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Archive for the ‘Hardware’ Category

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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by Tom Nelson

Leave your computer on all the time, or shut it off when it’s not in use; does it really make a difference? If you’ve been asking yourself this question, then you’ll be happy to hear that you can choose whichever way you want. You just need to understand the ramifications of your choice, and take a few precautions to ensure you get the longest life you can from your computer.

The most important precaution is to add a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply), no matter which method you choose.

A UPS can protect your computer from many of the dangers it’s likely to face.
The Things That Can Harm Your Computer

All of the parts that make up your computer have a limited lifetime. The processorRAM, and graphics cards all experience aging caused by, among other things, heat and temperature. Additional failure modes come from the stress of cycling a computer on and off.

But it’s not just your computer’s semiconductors that are affected. Mechanical components, such as the ones in hard drivesoptical drivesprinters, and scanners, are all affected by the power cycling they may undergo when your computer is turned off or on. In many cases, peripherals, such as printers and external drives, may have circuitry that senses when your computer is powered on or off, and initiates the same condition, turning the device on or off as needed.

There are other failure modes to consider that originate externally to your computer.

The one most often mentioned is a power surge and power drop, where there’s a sudden rise or fall in voltage on the electrical circuit that your computer is plugged into. We often associate these surges with transient events, such as nearby lightning strikes, or devices that use a lot of power at once (vacuum cleaner, hair dryer, etc).
All of these failure types need to be considered. Leaving a computer turned on can reduce exposure to some of the failure types, while turning your computer off can prevent most of the external vectors that can cause the failure of a computer’s components.

The question then becomes, which is best: on or off? Turns out, at least in my opinion, it’s a bit of both. If your goal is to maximize lifetime, there’s a time period when turning a new computer on and off makes sense; later, leaving it on 24/7 makes sense.

Read more on Lifewire: Macs.

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by Tom Nelson

Target Disk Mode has been a feature of the Mac OS since the PowerBook 100 (pictured below) was released way back in 1991. This handy feature allows you to connect two Macs via FireWire ports, Thunderbolt ports, or USB-C ports, and then share the contents of the Target Disk Mode Mac’s internal drive.

Target Disk Mode can be used for quite a variety of purposes:

  • Copying files from one Mac to another without having to set up file sharing or create a local network.
  • Troubleshooting the drive of a Mac that can’t boot to the desktop.
  • Using an optical drive on the Target Disk Mode Mac as if it were attached to your Mac.
  • Using the Mac OS operating system on the Target Disk Mode Mac to boot a second Mac.

As you can see, Target Disk Mode can be pretty darned versatile, and may be able to solve a problem you’re having that relates to accessing or sharing data from one Mac to another.

What You Need
The list is short, but essential.

  • Two Macs. That may seem obvious, but it makes sense to point out that Target Disk Mode only works between two Macs; you can’t chain multiple Macs together. All of the connection types (FireWire, Thunderbolt, and USB-C) support hot connecting, meaning you can connect a cable between the two Macs while they are powered on. We recommend shutting down both Macs before proceeding, however.
  • An appropriate cable to make the connection. Ideally, you should connect similar ports; that is FireWire to FireWire, Thunderbolt to Thunderbolt, or USB-C to USB-C. There are, however, exceptions. Using adapters to connect Thunderbolt to FireWire will usually work, as will Thunderbolt to USB-C. But not all adapters are known to work correctly in Target Disk Mode, so if you can, connect directly to the same port type. If you need a specific cable or adapter, MacSales.com has a wide selection of FireWireThunderbolt and USB-C cables and adapters available.
  • AC power. While it’s possible to run a notebook Mac off of its battery while in Target Disk Mode, you forgo any monitoring of the battery power levels. This could lead to the Mac in Target Disk Mode shutting down unexpectedly. It’s best to always power portable Macs from an AC source when using Target Disk Mode.

Read more on Rocket Yard, The MacSales.com Blog

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by Tom Nelson

Boot Camp and Boot Camp Assistant allow you to install Windows on your Mac. It’s a nice capability that lets you select – at boot time – which operating system you wish to use: Mac OS or Windows.

One of the downsides to Boot Camp and the Windows installer is that it restricts you to installing Windows on your Mac’s internal drive. While Boot Camp Assistant can partition your startup drive for you to make room for Windows, there are bound to be many of you who just don’t have room to spare on your startup drive to install Windows.

Installing Windows on an external drive would be a great solution to the problem of available space, but as we said, Boot Camp and Windows impose a restriction on installing to an external drive – or do they?

There are actually a few ways you can successfully install Windows on an external drive. They range from creating clones of an existing PC installation, or using Microsoft IT tools for installing Windows. But the method we’re going to outline here is a bit different. It allows you to install Windows on an external drive without first having Windows installed on a PC or in a virtual environment.

This is an advanced process with quite a few pitfalls that can trip you up. Be sure to read through the process before undertaking it. Also, make sure you have a current backup before beginning.

Read more on Rocket Yard, The MacSales.com Blog

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by Tom Nelson

macOS Sierra saw the return of RAID support to Apple’s Disk Utility, a feature that was removed when OS X El Capitan first came on the scene. With the return of RAID support in Disk Utility, you no longer need to resort to using Terminal to create and administer your RAID systems.

Of course, Apple couldn’t just return RAID support to Disk Utility. It had to change the user interface just enough to ensure that your previous method of working with RAID arrays would be different enough to require learning a few new tricks.

That would be fine if Apple had upgraded the RAID utility to include new capabilities, but as far as I can tell, no updates, either to basic functions or to the RAID driver, are present in the latest version.

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

RAID 0, 1, 10, and JBOD

Disk Utility can still be used to create and manage the same four RAID versions it has always been capable of working with: RAID 0 (Striped)RAID 1 (Mirrored)RAID 10 (Mirrored set of Striped drives), and JBOD (Just a Bunch Of Disks).

In this guide, we’re going to look at using Disk Utility in macOS Sierra and later to create and manage these four popular RAID types. There are, of course, other RAID types you can create, and third-party RAID apps that can manage RAID arrays for you; in some cases, they can even do a better job.

If you need a more advanced RAID utility, I suggest either SoftRAID, or a dedicated hardware RAID system built into an external enclosure.

Read more on Lifewire: Macs.

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by Tom Nelson

What can I do with my old Mac? That’s a question we hear quite often, and it indicates a desire to do something more with a Mac than simply send it off to the landfill when it comes time to consider replacing it.

I’m old enough to vividly remember the first Earth Day in 1970. Organizer Denis Hayes said 20 million Americans participated in a demonstration of support for environmental protection. Back then, we spent the day picking up trash and attending seminars about alternative energy sources that we should be developing. Today, MacSales.com is using a wide variety of green energy sources, such as wind, solar, and geothermal. We’ve come a long way since those heady early days.

Image courtesy of MacSales.com

While I don’t remember any specific concern back then about electronic waste and the damage it could do by leaching toxins into the environment, it has become a major concern in subsequent years. And why not, considering all the electronics we see in use every day.

There’s always something we can do to help, no matter how small. In this article, we’re going to look at how you can extend the life of your Mac to help keep it out of the landfill. And when the time comes that it no longer serves a useful purpose, we’ll tell you what you can do to recycle its components.

Upgrade Your Mac
One way to keep your Mac out of the landfill is to consider upgrading it with improved components instead of retiring it and replacing it with something newer. This approach has quite a number of advantages for you, including an overall lower cost than replacing your Mac, and an impressive environmental effect, one that not only eliminates the impact of tossing your Mac out, but also reduces the impact of building new replacement Macs to fill the void.

I have to admit I’ve been using the upgrade process for years. I tend to hang on to my Macs for a long time, mostly by upgrading components and peripherals as needed, as well as finding a new use for the older Macs. You can find out more about the latter in a bit, but right now, let’s look at upgrading your Mac.

Read more on Rocket Yard, The MacSales.com Blog

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by Tom Nelson

Disk Utility, the all-purpose tool for working with storage devices connected to the Mac, has long had the ability to create partitions and manage the resulting volumes. It has been the go-to tool for formatting a Mac’s drives, erasing data, securely wiping information, and creating multiple partitions.

With the advent of OS X Leopard, Disk Utility picked up a much-prized feature: the ability to non-destructively resize existing volumes and partitions. Before OS X Leopard, you needed to fully back up all the data on a drive if you intended to alter the drive’s partition map in any way. That’s because changing the partitions, by adding, removing, or resizing, resulted in the loss of all data on the volume.

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Thankfully, you can now resize a partition without losing data, provided you follow a few basic rules.

Resizing was pretty straightforward with OS X Leopard through OS X Yosemite, but starting with OS X El Capitan, Disk Utility underwent a user interface makeover that altered how partitions were resized.

We’re going to look at how to resize a partition without losing data with the new (OS X El Capitan and later) version of Disk Utility.

Read more on Rocket Yard, The MacSales.com Blog

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by Tom Nelson

There may come a time when you want to completely remove all traces of information on your Mac’s drives. It may be because you’re selling or donating your Mac, and you want all your personal information wiped clean from the drive. Or perhaps you want to wipe an older drive that you’re replacing because it’s too small, or because it has started to show a few errors when you test the drive.

No matter the reason, wiping a drive is an easy – though sometimes very long – process that just about any Mac user can take care of on their own.

So, if it’s so easy, why the need for this guide? Well, while the process is simple, there are some important considerations to understand that will affect how you erase your Mac’s drive.

secureeraseyosemite1280

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Using Disk Utility to Wipe a Hard Drive
First, we’re going to look at wiping the contents of a hard drive. It doesn’t matter if it’s an internal, external, or your Mac’s startup drive; using these techniques you can obliterate the contents of the selected drive, making it all but impossible to recover the data.

These methods will work for any hard drive you may be using with your Mac. They should not, however, be used with any SSD (Solid State Drive), including a Fusion drive, which contains an SSD element. Don’t worry, though; SSDs can also be wiped, they just require a different technique. We’ll cover SSDs a bit later in this guide.

Read more on Rocket Yard, The MacSales.com Blog

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