How To Prepare a Mac For Sale

It’s time to upgrade your Mac, and you’re thinking about selling your old one. Over the years, I’ve sold many Macs, and I’ve created a set of steps to follow (and learned a few tricks) along the way that I’d like to share.

Following these steps will let you sleep a bit better at night and has the added benefit of creating a great first-experience for the buyer.

Step One: Back It Up

Before you delete, reformat, or reinstall, back up your data. There’s little worse than realizing that the scan of the polaroid of you as a boy on the shoulders of a Philadelphia Eagles linebacker was lost during a destructive drive reformat.

Football Memories

Fortunately, there are lots of ways to backup your Mac. I detailed my setup in a an article I wrote in April of 2008 entitled Regarding Backups.

Whatever method you use, just make sure you backup, copy, or clone your data before you reformat and ship your Mac to its new home.

Step Two: Deauthorize It

Since publishing this article, I’ve been reminded by a number of people that it’s a good idea to deauthorize iTunes. To quote Apple:

Deauthorizing a computer allows you to manage which computers can play music, videos, audiobooks, or other content purchased from the iTunes Store. [You can only] use your digital rights management (DRM)-protected music purchases from the iTunes Store on up to five different computers […] when you play an item you’ve purchased, your computer is “authorized” to play content purchased using your Apple Account.

If you don’t deauthorize the system, it’s unlikely that the new owner will be able to play your tracks (they’d still need your iTunes sign-in information), but it could prevent you from playing your music on a future system, depending on how many computers you’ve authorized.

To deauthorize a computer, choose Store > Deauthorize Computer, and enter your iTunes account information.


Step Three: Reformat and Reinstall

Chances are, the recipient of your Mac will just start using it as their own. But once in a while, you get somebody who’s curious enough to try and peek around, to use a file recovery utility just to see what was left behind.

Deleting your user accounts, even a normal drive reformat and reinstall won’t be enough to prevent prying eyes from accessing a surprisingly large amount of the data you thought you’d removed from your system.

If you’re a regular reader of this website, you may recall my article on this topic, entitled How to Securely Erase Storage Media in Mac OS X. Therein, I describe the steps you can take to completely remove all of your old data with finality.

You can do this when you re-install Mac OS X as part of the installation process. Just go to the Installer menu and launch Disk Utility. You can then click the Security Options button, and pick one of the more secure options (pictured here), such as Zero Out Data, 7-Pass Erase, or 35-Pass Erase.

Although it takes a while, I recommend the 7-Pass Erase method, which meets with the US Department of Defense 5220-22 M standard for securely erasing magnetic media. Unless you’re shipping your Mac to a secret government agency, it’s likely nobody will be able to get at your precious, precious files.

Step Four: Recreate That “Factory Fresh” Feeling

Here’s a neat trick that can really simplify and enhance your buyer’s initial unboxing and first-use experience.

If you’ve installed Mac OS X before, you may recall that after the installation is complete and the Welcome video is finished playing, you’ll be prompted to create a new user account, and it seems that there’s no other choice but to continue the process and create a user. You’d then have to jot this information down for the recipient of the new system. That’s a bit of a tacky solution, and there’s a better way.

After installation, when you’re prompted to create a new user, just press Command-Q.

Mac OS X Leopard Welcome Video Screenshot

This will quit the installer, and allow you to cleanly shut down the computer. The next time the computer is turned on by the new owner, they’ll get to watch the Welcome video and go through the user-creation and registration steps on their own, just like they would if the computer had shipped to them right from the factory.

Step Five" Pack It

Some of the best advice I can offer is — and this is good for all electronics purchases, not just Macs — save the original packaging. If you’ve taken good care of your equipment and have the original packaging, you’ll be able to ask a bit more from your buyer because you’ve been focused on maintaining things in excellent condition. Keeping the original packaging demonstrates this to your potential buyers.

There’s another benefit to keeping the original packaging. Apple’s computer boxes are great because they’re aesthetically pleasing and offer an excellent unboxing experience. But they also serve as superior packaging for shipping your Mac. Apple’s boxes do double duty as both product promotion and shipping container. This will save you from having to hunt down — or worse buy — an appropriate box later on.


You saved your Mac’s original box and packing material, right?

If not, I’d recommend visiting your local UPS Store or FedEx/Kinkos and pay them to put together a good packaging solution for you. They have many more options than packing-peanuts and bubble wrap these days, things like shock-resistant suspension packing for notebook computers or heat-n-shape foam for bigger systems. Trust me, even the best shipping companies make mistakes, and you’d be surprised to see how your boxes are handled behind the scenes, in the warehouses and loading facilities.

Once you’ve seen how these places handle your cargo, you’ll realize that good packing is key.

Step Six: Sleep Better at Night

You’ve backed-up your data, securely reformatted your drive, safely boxed your Mac, and shipped with a major carrier.

All that’s left is to sit back, relax … and pick up one of those fancy new MacBooks.

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