• Preparing Your Old Mac for Sale

    No matter how much you’ve enjoyed your Mac, there comes a time when you just have to upgrade to the latest new model.* While you’re keen to move on up to all the new features and enjoy the added power of your new purchase, the reality is that your old Mac is probably still perfectly functional for general use.

    You now have the perfect opportunity to sell, gift or freecycle your old computer.

    While you could just give the computer to a family member, friend, or random stranger on the street, unless you’ve taken a little time to do some preparation you may end up doing yourself, and the person who takes on the computer, no favours at all.

    If you’ve had the computer for any length of time it’s likely that some things aren’t quite working the way they should - it may not be anything major, it’s probably stuff that you hardly ever care about.* But the next person will use the computer in different ways to you and the minor niggle on some program not working properly could be a major headache for them.

    Wouldn’t it also be nice to let the next person to use your computer enjoy that out-of-the-box experience complete with welcome video and the chance to set up their own user account and customisations?

    This article goes through the steps you should consider taking to offer the next person to use your pre-loved Mac the best possible experience.


    Once you’ve given your computer away, particularly if you follow through all the suggested steps here, there’s no going back.* Everything on your old computer will be gone for good.

    Sure, you may have used Apple’s Migration Assistant to move everything to your new Mac, and this will do a remarkably good job of moving everything but this is a once-only opportunity.* Once your old computer has gone, you can’t re-use the Migration Assistant if something didn’t work properly (e.g. a damaged cable or flaky network connection resulted in corrupted files).

    With the ever falling price of external hard drives, there’s really few reasons not to buy a new one just for the purpose of backing up your old computer.* Don’t rely on a TimeMachine backup in this case, once you’ve moved to your new computer it will be harder to access a TimeMachine backup for your old computer.

    Instead, we’re going to create a disk image backup.* In order to do this, you’ll need the original install DVD that came with your Mac and an external hard drive.

    The easiest way to do this is to start with your old Mac already booted, plug in your external hard drive (wait for it to be found and make sure it’s working normally) and then insert the install DVD and wait for the “Mac OS X Install DVD” window to load.

    When it does, double click on “Install Mac OS X”

    This will then load the installer program.* Don’t click on “Continue”, instead click on the “Utilities” button.

    This takes you to the Utilities screen.* Click on “Restart”.

    Your Mac will then reboot and load OS X from the install DVD instead of from the hard drive in your Mac.

    After rebooting you’ll first get the language selection requester.* Select english (or the language that’s appropriate for you - but these instructions assume it’s english) and click the next button.

    DO NOT click the “Continue” button on the next window - that way leads to much hair being torn from your head and a certain level of cursing and swearing...

    Instead, look up at the top left part of the screen and you should see menu options in the usual place.* Select the “Utilities” menu and then select “Disk Utility”.

    Click on the internal hard drive in your Mac - it’s usually the silvery grey coloured disk and, unless you’ve changed it, will probably be called “Macintosh HD”.

    (Note: in these screen shots, I’m using an external hard drive - the process used in the screenshots is the same, just a different drive being selected.)

    Once you’ve selected your hard drive it will be highlighted with a blue bar.* Now click on “New Image”.

    When you do this, you’ll get a file requester letting you:

    1. Select the location where you want to save your new disk image (this should be the external hard drive you’re using to back up your Mac).

    2. Type in the name of the disk image that you want to use to save your backup.

    3. Click “Save” to start the backup.

    Depending on how full your hard drive is, and the type of external interface (USB or Firewire) this can take quite a while to complete.

    Feel free to go and grab yourself a cup of coffee or something while you wait.

    Once the backup finishes, the progress window closes.* There’s no more buttons to click, when the progress window is gone, you’re done.* If the backup fails you’ll get a requester telling you it has.* Fix whatever went wrong and go through these steps again.

    At this point, you will now have a complete copy of everything on your old Mac in the form of a .dmg file on an external hard drive.* The wonderful thing about .dmg files is that you can open them on any Mac by double-clicking on them.* (See Discovering Disk*Images for more information on what you can do with a disk image file.)

    Quite out of Disk Utility and then quit the installer - your Mac will reboot.

    In my “just to be sure” way, I would suggest then opening your newly created disk image file and making sure it works as it should.

    If you’re planning to sell your old Mac, this is a good opportunity to also run up “About This Mac” and take a screen shot or three of the system information.* There’s a pretty good chance a prospective buyer will want this information and it’ll be far easier to collect it now than later.

    Removing the Evidence

    Now that you’ve got a backup of everything on your old Mac, and you’ve verified that you can access that backup, it’s time to make sure nobody else can do the same.

    You’ve probably read about someone buying a hard drive on eBay and finding private information such as usernames and passwords, or bank accounts and financials.* Sometimes, that’s because it was never removed from the hard drive.* Sometimes, it’s because it was removed but not very effectively.

    How does this work?* Imagine your hard drive as being a little like a book.* The files stored on your hard drive are like pages in a book.* At the front of the book, there’s an index that tells you where to find things.* A quick format of your hard drive basically just tears out the index pages and inserts new, blank, ones in their place.* The actual pages (i.e. files on your hard drive) only get cleared out when you start writing on them again.

    While it’s much less convenient to try and find information in a book with no index, it’s far from impossible.

    The same holds true for a hard drive.

    The way around this is to do a secure erase - this takes longer but vastly reduces the chance that someone can recover your personal information from the hard drive later.

    This step is going to require you to boot from your install DVD again and follow through the same steps as above to get you into Disk Utility.* This time, though, instead of backing up the hard drive, we’re going to erase it.

    Once you’ve got Disk Utility loaded:

    1. Select your internal hard drive (I’m using an external in this screenshot but the process is the same either way).

    2. Select the “Erase” tab

    3. Then click on “Security Options”

    This is where the important bit happens, and you get to choose your level of paranoia (or lack of).

    For most general use computers, selecting “Zero Out Data” is probably going to be enough.* This level of erase, to use our book analogy above, will erase the writing on the pages as well as replacing the index pages with new ones.

    If you’ve got particularly sensitive information on your computer (like launch codes or something) then using a 7 or 35 pass erase might be more appropriate but at the cost of taking much, much, much, longer.

    (If you’ve got reports from Area 51 or photos of the “weather balloon” at Roswell then you’re probably better off removing the hard drive completely, putting it through an industrial strength shredder and then wrapping the bits that are left in a cone made of tinfoil...)

    Once you’ve selected your comfort level of paranoia (I’m mostly OK at zero out, sometimes I feel the need for 7 pass), click on OK and then go ahead and hit the “Erase” button back on the main Disk Utility window.

    Sit back and enjoy the thought of all those ones and zeros being forcibly conformed as zeros.

    We Can Rebuild It

    So far we’ve backed up the hard drive to a disk image on an external drive and then erased the internal hard drive in your old Mac so nobody gets access to your super-secret private data.* That now leaves you with a fairly expensive door stop - A.K.A. a computer with no operating system.* Now’s the time to fix that little problem.

    At the moment, you should still be sitting with your computer booted from the install DVD and running Disk Utility.

    Once you quit out of Disk Utility you’ll be returned to the OS X installer.* Continue on through and install the operating system.

    As you near the end of the operating system install, you have a choice.

    If you’re happy for the computer to have OS X and nothing else installed, just hold down the power button when the welcome video starts playing.* Next time the computer gets powered up, it will resume the welcome video and go through the new user setup.

    If you’d like to also install iLife (and other) applications, then things get a little more complicated.

    The good news is that the steps needed have been documented in this article (http://www.mactalk.com.au/2010/02/18/sysprep-for-mac-os-x/).* Just follow through steps one through nine (you don’t really need the last two steps unless you’re going to be doing this kind of thing regularly) and you’ll have the result you’re looking for with the added bonus of a new user experience for the next person to use your old Mac.

    Clean It Up

    Now that we’ve dealt with the internals, it’s time to pay some attention to the externals.* Give your old Mac a bit of a clean up - dust it, clean the keyboard and mouse, wipe over the screen with a soft cloth and generally make it look nice and clean.* If you’re planning to sell your Mac this step alone can add quite a bit to the sale price and, down the track, your buyer being happy with their purchase.

    Finishing Touches

    Are you selling your old Mac?* Now is the perfect time to take lots of photos.* It’s as clean and tidy as it’ll get so show it off.* Pick a spot with plenty of light and no distractions in the background (remember that a large glossy monitor - especially if it’s not powered up - is going to show reflections, check that it won’t show reflections that’ll get you talked about on the inter-tubes).

    Once you’ve got the photos you’re happy with, box it all back up (assuming you’ve got the boxes) and put it away.* You don’t need to do anything more with it now and it’ll be ready to ship off to the new owner in pristine (or as near as it gets for a second hand computer) condition.

    That’s it, we’re done, enjoy the benefits of a nice return on your old Mac - or the feelgood that comes from freecycling or donating your pre-loved kit.

    David Freeman is an Apple Certified Macintosh Technician and the proprietor of Outback Queensland Internet (aka Leading Edge Computers Longreach).* He has worked as a technician for over fifteen years and been involved in computers and the Internet since 1988 when he purchased his first computer (an Amiga 1000).
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