People can argue whether Macs or PC’s are the better computers. For me, the biggest reason I use Mac is so I can hook up my keyboard and play sounds through Mainstage. Mainstage software is cheap and amazing. The problem is you need a Mac to run it, and a new Mac is expensive. Here is the method I have used to save hundreds of dollars and safely purchase a great used Mac on several occasions.
Disclaimer: the advice given here is to maximize the possibility that your purchase will get you a good used Mac. However, there are always risks involved with purchasing used goods, so proceed at your own risk. Also, please note that software requirements will change with new versions. Be sure to verify current Mainstage software requirements before any computer purchase.
For this method, we’ll go through ebay.com.
Settings to find used Mac listings
1. Click to ebay.com.
2. Search for “macbook pro” or “macbook air.” Pros are more powerful, Airs are light. For what it’s worth, I use an Air.
3. In the left hand column, you can fine tune your search with several options. First, select the year. You can save more by going with earlier years, but the computer must be 2012 or newer.1 2
4. Select the amount of RAM memory. 4GB is the minimum, 8GB is better. Understand that with recent Macbooks, you cannot upgrade RAM later. So if you can spend a little extra now, I recommend it.
5. Screen size – you might save a little by going with the smaller size, but I recommend 13.3 in.
6. Hard drive capacity – the full installation of the MainStage sound library is 49GB, which doesn’t really work with a 128GB drive. Now, I personally use a Mac with a 128GB hard drive, but I don’t have the entire MainStage library on my system. If you need to save a little money here, 128GB can work. Just know you’ll have to figure out which parts of the MainStage sound set you can do without.
7. Operating System – If you purchase a mac that is 2012 or newer, you should easily be able to upgrade the operating for free through the App Store. *I misspoke in the video – do not select “Not specified” as this will limit your selection. Leave this option unchecked. Sorry for the error.
8. Storage Type – you want SSD (Solid State Drive).
9. At this point, it’s time to do some market research. You want to know how much MacBooks with the specs you entered are selling for. To do find out, scroll down until you can select “Show only > Completed Items.” The page will refresh with listings that have ended. The listings with green prices sold successfully.
Near the top of the screen, locate the Sort dropdown menu and select Lowest Price + Shipping. The first few listings are likely not functional and sold for parts only. We’re looking for the lower price end of good condition machines from trustworthy sellers. Some listings will include a “Trending at” price that will give you a good clue where to start.
Moving toward a purchase
After getting a general idea of price, let’s go back to our settings and uncheck “Completed items.” Now we’re looking at live listings.
Select “Buy It Now” from the “Buying Format” category.
As you look at individual listings, you want to make note of:
- Seller feedback rating. If you see anything lower than 99% positive feedback, move on.
- Shipping cost. Some listings have free shipping, some don’t.
- Processor speed (optional). Your other specs and price level will mean you won’t see much variation here. My personal assessment is that any of these machines will provide a workable amount of processing power for MainStage.
- What is missing? You really only need the computer and the power cord. If the power cord is not included, subtract about $40 from what you would be willing to pay for that listing. You can use that $40 to buy a replacement cord.
- Photos. Photos should clearly show the actual item – not stock product images from Apple. They should be detailed enough to show any defects.
- Description. Are there any defects, dents, scratches?
Once you have a feel for the Buy It Now prices, uncheck Buy It Now and select Auction. Now you will see much lower prices, but keep in mind that these prices will go up with more bids.
How to bid on Ebay auctions
Ebay has a feature where you put in your maximum price and Ebay will bid on your behalf until the auction exceeds your maximum. However, some bidders will keep raising their bids until they discover where your top bid is set. Then you’ve lost the auction.
Here is how I bid on Ebay to make sure I get the best deals. I use what’s called a “sniping” service to bid for me. My bid is placed five minutes before the auction ends so no one has a chance to see my bid and move theirs higher. What I do is copy the Ebay item number, then go to gixen.com. I sign in with my Ebay user and password. Then, I paste the item number and enter my maximum bid. I have to make sure to account for the shipping cost in my max bid. Then, gixen will bid on my behalf. The great thing about this is I can set up bids on multiple items and give them the same group number. Then, if I win one of the auctions, it will cancel the other items in the group.
How to reduce your risk
There is always some risk in purchasing a used item. Here are some ways to minimize the risk:
1. Check seller feedback. Positive feedback should be a minimum of 99% with a minimum of fifty transactions. The number of transactions is listed in parentheses after the seller’s name.
2. Warranty. You can actually purchase a used Mac with some of the original warranty. Just add “AppleCare” to your original search (e.g. “MacBook Pro AppleCare”). Read each item’s listing to find how much time remains on the AppleCare warranty. This typically entitles you to some pretty great service from Apple.
The other way to get a warranty is to purchase one through SquareTrade. If your item qualifies, it will say so in the listing.
3. Use PayPal and a credit card for the transaction. Both PayPal and your credit card will give you options if there is a problem with your purchase.
No system is perfect, but following these guidelines will set you up for a great used Mac.
For a visual demonstration of these steps, watch the video below. To see how I use Mainstage, click here.
1At the time of this writing, a new installation of Mainstage requires Mac OS 10.11 or higher. OS 10.11 requires a computer built no later than 2012.
2Also, please note, we’re talking Macbook Pro or Air, not the machine which is simply “Macbook.” That machine would need to be 2015 or newer to run the operating system required for Mainstage.