like this (like John Deere farm equipment), most cars can be repaired or upgraded once purchased. Cars from the early 20th century are kept alive by enthusiasts, and cars that are 20 or even 30 years old are often still in regular use. So, why do we allow manufacturers of computers, phones, tablets, televisions and other electronics to declare their products obsolete and “ready for recycling” long before they have stopped being usable? Even “white goods” like washing machines and dryers are given a life expectancy of 10 years, and yet, as long as parts are available, they can easily be repaired and kept working for much longer.

Children are no longer taught the skills they would need to be able to repair their own cars, or household appliances. These courses should be part of the standard curriculum in high schools across the nation.

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