Go Beyond External Hard Drives with Network-Attached Storage

If you’ve filled up your external hard drives or become frustrated by their limitations, it’s time to look into a network-attached storage (NAS) device. What’s a NAS? It’s an intelligent storage device that can accept one or more hard drives or SSDs and connects to your network via Ethernet.

NAS Benefits

A NAS is a good choice for anyone who needs access to lots of storage, but small businesses will particularly appreciate the benefits of a NAS. They include:

  • More storage: Most NAS devices provide multiple drive bays, so you can pop in a few large hard drives or even attach expansion units for a vast amount of available storage.
  • Expandable storage: A NAS is perfect if you anticipate your storage needs growing over time. You could start with 3 TB drives today and swap them out for 6 TB drives in a year or two.
  • Data protection: Drives fail, but some NAS devices can ensure that you don’t lose data if that happens by combining multiple drives into RAID arrays.
  • Network backups: Because a NAS is always available on your network and provides lots of storage, it can work well for on-site backups.
  • Laptop access: It’s fussy for mobile users to attach external hard drives to laptop Macs. An always-available NAS eliminates that annoyance.
  • Remote access and cloud storage: You can usually configure your NAS so it’s available over the Internet from outside your network. That means it can work like a private version of Dropbox that’s entirely within your control and has no monthly fees.
  • Streaming media: Home users with massive movie libraries can take advantage of NAS features that make it easy to stream video to computers, TVs, tablets, and smartphones.

NAS Features

Quite a few manufacturers make NAS devices, including WD, QNAP, Drobo, and my personal favorite: Synology. Prices vary widely depending on the feature set. Things to consider include: We are a Synology Authorized Partner and can help you with all of your Network Attached Storage needs from the basic to the most complex.

  • Number of drive bays: The most important decision to make when choosing a NAS is the number of drive bays. It may be tempting to start with a less-expensive two-bay model, but particularly if you want to use RAID to protect your data, that limits your storage significantly.
  • RAID support: RAID works well for preventing data loss if a drive dies. RAID 1 constantly mirrors the data from one drive to another so if one fails, all the data is on the other. RAID 5 uses data striping techniques with at least three drives to preserve data even if one drive fails. Proprietary technologies may be more flexible in terms of the number and size of the required drives. Synology’s RAID Calculator is helpful for figuring out how much space you get with different collections of drives.
  • Ethernet speed and ports: Most NAS devices have Gigabit Ethernet, but you can pay more to get 10 Gigabit Ethernet. That’s helpful only if you have an iMac Pro or a Thunderbolt 3 adapter. Also, some NAS devices have a feature called link aggregation that uses multiple Ethernet ports and an LACP-enabled Ethernet switch to balance traffic across ports for higher performance in multi-user setups.
  • Hardware encryption: For additional security, some NAS devices offer hardware encryption. It requires more CPU power but ensures that a stolen NAS won’t reveal your data.
  • Hardware transcoding: Those who host media libraries on a NAS may find this feature useful. It automatically converts high-resolution video files to versions that are optimized for the destination—there’s no reason to send 4K video to a 1080p TV.
  • CPU and RAM: Since a NAS is a full-fledged computer, it has a CPU and needs RAM to accomplish its tasks. If all you’re doing is serving files, the CPU doesn’t matter much, but for hardware encryption and transcoding, a faster CPU will be helpful. Similarly, those functions, or support for lots of users, may benefit from more RAM, so look for a NAS whose RAM is expandable.
  • Physical factors: Since a NAS runs all the time, pay attention to how much power it draws and how much noise it makes. In general, the less of each, the better.

Use NAS-specific Drives

One final piece of advice. It’s tempting to use old drives you have around, but doing so may be problematic for a few reasons:

  • Combining drives of different capacities can result in unusable disk space in some RAID configurations.
  • The likelihood of failure is higher with older drives, and even if a RAID prevents data loss, dealing with a dead drive is still stressful.
  • NAS-specific drives, as opposed to garden-variety drives, sport features designed to minimize data corruption, minimize vibration, and adjust rotation speeds for longer life.

Instead, look for NAS-specific drives, such as those in the WD Red and Seagate IronWolf lines.

Honestly, while a NAS is a great investment and effective addition to your technical infrastructure, picking the right one is a complex decision. If you need help, get in touch with us to see what we recommend for your specific situation.

(Featured image by Alex Cheung on Unsplash)

Use macOS’s Guest Account & Protect Your Privacy from Temporary Users

Guest-user-photo

We’ve all had it happen. “Can I use your Mac for a minute to check my email?” The answer can be “Yes,” but to keep people from poking around on your Mac, have your visitor log in as Guest. To enable the Guest account, go to System Preferences > Users & Groups. If the lock at the bottom left is closed, click it and enter your admin credentials. Then click Guest User in the list, and select “Allow guests to log in to this computer.” To switch to the Guest account, go to the Apple menu and choose Log Out YourAccountName to access the login screen. Your guest can then click the Guest User icon, at which point they’ll have a clean account to work in. When they log out, the account—including any files they created or downloaded—will be deleted, thus protecting their privacy as well.

(Featured image by Apple)

Here’s How to See Full URLs in Safari’s Smart Search Field

By default, Safari on the Mac hides full Web addresses—technically known as URLs—from you, showing just the site name in the Smart Search field at the top of the window. If you click in the field or press Command-L, the full URL appears, which is good for checking that you’re really where you think you should be and not on some dodgy site. It’s also useful if you need to copy just a portion of the URL to share or otherwise work with. To make that check easier, go to Safari > Preferences > Advanced and next to Smart Search Field, select “Show full website address.” Then you can verify that the URL looks right with a glance.

(Featured image by Matthew T Rader from Pexels)

Use Dropbox Selective Sync to Save Space on Small Drives

If you’re like many of our clients who use Dropbox intensively, you have a desktop Mac with a large drive and a MacBook with much less drive space. How do you prevent your large Dropbox account from overwhelming the laptop Mac’s available storage? The answer is Dropbox’s Selective Sync feature. On the MacBook, click the Dropbox icon in the menu bar, click your avatar in the upper-right corner, and choose Preferences. In the Preferences window, click Sync and then click the Choose Folders to Sync button. Deselect the folders you want to prevent from syncing to the MacBook and click Update. If you need to access any files in those folders from the MacBook, go to dropbox.com in your Web browser instead, or adjust your Sync preferences to bring in the needed folder.

(Featured image based on a photo by Daniele Levis Pelusi on Unsplash)

Dropbox Selective Sync

Use Spotlight to Convert Units, Track Flights, Find Movies, and More!

Spotlight

Most Mac users probably think of searching on the Mac in relation to finding files on their drives. That may be the most common use of Apple’s Spotlight search technology, but over the years, Apple has continually enhanced Spotlight’s capabilities, turning it into a veritable Swiss Army Knife that you can invoke with a quick press of Command-Space bar or a click on the magnifying glass at the right side of the menu bar.

Here are a few of our favorite uses for Spotlight that you may not have been aware of.

Launch Apps and Open System Preference Panes

We recommend putting apps you use all the time in the Dock for quick access, but what about apps you need only occasionally? You can always root around in the Applications folder for them, but for quicker access, invoke Spotlight and type the first few characters of the app’s name (Spotlight will guess at what you want; if it’s wrong, keep typing). Then double-click the app in the results list or if it’s already selected, press Return. It’s a great way to bring up Activity Monitor to see what’s happening when your Mac feels slow. This trick also works wonders for opening panes in System Preferences.

For apps and preference panes whose names have multiple words, you can also try typing the first letter of each word, like ug to find and open the Users & Groups pane of System Preferences.

Convert Units and Currency

Need to figure out what 72º F is in Celsius? Or precisely how many quarts are in a 2-liter bottle? Spotlight can do all sorts of conversions for you. Just start typing your starting number, like 72, and then follow it with something that indicates your starting unit, such as “F” or “degrees.” Spotlight displays the conversion instantly, so you can tell if you’ve guessed wrong about the unit (K is degrees Kelvin, so you’d use km to figure out how many miles in a 24-kilometer race).

Particularly useful is Spotlight’s capability to do real-time currency conversions, since exchange rates fluctuate. It can’t do every currency on the planet, so you’re on your own if you need to check on Burundi francs, but you’ll find all the major currencies. The trick is knowing their abbreviations: the British pound is abbreviated GBP, the Canadian dollar is CAD, the Japanese yen is JPY, and so on. To convert from US dollars into another currency add the phrase “in GBP” or the like after the dollar amount.

Perform Calculations

We’ve come a long way from thinking that calculator watches are the height of geek chic, but a calculator is still handy now and then. When you want to perform a simple calculation for which a spreadsheet would be overkill, you could use Spotlight to launch the Calculator app, but it’s faster to type your calculation into Spotlight itself. It even supports parentheses for specifying an order of operations. The screenshot is just for illustration; we mostly use this feature to add up a series of numbers.

Look Up Words

Can’t remember the difference between “affect” and “effect”? macOS’s Dictionary app has all the help you need, but as with Calculator, Spotlight is a fast substitute. Type the word and click the entry under Definition to see the dictionary entry over on the side. If you want to look for synonyms in the thesaurus or explore other aspects of the word, press Return to open the word in the Dictionary app.

Track Airline Flights

Need to pick your relatives up at the airport? Rather than hoping that their flight will be on time, check to see if it is, with Spotlight. You can usually type the airline name and flight number, but it’s safest if you know the airline’s two-letter code, like DL for Delta, UA for United Airlines, and so on.

Find Movie Info and Show Times

Spotlight can even prove useful at the end of the day when you’re trying to figure out if a particular movie is playing at the local cineplex. Enter the title of a current movie and click its entry in the results under Movies to see all sorts of details, including its Rotten Tomatoes rating, when and where it’s playing, and if you can instead get it on iTunes.

Stocks, Sports Scores, and Weather

Wait, there’s more! Type a ticker symbol, like AAPL, into Spotlight to see the stock’s current price and activity for the day. Enter the name of a professional sports team to see the score of the team’s latest game (assuming they’re in season) and upcoming schedule. And type “weather” and a city name to check the climate conditions for that location and get an extended forecast.

Customize Spotlight

You’ve probably noticed all sorts of other odd items in the results list. That’s because there’s no telling what old email messages or documents might also contain your search term. But you can trim the results somewhat by turning certain items off. To do this, open System Preferences > Spotlight and deselect any categories that aren’t helpful.

If you never knew or have forgotten how useful Spotlight can be, give it a try!

(Featured image by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash)

Some May Like It Hot… But Your Technology Prefers to Stay Cool

Keep-tech-cool

When summer brings sunny days and rising temperatures, you may have ditched your business suit for shorts or skirts to stay comfortable, but your technological gear can’t do the same. And keeping your tech cool is about more than comfort—as temperatures rise, performance can suffer, charging may get slower or stop, various components might be disabled, and devices can become unreliable from the heat.

How Hot Is Too Hot?

You might be surprised by the recommended operating temperatures for Apple gear—whether you’re talking about an iPhone X or a MacBook Pro, the company recommends staying under 95° F (35° C).

Such temperatures happen regularly throughout the summer. Even in cooler climes, the temperature in a parked car in the sunshine can easily hit 130º F (54º C) in an hour and rise higher as time passes. And no, cracking the windows a couple of inches won’t make a significant difference. We hope you’re already thinking about that with regard to children and pets, but as you can see, tech gear should also be protected. Apple says its products shouldn’t even be stored—turned off—at temperatures over 113º F (45º C).

It’s not just cars you have to think about. Temperatures in homes and offices without air conditioning can also rise higher than electronics would prefer, and that’s especially true for computers that stay on most of the time and aren’t located in well-ventilated areas.

What’s the Danger?

First off, remember that all electronic devices produce their own heat on top of the ambient heat in the environment, so the temperature inside a device can be much, much hotter than outside. The CPU in an iMac can hit 212º F (100º C) under heavy loads.

Temperatures higher than what components are designed for can have the following effects:

  • Chips of all types can behave unpredictably as increased thermal noise (electrons vibrating more) causes a higher bit error rate. Because electrical resistance increases with heat, timing errors can also occur.
  • Lithium-ion batteries discharge well in high temperatures, but the increased rate of chemical reactions within the battery will result in a shorter overall lifespan.
  • As devices heat and cool, the uneven thermal expansion of different materials can cause microscopic cracks that can lead to a variety of failures over time.

Some heat-related problems are temporary, so when the device or component cools down, it will resume working correctly. But others, particularly drops in battery life—are irreversible and particularly worth avoiding.

When a Mac gets too hot, it will spin up its fans in an attempt to keep its internal components cool. If your Mac’s fans are ever running at full tilt, first quit apps you aren’t using, particularly those that might be CPU-intensive and thus creating a lot of heat. If that doesn’t make a difference, restart it to make sure the problem isn’t some rogue process. If the fans come back on at full speed quickly, shut it down and let it cool off for a bit. In the worst case, an overheated Mac will start acting unpredictably or crash.

iOS devices don’t have fans, so they employ other coping mechanisms. If your iPhone or iPad gets too hot, the device will alert you.

Apple says you might notice some of the following behaviors:

  • Charging, including wireless charging, slows or stops.
  • The display dims or goes black.
  • Cellular radios enter a low-power state. The signal might weaken during this time.
  • The camera flash is temporarily disabled.
  • Performance slows with graphics-intensive apps or features.

If you’re using Maps on an overheating iPhone for GPS navigation in the car, it may show a “Temperature: iPhone needs to cool down.” screen instead of the map. You’ll still get audible turn-by-turn directions, and the screen will wake up to guide you through turns,

How to Keep Your Tech Cool

For the most part, keeping Apple devices cool just requires common sense, since you’d do the same things for yourself.

  • As Apple’s specifications recommend, avoid using devices when the temperature is over 95º F (35º C). If you can’t avoid it entirely, keep usage to a minimum.
  • Don’t leave devices in cars parked in the sun for long periods of time. If it happens accidentally, let the device cool before using it.
  • Provide good ventilation so air can cool the device. Don’t block ventilation ports in the back of desktop Macs, and don’t use Mac laptops in bed, propped on a pillow, or under the covers. It can be worth vacuuming dust out of ventilation ports every so often.
  • Never put anything on the keyboard of an open Mac laptop.
  • Avoid stacking things on top of a Mac mini.
  • Monitor the temperature of server closets. If they get too hot, keep the door open, add a fan, or run the air conditioning.

Luckily, the temperatures that cause problems for Apple hardware aren’t terribly comfortable for people either, so if you’re way too hot, that’s a good sign your gear is as well.

(Featured image by Alfonso Escalante from Pexels)