How-To: Decode Apple’s Tech Specs pages before buying a new Mac, Part 2

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As I noted in Part 1 of How-To: Decode Apple’s Tech Specs pages before buying a new Mac, Apple has designed the Mac purchasing process to be easy: pick a model, pick the good, better, or best configuration, hand over your cash, and enjoy your computer. Since most people get confused by tech specs — bullet points filled with numbers and acronyms — Apple downplays them in its marketing materials, leaving customers to sort through the details and figure out what most of them mean.

But these specs are really important when you’re shopping for the right Mac for your current and future needs. So I’ve created this How-To guide to walk you through each of Apple’s Tech Specs pages using clear explanations, hopefully enabling you to properly understand what you’re about to buy. Part 1 focused on the “big 5″ Mac specs you really need to know about, and this Part 2 looks at the rest — generally things that remain the same in a given model, regardless of the configuration you choose…

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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: Choose the best external hard drive for your Mac (or iOS device!)

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I feel old saying this, but having used computers since before external hard drives existed, I can say with certainty that buying a hard drive is easier today than it’s ever been before. For traditional drives, prices are low, options are numerous, and capacities are so high that your only choices are “enough space,” “more than enough space,” and “way more than enough space.” I could point you towards a gigantic 5-Terabyte $139 Seagate USB 3.0 hard drive right now and end this article without another paragraph. Since Apple doesn’t even sell a Mac with that much disk space, you could back up five (or more) computers to that drive without running out of room. Or you could store a decade worth of digital photos alongside a giant media library. For $139!

But buying an external hard drive isn’t necessarily that simple. There are a bunch of factors worth considering before making a purchase, including everything from reliability to portability, design, capacity, speed, and connectivity. Some hard drives are really cheap but have a higher chance of failing after a year or two of heavy use. So in this How-To, I’m going to discuss the big issues you need to consider, and guide you towards the best external hard drive for your needs…

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How-To: Now’s the right time to swap your old iMac’s hard drive for a fast new SSD

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If you bought your iMac 3-5 years ago, there’s probably nothing so seriously wrong with the hardware that you need to consider replacing the machine. Sure, the new iMac with 5K Retina Display looks a little nicer, but at a steep $2,499 starting point, it’s still a luxury, not a necessity.

Yet there’s something you can do for $200 to $500 that will radically change your iMac’s performance: install a solid state drive (SSD) in addition to or instead of its original hard drive. SSDs use high-speed memory chips rather than the spinning platter mechanisms in traditional hard drives, achieving up to 5X benefits in speed while requiring no moving parts. Five years ago, SSDs were both expensive and limited in capacity, making them unlikely components for most Macs. Today, high-quality, capacious SSDs can be had for reasonable prices, and they’re surprisingly easy to install in iMacs. With limited expertise and only three tools, I swapped out my old hard drive for an SSD in roughly 30 minutes. Here’s how I did it, and – if you’re up for a quick do-it-yourself project – what I’d recommend for you.

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Yosemite & iOS 8 How-to: Set up and use AirDrop

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With Yosemite and iOS 8 you can use AirDrop to share files between your Mac and iOS devices. This is one of the features of Continuity, which further integrates and connects your Mac and iOS devices. Continuity also includes Handoff, Instant Hotspot, iPhone Cellular Calls and SMS Relay.

Initially AirDrop allowed you to share files between two Macs or between two iOS devices. Now, AirDrop allows you to share files and information between Mac and iOS devices. It is a device-to-device transfer that works even when the devices don’t have internet access, although Wi-Fi and Bluetooth have to be turned on. This includes sharing photos, videos, music, iWork documents, notes, contacts, links, directions and location data. Many third-party iOS apps like Dropbox, Runkeeper, eBay, Deliveries, and PDF Expert support AirDrop. Apple just added support to Logic to share files via AirDrop. When receiving a file, the recipient receives a notification, allowing them to download the file.

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iOS 8 How-to: Remotely remove your credit cards from Apple Pay

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People have been enjoying using Apple Pay. Apple Pay is Apple’s mobile payment system that allows you to pay for things in stores and through apps with different banks and credit cards. Using Apple Pay is more secure than swiping your credit or debit card because your card number, identity and CVV code are not visible to the merchant. Instead, with Apple Pay each card is assigned a unique Device Account Number that is encrypted and stored in the Secure Element, a dedicated chip in the device. Setting up Apple Pay is relatively straightforward and it is done through either Passbook or Settings. In this how-to article I will discuss how to remotely remove your credit cards from Apple Pay in case your iPhone or iPad gets stolen.

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OS X Yosemite How-to: Enable Dark Mode

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New in OS X Yosemite is Dark Mode. Dark Mode allows for further customization of the appearance of the Mac. When enabling Dark Mode, it turns the translucent dock and menu bar from light grey and switches it to black. In this how-to I will discuss how to enable Dark Mode, the limitations of Dark Mode and a way to overcome the limitations of Dark Mode.

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Yosemite & iOS 8 How-to: Set up and use Instant Hotspot

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Now that iOS 8.1 is out, with iOS 8.1 running on your iPhone, you can use your iPhone as a Instant Hotspot for your Mac (running Yosemite) and for your iPad or iPod Touch (also running iOS 8.1). This is one of the features of Continuity, which further integrates and connects your Mac and iOS devices. Continuity also includes Handoff, iPhone Cellular Calls, SMS Relay, and AirDrop.

When you are in an area with your Mac, iPad or iPod Touch that does not have Wi-Fi, they can connect to your phone’s personal hotspot when your iPhone is nearby. Now you do not even have to set up a personal hotspot on your iPhone and enter in the Wi-Fi Password for your personal hotspot. When you join the Wi-Fi network on your Mac, iPad or iPod Touch, the name of your phone will be listed automatically. All you have to do is join it. When you aren’t using your phone’s hotspot, your device will disconnect automatically to save battery life. Your device will remember the fact that you used your phone’s hotspot and the next time you want to go online when you do not have Wi-Fi, it automatically rejoins the hotspot.

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