Over the past six months, I’ve published quite a few tutorials to help Mac users improve the performance of older computers, as well as some great guides to the best Mac accessories across a variety of categories. Today, I’m tying them all together in this handy, one-stop roundup of the best Mac accessories and upgrades.
This guide walks you through everything: in one place, you can learn about the best Mac hard drives, RAM upgrades, docks, keyboards, trackpads, stands, bags, and travel accessories out there. And you can also get free apps to improve your Mac’s storage and responsiveness, find plain English explanations of your Mac’s technical specs, and learn about the little security screws Apple uses to tamper-proof its machines. There’s a lot inside, so you may want to bookmark this piece for future reference!…
Learn About Your Mac’s Specs
It’s easy to have a general understanding of what is and isn’t working well with your Mac: everyone knows how to explain that “the screen is fine” but “the computer is slow.” If you really want to understand why the screen is fine, and how the computer could be faster, I’ve decoded Apple’s Tech Specs pages for you (part 1 and part 2) to explain the Mac family’s features in plain English. Is it worth upgrading your existing Mac, or buying a new Mac at a discount? These guides will help you get a handle on your Mac’s features, and understand how they compare with currently-available machines.
Diagnose Your Mac: How Much Will An Upgrade Help?
To figure out how fast your current hard drive, CPU, and graphics processor are by comparison with newer Macs, start by benchmarking your Mac with three free downloads: BlackMagic’s Disk Speed Test, Geekbench 3, and Cinebench R15. They’ll give you a sense of how fast your Mac’s current key components are, so you can decide whether to spend your money on a small upgrade or full Mac replacement.
If your computer started out fast but has become slow over time, it’s quite likely that your hard drive is overloaded with files. I’ve recommended a couple of free, trustworthy apps to clean and speed up your Mac called GrandPerspective (above) and OnyX. GrandPerspective quickly shows you the files and folders that are eating most of your hard drive space. OnyX deletes invisible files, such as OS X and app installer logs, which should have been deleted automatically.
If your Mac hard drive’s still overloaded with content, there are three ways to fix it. You can get rid of space-wasting duplicate files (including doubles/triples of digital photos) using a safe, affordable duplicate-finding app. Alternately, you can get an external hard drive to hold your biggest files. Or you can replace the internal hard drive with a newer, faster solid state drive (SSD), which will radically improve your Mac’s performance across the board.
Choose An External Hard Drive
The Mac market is in the middle of a historic shift from traditional mechanical hard drives to hugely faster SSDs that run silent, have no moving parts, and are much smaller. If size and portability are your top considerations, a thumbdrive-sized SSD such as OWC’s Envoy Pro mini delivers high reliability and USB 3.0-quality speeds in a Mac-matching metal enclosure.
If you want something portable with a higher storage capacity, pocket-sized external hard drives such as Seagate’s Seven start at only $100 for 500GB of “take it anywhere” capacity.
Most desktop Mac users will gladly give up portability for reliability. I’ve spotlighted a collection of excellent external Mac hard drives here, most notably G-Technology’s affordable, fast, professional-grade G-Drive USB. My article discusses the benefits and tradeoffs you’ll get from cheaper, higher-capacity drives versus more expensive, longer-lasting ones, so you can choose what’s best for your needs.
Replace (And Repurpose) Your Mac’s Internal Hard Drive
Although this might seem like a big step, replacing an older Mac’s internal hard drive with an SSD has the greatest likelihood of radically improving its speed. To help everyone make the swap on their own, I’ve put together a collection of great, easy-to-follow guides.
Apple’s iMacs benefit the most (and often the most easily) when you replace their hard drives for SSDs. My guide to swapping an old iMac’s hard drive for a new SSD has been really popular with readers, and I’ve received so many “thank you!” emails that I know how happy people have been with their new drives.
I’ve also written guides to installing SSDs inside certain MacBooks, Mac minis, and Mac Pros, which vary in installation complexity from “incredibly easy” to “super difficult.” If you’re lucky enough to have a MacBook Air or Retina MacBook Pro with an existing SSD inside, price drops and speed boosts are making this a great time to swap the MacBook Air/Pro SSD and improve the capacity.
If you want to learn more about the special screws Apple uses on its computers, I’ve written this guide to understand and unlock Apple’s Mac security screws. The TL;DR version: get this 54-Bit driver kit and you’ll be ready for pretty much anything your Mac has outside or inside.
And you don’t have to throw away your Mac’s old hard drive. You can put it in an affordable external USB enclosure and keep it around as a backup or spare. Good enclosures are in the $40 range.
Add More Ports or a MacBook-Ready Accessory Dock
If you’re a MacBook Air/Pro user, or just want to radically expand the connectivity options of an iMac or Mac mini, there are now a bunch of highly competitive Thunderbolt 2 docking solutions to choose from. Elgato’s Thunderbolt 2 Dock (shown), CalDigit’s Thunderbolt Station 2, and Kanex’s Thunderbolt 2 Express Dock are all in the same $200-$250 price range, with the same basic features: twin Thunderbolt 2 ports, three USB 3.0 ports (across front and back), Ethernet, 4K HDMI, and audio ports. Each has a little difference, such as better audio support, ESATA hard drive support, or a packed-in Thunderbolt 2 cable to justify the price.
If all you need is USB expansion, Moshi’s iLynx 3 (shown) and Mobee’s Magic Hub are $50-$60 options that add four USB 3.0 ports to Macs, including one with guaranteed iPad/iPhone-recharging power. iLynx 3 works with many Mac models; Magic Hub is solely for iMacs.
Add More RAM
Installing new and more RAM is one Mac upgrade that Apple deliberately made easy for almost every older Mac. My guide to choosing and installing quality Mac RAM explains which Macs are capable of being upgraded, a cheap way to noticeably improve your Mac’s ability to run multiple apps at once. It should cost $90 or less for enough RAM to run OS X Yosemite without hiccups, or $180 for enough RAM to guarantee you won’t need more for years. All you’ll need is a small screwdriver and 15-30 minutes, depending on your comfort level with unscrewing a few screws and inserting a small circuit board or two into your computer.
Choose A Better Keyboard or Trackpad
Your Mac might not have shipped with the best keyboard for your personal needs. I like Apple’s Wireless Keyboard, but hate the constant “low battery” notifications it creates (and the need to swap AA cells). Some people really prefer old-fashioned keyboards with clickier keys than the ones Apple uses. So this guide to the best Mac keyboards will help you pick between top wired and wireless options, as well as add-on numeric keypads for people who like them.
If your Mac came with a mouse and you haven’t yet switched to a trackpad, you might want to consider making the move. Apple’s Magic Trackpad (left/center) is the safest choice, as Apple built it and supports it with all of its OS X software, including full Multi-Touch gestures. But Logitech’s Rechargeable Trackpad for Mac does away with the Magic Trackpad’s dependence on AA batteries, in favor of an integrated battery with micro-USB recharging. It’s slimmer and easier to toss into a bag, though its Multi-Touch support is somewhat more limited than the Magic Trackpad’s.
Recharge Your MacBook On The Road
Up until recently, if you ran out of MacBook power and couldn’t find a wall outlet to recharge, you were out of luck. I was particularly thrilled to see ChargeTech’s ChargeAll (shown) appear as a MacBook-ready charging solution, giving anyone access to 5-7 hours of additional Mac run time using a completely portable AC outlet. Another option, Gbatteries Energy’s BatteryBox, costs more and works around Apple’s MagSafe connector to offer hours of additional run time for a MacBook with at least some remaining power.
Help Your MacBook Stand Up, Or Give Your iMac A Storage Drawer
Depending on the height of the desk where you’re using your MacBook, as well as the size of the MacBook itself, you may find that a stand helps to make the screen or keyboard more accessible. My guide to the best Mac stands and mounts looks at a collection of great options, including everything from portable flip-out stands to stationary desktop alternatives.
My personal iMac sits atop one of the most useful desk-decluttering accessories I’ve come across: Just Mobile’s Drawer is made mostly from iMac-matching silver aluminum, adding a slide-out black plastic drawer large enough to store peripherals, spare change, cables, or whatever else may otherwise get scattered across a desk. It’s one of several different iMac-compatible stand options covered in the best Mac stands and mounts guide.
Some of the other Mac accessories I’ve covered include the best Mac travel accessories, ranging from international travel adapters to two-in-one Lightning/micro-USB cables, MacBook privacy film, and travel-friendly carrying cases.
Last year, I recommended my favorite set of Mac speakers, Bowers & Wilkins’ MM-1, which can be had new or as substantially-discounted refurbs. They’re a bit of a splurge, but they sound really great and do a much better job of matching the look of a Mac than any other speakers I’ve seen. More recently, I covered Elgato’s Game Capture HD60 (below), which lets your Mac capture and livestream 1080p/60fps videos directly from game consoles and other video sources — as well as adding live commentary.
If you’re looking for something that hasn’t been covered above, check out more of my How-To guides and reviews for 9to5Mac here. Don’t forget to click on Older Posts at the bottom of the page to see everything!