Selling Your Mac: Getting the Most From Your Old Machine

This post is part of a series that revisits some of our readers’ favorite articles from the past that still contain awesome and relevant information that you might find useful. This post was originally published on March 30th, 2011.

One of the great things about Macs is the high resale value they maintain over time. In the last 4 years alone, I’ve never had to pay more than $300 out-of-pocket for a brand-new Macintosh, and that’s because I’ve been able to get the most value from the Macs I’ve sold!

I’ve put together a simple list of everything to consider when you go to sell your Mac. Read on past the break and we’ll look at some steps for getting the most out of selling your Mac.

Step 1: Knowing What You’ve Got

When you sell a car, people want to know all the details: how big is the engine, what kind of transmission does it have, does it have power windows, air conditioning, etc. When you go to post your Mac online, it’s important to include a list of everything your Mac has and does.

Luckily, your Mac has a simple utility called the System Profiler that will tell you everything you need to know.

Profiling Your Mac

Profiling Your Mac

To launch System Profiler, just click on the Apple Menu in the upper left-hand corner of your screen. You’ll notice “About This Mac,” but if you hold down your Option key, that menu item will change into System Profiler, letting you go take a peek “under the hood” of your Mac!

Option-Click "About This Mac" to launch System Profiler

Once inside System Profiler, you’ll find everything – from your Mac’s processor speed to the amount of memory your video card has. There’s more than enough info here to satisfy any curious purchaser.

Lion Update

In Lion, System Profiler has changed a little bit. It’s in the same place but is now called “System Information” and features a much more user friendly design.

screenshot

System Information in Lion

Step 2: Packing Up Your Data

With the amount of information we keep in our computers these days, moving to a new one can feel more like moving to a new house. And of course, as in any big move, you’ll want to start by making sure you’ve got everything packed up and nothing left behind.

Luckily, the Mac makes it easy to “pack up” your data in a variety of ways:

1: Time Machine

Included with every Mac since 2007, Time Machine is the simplest and most convenient way to backup your files and move them to a new machine. All you need to do is plug in an external Hard Drive to a Mac running OS X 10.5 Leopard or later and follow the onscreen prompts.

Flux Capacitor Not Required

If you go the Time Machine route, then transferring your data onto your new Mac will be incredibly easy; every new Mac asks during the initial setup process if you want to migrate data from a Time Machine backup. 


2: Duping Your Drive

For users running an operating system prior to 10.5 Leopard or wary of Time Machine, creating an exact copy of your hard drive will be your next best bet. You’ll still need an external hard drive to store this “duplicate” on, so make sure you’ve got a drive with plenty of storage on-hand.

SuperDuper: Super Easy Drive Duplication

Apps like SuperDuper! from Shirt Pocket can be great options, or you can even use the Mac’s built-in Disk Utility to create a duplicate “image” of your hard drive!

A little more technical know-how may be required to go this route, so novice users or those who feel “technologically challenged” will still be better off using Time Machine if their Mac supports it.


Step 3: Don’t Forget to Deauthorize!

Now that your files are all packed up, you’ll want to make sure and “turn the lights out” by de-authorizing your Mac from iTunes. Since iTunes purchases like songs and apps can only be stored on 5 computers at a time, you’ll want to make sure you’re not getting penalized by a machine you no longer own!

Time to De-Authorize

Simply launch iTunes, click on the Store menu, and select “De-Authorize this Computer.” Enter your iTunes password, and that old Mac will no longer count towards your 5 authorized machines.

A Successful De-Authorization

You’ll also want to make sure you de-activate any serialized applications like Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop. Nothing stings like realizing you can’t use that $600 app because your serial number has been eaten up by an old Mac.

For information on deactivating third-party apps, refer to the support documentation included with the respective programs.

Step 4: Restoring Your System

Now that you’re packed and ready to move, it’s time to clear the old machine, leaving it empty and ready for a new owner to “move in.”

Restoring a Mac is pretty simple, and all-in-all should take you about an hour. You’ll just need the gray install discs that came with your computer. Insert the “Mac OS X Installation” disc, and restart your computer while holding down the “C” key on your keyboard until you see the Apple logo. Then it’s just a matter of following the onscreen prompts to erase your hard drive and reinstall OS X.

All You Need to Restore Your Mac

If you can’t find your restore discs, don’t fret! A quick call to AppleCare’s 1-800-MY-APPLE line can get you a new set for a few dollars shipping and handling. Otherwise, the Geniuses at your local Apple Store can help you through the restore process during a Genius Bar appointment. On Lion? Learn to make your very own boot disc here.

Step 5: A Clean Mac is a Happy Mac

Have you ever seen an old Mac keyboard after a few years of use? It can be pretty frightening, and cleaning them can be a real hassle.

This is not how you sell computers.

The fact is, computers get dirty. And people don’t like buying dirty things. So once your system is clean, you’ll want to spend some time on the outside of your Mac.

A few ground-rules before you start cleaning:

  • No Alcohol! – If your Mac was made in the last couple years or so, then chances are it has a beautiful glass panel on the front. Using alcohol on this glass will cause a dreadful splotchy coloration to appear across it, and will virtually ruin your Mac’s display. Stick to water-based solutions for your glass!
  • No Ammonia! – Commercial glass cleaners are full of chemicals which, like alcohol, will ruin your Mac’s display. Again, water-based cleaners are your best bet.
  • Less is More! – Any cleaning solution you use should be sprayed lightly on a cloth, and then applied to your Mac. Spraying directly on your computer is never good for anybody.

Now, there are probably a hundred thousand different cleaning solutions for computers, but there are two in particular that have worked great for me:

iClean by Monster

iClean Your iMac, MacBook, iBook, and More!

A light spritz of this miracle solution on the included microfiber cloth will work wonders on the display and keyboard of your Mac. You can find it online, and at most Apple Stores.

Bausch & Lomb Clens

Clens Your Mac

A set of wet wipes that will take the gunk off of your Mac, iPhone, iPad, iPod, or i-Just about anything else. Find it online or in the Apple Store.

Mr.Clean Magic Erasers

Let Mr. Clean Handle This!

Many people scoff at the suggestion, but these little white squares are great at picking up dirt from your Mac’s keyboard, and do amazing things for Mac notebooks.

Simply leave the eraser completely dry and buff away the dirt. White iBooks and MacBooks especially will benefit from a visit by Mr. Clean.

Time to Make That Sale

Now you’ve got a beautiful Mac with a fresh system install, and a nice clean enclosure. Your last decision should now be where and how to sell it.

Everyone will tell you their own preferred method or marketplace, but I will say from experience that you are always best dealing locally through sites like Craigslist, or other user-populated classifieds.

Online auctions will require additional fees, and you’re likely to incur shipping charges. Plus the elevated threat of getting scammed is pretty high with online auction houses. Post locally, take cash only, and meet someone in a public place!

Hopefully, you now feel ready to polish up that Mac and post it for sale. Let us hear your own success secrets in the comments, and happy selling!


  • Luther Stickell

    I disagree with the statement about an elevated threat of getting scammed with online auction houses. I’m not sure about all of the online auction sites, but I have sold many of my older Apple devices on eBay without any problems. Using eBay with PayPal, there are guarantees against getting scammed. You are also able to check feedback to see if the seller is reputable. There are also guarantees against getting scammed. One time, I received a product which was a knock-off. I resolved it through eBay effortlessly and was able to get my money back. You ship the product after getting paid, so usually the worry is with the seller scamming you and not the other way around. There are no guarantees with Craigslist. I’m sure in most cases there won’t be any problems, but there is always a risk of things going wrong.

    • Lance

      I have used ebay in past. I have been scammed no less then 7 times and had my Paypal hacked into twice!

  • http://www.yummygum.nl Vince

    Funny, we just launched a single page on a subdomain of ours with a Macbook Pro that underwent about everything you mentioned above, haha! http://macbooktekoop.yummygum.nl (Dutch)

  • http://www.hammyhavoc.com Hammy Havoc

    I seriously didn’t know that the alcohol would do that. Time to do some research on cleaning the iPad 2 and if using alcohol is a bad idea on that as well. Most cleaning solutions (Disappointingly) contain alcohol. Thanks for pointing that out.

  • Brian Hanifin

    WARNING: Magic Erasers are a light abrasive. While they are great for cleaning, you have to be careful not to rub in the same area for too long or you will find paint rubbing off of your keyboard keys. Definitely do not use it on your screen!

    Magic Erasers work great with a little bit of water as well. Pinball guys use it to remove dirt which has been ground into scratches in the surface of a playfield which are otherwise extremely difficult to remove.

  • LaRonn Brown

    Where is a good place to sell a 2008 macbook pro for 1899?

  • Mackenzie

    Awesome article!
    I’ve done eBay for most of my Mac items. Sometimes it’s just a hassle to deal with because I don’t have much time on my hands.
    I did in the past use Take My Mac, which is a service that buys new, used, and broken Apple devices. But they recently changed hands to Sell My iDevice (http://sellmyidevice.com). I think they are still cleaning up since they are relaunching, but I have dealt with them before in the past with my 3Gs and they are fantastic.

  • http://twitter.com/michalkozak Michal Kozak

    Great post, Sean. Here’s another useful article on that topic:

    Prepare Your Mac For Sale – http://hivelogic.com/articles/how-to-prepare-a-mac-for-sale/ by @danbenjamin

  • http://jamiebrewer.com Jamie

    Dude… That is the dirtiest keyboard I have ever seen! It looks like a mechanic has been using it for the last week. Gross.

  • http://www.thatcanadiangirl.co.uk Vero

    Taking good care of your Mac definitely gives you and the future buyer confidence that things will go smoothly.

    A tip I shared before is the counter-intuitive option of stickering your laptop to death. The stickers actually cover the aluminium case, keeping it from scratches. When you’re ready to sell, use a bit of WD-40 to clean off the last remains of sticker glue and you’ll have a shiny Mac to sell off.

    Here’s the tip:
    http://www.thatcanadiangirl.co.uk/blog/2009/02/20/five-tips-to-maintain-your-aluminium-macbook-pro/

  • http://www.CashInYourMac.com Justyn Bensimoun

    We pay top dollar for used & non-working Apple devices. To get an instant quote, check out our website.

    Thanks, Justyn

  • Justyn Bensimoun
  • appleeater

    Nice article but a few details about reinstalling your OS are missing like how exactly you should do it with 10.7 Lion to get a ‘out of the box’ experience without any account info or any user specified settings. Only OSX and iLife found on it’s perfectly clean HD.

  • Danny Tam

    These are all very good tips for cleaning. Good practice comes a long way in the condition of your unit. Preventative measures are better than always cleaning.

    i.e., having a keyboard cover, case, etc. to prevent wear and tear on the keyboard and the unit itself.

    Products to look into:

    - Moshi ClearGuard
    - Moshi PalmGuard

    There are tons of lower cost alternatives out there online that can be had for a few dollars.

    All of this will pay for itself when your unit sells for top dollar because of its immaculate condition!

  • Paul Dunahoo

    Waiting for an 11″ MacBook Air with Ivy Bridge and a retina display before I sell my 2010 13″ MacBook Air.

    • Lance

      I be getting a MacBook Pro with i7 7Retina . I will also be waiting to sell my 2009 Macbook 6,1. Not sure where to even start …having looked on ebay I am hoping for £370-£420 but guess I just have to wait and see.

  • Jeremy

    Nice article. I’m about to sell my 2009 iMac when the 2012′s come out. Going to go with an i7, 16 GB RAM, 2 GB graphics card (Or higher, if offered), and probably a 1-2 TB HDD with whatever the largest SSD offered is. Thinking about trading out the SSD for an Intel 520 series, too.

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  • Zella Hilton

    I have found the best place to sell any electronic is Gazelle.com. They give an honest estimate and they stick to the quoted price. Of course your evaluation must be honest and realistic. They mailed a postage paid box that made shipping very easy. They will also give you 5% more if you choose reimbursement with an Amazon gift card.

  • Christopher Layne

    Claims against alcohol causing issues with glass are completely untrue. If you’re getting streaks it’s because the alcohol is of low concentration or the screen still has oil on it (either because it’s not totally clean, or it was contained in low concentration alcohol). 99% Isopropanol is preferred, but 90-95% should work perfectly fine.

    Check out the MSDS of the products you recommended, the Monster clean cites “trade secrets” but roughly describes a polymer-chain based concentrate as the main cleaner, whereas B&L Clens is 12% isopropanol *alcohol* + 2% dipropylene glycol methyl ether. Both are solvents.

    Personally, I’d just use 100% ether or hexane, but I know how to use.

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