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I have a white 13" MacBook (late 2009) with 2GB memory. It is currently running Mavericks.

The machine is too slow, probably because the memory is just 2GB.

I'm considering downgrading it back to its original OS, which was Snow Leopard.

I bought Lion from the App Store when it came out, but I can't find it now, only Mountain Lion and Yosemite.

  • What would be the ideal OS X for this machine?

  • If it is Lion, how would I go about getting another copy, given that I've bought one once already?

  • What if I upgraded the memory to 4GB? (But installing new memory requires opening the machine up, which is not so easy.)

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6 Answers 6

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You basically have two options:

  1. If you don't want to open up machine then install Snow Leopard as leanest of them all. It will be fast though few resource hungry apps or web pages can bog it down. Another minus of the path is that Snow Leopard being released July 25, 2011 is going to be unsupported soon if not already. At least latest NTP patch doesn't apply to it.

  2. If you do to open it. And it is not that hard really with this machine see instruction. Then I would say add 8GB while you are there. It supports up to 2x4GB SO-DIMM DDR3-1066 modules(choose big names like Hynix, Samsung, Crucial for compatibility). Regarding OS X choice it is either 10.9 as more polished or 10.10 as the latest. Clearly 10.9 behaves a lot more solid on the machine. But if you need 10.10 it will also be fine. Safari is definitely snappier on it.

Regarding 10.7 Lion. It just doesn't make sense. It is no faster than Mavericks on 2GB but it is definitely slower than 10.6 Snow Leopard.

I put 8GB RAM and 128GB SSD in place of Superdrive in same machine recently, installed 10.10 and it will be fine for few more years for light to medium tasks. Good luck

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  • Macbook Later 2009 actually support 6G RAM and apples 4G max
    – nelson
    Commented Dec 29, 2014 at 0:56
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    It actually supports 8GB. Tried and tested many times. No problems.
    – iskra
    Commented Dec 29, 2014 at 0:58
  • It is preUnibody Early 2009 old cracked top case Nvidia 9400 equipped ones that support only 6GB.
    – iskra
    Commented Dec 29, 2014 at 1:00
  • Yes,@iskra is right. 8G actually
    – nelson
    Commented Dec 29, 2014 at 1:10
  • If I install Snow Leopard from the original disks, will I be able to update it its last release?
    – lhf
    Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 13:20
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I don't know if this is still relevant given the date of the original posting. I am presently using a late 2009 MacBook with 8GB of RAM, a 250GB SSD (from OWL) and High-Sierra. The machine is very fast. I compose music (I am a professional) on it and it runs very well. Given the fact that High-Sierra may be supported for maybe two more years it is worth upgrading RAM and HD and buy yourself a couple of extra years. P.

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    Well said, run the newest OS you can is a good place to start.
    – bmike
    Commented Sep 18, 2018 at 4:32
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Since it's been a while since this question has been answered, and this machine still seems to be in use (at least by the question author and myself) as of last year, I'll toss in a three-part answer from 2023's perspective:

  • The ideal macOS for this machine is High Sierra, the last official macOS available for this machine from Apple. Unofficially, this machine can run newer versions of macOS. A bit of online searching for "unibody MacBook 2009" along with the desired macOS in question can yield some interesting results.
  • Mountain Lion was the preferred version of "OS X" over Lion back in the day, as El Capitan was to Yosemite and High Sierra was to Sierra. I doubt you care to go back in time to Lion anymore. I certainly wouldn't recommend it :-)
  • As you've found (from your comments), upgrading your memory was a great and very simple approach to improving this machine's performance. I've had mine up to 8GB but it's back to 6GB now as I don't use the machine all that often. One can still get by with as little as 4GB on a modern machine as long as they have also upgraded it to an SSD (as you have since asking the question).

In summary, upgrading this machine's memory to 4GB or higher and the hard drive to a SATA SSD still provides quite a bit of horsepower for such an old machine, as Apple was fairly generous with the hardware specs for the Late 2009 White Unibody MacBook machine in comparison with the MacBook Pros that were available at the time.

You may also find that a replacement battery is in order, depending on how much life you are still getting from your original battery. I am on my second battery in 2023, and I generally baby my batteries by running the laptop on AC power most of the time, while letting the batteries drain out every several weeks.

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If I were you I'd update the RAM to 8GB (Apple says 4GB is the max supported, but you can go to 8GB) and install Yosemite.

Without updating beyond 2GB, I would try either Snow Leopard, or Mountain Lion. The downside of using the older OSes is that they are unsupported, so you won't get security updates.

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  • If I install Snow Leopard from the original disks, will I be able to update it its last release?
    – lhf
    Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 13:19
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    Probably worth adding as a separate question, but yes: support.apple.com/kb/DL1399 has a download.
    – dwightk
    Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 17:38
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Processing speed (and the processing speed of the graphics processor) also have a huge impact on the snappiness feel of a computer. Using activity monitor, check how much ram it is actually using. If it is reaching %80 used then a RAM upgrade makes sense. I have a mac-book pro with 4GB which I bought used. Yet it feels fast. It is even older, being from 2008. It does have a better processor however.

Ram is not everything.

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You can use OpenCore and install Big Sur on it or Monterey. Alternatively, you can use Dosdude1's Mojave patch like I did with mine.

Screenshot of macOS Mojave running on a MacBook late 2009

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  • Do Big Sur or Monterey even boot on a Mac with only 2 GB of RAM?
    – nohillside
    Commented Sep 3, 2023 at 14:11
  • @nohillside, I upgraded the RAM to 4Gb on my machine in 2018.
    – lhf
    Commented Sep 3, 2023 at 14:14
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    @lhf Fine :-) Nevertheless the OP may want to improve their answer a bit regarding hardware requirements even the Dosdude1 patcher can't work around (like lack of RAM).
    – nohillside
    Commented Sep 3, 2023 at 14:25
  • I don't have just two gigs of ram but 8 Commented Sep 4, 2023 at 15:02

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