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I have an "old" MacBook Pro with the following specs:

Modelname: MacBook Pro
Modell-Identification: MacBookPro5,4
Processor type: Intel Core 2 Duo
Processor speed: 2.53 GHz
processer count: 1
core count: 2
L2-Cache: 3 MB
Memory: 4 GB
Bus speed: 1.07 GHz
Boot-ROM-Version: MBP53.00AC.B03
SMC-Version (System): 1.49f2

It currently runs OS X 10.5.8 and seems a bit laggy from time to time, which might (also) be due to the loads of crapware on it.

I have a two part question now:

  1. What would be the recommended maximum OS X version I should upgrade this machine to, so that it still runs nice and smooth? Is mountain lion safe?
  2. How do I do a clean (full wipe) install of the system, since the latest versions of OS X do not come with a bootable disc anymore?
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3 Answers

The second part is trivial, install Lion or Mountain Lion and let it upgrade everything. That will create a recovery HD where you can then reboot and erase the main volume. If you save the installer after the first download, you can avoid the download the second time.

My experience is that the performance of older computers is as good as or better than the old OS - especially when you are erasing things and migrating files over later (or by hand) as much support for older systems was dropped making Mountain Lion fairly streamlined and responsive.

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Ok, but how do I get ML onto that machine. I can't go and buy a ML DVD these days anymore. I also can not download it because there is no app store in Leopard. –  bitbonk Oct 25 '12 at 21:10
    
Lets ask that as a new question - ill answer for all - just link it here in the comments ;) –  bmike Oct 25 '12 at 22:11
    
I think I'll ask the local apple store for a physical copy of mountain lion. –  bitbonk Oct 26 '12 at 6:04
    
That wont work. You will need a physical copy of 10.6 and then have to run software updates to 10.6.8. You can call Apple for that or stop by a store or find it elsewhere as works best. –  bmike Oct 26 '12 at 12:31
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I think that computer could handle Mountain Lion. Lion felt like a regression as far as speed, but ML has some welcome improvements.

If you're trying to do this in a totally legitimate fashion, I would order a copy of Snow Leopard from Apple telesales (1-800-MY-APPLE). It should cost $20, although I have heard that you can get it for free if you explain that you are planning to upgrade to Mountain Lion.

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1-800-MY-APPLE is US only I guess. Need to find the same thing for germany. –  bitbonk Oct 26 '12 at 6:02
    
Ah, too bad. There are many, ah, resources for getting copies of Snow Leopard out there. –  Chris Herbert Oct 26 '12 at 6:38
    
Mine needs to be exrtemely bulletproof legal :) –  bitbonk Oct 26 '12 at 9:23
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It's not that old. In my opinion it worth SSD in it. You may even put it in place of DVD drive with an adaptor (if you don't need it). And it will be really good oooomphh for the total snappiness of that computer.

I would recommend ML if you like to stay current or/and have iOS devices to have those iCloud features used.

Regarding the question how to get Ml installed I would recommend just buying it from other Mac with 10.6 or newer on it. Just login with you Apple ID into App Store and save installer .app created in Applications after download

BTW: max ram is 8GB for the model. DDR3-1066 is cheap

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