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Archive for the ‘Hardware’ Category

by Tom Nelson

The process of securely wiping a drive, that is, removing every bit of the data it contains and scrambling its content enough to protect the information stored on the drive from prying eyes, is fairly well understood for old-fashioned spinning hard drives. SSDs, on the other hand, can be affected poorly by the same techniques used on hard drives: overwriting data locations multiple times with random data or specific data patterns.

To make matters worse, at least from a security standpoint, even after overwriting data on an SSD, it’s possible that some of the original information is still present on the drive.

Which brings us to the question: Can you securely erase an SSD without damaging the drive, and make sure that all of the information is no longer recoverable?

Disk Utility’s Security Options for erasing a drive may not be present when used on an SSD. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

It may be a good idea to review how Disk Utility can be used to erase and protect information in the article: How to Securely Wipe the Data Stored on a Drive in macOS High Sierra.

We originally looked at the changes High Sierra brought to performing a secure wipe. In this Rocket Yard article, we’re going to further explore how to securely wipe an SSD.

SSD Architecture
As we said above, the process of securely wiping a hard drive is fairly well understood. The linear nature of data storage on a spinning drive, along with the ability to access and read, write, and erase data at all active storage locations make the sanitation process pretty easy, though sometimes time-consuming. Essentially, you need to erase the volume and partition maps, and then overwrite each data location using a random or specific data pattern.

The number of times data is written, and the data pattern used for the secure wipe, allows the sanitation process to meet specific security requirements, including those set forth by the DOD or other government agencies.

SSDs, on the other hand, don’t use a linear storage convention, nor are the storage locations directly addressable. Instead, SSDs use a number of mapping layers that hide the physical layout of the flash-based memory, as well as help in managing how flash memory data integrity and lifetime are managed. Collectively, these layers are referred to as the flash translation layer (FTL).

The OWC Aura Pro X is 7% overprovisioned to optimize performance and ensure the FTL has plenty of free blocks to work with. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

SSDs are also overprovisioned; they contain a bit more flash memory than what they’re rated for. This extra memory is used internally by the FTL as empty data blocks, used when data needs to be rewritten, and as out-of-band sections for use in the logical to physical mapping.

The mapping layers, and how the flash controller manages memory allocation, pretty much ensure that either erasing or performing a conventional hard drive type of secure erase won’t ensure all data is overwritten, or even erased at all.

One example of how data gets left behind intact is due to how data is managed in an SSD. When you edit a document and save the changes, the saved changes don’t overwrite the original data (an in-place update). Instead, SSDs write the new content to an empty data block and then update the logical to physical map to point to the new location. This leaves the space the original data occupied on the SSD marked as free, but the actual data is left intact. In time, the data marked as free will be reclaimed by the SSD’s garbage collection system, but until then, the data could be recovered.

A conventional secure erase, as used with hard drives, is unable to access all of the SSD’s memory location, due to the FTL and how an SSD actually writes data, which could lead to intact data being left behind.

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by Tom Nelson

Disk Utility, the macOS Swiss Army knife for working with disks and storage volumes, may have a few blades missing, especially when it comes to working with unformatted drives and unused space on a disk or storage volume.

In versions of Disk Utility that came with OS X Yosemite and earlier, you could enable hidden debug modes in the Disk Utility app that allowed you to see and interact with all the space on a disk, including hidden elements, such as the Recovery volume or the secret EFI partitions.

In this Rocket Yard article, we’re going to look at how to enable Disk Utility to view and work with the types of disk spaces you’re likely to encounter, including:

We’ll also demonstrate how to use Terminal to access the remaining hidden disk structures that Disk Utility can’t view directly, including:

  • Recovery volumes
  • EFI volumes
  • Preboot and Boot volumes

Selecting the Initialize button will open Disk Utility, but the disk may not show up if the apps view settings are in the default settings. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Using Disk Utility to Access All Devices
Disk Utility is configured by default to only show formatted volumes. This makes using Disk Utility with existing volumes an easy task since there are only a few, and sometimes only one, volumes displayed, cutting down on what could be an overwhelming list of disks, containers, volumes, RAID slices, etc.

The disadvantage, however, is that it can make it difficult to work with new unformatted disks you may be using for the first time. This includes working with unformatted drives as well as unformatted USB flash drives.

Tip: When we speak of unformatted drives, we’re including any disk that uses a format that your Mac can’t natively work with.

Disk Utility lets you pick which display mode to work in: Volumes only, All Devices, or only a selected drive. You can switch between them at any time, and Disk Utility will update the display immediately; no need to close and reopen the Disk Utility app or restart your Mac.

Show All Devices
This setting will display all storage devices connected directly to your Mac. In addition to each device being displayed, a hierarchical listing will show how each device is organized, i.e., how many containers, partitions, or volumes each device contains. Absent from the hierarchical view will be any of the items Apple has decided to hide from the end user, such as EFI volumes and Recovery volumes.

When Disk Utility’s view option is set to Show All Devices even unformatted devices will be present in the sidebar, such as the highlighted USB flash drive that needs to be formatted. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

From the Disk Utility toolbar, click the View button, and then select the Show All Devices item from the dropdown menu. You can also select Show All Devices from Disk Utility’s View menu.

The Sidebar will change to display all locally connected devices, presented in a hierarchical view starting with the physical device, than any containers and volumes the device may have been partitioned into.

Hide the Sidebar
For the ultimate in simplicity, you can choose to hide the sidebar and remove any listings of devices or volumes from view.

From the Disk Utility toolbar, click the View button and select the Hide Sidebar item in the dropdown menu. You can also select Hide Sidebar from Disk Utility’s View menu.

The sidebar will close, and the last selected item in the sidebar will become the only item listed in the Disk Utility window.

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by Tom Nelson

In a bit of a surprise move, Apple unveiled new 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pros on Thursday, July 12. The surprising bit is the hush-hush update occurring just over a month after the annual WWDC event, where new products aimed at developers and pro users are usually revealed. This has us wondering why the new 2018 MacBook Pros weren’t part of the WWDC keynote event.

While they didn’t make the keynote, they do pack quite a wallop over earlier models of the MacBook Pro, especially the 15-inch model, which we’ll look at in detail here.

15-inch MacBook Pro (2018)
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, I want to point out that this isn’t an in-depth review of the 2018 15-inch MacBook Pro. Instead, we’re looking at the specs and how they compare, and what kind of improvements and changes the new MacBook Pro models bring.

First off, the 2018 MacBook Pro isn’t a typical speed bump update. Instead, it brings new features and benefits to those lucky enough to be upgrading at this time. Instead of just dropping in a slightly faster processor, or perhaps a different battery, Apple added a number of new features and capabilities.

Eighth-generation Intel Core i7 and i9 Processors
The 15-inch MacBook Pro leaps from quad-core i7 processors to new six-core i7 and i9 Intel processors in the Coffee Lake family. The Coffee Lake processors have a good deal going for them beyond just two extra cores. Both the i7 and i9 processors support hyper-threading, allowing two threads to run concurrently on each core for a total of 12 active threads. Level 3 caches have also been increased to 9 MB for i7-equipped MacBook Pros, and 12 MB for i9-equipped MacBook Pros.

Eighth generation Intel Core i5, i7, and i9 processors used in the new MacBook Pro product family. Image courtesy of Intel.

The increase in level 3 caches should speed up overall performance, especially when instructions or data are being shared between cores.

The Coffee Lake processor equipped MacBook Pros are offered in speeds of:

  • i7: 2.2 GHz with Turbo Boost speed of 4.1 GHz
  • I7: 2.6 GHz with Turbo Boost speed of 4.3 GHz
  • i9: 2.9 GHz processor with Turbo Boost speed of 4.8 GHz

Sharp-eyed readers may notice that the 2017 models of the 15-inch MacBook Pro had slightly faster base processor speeds, clocking in at 2.8 GHz and 2.9 GHz. But the earlier generation i7 Kaby Lake processors had smaller level 3 caches, two fewer cores, and slower memory architecture than what is present in the new Coffee Lake models.

With the processor and memory architecture upgrades in the new 2018 MacBook Pro, Apple claims a 70 percent increase in performance. We haven’t been able to put the new MacBook Pros through any benchmarks, but a quick perusal of the GeekBench Benchmarks shows an i9-equipped 2018 MacBook Pro with a 5289 Single-Core score and a 22201 Multi-Core score. Compared to a 2017 2.9 Ghz i7 model with a Multi-Core score of 15252, that works out to just a bit more than a 68.69 percent improvement, at least in artificial benchmarks. Real-world usage will be quite a bit different, but the performance increases in the benchmarks are impressive.

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by Tom Nelson

Disk First Aid, currently part of Disk Utility, has long been the go-to utility for verifying and repairing a Mac’s storage system. Included as a standalone app with the original Mac OS, it was later folded into Disk Utility when OS X was released.

Disk Utility, and its First Aid system remains the first line of defense for drives that are experiencing a number of issues, including:

  • System crashes
  • Files disappearing
  • File sizes changing on their own
  • Inability to copy files
  • Inability to open or save files
  • Startup issues
  • Drives unmounting or ejecting on their own
  • And a host of other errors and issues

In this guide, we’re going to take a look at using Disk Utility’s First Aid tool in macOS High Sierra to repair APFS and HFS+ file systems. First Aid can actually be used on any file system that macOS supports, but APFS and HFS+ are the most popular, and the ones you’re most likely to encounter.

We’ll start by going through the actual process of using First Aid, and then take a more in-depth look at the process; we’ll also provide a few troubleshooting tips.

Before you use First Aid, make sure you have a current backup of the drive or volume you’re having issues with. If you’re using First Aid as part of a routine maintenance program, you should still have a working backup of any volume that you’ll be checking.

The Disk Utility app underwent a few updates with the release of macOS High Sierra to support the APFS file system. If you’re working with OS X El Capitan through macOS Sierra, you may find the instructions in How to Use macOS Sierra Disk Utility to Verify or Repair Disks a better fit.

Disk Utility’s Sidebar in macOS High Sierra and Later
Launch Disk Utility, located at /Applications/Utilities.

Disk Utility’s default settings use a sidebar that only displays storage volumes. Since you may need to use the First Aid tool on volumes as well as partitions, catalogs, and physical devices, it’s a good idea to change the sidebar settings to display all devices.

The View button in Disk Utility’s toolbar will expand the sidebar to show all devices. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Click the View button in the Disk Utility toolbar and select Show All Devices from the popup menu, or select Show All Devices from the View menu.

The sidebar will now display all devices, including the physical drive and any APFS containers it may have, as well as any APFS or HFS volumes associated with the physical drive.

The organization of the devices is hierarchical, with the physical drive listed first, using the manufacturer’s name, or the model name or number, or both. At the next level under the physical drive is the Container (APFS file system), followed by the volumes. If this is an HFS-formatted drive, there won’t be any containers under the drive level, just volumes.

Each item can be selected and repaired using the First Aid tool.

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by Tom Nelson

Disk Utility has long been the workhorse of choice for dealing with hard drives, SSDs, and disk images. With the advent of APFS (Apple File System) with macOS High Sierra, Disk Utility acquired some additional capabilities that allow it to work with APFS and its support for containers.

DiskUtilityIcon

We’re going to look at how to use Disk Utility to partition drives into multiple containers, and how to add volumes to containers. If you need to partition and manage standard HFS+ volumes, you’ll find detailed instructions in the Rocket Yard guide: How to Use macOS Sierra Disk Utility to Partition, Erase Drives.

What Are Containers?
Containers are a new abstract used in the APFS system to define a storage system that can share available free space among one or more volumes. Apple calls this Space Sharing. It allows volumes that are within a common container to grow or shrink as needed, without any type of repartitioning.

Containers, then, define a block of space on a physical drive that will be assigned to and used by volumes you create in the container. Volumes you create in a container can have a minimum size and a maximum size, but the actual amount of space they use is dynamically assigned from the container’s free space, as each volume within the container needs the space.

The selected drive shows that it contains two containers of different sizes. The smaller container houses a single volume, and the larger container holds two volumes. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Use Disk Utility to Create an APFS Container
Containers are only supported on drives formatted with APFS. You can format a drive or convert an HFS+ drive to APFS using the version of Disk Utility found in macOS High Sierra or later.

APFS was designed primarily for use with SSDs, though it should also work with standard hard drives. But before you decide to format a hard drive to use APFS, you may want to read: Using APFS On HDDs …And Why You Might Not Want To. At the moment, Apple doesn’t support APFS being used on Fusion drives.

Before you begin this process, take a moment to make sure you have a current backup of the information on your Mac, and that the drive used for backups isn’t one of the drives that will be involved in any of the processes we will be performing. The best way to do that is to eject the backup drive and, if possible, disconnect it from your Mac.

With your backups current, you’re ready to explore the APFS file system, including working with containers and volumes.

Launch Disk Utility, located at /Applications/Utilities.

In the Disk Utility toolbar, click on the View button and select Show All Devices. You can also use the View menu to perform the same task.

To convert an HFS+ volume to an APFS volume, select the HFS+ volume on the Disk Utility sidebar. (HFS+ volumes appear just below the physical drives in the sidebar.) Once selected, choose Convert to APFS from Disk Utility’s Edit menu. A sheet will drop down asking if you would like to convert the drive to APFS. Converting to APFS shouldn’t cause data loss on the selected drive, but it’s a good idea to make sure the data on the drive has been backed up first. When you’re ready, click the Convert button.

Disk Utility being used to convert the existing Video volume to APFS. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

To format a drive in APFS, select the drive in Disk Utility’s sidebar. Select Erase from the toolbar or from the Edit menu. Provide a name, and then select one of the APFS formats from the Format dropdown menu. Formatting a drive will erase all of the data it contains, so make sure you have a backup of the data, if needed, before proceeding. When you’re ready, click the Erase button.

Disk Utility will create an APFS container, along with a single volume within the container.

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by Tom Nelson

I’ve heard it said that an SSD or hard drive that isn’t used for extended periods of time will likely have performance issues, or worse, actually lose data in the span of a few years. I’ve even heard it said that SSDs could lose their information in less than a year, and in the worst case, within a few days.

Of course, I’ve heard a lot of things, and not all of them bear up well when looked at closely. So, let’s find out if we need to keep exercising our storage devices to maintain information and performance.

Data Retention
The ability of a storage device to keep the data it contains intact is known as the data retention rate. The actual rate cited for various devices is predicated on the storage device being non-powered, undergoing no refresh of the data it contains, and being kept in an ideal storage environment, usually mentioned as around 25 C / 77 F.

Under those ideal conditions, hard drives are predicted to be able to retain their data for 9 to 20 years. The long range is due to the different architectures used in the manufacturing of modern hard drives.

SSDs (Solid State Drives) have a reputation for having a very low data retention rate. Numbers commonly cited suggest one year for consumer grade SSDs, and as low as one week for enterprise class SSDs.

If you believe the reputation is true, then SSDs would need to be exercised at defined intervals to ensure they keep the data stored intact. However, is that reputation valid? We’ll find out in a bit, but first, let’s look at hard drives.

Hard Drive Failure Mechanisms
The length of time your data will be retained on a hard drive in storage, one that isn’t powered and kept in a controlled environment, is based on four primary factors:

Magnetic Field Deterioration: Permanent magnets generally lose their field strength at the rate of 1% per year. After 69 years, the field strength would have dropped by 50 percent. That much field strength loss will likely lead not only to general data corruption of the stored data, but also to the loss of the index tracking marks which tell a drive where a sector starts and stops. So, not only is the stored data lost, but the ability to read the drive may be gone as well.

Magnetic Field Corruption: Magnetic fields external to a stored hard drive can adversely affect the stored data by altering the charge at one or more locations on the drive’s platters. Magnetic disruption can be caused by nearby high power magnets, motors, or even by unusually strong geomagnetic storms caused by solar mass ejections on the sun.

Environmental Conditions: Humidity and temperature ranges for stored hard drives differ by drive manufacturer. Western Digital recommends storing their hard drives between 55 F and 90 F. Extreme high temperatures increase the risk of damaging mechanical components, such as warping heads or platters, while extreme cold temperatures can cause bearing failure, or allow the spindle and motor to become misaligned. (Related: Keep Your Electronics Warm and Safe This Winter)

Mechanical Failure: Even with the proper storage conditions, mechanical failure, such as the platters failing to spin up due to motor failure, or spindle bearing failure, can happen. These types of failures tend to occur when drives are stored for exceptionally long periods of time without ever being powered on.

Mitigating Hard Drive Storage Failures
Of all the possible issues with hard drive storage, two of the most common ones can have their effects mitigated by exercising the drive. In the case of mechanical failure over long time frames, the simple approach is to power on the drive occasionally, ensuring the bearings, motor, and grease are all warmed up, and preventing them from becoming stuck in one location.

Refreshing the stored data can reduce magnetic field deterioration. This would require the drive to be powered on and connected to a computer system. Reading the stored data isn’t enough; to refresh the magnetic charge the data must be read and then rewritten to the drive. An easy way to accomplish this, assuming there’s enough room on the drive, would be to copy the content to a new location on the drive, or create a disk image and copy that to a new location on the drive. Another option would be to clone the drive to another storage device, and then clone the drive back again.

How often you should perform this exercising of a hard drive is difficult to say, but once a year or once every two years would be a good starting point. While a longer time frame is actually possible between exercising a hard drive, the task tends to get overlooked when the time frame becomes longer. It’s much easier to remember a yearly exercise routine than to try to remember to perform this task once every x number of years.

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

SSD Failure Mechanisms
A few years back, a presentation was made at the JEDEC Standards Committee for solid state drive requirements at which a slide showing expected data retention rates for SSDs in a powered-off stored state was shown. That slide indicated the very poor ability of an SSD to retain data for any length of time when powered off. Specifically, it mentioned the following data retention rates:

Consumer grade SSD: 1 year at a 30 C storage temperature.

Enterprise grade SSD: 3 months at 40 C storage temperature.

In both cases, as the power off storage temperature increases, the data retention rate falls. In the case of consumer grade models, data retention can fall at one month at 50 C, while enterprise class SSDs can see less than one week at 50 C.

Pundits quickly picked up this information and it spread around the Internet, leading to the poor reputation SSDs can have for data retention when powered off. The problem is that it’s simply not true. The information being conveyed in the original presentation pertained to a worst-case scenario, one where the SSD under question has nearly reached its end-of-life, and has had its P/E count (Program/Erase cycle count) reach the point where data cells would start showing write failures. But when the background information was removed and only the information on the slide was presented, a legend, or at least a reputation, was born.

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by Tom Nelson

Do you have a few USB flash drives lying around? Chances are you have at least a couple, or maybe even a small drawer full of them. In my case, I have about a half dozen, with no specific use assigned to them. That means I have a source of flash drives for trying out a few unusual uses for these handy take anywhere storage devices.

Image courtesy of MacSales.com

There are lots of uses for flash drives, including using them as an easy way to copy files between computers, as intermediate storage for photos, music, and videos, and what may be a primary use this time of year, sending tax return data to and from your tax preparer.

But those are more mundane uses. In this article, we’re going to take a look at four more interesting uses for flash drives you’re currently not using.

RAID 0 Security Array
A USB flash drive can make a surprisingly versatile and reasonably fast Striped RAID array (RAID 0). All that’s needed is a powered USB hub with enough ports to accommodate the flash drives you’re going to connect. The speed you can get out of a USB flash RAID 0 array is based on three factors: the number of flash drives you use, the speed of the flash drives, and the speed of the USB interfaces.

You can use flash drives to create a small but reasonably fast striped RAID array. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Assuming you’re using USB 3.1 gen 1 ports, hubs, and flash drives, the maximum theoretical speed is 5 Gbps, which you’re not likely to ever actually see, but it does set an upper limit. In actual use, the flash-based RAID array is going to be limited chiefly by the write and read speeds of the USB flash drives. Some of the fastest flash drives available can have write speeds a bit better than 150 MB/s, and read speeds coming close to 200 MB/s. However, most USB 3.1 flash drives have much more modest write and read speeds, with sub 25 MB/s write speeds and sub 100 MB/s read speeds being a bit more typical.

Even with the slower flash drives, if you put enough of them together, you can get pretty surprising write and read performance out of them in a RAID configuration.

To build the USB flash drive RAID array, plug as many flash drives as you have on hand into a USB hub. It’s best if the flash drives are the same size, speed and manufacturer, but it’s not a requirement.

You can use the RAID Assistant built in to all versions of the Mac OS (except OS X El Capitan), or you can use SoftRAID or SoftRAID Lite to create the RAID 0 array.

Even this modest three flash drive RAID set achieved write speeds of 70 MB/s and read speeds of 240 MB/s. Not bad for scrounging together some leftover parts. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

You can use your USB flash-based RAID array for just about anything you would use a normal external RAID for, but these two uses may be of interest:

As an old-fashioned secure data storage system: Data stored on the flash array is effectively divided between the flash drives that make up the array. Split those drives apart and store them separately and the data on them can’t be reconstructed. Bring all of the flash drives back together and you can access the information they contain. For even more security, you can encrypt the array using the FileVault encryption options built into your Mac.

As a fast array for scratch space for graphics, audio, or video apps: Be a bit careful here, because if you’re using low-cost flash drives, the write speed may be a bit low for this type of use. On the other hand, the read speed is probably quite good.

As with any RAID 0 storage system, there’s a danger of data loss should one of the drives fail or is lost, so be sure to use a backup system if you plan to use this RAID array beyond just trying out the idea.

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by Tom Nelson

Do you keep your Macs for longer periods of time than do most of your friends? I’ve been accused of hoarding my old Macs; for example, keeping an original 2006 Mac Pro running long after it should have been retired. The same is true of a 2011 MacBook Pro; I only need to replace the battery, which is no longer holding a charge, and it will be as good as new.

The point is, Macs routinely have longer lifetimes than most personal computers, and it only takes a few tips, a bit of maintenance, and an upgrade now and then to keep a Mac running well, and extend its usable lifetime well beyond the norm.

Keep Your Mac Clean and Help It Keep Its Cool
Keeping your Mac clean can help it run at lower internal temperatures, which can prolong its life by not putting undue strain on internal components. At one time, it was an easy task to open a Mac up and clean out the dust bunnies that had collected over time. Now, except for the Mac Pro and Mac mini, the inside of a Mac is somewhat difficult to get to. But you should still inspect your Mac to ensure none of the intake and exhaust vents are clogged by dust and debris. If you need a bit of help in cleaning the interior, check out the Rocket Yard Tech Tip: Have You Cleaned Your Mac Lately?

Once you have your Mac’s cooling system shipshape, don’t forget that when you’re actively using your Mac, its location can have an impact on its ability to keep cool. When using a MacBook, don’t place it on pillows or soft material that can block airflow. Likewise, with desktop Macs, make sure the position they’re in doesn’t block airflow.

As long as we’re on a cleaning spree, don’t overlook the keyboard, mouse, trackpad, and display. MacSales.com has a nice collection of cleaning products that will help keep these peripherals looking good and working well.

Perform Routine Maintenance
Routine maintenance can do a lot to extend the life of your Mac. It not only can keep everything operating in top shape, it can also help find possible trouble spots before they start severely impacting you or your Mac.

Disk maintenance is often overlooked even though it can find, and in many cases, repair issues before they become problems. Disk Utility has long included a Disk First Aid feature that can be used to verify and repair problems. Running the First Aid tool regularly can help keep your drives performing at their peak, as well as let you know when problems are beginning to appear.

Another maintenance task that can be run to keep your Mac in good shape is Safe Mode, a special boot environment that will run a few tests as well as delete font, system, and kernel caches that can cause some very strange behavior when any of them become corrupt. You can find out more in the Rocket Yard guide: Safe Mode & Single-User Mode: What They Are, How to Use Them.

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Upgrade Hardware
Over time, your Mac’s hardware may seem to be slowing down; more likely, you’re just using a lot more of your Mac’s resources than when you first got it. One way to help alleviate the slowdown is to increase the resources available to your Mac: more RAM, larger disk storage, or perhaps faster storage. All or some of these can speed up your Mac, giving it a longer usable life.

RAM upgrades: I try to buy Macs that have user upgradeable RAM, but this isn’t always possible, especially when Apple has soldered the RAM directly to the Mac’s motherboard. However, you may be surprised to learn that even some Macs that don’t provide easy user access to their internals still have RAM that can be upgraded.

When I need to upgrade my Mac’s RAM, MacSales.com’s memory guide is where I look to see what upgrades are available, and in many cases, view the upgrade video that may be available for a specific Mac model.

Storage upgrades: One of the best upgrades that I’ve performed for many of my older Macs is to replace the rotational disk drive with an SSD. This type of upgrade can really put the spring back into your Mac, and remind you of how impressed you were with your Mac’s performance that first day you brought it home.

Even if you have a more recent Mac with an SSD already installed, increasing the SSD size can be helpful, and the old SSD can be put into an external enclosure for additional storage.

You can use the MacSales.com SSD Flash Storage Upgrade guide for information about the SSD you need for your specific Mac.

Another storage upgrade option is to use a fast port, such as Thunderbolt 2 or Thunderbolt 3, to connect a high performance external storage solution to your Mac. This lets you enjoy the benefits of faster storage without having to take your Mac apart to replace disks. It also provides the possibility of building high performance RAID storage systems to meet your particular needs.

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by Tom Nelson

In an earlier article, we looked at 10 Mac Features You Probably Don’t Use But Should. While researching that article we came across a bit more than 10 notable Mac features, so a follow-up article was born.

This time, we have seven more Mac features that are worth checking out. On the premise that there’s no such thing as a free lunch, we’d like to know in return what favorite feature you think doesn’t get enough respect from the typical Mac user. You can add it to the Leave a Comment section, below.

Mine is Stacks, I use them all the time to quickly access the content of folders and smart folders without having to dig through the Finder to locate them, and to have them available no matter how many apps and windows are cluttering up my desktop.

Stacks
Stacks are one of my favorite features of the Mac’s Dock. At its basic level, a stack is just a folder containing items that you’ve dragged to the right-hand side of the Dock. But a stack has a few more capabilities than just a plain folder; you can view the content of a stack by clicking on its Dock icon. You can specify how the content is to be displayed, and you can specify the sorting order of the content when viewed from the Dock, independent of how you have the sorting order set when manually opening the same folder in the Finder.

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

To give you an idea of the power of Stacks, we’re going to create a Stack to house all the items we’ve marked using Finder Tags, as mentioned in last week’s article: 10 Mac Features You Probably Don’t Use But Should.

Open a Finder window, and scroll down in the sidebar ’til you see the Tags section.

Drag one of the tag colors from the Finder sidebar to the right-hand side of the Dock.

A new stack will be created in your Dock, which you can use to quickly view all of the items on your Mac that you’ve tagged with that specific Finder Tag color.

Stacks have a number of options you can set that control how they look and behave. To find out more about Stacks and the options available, stop by Spacers, Stacks & Swapping: Mastering the Iconic macOS Dock, Part 2.

There are other Stacks you can create in your Mac’s Dock; another favorite is the Recent Items stack. You can find instructions for creating this stack in the article: Terminal Tricks: Mastering the Iconic macOS Dock, Part 3.

Add Glyphs Directly From the Keyboard
If you use your Mac for just about any type of correspondence, sooner or later you’re likely to need to produce diacritical marks that are placed above a letter to indicate a special pronunciation. In the past, these special marks were hidden away in the in the Mac’s Character Viewer, Emoji & Symbol Viewer, or Keyboard Viewer app (the names of these special character viewer apps change depending on the version of the OS you’re using).

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

The viewers can be added to the Apple menu bar:

Launch System Preferences, and select the Keyboard preference pane.

Select the Keyboard tab, and then place a checkmark in the Show Keyboard and Emoji Viewers in Menu Bar box.

You can now access the character viewers directly from the right-hand side of the Apple menu bar.

Of course, there’s an easier way if all you need to do is add the accent glyph for a single character. Ever since OS X Lion, it’s been possible to add an accent glyph by holding down the letter’s key for a second or two, at which point a popover menu will appear directly above the character, listing all of the correct diacritical marks associated with that letter. Simply click on the mark you wish to use, or type the number that appears below the mark.

If none of the glyphs are the correct one, you can hit the Escape key to dismiss the popover menu.

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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.

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