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Prepare a Used Mac For Sale

Last updated Feb 25, 2005.

With Apple introducing new Mac models every few months, sooner or later you're going to give in to temptation and buy a new computer. When you do, you'll be happy to know that by properly preparing your old computer for resale, you may be able to recoup a sizable portion of your investment.

I know there are some users who are so attached to their computers that parting with old Macs is as sad and difficult as breaking up with a lover, putting a pet to sleep, paying last respects to a friend, or all three put together. Unless you plan to start a computer history museum, it's best to get past this sentimentality and sell your old Mac as soon as you no longer need it. The longer you wait, the less your used Mac will bring since potential buyers will view it as old and obsolete. Let's get started before your Mac depreciates any further, shall we?

Transferring Files

The first thing you should do is transfer data and programs from your old computer to your new one. New Macs come with Migration Assistant to make the move as painless as possible. The Migration Assistant (see the following figure) runs automatically as part of the initial startup process on a new Mac, but can also be launched manually as needed. To use this utility, you connect both computers' FireWire ports using Target Disk Mode. It's the fastest, easiest solution. Another option is to put both computers on the same network, enable Personal File Sharing, then manually copy what you need from one to another. Or you can backup what you want to an external drive or removable media, then restore on the new Mac.

Figure 149

Figure 149 The Migration Assistant simplifies transferring files between computers by using Target Disk Mode.

Almost all the documents in your home folder can be moved using the Finder, but simply copying applications, utilities, and other programs between volumes may not work because they may utilize hidden files or files located in an assortment of different places. If possible, reinstall everything from your original disks to ensure that all the necessary components are installed where needed.

Whatever method you choose for moving your files, be sure to test everything on your new Mac before you wipe out your old Mac's hard drive. You'll probably find that many applications require you to reenter serial numbers and registration codes before they'll work properly.

Deauthorizing iTunes

If you have purchased items from the iTunes Music Store, choose Advanced > Deauthorize Computer. iTunes Music Store items can be played on up to five different computers only. If you routinely neglect to deauthorize your old Macs before selling them, you may end up with an iTunes Library of purchased AAC music that you can no longer use. Follow Apple's instructions for authorizing your new Mac so that it can play your purchased items.

Reformatting and Reinstalling Mac OS

Many sellers of used computers tout the fact that their computers are loaded with thousands of dollars worth of software, and while this certainly may entice buyers to pay more for a computer, it may also be illegal. Legally, you must remove any commercial applications or copyrighted files from your hard drive if you intend to continue to use them on your new computer. On the other hand, if you will no longer be using Microsoft Office (for example, since you intend to switch to Mail, iCal, and Address Book which Apple bundles with your new Mac), then you can leave Office on your old Mac. Just be sure to send the new owner the original discs for same and be willing to transfer the software license to them. Remember, the registered software you leave on the computer most likely has your name and serial number embedded in it. If the new owner starts "sharing" your software on the net, how will you explain that to the FBI?

The simplest way to deal with this issue is to reinstall the operating system that came with the computer. Boot from the Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger) Install DVD, then choose Utilities > Disk Utile. Select the old drive, click the Erase tab, then click Security Options. Choose one of the secure erase options (see the following figure) to wipe out all traces of your private data, thereby thwarting potential identity thieves who can otherwise easily recover items that have simply been "deleted" by emptying the Trash. Zero Out Data is the fastest option and is fine for most users, but if you're really paranoid and have the time, use a multi-pass option instead.

Figure 150

Figure 150 The version of Disk Utility that comes with Tiger has options for securely erasing volumes.

With your computer's drive wiped clean, use the Restore discs that shipped with your old computer to perform a fresh installation of the original operating system. Choose Apple > About This Mac to see what version of the operating system is now installed. If your old computer shipped with an outdated copy of Mac OS, it's likely that the new owner will probably want to install a newer version, so you might not want to bother running Software Update. In any event, by starting out fresh with a clean installation of Mac OS, you can eliminate any potential compatibility conflicts that may cause the buyer to complain.

Gathering Information

After copying the contents of the old hard drive and then wiping it clean and installing a virgin Mac OS, it's time to gather information to include in your for sale advertisement. Open System Profiler (/Applications/Utilities), choose View > Full Profile (Command-3), then print two copies of the report that shows exactly what hardware and software is included in your Mac (see the following figure). One of these copies is for the new owner so that he can confirm he got what he paid for, and one copy is for your records, just in case the new owner is a scammer and tries to return your computer with different parts, or complains that it wasn't configured as specified in your ad.

Figure 151

Figure 151 System Profiler is a great tool for quickly gathering the specifications that astute technical shoppers will insist on knowing before buying.

Go through the profile to identify key pieces of technical information. At the very least, you should be able to tell buyers the following:

  • Exact Mac model name
  • Number of CPUs
  • Type of CPUs
  • CPU speed
  • Memory
  • Capacity of internal drives
  • Graphics chipset model
  • Resolution of display

Armed with this information, locate Apple's official specifications for your Mac model. Compare the standard specifications with what System Profiler reports for your computer, looking for differences. These are the items that you should emphasize in your ad because they distinguish your Mac from similar ones sold by others. For example, if your Mac has had its CPU upgraded, you'll want to mention that. If you have maxed out the memory, be sure to say so, and point out if you used matching pairs of memory modules for an interleaving speed boost, too. If you swapped out a larger hard drive, or a faster optical drive, or a DVD burner, definitely call attention to the improvement. Also indicate if you installed an AirPort Card or Bluetooth adapter. Any extras that cost money add value to your Mac and are worth mentioning.

If you intend to bundle extra hardware or software with your Mac (definitely a good idea if you've got older peripherals that won't work with your new Mac because it lacks the necessary hardware bus, such as ADB, SCSI, and serial devices), gather it all up and try to locate original discs, documentation, and packaging for everything. The more complete you can make everything, the more money you'll get.

Polishing the Apple

Go over the exterior of your computer, looking for scratches, dents, and other defects. Gently wipe off the exterior with a lint-free cloth and a mild cleaner that does not contain ammonia, alcohol, or abrasive ingredients. If you have a can of compressed air, you can use it to blow dust out of keyboards, mice, trackballs, and the inside of your computer, too.

Your goal is to make the computer look as good as possible so that when the buyer takes the Mac out of your shipping box he is left with a positive first impression. Be sure to note any cosmetic defects that remain, so that the buyer can't complain that you failed to disclose anything. Most buyers understand that used Macs will exhibit normal wear and tear, but will be understandably upset if you didn't mention that the lid of your PowerBook is covered in anarchist stickers.

If you've followed my suggestions, at this point your data is safe, your hard drive has been scrubbed clean, and your Mac's outside has been buffed and polished to a high sheen. In short, your old Mac is looking its best, which should help you get the most money possible.