How-To: Benchmark your Mac with these three free downloads

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Over the course of writing guides to boosting Mac and hard drive speeds, I’ve discussed the incredible performance improvements Macs can get from simple upgrades — adding RAM, choosing a fast solid state drive (SSD) as an internal or external drive, and even running a simple disk optimizer tool. But there’s a common question that comes up when considering upgrades: how can you tell in advance how big of an improvement you’ll actually see?

The answer: benchmarking tools. Many apps help you measure the speed of various components of your Mac, and with a little help, you can estimate the performance jumps you’ll see after an upgrade. Below, I’ll introduce three of the best free Mac benchmarking tools, and explain how they work…

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Chrome for Mac will soon require Chrome Web Store distribution for extensions to prevent malware

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Back in May of last year, Google started enforcing a policy that requires Chrome extensions be hosted on its Chrome Web Store, but only on Windows. The goal was to prevent malware hidden in extensions installable from outside its store, and it even started disabling extensions already installed on users’ systems that weren’t hosted on the Chrome Web Store. Now, Google says it will bring that requirement to Mac Chrome users over the coming months, as well as the Chrome developer channel for Windows that wasn’t previously enforcing the policy: Read more

Apple releases OS X Yosemite 10.10.4 beta build 14E17e to developers

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Alongside today’s new iOS 8.4 beta, Apple has released yet another beta build of the upcoming OS X Yosemite 10.10.4 to developers. Today’s build is labeled as build number 14E17e, and it is available via Software Update in the Mac App Store for developers running earlier versions of the beta. A new Public Beta for AppleSeed users is available as well. It is possible that 10.10.4 will be released in June alongside iTunes 12.2 (with the new Apple streaming music service). For the focus areas, Apple tells developers to pay special attention to the Photos application, the Migration Assistant, and Arabic and Hebrew language support.

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Review: Mobee’s Magic Hub hijacks your iMac’s stand to add 3 hidden USB 3.0 ports, 2.1-Amp charging

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USB hubs are often hard to tell apart from one another: the Moshi iLynx 3 I reviewed here in February was the rare hub that actually matched the silver metal and black plastic look of the Macs it was designed to be used with. After an extended post-announcement delay, long-time Mac accessory maker Mobee Technology has finally released an alternative that uses two cool tricks to stand apart from all of its rivals: the Magic Hub ($50).

Five inches tall, 2.6″ wide and around 2″ thick, the Magic Hub is the first USB hub designed such that its physical characteristics are all but irrelevant. Mobee’s concept is to completely hide the Hub behind your iMac, filling the hole Apple left in the iMac’s stand using a screw-on clamp and a pass-through wall power port. Rather than requiring its own wall outlet for power, it hijacks the iMac’s power cable and passes power through both itself and your computer, powering four USB 3.0 ports in the process. If that sounds cool, read on…
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Review: Adobe’s Lightroom CC + 6 let photographers transition from Aperture, gain new editing tools

lightroom6-1Until this year, Mac owners had three major options for organizing large digital photo collections: Apple’s mainstream iPhoto, Apple’s “pro” app Aperture, and Adobe’s similarly professional-grade Lightroom. When Apple discontinued iPhoto and Aperture in favor of an even more basic app called Photos, many people —amateur photographers and professionals alike — had to decide whether to downgrade to Photos or switch to Lightroom. Apple understood that it was ceding at least the professional market to Lightroom, and even helped Adobe to develop Aperture and iPhoto to Lightroom importers. With the writing on the wall, some people switched to Lightroom 5 well before Photos officially debuted last month.

I didn’t; since Lightroom 5 was almost three years old, I wanted to see what Adobe would deliver in its much-anticipated sequel. On April 21, Adobe released Lightroom 6 and Lightroom CC (2015) as standalone and cloud-linked versions of the same app. Both promise major speed improvements over Lightroom 5, new tools and brushes, a new facial recognition feature, automatic HDR and panoramic photo creation, and new slideshow options. As part of Adobe’s “Creative Cloud,” Lightroom CC comes bundled with Adobe’s latest version of Photoshop, plus cloud photo synchronization services, for $9.99 per month. Alternately, Lightroom 6 can be purchased by itself for $149 as a standalone download, minus Photoshop and cloud functionality.

Below, I’m going to focus on the key questions Aperture users have been asking: what it’s like to transition from Aperture to Lightroom — including new details added after initial publication of this article — plus which version of Lightroom to buy, and whether transitioning is a good (and safe) idea. The answers may surprise you…

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How-To: Safely shrink your Mac’s giant photo library, deleting duplicate images to save space

I’ve focused a lot over the last few months on helping readers to speed up and optimize Apple’s Macs — everything from adding RAM to recovering hard drive space and upgrading old hard drives to faster SSDs. Today’s How-To is focused on something very specific but with a lot of optimization potential: trimming down your Mac’s photo library.

Particularly after installing OS X 10.10.3 with Apple’s new Photos app, you might be surprised to learn that you’ve lost a lot of hard drive space, and that there are suddenly tons of duplicate photos on your Mac. After installing OS X 10.10.3, the new Photos app converted my 90GB Aperture library into a 126GB Photos library, and left both on my hard drive. That’s an incredible amount of wasted space attributable to duplicates, so it’s no surprise that a $1 utility called Duplicate Photos Fixer Pro has recently become the #1 paid Mac App Store app, while a superior alternative called PhotoSweeper ($10) is in the top 50. I’ve used both apps, as well as many others, and can help you choose the one that’s best for your needs…

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How-To: Understand and unlock Apple’s Mac and iPhone security screws

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Decades ago, every electronic device was sealed with one of two types of screws: a minus-shaped Flat/Slot head, or a plus-shaped Phillips head. There was no concept — at least, for common consumer electronics — that average people shouldn’t be able to unscrew their gadgets and take them apart. And the only reason to have multiple Flat or Phillips head screwdrivers was to handle bigger or smaller screws.

Times have changed, and “security screws” have become increasingly common. Apple actually started using tamper-resistant screws in its Macs years ago, but when it added Pentalobe screws to the iPhone 4, the media took notice, and there was a brief public flare-up (actual sample headline: “Apple iPhone 4 Uses ‘Evil,’ Tamper-Proof Screws”). Despite initial frustration, however, the solution turned out to be simple: buy an inexpensive Pentalobe screwdriver, or alternately, a multi-bit screwdriver with tons of different bits, like iFixit’s 54-Bit Driver Kit.

I’ve been using iFixit’s kit for so long and across so many great Mac upgrade projects that I consider it essential to my office; if a Mac, hard drive, or other peripheral needs to be opened, the 54-Bit Driver Kit almost always can do it. But since most people have no idea what Pentalobe, Torx, Tri-Wing, Hex and other bits look like or are supposed to do, I’ve assembled this guide to explain them all, focusing on the ones used in Apple products. By the time you’re done reading this article, you’ll have a good sense of the world of security screws, and the reasons it’s handy to keep a kit around to open anything up…

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Review: AAXA’s ST200 LED Pico Projector beams bright, color-accurate HD video from an Apple TV-sized box

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Even though I’ve had a fair bit of experience with video projectors, I took Celluon’s PicoPro somewhat for granted when I reviewed it this January. I praised the pocket-sized projector, which squeezed a 720p laser video display and speaker into the footprint of an iPhone 6 Plus, but I didn’t triple-underscore how much easier it was to use than most of its rivals. PicoPro worked so well and so quietly with such little effort that I hardly thought about it.

AAXA’s ST200 Short Throw LED Pico Projector ($299) is the newest of the traditional projectors PicoPro is challenging. It has roughly the same footprint and 1280×720 resolution as PicoPro, but it’s around 2.5 times thicker, since it uses a lightbulb-illuminated LED projection engine — just like almost every other projector on the market. There’s an audible fan inside, and because ST200 needs to power that fan and the lightbulb, it can’t match PicoPro in battery life. It also requires more manual user adjustment when you’re setting it up.

But ST200 is a markedly better video projector and audio device when judged on raw output quality, and less expensive, besides. If you’re looking for a compact way to display 720p video from an Apple TV, Mac, or iOS device at up to a 100″ diagonal size, ST200 delivers brighter, more color-accurate video output than PicoPro, more powerful speaker output, and — if you appreciate this — many more settings to play with. Read on for the details…

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Review: OWC’s Envoy Pro mini hides a MacBook-like SSD inside a USB 3.0 flash drive

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Across the How-To guides I’ve written for adding solid state drives (SSDs) to iMacs, Mac Pros, Mac minis and MacBooks, there was one option I left out: thumb drives. While external SSDs such as Elgato’s Thunderbolt Drives and Samsung’s T1 can do two things — dramatically speed up Macs and add storage space — thumb drives tend to be much slower, lower in capacity, and made from inexpensive materials to achieve smaller sizes and price points.

Other World Computing’s new Envoy Pro mini (120GB/$119, 240GB/$199) sits directly between thumb drives and SSDs in both features and performance. “It’s nearly twice as fast as the average thumb drive,” OWC says, and roughly the size of an actual adult thumb — larger than most USB flash drives, but a lot smaller than traditional external hard drives, while promising “desktop-class” SSD speeds, capacities, and build quality. Unlike common plastic thumb drives, it’s made from aluminum and uses a USB 3.0 connector, yet matches desktop SSD 120GB or 240GB storage capacities. It’s affordable, but clearly designed to be a professional option.

How does it actually stack up? Read on…

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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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