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Archive for the ‘Mac Hardware’ Category

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.

Read more on Rocket Yard, The MacSales.com Blog

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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.

Read more on Rocket Yard, The MacSales.com Blog

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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.

Read more on Rocket Yard, The MacSales.com Blog

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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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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

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.

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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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