Consider USB Peripherals When Troubleshooting Mac Problems

If you’re experiencing a sporadic problem with your Mac, the sort of thing that happens often enough to be annoying but not so frequently as to be reproducible, allow us to suggest one little-known troubleshooting tip. Malfunctioning USB devices—keyboards, mice, hubs, printers, etc.—can sometimes cause truly inscrutable problems ranging from startup issues to kernel panics. USB-caused issues aren’t common, but when they do happen, they can be challenging to track down. If you’ve tried everything else, disconnect all unnecessary USB devices and, if possible, swap your wired keyboard and mouse for another set. Then see if the problem goes away.

(Featured image by Adam Engst)

New 16-inch MacBook Pro Sports a Redesigned Scissor-Switch Keyboard

Responding to customer complaints and media mocking, Apple has introduced a new 16-inch MacBook Pro that features improves on its predecessor in several ways, most notably with a scissor-switch keyboard in place of the flaky butterfly-key keyboard. The 16-inch MacBook Pro replaces the previous 15-inch MacBook Pro at the top of Apple’s notebook line and starts at $2399. The 13-inch MacBook Pro and MacBook Air remain unchanged.

Apple also announced that the new Mac Pro (starting at $5999) and Apple Pro Display XDR (starting at $4999) will ship in December 2019—we’ll have more details once those are available.

New Keyboard Provides More Key Travel

Apple says the 16-inch MacBook Pro’s new Magic Keyboard features “a redesigned scissor mechanism and 1mm travel for a more satisfying key feel.” That’s a positive way to say that many people disliked typing on the previous keyboard’s butterfly mechanism. Plus, keys failed frequently, causing Apple to redesign the keyboard multiple times and offer a repair program for out-of-warranty devices.

Although the new 16-inch MacBook Pro still features a Touch Bar with a Touch ID sensor in place of the classic F-keys, another important keyboard enhancement is the return of the physical Escape key and the reinstatement of the traditional inverted-T layout for the arrow keys.

Initial reviews from pundits who received early access to the new MacBook Pro were positive, with several vocal critics of the previous keyboard saying the new one feels the way a keyboard should.

About That 16-inch Display… and Other Displays

You might expect the 16-inch MacBook Pro’s display to be its most notable feature, and it is legitimately bigger, with that 16-inch diagonal measurement and a slightly higher native resolution. That translates to a scaled default resolution of 1792-by-1120, up from 1680-by-1050, so the new MacBook Pro will show more content on the screen than the previous model. And it’s still gorgeous.

To drive that larger screen, the 16-inch MacBook Pro continues to offer both integrated (for better battery life) and discrete (for faster performance) graphics. On the latter side, you can choose from the AMD Radeon Pro 5300M with 4 GB of memory, or the Radeon Pro 5500M with either 4 GB or 8 GB of memory. Those graphics chips simultaneously support up to four 4K external displays or up to two 6K displays.

More Power, More RAM, More Storage

Apple claims the 16-inch MacBook Pro is up to 80% faster than the previous 15-inch MacBook Pro, thanks to new 9th-generation processors: the 6-core Intel Core i7 and the 8-core Intel Core i9.

16 GB of RAM is the base level, which is good10 since we don’t recommend any less than that. For those who need a higher RAM ceiling, Apple offers 32 GB ($400) and 64 GB ($800) build-to-order options.

When it comes to SSD storage, the base level is 512 GB, but you can upgrade to 1 TB ($200), 2 TB ($600), 4 TB ($1200), or a whopping 8 TB ($2400).

Radically Better Audio

Apple clearly had audio professionals in mind while designing the 16-inch MacBook Pro. Along with the beefy processors, high RAM ceilings, and massive storage options, all of which will be popular with the audio crowd, the new notebook features significantly improved audio input and speakers.

For input, the MacBook Pro relies on a three-mic array with high signal-to-noise ratio and directional beamforming that Apple claims delivers a 40% reduction in hiss. Podcasters have praised the new mic array, though without suggesting that it competes with dedicated mics.

Equally compelling for anyone who listens to music is the new six-speaker, high-fidelity sound system. Its force-canceling woofers with dual opposed speaker drivers reduce unwanted and sound-distorting vibrations and enable the bass to go half an octave deeper than the previous model. There’s still a 3.5mm headphone jack too.

Slightly Larger Physical Package

Between the larger screen, the six-speaker sound system, and the 100-watt-hour battery that Apple says provides up to 11 hours of battery life, the company had to increase the size of the 16-inch MacBook Pro slightly compared to the previous 15-inch model.

It’s only about 8mm wider and 5mm deeper, which likely won’t be noticeable. However, it also weighs 4.3 pounds (1.95 kg), which is noticeably more than the 4.02 (1.82 kg) pounds of the previous model.

802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0 remain standard for wireless connectivity, and the 16-inch MacBook Pro continues to offer four Thunderbolt 3.0 ports for charging and connectivity. You’ll still need a collection of dongles for connecting to USB-A peripherals, HDMI and DisplayPort monitors, Ethernet networks, and so on.

Price and Availability

You can buy the 16-inch MacBook Pro now, in either silver or space gray. The base model starts at $2399 with 16 GB of RAM, 512 GB of storage, a 6-core Intel Core i7 processor, and the AMD Radeon 5300M graphics chip. That’s a totally legit Mac, but if you need more power and can pay for it, a maxed-out configuration with 64 GB of RAM and an 8 TB SSD  would set you back $6099.

Note that the 16-inch MacBook Pro ships with macOS 10.15 Catalina and almost certainly cannot be downgraded to 10.14 Mojave.

Frankly, this new MacBook Pro is a solid upgrade, particularly for those who have been delaying due to the problems with the butterfly keyboard. The only real problem is that the smaller, lighter, and less expensive 13-inch MacBook Pro and MacBook Air are still saddled with that keyboard. We hope 2020 will bring the redesigned scissor-switch keyboard to those models as well.

(Featured image by Apple)

Apple Releases Redesigned Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR

We’re not going to beat around the bush. Apple’s new Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR redefine what “pro” means. If you aren’t certain that the fastest and most powerful Mac and an expertly calibrated 6K Retina display will enable you to make more money immediately, they’re probably not for you. You should also be ready to spend at least $12,000—and likely several thousand more—on the combination. For that money, though, you’ll get a system that puts every previous Mac setup to shame.

Mac Pro

The new Mac Pro, which Apple first teased in April 2017 and formally announced over two years later in June 2019, is the result of a complete reimagining of what a Mac for pro users should offer. In contrast with the previous cylindrical design, which favored form over function, Apple consulted with numerous pro users on the design and specs of the new Mac Pro tower.

Physically, the Mac Pro utilizes a stainless steel frame that provides mounting points for a wide array of components and configurations. An aluminum housing slips off to provide 360-degree access, with the processor, graphics, and expansion slots on one side, and storage and memory on the other. One size does not fit all pro users, so you’ll be able to customize the Mac Pro to your needs. Finally, optional wheels make it easy to move the Mac Pro around a set, stage, or studio.

For the ultimate in performance, the Mac Pro relies on an Intel Xeon W processor, and you can choose from 8, 12, 16,  24, or 28 cores. Base clock speeds vary with the number of cores, but all except the 8-core model support Turbo Boost to 4.4 GHz (the 8-core model only spikes to 4.0 GHz). Similarly, the 8-core model operates memory at 2666 MHz, whereas the remaining models run memory at 2933 MHz for increased performance. With the high-end 28-core configuration, Apple is promoting performance increases over the previous 12-core Mac Pro of 300% to 500% for activities like Photoshop filters, Xcode builds, Logic Pro plug-ins, and Autodesk Maya rendering.

Speaking of RAM, the base level is 32 GB, but there are 12 DIMM slots, so you can upgrade to 48 GB, 96 GB, 192 GB, 384 GB, 768 GB, or a whopping 1.5 TB. That final RAM ceiling is available only with the 24- and 28-core models.

These days, much of a workstation’s performance comes from its dedicated GPUs, which are essential for 3D animation, 8K video compositing, and building lifelike gaming environments, along with pure number crunching. Apple integrates GPUs via the new Mac Pro Expansion Module, or MPX Module, and the Mac Pro holds two MPX Modules. Those modules come with an AMD Radeon Pro 580X, Radeon Pro Vega II, or Radeon Pro Vega II Duo, the last of which combines two Vega II GPUs in a single module. For maximum compute power, configure two MPX Modules with Radeon Pro Vega II Duos for four GPUs. Those cards also offer a variety of DisplayPort, Thunderbolt 3, and HDMI 2.0 ports for connecting displays.

Of course, any Mac aimed at pros needs to be expandable, and the Mac Pro offers eight PCI Express expansion slots: four double-wide slots, three single-wide slots, and one half-length slot preconfigured with an Apple I/O card. Apple also offers the Afterburner PCI Express card, which accelerates ProRes and ProRes RAW codecs in Final Cut Pro X, QuickTime Player X, and supported third-party apps.

That Apple I/O card provides two USB 3 ports using the USB-A connector, two Thunderbolt 3 ports, and two 10-gigabit Ethernet ports. The top of the Mac Pro case (shown below) provides another two Thunderbolt 3 ports. Of course, 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0 are built in.

In terms of storage, the Mac Pro starts with a 256 GB SSD for those whose data is all stored externally. However, you can also upgrade to 1, 2, or 4 TB SSDs, and Apple’s T2 security chip automatically encrypts all onboard storage.

All this computing power requires lots of electrical power, so Apple has outfitted the Mac Pro with a 1.4-kilowatt power supply. It will generate a lot of heat as well, so the design facilitates thermal cooling, with heat pipes directing hot air away from the CPU and dispersing it along aluminum fin stacks. Three impeller fans keep cool air moving across the CPU and GPUs, while a blower on the other side pulls air across the memory, storage, and power supply.

Pro Display XDR

If you’re a high-end software developer or audio pro, you may not care that much about your monitor. But if you spend your days working with video or graphics, you may want to consider Apple’s new Pro Display XDR to accompany your Mac Pro. It starts at $4999.

For starters, the Pro Display XDR is a 6K Retina display, which provides nearly 40% more screen real estate than a 5K display. It runs at 6016-by-3384 pixels at 218 pixels per inch. For those working with 4K video, that means you can see your video and have room for your tools, all on one screen.

It’s also likely the best-looking display you’ve ever used. It features 1000 nits of sustained brightness, and peaks at 1600 nits—most typical desktop monitors provide only 350 nits of brightness. That results in a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio. It also provides a P3 wide color gamut and true 10-bit color, enabling it to produce more than 1 billion colors accurately.

The Pro Display XDR offers reference modes that enable you to match its output—color space, white point, gamma, and brightness—to the requirements for HDR, HD, SD video, and digital cinema, not to mention general photography, design, and print. You can even create custom reference modes.

Most displays suffer if you’re not looking straight at them, but with new polarizing technology, the Pro Display XDR boasts a wide viewing angle that provides up to 25 times better off-axis contrast than a typical LCD screen. Apple also engineered it for low reflectivity, and for the ultimate in matte screens, you can pay $1000 more for nano-texture glass that cuts reflections even further.

Not surprisingly, the Pro Display XDR is a hefty unit. It’s 23.8 inches (71.8 cm) wide, 16.2 inches (41.2 cm) high, and 1.1 (2.7 cm) inches deep, and it tips the scales at 16.5 pounds (7.5 kg). On the back, you’ll find one Thunderbolt 3 port and three USB-C ports.

What you won’t get with the Pro Display XDR out of the box is a stand. You can choose between Apple’s Pro Stand for $999 or the $199 VESA Mount Adapter, which lets you put the Pro Display XDR on an arm attached to a desk or wall. The beefy Pro Stand, which weighs in at 9.5 pounds (4.3 kg), offers a total height adjustment of 12 cm and can tilt from -5º to +25º. When using the Pro Stand, you can also rotate the Pro Display XDR from landscape to portrait to choose the orientation that you prefer.

Configure Carefully

As you can tell, the Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR provide a vast array of options, and at the prices Apple is charging, you want to make sure you’re getting the configuration that best fits your needs and budget. So before you order, get in touch with us to talk through what options you’re most likely to need.

(Images by Apple)

The New 16-inch MacBook Pro is here!

16-inch MacBook Pro

New 16-inch MacBook Pro Model Sports a Redesigned Scissor-Switch Keyboard

Responding to customer complaints and media mocking, Apple has introduced a new 16-inch MacBook Pro that features improves on its predecessor in several ways, most notably with a scissor-switch keyboard in place of the flaky butterfly-key keyboard. The 16-inch MacBook Pro replaces the previous 15-inch MacBook Pro at the top of Apple’s notebook line and starts at $2399. The 13-inch MacBook Pro and MacBook Air remain unchanged.

Apple also announced that the new Mac Pro (starting at $5999) and Apple Pro Display XDR (starting at $4999) will ship in December 2019—we’ll have more details once those are available.

New Keyboard Provides More Key Travel

Apple says the 16-inch MacBook Pro’s new Magic Keyboard features “a redesigned scissor mechanism and 1mm travel for a more satisfying key feel.” That’s a positive way to say that many people disliked typing on the previous keyboard’s butterfly mechanism. Plus, keys failed frequently, causing Apple to redesign the keyboard multiple times and offer a repair program for out-of-warranty devices.

Although the new 16-inch MacBook Pro still features a Touch Bar with a Touch ID sensor in place of the classic F-keys, another important keyboard enhancement is the return of the physical Escape key and the reinstatement of the traditional inverted-T layout for the arrow keys.

16-inch MacBook Pro’s new Magic Keyboard

Initial reviews from pundits who received early access to the new MacBook Pro were positive, with several vocal critics of the previous keyboard saying the new one feels the way a keyboard should.

About That 16-inch Display… and Other Displays

You might expect the 16-inch MacBook Pro’s display to be its most notable feature, and it is legitimately bigger, with that 16-inch diagonal measurement and a slightly higher native resolution. But since nearly everyone uses Retina displays at scaled resolutions like 1920-by-1200 or 1680-by-1050, the practical upshot is that the new MacBook Pro won’t show any more content on the screen than the previous model, but what it does display will be a little bit larger. And it’s still gorgeous.

To drive that larger screen, the 16-inch MacBook Pro continues to offer both integrated (for better battery life) and discrete (for faster performance) graphics. On the latter side, you can choose from the AMD Radeon Pro 5300M with 4 GB of memory, or the Radeon Pro 5500M with either 4 GB or 8 GB of memory. Those graphics chips simultaneously support up to four 4K external displays or up to two 6K displays.

More Power, More RAM, More Storage

Apple claims the 16-inch MacBook Pro is up to 80% faster than the previous 15-inch MacBook Pro, thanks to new 9th-generation processors: the 6-core Intel Core i7 and the 8-core Intel Core i9.

16 GB of RAM is the base level, which is good, since we don’t recommend any less than that. For those who need a higher RAM ceiling, Apple offers 32 GB ($400) and 64 GB ($800) build-to-order options.

When it comes to SSD storage, the base level is 512 GB, but you can upgrade to 1 TB ($200), 2 TB ($600), 4 TB ($1200), or a whopping 8 TB ($2400).

Radically Better Audio

Apple clearly had audio professionals in mind while designing the 16-inch MacBook Pro. Along with the beefy processors, high RAM ceilings, and massive storage options, all of which will be popular with the audio crowd, the new notebook features significantly improved audio input and speakers.

For input, the MacBook Pro relies on a three-mic array with high signal-to-noise ratio and directional beamforming that Apple claims delivers a 40% reduction in hiss. Podcasters have praised the new mic array, though without suggesting that it competes with dedicated mics.

Equally compelling for anyone who listens to music is the new six-speaker, high-fidelity sound system. Its force-canceling woofers with dual opposed speaker drivers reduce unwanted and sound-distorting vibrations and enable the bass to go half an octave deeper than the previous model. There’s still a 3.5mm headphone jack too.

Slightly Larger Physical Package

Between the larger screen, the six-speaker sound system, and the 100-watt-hour battery that Apple says provides up to 11 hours of battery life, the company had to increase the size of the 16-inch MacBook Pro slightly compared to the previous 15-inch model.

It’s only about 8mm wider and 5mm deeper, which likely won’t be noticeable. However, it also weighs 4.3 pounds (1.95 kg), which is noticeably more than the 4.02 (1.82 kg) pounds of the previous model.

802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0 remain standard for wireless connectivity, and the 16-inch MacBook Pro continues to offer four Thunderbolt 3.0 ports for charging and connectivity. You’ll still need a collection of dongles for connecting to USB-A peripherals, HDMI and DisplayPort monitors, Ethernet networks, and so on.

Price and Availability

You can buy the 16-inch MacBook Pro now, in either silver or space gray. The base model starts at $2399 with 16 GB of RAM, 512 GB of storage, a 6-core Intel Core i7 processor, and the AMD Radeon 5300M graphics chip. That’s a totally legit Mac, but if you need more power and can pay for it, a maxed-out configuration with 64 GB of RAM and an 8 TB SSD  would set you back $6099.

Note that the 16-inch MacBook Pro ships with macOS 10.15 Catalina and almost certainly cannot be downgraded to 10.14 Mojave.

Frankly, this new MacBook Pro is a solid upgrade, particularly for those who have been delaying due to the problems with the butterfly keyboard. The only real problem is that the smaller, lighter, and less expensive 13-inch MacBook Pro and MacBook Air are still saddled with that keyboard. We hope 2020 will bring the redesigned scissor-switch keyboard to those models as well.

(Featured image by Apple)

Do You Put Dates in Filenames? Use This Format for Best Sorting

There are plenty of situations where it makes sense to put a date in a filename, but if you don’t use the right date format, the files may sort in unhelpful ways. For instance, using the names of months is a bad idea, since they’ll sort alphabetically, putting April before January. And although the Mac’s Finder is smart enough to sort filename-3 before filename-20, most other operating systems are not (because 2 comes before 3). So, to make your life—and the lives of everyone with whom you share files—a little easier, use this date format, which is guaranteed to sort correctly everywhere: YYYY-MM-DD. That translates to a four-digit year, followed by a two-digit month (with a leading zero if necessary), and a two-digit day (again, with a leading zero if need be).

(Featured image by Henry & Co. on Unsplash)

Some of Our Favorite Features of macOS 10.15 Catalina

Some of Our Favorite Features of macOS 10.15 Catalina

In a break from Apple’s pattern of alternating cycle of releases, macOS 10.15 Catalina is not a refinement of 10.14 Mojave like 10.13 High Sierra was for 10.12 Sierra. Instead, Catalina boasts significant changes, both obvious things like new apps and less-obvious things like under-the-hood improvements. Here are some of our favorites.

iTunes Is Dead! Long Live Music, TV, and Podcasts

After 18 years of being a fixture on the Mac, the increasingly bloated iTunes has been replaced with a trio of independent apps: Music, TV, and Podcasts. Note that the iOS device syncing features of iTunes have moved to the sidebar in Finder windows.

Major App Updates: Reminders, Notes, and Photos

The ease of telling Siri “Remind me to touch base with Javier tomorrow at 10 AM” has long made Reminders useful, but the Reminders app itself was weak. Apple has overhauled it in Catalina, giving it a completely new interface that lets you create smart lists that collect tasks from multiple lists, add attachments to tasks, and click buttons to add dates, times, locations, and flags to reminders instantly. Best of all, lists finally have their own sort orders! Note that to see some of the new features, you must upgrade your Reminders database on all your devices and those of anyone with whom you share lists, so you may need to wait until everything and everyone is up to date.

Notes gains a new gallery view that provides thumbnail instead of a scrolling list. More practically, you can now share entire folders as well as notes, and for both, you can limit collaborators to read-only mode. If you use lists in Notes, you’ll like the new checklist features for reordering list items, moving checked items to the bottom, and easily unchecking all items to reuse the list.

With Photos, Apple redesigned how the main Photos view displays your pictures. Previously, it started with Years, zoomed in to Collections, and zoomed in again to Moments. Now Photos uses a more sensible Years, Months, Days hierarchy, with Years and Months using a large, easily viewed grid, and Days showing selected thumbnails of different sizes to focus attention on the best images. All Photos still shows everything in a grid. Apple also enhanced the machine-learning aspects of Photos so it can better understand who is in each shot and what’s happening—this helps Photos to highlight important moments and create better Memories. And you can now edit Memory movies on the Mac as well as iOS.

Screen Time Replaces Parental Controls

Last year, iOS 12 introduced Screen Time, which helps you monitor app usage and how often you’re distracted by pickups or notifications. Plus, it lets you set limits on particular categories of apps and make sure you don’t use your device when you should be sleeping. Even better, it enables you to manage what your kids can do on their iOS devices, when they can do it, and for how long.

All that goodness has now migrated to the Mac in Catalina, replacing the old parental controls, so if your middle-schooler needs help avoiding games when homework is due, or in putting the Mac to sleep when it’s bedtime, the new Screen Time pane of System Preferences has the controls you need. It also provides a wide variety of content and privacy controls.

Voice Control Your Mac

Although Apple has buried the new Voice Control settings in System Preferences > Accessibility > Voice Control, if you’ve ever wanted to control your Mac with your voice, give it a try. It’s astonishing, and you really can run through a set of commands and dictation like this:

Open TextEdit. Click New Document. ‘Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent comma a new nation comma conceived in liberty comma and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal period’ Click File menu. Click Save. ‘Gettysburg address.’ Click Save button.

You can even use your voice to edit the text you dictate! Make sure to scan through the full set of commands to see what’s possible, and remember that you can add your own commands.

Enhanced Security and Privacy

Apple continues to improve macOS’s security and privacy controls in a variety of ways:

  • In Catalina, the operating system runs in a dedicated read-only system volume that prevents anything from overwriting or subverting critical files.
  • Kernel extensions, which are often required for hardware peripherals, now run separately from macOS, preventing them from causing crashes or security vulnerabilities.
  • All new apps, whether from the App Store or directly from developers, must now be “notarized,” which means Apple has checked them for known security issues.
  • Macs with Apple’s T2 security chip now support Activation Lock in Catalina, so if they’re stolen, there’s no way to erase and reactivate them.
  • Catalina now plays a mean game of “Mother, May I?,” so apps will have to ask permission to access data in your main folders, before they can perform keylogging, and if they want to capture still or video recordings of your screen, among other things. Apps even have to ask to be allowed to put up notifications. Be prepared for an awful lot of access-request dialogs.

 

Attach an iPad Sidecar to Your Mac

Our final favorite feature in Catalina is Sidecar, which enables you to connect an iPad to your Mac and use it as a secondary screen, either extending your Desktop or mirroring what’s on the main display. It does require a relatively recent Mac and an iPad running iOS 13, but it works either wired or wireless.

On the iPad, you can keep using Multi-Touch gestures, and Sidecar even supports the Apple Pencil so you can use the iPad like a graphics tablet. Apps that have Touch Bar support will display their controls on the bottom of the iPad screen, even on Macs without a Touch Bar.

More Smaller Features

Those are our favorite big features, but Catalina boasts plenty of smaller ones too:

  • A new Find My app combines Find My iPhone and Find My Friends into one.
  • Find My can locate offline devices using crowd-sourced locations.
  • Apple Watch users can authenticate anywhere on the Mac by double-clicking the side button. (Oh, thank you, Apple!)
  • Mail can block email from specified senders and move their messages directly to the trash.
  • You can mute specific Mail threads to stop notifications from chatty email conversations.

Enough! We’ll keep covering new Catalina features, but once you upgrade, spend some time exploring, since there are so many neat new things you can do. And remember, we recommend caution when upgrading your Mac—see our earlier article on that topic.

(Featured image by Apple)