How-To: Clean and speed up your Mac with free, trustworthy downloads

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“My Mac used to be fast, but now it’s running so slow.” I’ve heard many versions of this complaint, and they’re always factually true, not just opinions: Macs do become sluggish over time, even if all of their chips and hard drives are working like new.

I’ve devoted several columns to hardware solutions — replacing old hard drives with fast new SSDs, adding more RAM, and increasing storage capacity using an external drive — but there are software solutions, too. Even die-hard Apple fans will admit that Macs typically run new OS X versions better (faster, and with fewer bugs) if you start with a clean slate: completely wipe your hard drive, do a fresh install of the latest OS X release, and restore only the files you need. That’s not as hard as it sounds, but it’s a radical and fairly time-consuming solution.

This How-To article offers a simpler alternative. First, find and delete enough files to leave your Mac at least 50GB of free storage capacity — enough room for the Mac to work without pausing to manage its hard drive space. Next, cleanse the cruft OS X builds up in the background as you use your computer. Below, I’ll show you how two completely free Mac programs, GrandPerspective and OnyX, will do all the heavy lifting for you. GrandPerspective offers a highly visual display of what’s taking up space on your Mac; Onyx cleans up the Mac files you’d be afraid to touch yourself…

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The best Mac and iPad keyboards

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Keyboards are important — so important that many people won’t “work” on their iPads without real keys to type on. No one complained when desktop mice gave way to laptop trackpads, or when trackpads evolved into tablet touchscreens, but the switch from physical to virtual keyboards has been met with plenty of resistance… specifically because virtual keyboards offer no resistance. There’s something about the responsive, up and down movement of actual keys, known as “travel,” that people clearly prefer over tapping on completely flat glass.

I’ve tested a lot of keyboards, and since I rely upon them professionally every day, I have some strong opinions as to the best options for different types of Mac and iPad users. You might be surprised by my advice, as it bucks a couple of Apple’s trends (“smaller!” “thinner!”), but if you’re like me, you’ll be a much happier typist if you “think different” on this topic than the folks in Cupertino…

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The best travel accessories for your MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, or Retina MacBook

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Traveling with any MacBook is a lot easier today than it was five or ten years ago. Apple’s latest laptops consume much less space than their predecessors, and last much longer when they’re in active use. Whether it’s on a seat-back tray or resting in your lap, your MacBook can deliver quite a few hours of productive work time, video viewing, or even gameplay without assistance. But it can do even more if you bring the right accessories along.

My goal is to help you choose the best items to carry with you on the road — the type of items I’ve spent years testing. The picks below are highly practical and focused to make good use of space and address real-world concerns that many travelers have. Read on!

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How-To: Reclaim your Mac’s old hard drive or build a new one with an external USB enclosure

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Earlier this year, I wrote several guides to boost the speeds of older Macs by swapping their internal hard drives for super-fast solid state drives (SSDs). As readers have confirmed, their older iMacs, MacBooks, and Mac Pros have seen dramatic improvements with new SSDs. But some people were left with a question: what should I do with my Mac’s old hard drive? Throw it away?

A great answer: put it in an external hard drive enclosure and keep using it! My latest How-To shows you how easy it is to reclaim your Mac’s old drive by installing it in a nice USB enclosure such as Akitio’s SK-3501U3 (shown here), which I chose because of its Mac-matching design, reasonable sub-$40 price, and compatibility. External enclosures are also ideal options if you want to choose a high-quality hard drive mechanism for yourself, rather than taking a risk on whatever might be hidden inside a fully-assembled external drive. I’ll explain that, and much more, below…

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OS X Yosemite How-To: Move your iPhoto or Aperture library to Photos

Photos MacApple’s latest app Photos is now available for free as part of OS X 10.10.3 for Mac. The new app is the future of photo management from Apple with support for iCloud Photo Library, burst photos, slow-mo and time lapse videos, and more. Here’s how to migrate your photo library to the new Photos app from iPhoto or Aperture, both of which will no longer receive support for software updates going forward:

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How-To: Choose the best stand or desktop mount for Apple’s iPads and Macs

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Apple currently sells more “laptop” than “desktop” Macs, but in reality, most Macs will be used substantially on flat surfaces — desks, tables, and sometimes nightstands. iPads are more lap-friendly, but also tend to get used upright, particularly for watching videos and access in the kitchen. Since I’ve spent a lot of time testing Apple device stands and mounts, I wanted to share what I’ve learned with you, so you can choose the solution that best suits your Mac, iPad, or both at the same time.

Below, I’ve hand-picked options for different types of users, starting with passive MacBook stands such as Twelve South’s BookArc for MacBook Pro ($50). Made from Mac-matching aluminum with gray rubber inserts, BookArc is designed to safely hold a MacBook Pro upright so that its ports and SD card reader are easily accessible. Twelve South also sells a smaller version of BookArc for the MacBook Air, a bigger BookArc for the Mac Pro, and an earthy version called BookArc mod for fans of wood. That’s a rarity, as most Mac and iPad stands are designed to match Apple’s products, as you’ll see inside…

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How-To: Upload your photos into iCloud Photo Library from your iOS device and iCloud.com

Photos preview at WWDC 2014

Apple announced Photos last year during the WWDC. The Photos app along with iCloud Photo Library will allow you to store all of your photos in the cloud with iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, provided you upgrade your iCloud storage space to accommodate your iCloud Photo Library. Photos will end up replacing Aperture and iPhoto. You can upload your pictures to iCloud Photo Library via iCloud.com. Currently this feature is in a public beta and this how-to article will discuss how to get a head start and upload your pictures to iCloud Photo Library before Photos becomes available for the Mac to the public.

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How-To: Decode Apple’s Tech Specs pages before buying a new Mac (Part 1)

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Buying a Mac is designed to be easy. Apple has a handful of different models, each generally available in good, better, and best configurations. You’re supposed to start with the specific Mac model that fits your needs, pick a configuration that has the price and features you want, and walk away happy with your purchase. (Better yet, do your research online and save money after ordering from Amazon, or use the product guides off to the bottom right of this page.)

One thing Apple tends to downplay are tech specs — important numbers and acronyms that nonetheless confuse many people. Look carefully on Apple’s web site and you’ll find that there’s a Tech Specs page for every Mac Apple sells; they’re the keys to making an informed Mac purchase that will be right for your current and future needs. My latest How-To is here to walk you through each of Apple’s specs with clear explanations, so you can understand what you’re about to buy. This Part 1 discusses the “big 5″ Mac specs you need to know about, and Part 2 tackles the rest

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How-To: Rearrange and hide Apple TV channels to personalize and declutter your home screen

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As the current Apple TV continues to add countless new and sometimes unfamiliar channels to the home screen, the out-of-the-box experience grows increasingly complex for new and existing users. The Apple TV home screen consists of colorful rectangles that represent various content providers for serving up entertainment over the Internet to your television, but actually finding something to watch can prove difficult and intimidating for even a seasoned Apple TV owner. Many of the channels require authenticating an active cable or satellite subscription to unlock full access while others are interest-specific likes sports or culture.

Apple TV’s user interface is meant to simulate an iPhone or iPad home screen with apps being channels and the theme optimized for the living room, and you can customize the app arrangement on your Apple TV similarly to your other iOS devices. While you cannot explicitly delete channels from your Apple TV, you can rearrange or even hide all but the very top row of channels in a few short steps provided in this How-To guide. Read more