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Archive for the ‘Hardware Tips’ Category

by Tom Nelson

With each release of the Mac OS, new features are added, older features may be updated, and in some cases, removed or replaced. Over the course of a few OS updates, it’s easy for some very useful system features to be forgotten. That’s why we’re going to take a look at 10 features that don’t get as much use as we think they should.

1) Tabbing Between Fields and Control Elements
The tab key can get quite a workout on the Mac. Besides its obvious use in text editors and word processors to move the cursor a predefined distance, it’s used on the Mac to move between fields in various apps. This makes the tab key extremely helpful when filling in an online form, letting you move quickly to the next field to enter information, or to the next list item to make a selection.

Further Reading: OWC Announces Cutting-edge Thunderbolt 3 Products at CES 2018

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

You may have noticed when filling in forms that the tab key will jump past dropdown menus and other types of controls used in forms and dialog boxes. You can make the tab key stop at just about any type of user interface element with this small change:

Launch System Preferences and select the Keyboard preference pane.

Select the Shortcuts button at the top of the Keyboard window.

Near the bottom you’ll find options for Full Keyboard Access. The default is to have the tab key only move between text boxes and lists. You can change the setting to have the tab key move between all controls.

You can also change the tab key behavior on the fly, without returning to the System Preferences, by using the keyboard shortcut Control + F7 to toggle between the two options.

2) New Folder With Selection
This useful Finder feature has been around since OS X Lion, but is still often overlooked when it comes to file management and organization. As long as you select two or more files, you can have the Finder automatically create a new folder and move the selected items into the folder for you.

Open a Finder window and navigate to the files you would like to have placed in a new folder. Select the files; remember you must select at least two files (or folders) for this trick to work.

Right-click or control-click on one of the selected items, and then choose New Folder with Selection (X Items) from the popup menu. The X in the menu name will be replaced with the number of items you actually selected.

You can also select multiple items in the Finder and from the File menu select New Folder with Selection (X Items).

3) Use a Document’s Icon to Move a File or Duplicate a File (Proxy Icon)
The proxy icon is the thumbnail of a document icon that appears in the title bar of the document window of most Mac apps, usually at the top center of the window. It’s called a proxy icon because it’s a stand-in for the actual icon of the document you’re working on.

The proxy icon is more than just a bit of eye candy. It can be used just like the document’s real icon, which means you can:

Drag the proxy icon anywhere on your Mac to create an alias to the original file at the new location.

Option + drag to create a copy of the document at the location you drag the proxy icon to.

Press command or control for a pop-down menu that shows the path to the document.

Read more on Rocket Yard, The MacSales.com Blog

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by Tom Nelson

Macs have been at the center of many creative endeavors since the first Mac took the stage at De Anza College in 1984, at its official unveiling. Since then, the Mac community has been finding new and amazing uses for their Macs. It’s no wonder, then, that you’re likely to find a Mac taking center stage in many professional and home-based film and video studios.

There are a number of Mac models used in home and pro studio work, but we’re going to take a look at two popular desktop models: 2011 and later iMacs, and 2010 and later Mac Pros. We chose these two model families because of their popularity, cost, and ability to be upgraded with RAM, storage, peripherals, and software that can turn them into film and video editing machines.

If you’re ready to hit the road to Sundance, let’s get started outfitting your Mac for its new editing role.

Upgrading RAM in an iMac
For the most part, 2011 and later iMacs have memory that can be upgraded by the end user. There are some exceptions, such as the 2014 through 2016 21.5-inch iMacs, which made use of RAM soldered directly to the motherboard, thus preventing a viable upgrade path. But the rest of the iMac family all has some method that allows you to increase the amount of RAM installed.

Increasing the RAM is going to allow your Mac to better function as an editing platform. Most editing applications are able to make use of all of the RAM you make available to them, increasing their performance, reducing rendering times, or just making the editing process a simpler one.

If you’re wondering how much RAM you need, my answer is all that you can afford. If you can max out your RAM, you’ll likely see a nice improvement; at a minimum for small HD-based projects, 16 GB is a good start. If your editing work involves multiple layers, multiple cameras, or 4K and larger projects, then I suggest 32 GB as a minimum, which is more likely to help with performance.

That leaves the 2017 21.5-inch iMac and 2017 27-inch iMac, which don’t have memory modules that are accessible from the outside, but do have internal memory slots that can be upgraded, though with a degree of difficulty best left to advanced DIYers.

If you’re considering the new 2017 iMac Pro as an editing machine, take a look at the OWC tear down of the 2017 iMac Pro, which reveals that the RAM can be upgraded, though again, not easily.

Read more on Rocket Yard, The MacSales.com Blog

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by Tom Nelson

Editor’s Note: OWC will be attending the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Ahead of the festival, the Rocket Yard will share a series of articles related to all things filmmaking.

Filmmakers may have some of the most demanding needs for storage, with their requirements for balancing speed, throughput, density, portability, reliability, and, of course, cost. And that’s just for the studio. Similar concerns are present at every phase of a filmmaker’s workflow.

ALEXA SXT Plus. Courtesy of ARRI Group.

And it’s not just the pros shooting with the latest RED or ALEXA cameras at 8K, 60 fps; even those making use of their DSLR or smartphone to shoot video have to make similar tradeoffs when they choose their storage solutions. One hour of footage using RED Raw 4K at 24 fps is going to need about 127 GB of space, and that’s just for storing raw footage from a single camera. Imagine the space needs when you consider multiple camera sources, audio, stills, multiple layers, and scratch space. If you’re shooting 1080p, that may drop down to 17 GB of space for one hour of raw footage per camera. But no matter what format you’re shooting, the eventual total space you’ll need for storage can be quite large.

This is a good time to be looking for upgrades to storage needs. Drive sizes are increasing, performance and reliability are improving, and there’s bound to be a storage option that meets your needs, either solid state drives, rotational hard drives, or a combination of the two.

External Solutions
External storage systems are the most common solution to meet storage needs. They’re available in a number of interfaces; USB 3.1, USB 3.1 gen 2, Thunderbolt 2, and Thunderbolt 3 are the most common ones used for video and film production.

The ThunderBlade V4 provides high performance throughput using a Thunderbolt 3 interface.

It’s hard to beat Thunderbolt 3 for raw performance. Its raw speed makes it a great choice for high-performance data storage. A good example of high-performance storage solution is the ThunderBlade V4. This high speed (2800 MB/s Read, 2450 MB/s Write) external SSD blade is housed in a ruggedized case, making it a great choice for work on location, as well as back in your studio. Available in sizes from 1TB to 8TB, this single drive can meet the needs of your next film project.

If a bus-powered portable is what you need, the Envoy Pro EX Thunderbolt 3 comes in a rugged case designed for fieldwork. At 2600 MB/s Read and 1600 MB/s Write, this high-performance wonder can fit in your pocket and has the speed to not impede your workflow when offloading footage from your cameras, or serving as storage for field editing needs. It’s available in 1TB and 2TB configurations.

Thunderbolt has always worked well as the host interface for multi-bay RAID enclosures, and this holds true for the newest in the ThunderBay lineup, the ThunderBay 4 Thunderbolt 3. Using a Thunderbolt 3 interface, the ThunderBay 4 Thunderbolt 3 provides 4 bays that can house SSDs, hard drives, or a combination of the two.

If you’ve worked with RAID arrays before, then it’s likely you made use of RAID 0 to stripe one or more drives together for increased speed. Of course, striped arrays suffer from reliability issues; specifically, if one drive fails in any way, the data on all striped drives is lost.

The ThunderBay 4 enclosure allows you to customize how each drive within the enclosure is used. 

Using a 4-bay RAID enclosure like the ThunderBay 4, along with SoftRAID, the best RAID utility for the Mac, allows you to configure the ThunderBay 4 enclosure as a RAID 10 array, striping the data across a pair of mirrors (RAID 1). This provides the performance of a two-drive stripe with the data redundancy of a pair of mirrors. Another option supported by SoftRAID is to use all four drives in a RAID 5 configuration. The advantage of RAID 5 is that all four disks are striped together, providing high-speed data access while also distributing a parity bit across all of the disks. The results are a RAID system that can recover from any single drive failure.

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Another option is to make use of external drives with USB 3.1 Gen 2 interface. This type of interface supports speeds up to 10 Gb/s, equivalent to the speeds of the original Thunderbolt interface, but at a fraction of the cost. To get the most out of this type of connection, the OWC Mercury Elite Pro Dual mini gives you two 2.5-inch bays each with a SATA 3 (6 Gb/s) connection.

The Mercury Elite Pro Dual mini is the perfect enclosure for a pair of SATA-based SSDs.

The Mercury Elite Pro Dual mini supports hardware-based RAID 0, 1, and SPAN, as well as independent drive modes. This versatile enclosure allows you to build a storage system that will work great for film projects that aren’t pushing the technology.

Read more on Rocket Yard, The MacSales.com Blog

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by Tom Nelson

It’s that time of year, when visions of sugar plum fairies bringing us new Macs dance through our heads. Or more likely, you’re considering buying a new Mac to replace an older model, or to give as a gift to a family member. Times being a little tight, you have your eye on one of the base models but you may be able to swing at least one upgrade to the Mac: a faster processor, more RAM, larger or faster (or both) storage, or a better GPU, but which upgrade should you choose?

The answer depends on which Mac model you’re considering, and how you intend to use it.

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, I want to point out that although we’re talking about buying a new Mac, the same considerations can be in play for purchasing a used Mac, or for upgrading an existing Mac. So, if you fall into any of these categories, read on. And please add a comment or two at the bottom; it’s always nice to hear what upgrades would be your most likely choices.

Are Faster CPUs a Good Idea?
Depends. You’re going to hear that a lot, but really, it depends not only on which Mac model you’re considering, but how you will use it. If you’re using one of the MacBook models, remember that increasing processor performance is likely to negatively affect overall battery runtime, while with desktop Macs, power usage isn’t as much of a concern. 

Normally, I’m personally not inclined to spend upgrade money on processor speed. When the processor upgrade only involves a faster clocked processor of the same CPU family, I’m not impressed. As an example, consider a 15-inch MacBook Pro offered with a 2.9 GHz quad-core i7 processor. For $200.00 extra, a 3.1 GHz quad-core i7 processor is available as an upgrade.

Because they’re of the same processor family with the same number of cores, I wouldn’t expect much improvement in performance. This assumption is born out when comparing performance benchmarks with Geekbench scores that show only a bit more than a 3% increase in single-core results, and even less of an improvement in multi-core results.

On the other hand, CPU upgrades that cross processor model families or add additional cores may be worthwhile, depending on how you use your Mac.

Once again, an example: a 27-inch Retina 5K iMac with a 3.5 GHz quad-core i5 processor vs. the same iMac with a 4.2 GHz quad-core i7 processor. This $300 upgrade not only changes the processor family from an i5 to an i7, it adds the ability to run two threads concurrently on each core, giving it an 11.9 percent single-core performance advantage, and a 30% multi-core performance increase. That’s a pretty good performance improvement for a $300 investment, provided you have a use for the extra horsepower and run apps that take advantage of multi-core processing.

For the most part, processor upgrades are limited to time of purchase. The current exception is 2012 and earlier Mac Pro models, where it’s possible to replace the processor with a faster model. Replacement isn’t simple, but it can be done. If you’re considering this route, look for processors with additional cores and not just a faster clock rate.

Upgrading CPUs can be worthwhile if you’re routinely using your Mac for number crunching, media editing, or other processor-intensive tasks. If your primary uses are email, Internet browsing, and common workplace and educational tasks, maybe not so much.

RAM Upgrades
It used to be that RAM upgrades were one of the first upgrades users performed after receiving their new Macs. In many cases, it was a lot less expensive to buy RAM from MacSales.com and install the upgrade yourself, than to buy directly from Apple at the time of purchase.

While you can still upgrade the RAM in some iMac models and the current (2013) Mac Pro, the rest of the Mac lineup uses RAM that is soldered to the computer motherboard, thus preventing user upgrades. This means you have to decide at the time of purchase how much RAM you wish to have both now and in the future.

Except for the base model Mac mini, which has only 4 GB of RAM, all other Mac models come equipped with at least 8 GB. Depending on the model, upgrades to 16 GB, 32 GB, 64 GB, or 128 GB are offered at time of purchase.

If the Mac model you’re considering doesn’t offer user upgradable RAM then it may be a very good idea to consider using some of your upgrade budget on RAM at the time of purchase.

The Mac OS does a pretty great job of managing RAM. Using techniques like compression, the Mac can squeeze quite a bit of performance out of available RAM. Adding more RAM will allow you to run more apps concurrently, allow RAM-intensive apps to perform better, or both, letting you run apps that need a lot of RAM space without having to close all of your other apps.

Upgrading RAM to 16 GB at the time of purchase for those Macs that don’t allow users to upgrade RAM would be a smart move. It would help to maximize performance now as well as extend the usable lifetime of the Mac.

Read more on Rocket Yard, The MacSales.com Blog

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by Tom Nelson

“I’m not dead yet” may be the refrain you hear from spinning hard drives when you’re browsing online stores for your storage needs. While that flashy SSD (solid state drive) may be faster, the mature technology used in the production of spinning platter drives helps hard disks maintain a cost advantage, as well as a storage size advantage, over most other contenders.

HDDs have a low cost per TB that makes them ideal candidates for many of the basic storage needs an average user will encounter. And with a bit of planning, hard drives can compete even where performance is a critical criterion.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at five places where hard drives shine.

The OWC Drive Dock allows you to quickly swap drives for archival storage or backup use.

Backups and Archives
The low cost and generally high reliability of hard drives makes them very good candidates for use as backup destinations, as well as for archiving information for long-term storage.

Hard drives took over these roles from older forms of long-term storage, such as tape, once drive costs plummeted years ago. With 1 TB hard drives routinely available for around $50.00, they can be very cost effective for building a basic backup system. At these prices, a multi-drive backup and archival system is within reach of just about any computer user who is concerned about the thousands of photos, reels of video, or tons of music they have stored on their computer. And that’s not even mentioning personal data, such as homework, reports, plans, or that novel you’ve been working on.

No matter how you slice it, hard drives are at the top of the list for use in backup and archival storage systems.

Media Libraries
Many people have large media libraries they use to store music, videos, and images on their computers. For many of us, the use for these libraries is a bit on the basic side; we view images, perform basic editing, share them with friends and family, perhaps even print a photo book or two. Likewise, we mostly use our music libraries for listening to our favorite artists, and our video library for watching movies and videos.

What we’re not doing, at least not that often, is performing complex editing that demands high performance storage systems. If that sounds like your primary use for your media libraries, then spinning hard drives may be an ideal storage system.

Media libraries can become quite large; in many cases, they take up the majority of space on our storage system and can quickly become the most likely culprit for using up precious drive space.

Screen shot and photos © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Moving your media files to a separate hard drive has many advantages, not the least of which is the very large storage capacity available from hard disks. It’s pretty easy to find 12 TB drives, and the more common and less expensive 6 TB and 4 TB drives are ideal sizes for most media files.

If you have a need for professional editing, moving your media libraries to a large capacity storage system can free up your high performance, solid-state storage for your current editing projects.

Read more on Rocket Yard, The MacSales.com Blog

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by Tom Nelson

You just turned on your Mac and all you see is a dark display. That’s OK; you know it can sometimes take a little while for your Mac to boot up. But after a minute or two, you start to think something is dreadfully wrong with your Mac. Let’s take a look at the possible causes of a moribund Mac, and what we can do to fix them.

Check the Basics
We’ll start our troubleshooting by checking a few basics. I suppose this step is a bit out of order from a logically flowing troubleshooting process, but hey, it’s the simple stuff that most often causes these types of problems, so let’s start there.

If you’re using an external display, check to make sure it’s turned on: While you’re at it, make sure the video cable is seated properly at both the display and the Mac ends of the cable. Check the power cable as well. If either cable is loose or unplugged, the dog did it; at least that’s what the cat always says. Regardless of who was responsible, if it’s loose, you need to reconnect the cable firmly at both ends.

Check that the display’s brightness is turned up to a reasonable level: This applies to both external displays, which will usually have one or more buttons on the monitor to adjust the display (check the monitor’s manual for instructions), and those built in to your Mac. On an Apple-supplied keyboard, including those built in to a MacBook, the F1 (decrease) and F2 (increase) keys are used to adjust the brightness. On non-Apple keyboards, the F14 (decrease) and F15 (increase) keys will adjust the brightness.

Is the power turned on?: You already verified that the display is turned on, but you should also make sure that both your Mac and its display actually have power. Check to see if the power cables are plugged in, and make sure that any power strip or UPS that the display or your Mac is plugged into is also turned on. If you’re not sure if the power is on, try plugging a known good device, such as a lamp, into the same plug that your Mac or display uses.

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Once you’re sure your Mac and its display are connected properly to a power source, the appropriate cables are connected, and the display’s brightness is at a reasonable level, it’s time to move on to more detailed troubleshooting.

Read more on Rocket Yard, The MacSales.com Blog

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by Tom Nelson

Programmable robot kits for kids are a great way to introduce your children to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). Programmable robot kits can be a fun and educational experience for just about anyone, regardless of age.

Working with these robotic kits can foster a sense of accomplishment, and inspire the mind as kids work out new ways to program the robots to perform a desired task. Programmable robot kits teach many skills besides the obvious ones, such as learning basic programming. They also help hone skills used to assemble the robot from a collection of parts into a working device waiting for the builder’s command. Assembling a robot helps show that patience and fortitude outweigh the instant gratification of a pre-assembled gadget. The skills learned in assembly come in very handy when it’s time to customize the robot to meet a new challenge.

Nervous Bird, one of the many robots that can be built with the mBot Ranger robot kit. Image courtesy of Makeblock Co., Ltd.

5 Programmable Robots You Should Consider

Our list of programmable robots concentrates on kits, so some assembly is going to be required. Robotic kits are a great way to learn about multiple aspects of robotics, including design, assembly, and programming, and modifying a robot to meet new goals.

The kits are appropriate for just about any age, though there are some considerations for the very young. Some robot kits require soldering a few electronic components, and while soldering is a good skill to learn, all but one of the robots in our list can be assembled without pulling out a soldering iron.

Other considerations are the type of programming language that is used. Graphics-based languages can be easier for those just starting out, while text-based languages can provide more opportunity to expand on the robot’s capabilities.

Read more on Lifewire: Macs.

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by Tom Nelson

When it comes to choosing an external enclosure to house an SSD or hard drive, there are so many options that it can be difficult not only to make a decision, but also to figure out just how many possibilities are available.

One approach that can help in organizing the choices is to think about which enclosure type is best suited to your expansion needs. We’re going to organize our look at external enclosures by the type of connection and the enclosure’s capabilities, and then provide a brief look at what some of the likely types of uses such storage expansion would be used for.

OWC ThunderBay 4 Mini. Image courtesy of OWC.

We’re going to concentrate on bare or “diskless” enclosures that you can place one or more SSDs in, but the general information can also be used to help select an enclosure for any type of supported storage device, including hard drives, SATA-based SSDs, PCIe-based SSD blades, or even optical drives, to access your collection of DVDs. You can also apply this information to purchasing external storage systems that come with drives already installed.

Enclosures can hold a single drive, multiple drives, multiple drives with built-in RAID, and multiple drives of different sizes. Enclosures can have additional functions beyond just housing a storage drive; some perform as port multipliers or docks, allowing one interface to be used to provide connectivity through multiple port types.

You may need a storage enclosure for optimizing speed, or an inexpensive way to create that backup system you’ve been promising yourself. Either way, you should find some helpful information in our guide to picking an external enclosure.

Best Use for Thunderbolt Enclosures
The Thunderbolt interface is certainly versatile. Depending on the Thunderbolt version available on your Mac, it can provide data throughput of up to 40 Gbps (Thunderbolt 3), 20 Gbps (Thunderbolt 2), or 10 Gbps (Thunderbolt 1 or just plain Thunderbolt).

But it isn’t just the raw speed available in Thunderbolt that makes it a great choice for storage and other uses; it also has the ability to support multiple interface specifications. Thunderbolt 3 supports 40 Gbps data transfer speeds, USB 3.1 Gen2 running at 10 Gbps, and DisplayPort 1.2, with support for two 4K streams, and the ability to provide up to 15 watts of power for bus-powered devices, or 100 watts for charging, all wrapped up in a single USB-C connector.

When selecting a Thunderbolt 3 enclosure for storage, you have a few basic types to choose from: a Thunderbolt Dock, such as the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock (see image below), which allows you to connect a single cable to your Mac to break out multiple USB 3.1 ports, a mini DisplayPort supporting dual 4K displays, or a 5K display and an HD display, S/PDIF digital audio, a card reader, even a legacy FireWire 800 port.

Image courtesy of OWC

Docks are available in various port configurations, but since we’re concentrating on storage, they allow you to use additional USB 3 Gen1 or Gen2 ports to attach additional storage enclosures to. Pretty helpful when you find your Mac’s ports are all in use.

But we’re just getting started with Thunderbolt’s versatility. Enclosures are available that provide a PCIe-based expansion chassis, such as the Mercury Helios 3 (see image below). The PCIe interface can be used to install various types of PCIe expansion cards, but for storage, a PCIe card that accepts one or more SSD blades will provide for a screamingly fast storage system. Or, if you already have a few SATA SSDs, you can install them in a high-performance SATA to PCIe card and gain a bit more performance from them than you can get out of a USB 3 interface.

Read more on Rocket Yard, The MacSales.com Blog

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by Tom Nelson

Choosing the best Mac for back to school seems like it should be a simple matter. But before you shout out ‘MacBook!” or whichever Mac laptop is your favorite, you may want to take a look at this guide, which delves a bit deeper into which Mac is a good fit for schoolwork and beyond.

Is that MacBook, MacBook Air, or MacBook Pro the best fit, or would a desktop, such as the Mac mini, iMac, or Mac Pro, be a better choice. Believe it or not, all Macs can work well in a learning environment, but of course each has its strengths and weaknesses. Some, like the 27-inch iMac, have a bonus benefit: it will also help strengthen your muscles, as you lug it to and from your classes.

Picking the Best Mac For Education & Beyond
One benefit of the Mac that’s sometimes overlooked is longevity. It’s likely the Mac you buy today will still be a productive computer five or more years down the road. Our 2010 Mac Pro is still chugging away, running the latest OS and apps without issues.

As a result, it’s highly likely that the Mac you buy for school will still be running long after you’ve put down your books and watched your school disappear in the rear-view mirror. Your Mac may even see you through your entire education and into your chosen profession. The point is, you may want to spend a little more up front to equip it for the long term. Even if you replace your Mac early in its useful life, you’ll likely be able to get a better return on a well-equipped Mac than a base-level model.

Want to Spend Less?
The prices we mention below are Apple retail prices. There are many sources for discounted Macs, especially if you’re willing to consider used or refurbished models. MacSales.com has an inventory of new, used, and refurbished Macs that are fully tested and inspected by its expert technicians; the Macs come with a 14-day money-back guarantee and a 90-day limited warranty.

Read more on Rocket Yard, The MacSales.com Blog

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by Tom Nelson

Selecting a UPS (Uninterruptable Power Supply) or battery backup for your computer shouldn’t be a complex task. But it seems the simple tasks are rarely simple, and picking the perfect UPS to match your Mac or PC can be more difficult than you might expect. We’ll help you sort things out.

Image courtesy of CyberPower Systems

A UPS is an important aspect of safe computing. Just like backups protect the information stored on your computer, a UPS protects the computer hardware from events, such as power outages and surges, which can cause damage.

A UPS can also allow your computer to continue to operate, even when the power goes out.

In this guide, we’re going to take a look at how to pick the right size UPS for your Mac or PC, or for that matter, any electronic components you want to protect with a battery backup system.

Before we continue, a word about what type of devices you should consider for use with a UPS. Generally speaking, the UPS devices we’re talking about are designed for electronic devices with only small non-inductive motors. This means devices like computersstereosTVs, and most electronic peripherals are all candidates for being connected to a UPS. Devices with large inductive motors require specialized UPS devices, and different sizing methods than outlined in this article. If you’re not sure if your device should be connected to a UPS, check with the UPS manufacturer.

Read more on Lifewire: Macs.

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