Reviving a 2015 MacBook

December 17th, 2023
A few days ago I broke the screen on my MacBook: I unplugged the power adapter and closed the top as usual, but this time the adapter had sprung back. With ~10x leverage [1] I cracked the screen, without even noticing.

It's completely blank now, except for the ghostly patterns of the backlight. I'm sending it in to be fixed, but need something to work with for the 3-5d they estimate the repair will take.

We had an early 2015 MacBook which we'd used for the kids Zoom lessons during the pandemic. I tried using it and it was very sluggish and wouldn't run recent browsers or display most websites. I gave up on it, but came back to it the next day after noticing that it should be able to run MacOS 12 (Monterey, 2021).

Apple's documentation claims that SoftwareUpdate should show compatible versions, but this was running MacOS 10.10 (Yosemite, 2014) which is old enough that I'm guessing it's no longer compatible with the update servers.

The documentation offered a backup option of downloading MacOS from the App Store, but again because this was so out of date the store wouldn't load. But if offered a backup backup option of downloading a disk image for the installer, up through MacOS 10.12 (Sierra, 2016). Apple's website wouldn't load on this computer, because of certificate issues, but I downloaded it on a different computer. AirDrop didn't work, I think because it was too old, but I got it over on an SD card.

Upgrading took a little while, and then once it was on 10.12 I could follow the backup (AppStore) instructions to upgrade to version 12. Then I let it install updates, which too another while. It was a few hours overall, probably 25min from me and 4hr of waiting for it to churn through the various updates.

I'm writing this from the revived computer, and I'm pretty happy with it! It's from before the sad butterfly keyboard and touchbar era, and while it doesn't feel quite as snappy as my normal computer it's fine. I'm not planning on doing any bioinformatics locally next week, though, where I suspect it would struggle a lot.

This is, unfortunately, a short-lived revival: the hardware doesn't support the two most recent versions of MacOS and Apple will likely drop support for this version in Fall 2024. But it should get me through the next week, which is the main thing I need from it right now!

[1] I measure the distance from the hinge to the edge of the screen as 9.5", and to the crack as ~1".

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