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.)

  • I ended up not upgrading the hardware and installing El Captain. It runs fine if only a few applications are running. It is probably the hard disk that is slow. – lhf Jun 13 '17 at 23:23
  • I've recently upgraded the RAM to 4Gb. It runs much better now. I'll look into upgrading the HD to an SSD. – lhf Sep 18 '18 at 11:23
  • I've recently upgraded to High Sierra. It runs ok. I still need to look into upgrading the HD to an SSD. – lhf Jul 3 '20 at 17:33

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

  • Macbook Later 2009 actually support 6G RAM and apples 4G max – nelson Dec 29 '14 at 0:56
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    It actually supports 8GB. Tried and tested many times. No problems. – iskra Dec 29 '14 at 0:58
  • It is preUnibody Early 2009 old cracked top case Nvidia 9400 equipped ones that support only 6GB. – iskra Dec 29 '14 at 1:00
  • Yes,@iskra is right. 8G actually – nelson Dec 29 '14 at 1:10
  • If I install Snow Leopard from the original disks, will I be able to update it its last release? – lhf Jan 8 '15 at 13:20

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.

  • Well said, run the newest OS you can is a good place to start. – bmike Sep 18 '18 at 4:32

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.

  • If I install Snow Leopard from the original disks, will I be able to update it its last release? – lhf Jan 8 '15 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 Jan 8 '15 at 17:38

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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