Category: Switching from PC to Mac

MacBook Pro 15” pushing 25+ millions pixels with dual 4K

I have to admit I have never before changed my setup so often as during the past 12 months or so. Due to The Curse of Retina however it was again time for some changes: I replaced my two 27” Dell monitors (U2713H and U2713HM) and the DELL U2414 portrait off-screen with two 28” Philips Brilliance 288P 4K ones and it has been a great improvement.


The MacBook Pro 15” Retina (late 2013) with GeForce 750M can drive both 4k displays in addition to its build-in display. Running both 4K screens in their native resolution of 3840×2160 and the build-in display at 2880×1800 (which I actually often do) totals an insane 21.7 million pixels of screen real-estate.

This allows me to open all the large documents and spreadsheets I work on and multiple browser windows with tons of tabs in each and keep it all visible while having room to spare.

In this configuration you have one of the two Thunderbolt ports free. You can push those 22.7 million pixels to an staggering almost 25+ million pixels by attaching a 27” or 30” screen running at 2560×1440 or 2560×1600 respectively! It did it for a couple of days, but I dislike the lack of crispness on the normal screen compared to the 4K screens and the build-in display.

While the left 4K screen is connected via DisplayPort and runs at 60Hz, the right 4K screen has to be connected via HDMI which limits its refresh rate to 30Hz. While I personally deem 30Hz to not be sufficient for a main screen, I noticed that for an off-screen it actually is OK. I use it to dump all documents and apps I’m not currently working on, but still need to glance at every now and then. Often the messenger window and Skype land there as well.

So, how does the MacBook Pro 15” cope with pushing that many pixel? Pretty damn well! I actually feared it will come to a crawl when I switched from driving 15 million pixels to almost 22 million, but as a matter of fact, I haven’t noticed any difference in performance for productivity, office and coding tasks.

There is an occasional hiccup, especially when invoking Exposé, but that actually happens occasionally even when I just run the build-in display without external screens. Moving windows, scrolling large documents or website etc. is smooth and even not half-bad on the 30Hz right screen.

Running 4K displays in their native resolution requires good eyesight – not as good as running the build-in display in native 2880×1800, but still. As I often work late at night my eyes are getting tired after 12 or more hours staring at various screens. The first thing I do when I notice my eyes and myself are becoming tired is to switch the build-in display to 1920×1200. The next step is to reduce the resolution on the 4K screens. The next lower resolution is 3008×1692 and I use it on both screens. Oddly enough when I used Samsung’s U28D590D it offered different scaled resolutions when connected via HDMI and mini DisplayPort.

Don’t be afraid of using scaled resolutions on 4K displays – you are unlikely to notice even the tiniest artefacts. It is nothing like setting a different resolution on a Full HD display thanks to the very high pixel density of 4K displays.


Another topic of interest are the 4K panels themselves. Displays featuring IPS 4K panels are still quite expensive. The new wave of “cheap” 4K displays that swept the market over the past months all come with TN panels. Usually I would run for the hills at the thought of a TN panel, but a few years back I learned a valuable lesson when it comes to that type of panels.

For years I only used IPS screens due to their superior color reproduction and viewing angles or very little to no color shifting. Then I got my MacBook Air and liked its display a lot. Good colors, great viewing angles – as it supposed to be for an IPS panel. Imagine my surprise when a couple of weeks down the road I learned it’s actually a TN panel that comes in the MacBook Air…

The lesson learned was that IPS panels are better then TN panels, but TN panels are not made equal. There are some really good TN panels where it’s hard to tell them apart from an IPS panel – at least on first sight – and there are TN panels that just make you run screaming.

The TN panel in the Philips 288P is really decent. I have no issues with color shifting or viewing angles despite the display’s large size. That being said, please notice that the right screen is at an angle for better viewing comfort. When you put them side by side in a straight line you are actually able to notice light color shifts when you don’t sit in the middle. Similar situation arises if you sit further away. That however shouldn’t be a problem since you can’t actually work sitting that far away due to the size of elements on the screen. Considering the affordable price of these new 28” 4K TN displays I can only say that they are great for office & productivity work as well as coding. The Philips 288P I can recommend without hesitation. I am also currently evaluating the Samsung U28D590D as well as AOC’s and IIYAMA’s new 28” 4K TN screens. Stay tunes for some thoughts on those displays…


The Curse of Retina

Back in the day when Apple released the iPhone 4 I made my first experience with what I now call ‘The Curse of Retina’. The iPhone 4 was the first iPhone with a retina display. It was crisp, it was detailed, it was amazing. Shorty after I got my iPhone 4 I had the need to use 2 phones for a short period of time. So obviously I used my old iPhone 3G as the second phone and quickly realized how ugly things look on its display after I gotten used to the iPhone 4’s retina display.

Now I am struggling with a serious case of The Curse of Retina. As you might know from a previous post, I use a MacBook Pro 15” with Retina display as my main machine. It’s connected to two 27” DELL displays running at 2560×1440 each and another 24” in portrait mode running at 1080×1920. It’s a great setup I should enjoy a lot, but lately I don’t.

Those DELL displays are top-notch, no question about it. But when I switch between the magnificent retina display on the MacBook Pro and any of the normal displays, I find the lack of “retina crispness” very annoying.

I don’t have a problem working on the iMac, the PC or the Mac Pro that are connected to normal displays, because there I work consistently on the same display quality. On the MacBook Pro however I am looking back and forth between retina and non-retina displays up to 15 times a minute and I find the difference between crisp and not so crisp more and more annoying. As I said before: The Curse of Retina…

One got to love those first world problems, right? I guess there is no other option left for me than go 4K, except the MacBook Pro 15 Late-2013 isn’t able to drive two 4K displays at 60Hz. One 4K at 60Hz and another 4K at 30Hz are possible, but 30Hz are unbearable.

The mouse moves like laced with honey, moving windows around feels extremely sluggish etc. At least that’s what everyone thinks. For most part, they are right. When I got my hands on the first 4k TN display from DELL for a weekend a couple of months back, it did only run at 30Hz and it was bad, really bad.

That being said, I recently hooked up a Samsung 4K display (U28D590) to my MacBook Pro 15” Retina and it did run properly at 60Hz via DisplayPort while also offering a satisfactory experience while connected via HDMI and running at 30Hz. Imagine my surprise.  Yes, things are smoother when running it at 60Hz, but even at 30Hz the mouse did not feel like glued to the desktop and moving things around was fine – not great, but fine. Since I mostly work with lots of documents and massive spreadsheets, the 30Hz experience on the Samsung was absolutely fine for me.

I guess what I’m saying here is: expect yet another change to my setup soon(TM). While at it, I will find out if a 15” MacBook Pro Retina can drive an insane 22 millions pixels…4K here I come!

My Setup (October 2014)

As promised the update to my setup. It now features new gear on the right desk and I managed to find a tiny desk I could squeeze between the two main desks. It adds a very useful “offload” area and I usually keep one of my pet project on there. Currently in the picture it’s the PowerBook G3 FireWire aka PISMO I’m testing with various versions of OS X.

The left desk remains mostly unchanged, except the portrait mode DELL U2311 now made room for the DELL U2414. The resolution remains the same at 1080×1920, but the new one has a much nicer panel and I really like that tiny, slim display border. The U2311 will soon be mounted on the middle desk – a simple monitor stand for it is already in the picture.

The big changes happened on right desk:


Yes, that’s a 4 display setup consisting of 24” Dell (U2412M) monitors each running at 1920×1200. In addition to my gaming PC there is also a Mac Pro 5.1 now.

A Mid 2010 model with 6-core Xeon @ 3.33 GHz, 16GB RAM, 3x 240GB SDD, 2x 2TB HDD and the ATI 5770 it usually comes with has been replaced by EVGA’s GeForce 680 Mac Edition. I also added a SATA-III controller to provide 6GB/s for the SSDs as well as a dual SDD mount for the lower optical drive bay to accommodate two additional SSDs.

All displays are cross connected to each computer allowing me to use up to 3 of the 4 displays for either the PC or the Mac Pro. Most of the time however I run the setup with the PC using the lower left screen while the Mac Pro uses the upper left screen and both screens on the right.

I am also using the VGA ports of two of the displays to connect them via an adapter to the iMac (which is now on the left side of the desk) and to the tiny Esprimo (which is currently under the desk on a small cabinet).

There is now a simple USB switch mounted to the left monitor to switch the keyboard (Logitech G110) and mouse (Razor DeathAdder) between the PC and the Esprimo. I really need a proper KVM solution here that would allow me to use the gaming input devices with the Mac Pro whenever needed and also connect another Mac mini for testing purposes…

My Setup (September 2014)

I know, I know, I promised some of you months ago I will write about what setup I use at home, what hardware is there and what purpose it serves. Not to mention showing some pictures.

Being urged by a friend I finally decided to do so. Except I ran into a problem right away: I am currently in the process of making some changes to my setup and it’s one bloody mess unsuited for any photos. I did however made some photos of the setup not so long ago for another friend to show and I’ll use that to give you an idea what I work with.

My setup consists of two desks opposite of each other. I admit it is a rather strange way to arrange desks, but there is a good reason for that. It allows me to get less distracted by what is happening on the screens behind me. My work setup is mostly focused on the left desk you see in the picture below. It used to be a MacBook Air 11” connected to a 27” Dell U2713H monitor.  For some months now my work requires a serious amount of screen real-estate and the tiny 11” display of the MBA combined with a 27” display running at 2560×1440 couldn’t cope with it.


My new main workhorse these days is a Late 2013 MacBook Pro 15” with Retina display, 16GB RAM, 512GB flash storage and GeForce GT 750M. When at my desk it usually runs in 1920×1200, but every now and then I actually run the display’s native resolution of 2880×1800.  As a matter of fact, I had the native resolution running for most of last week. Let me tell you this: that MBP’s display is just amazing!

When at home, the MBP is connected to two 27” Dell monitors (U2713H and U2713HM), both running at 2560×1440 and one 23” Dell (U2311H) at 1920×1080 that’s always in portrait mode.

That’s right, the MBP runs 3 external monitors on top of its own high-rez display.  It’s driving almost 15 million pixels in this setup and that’s some very serious screen real-estate driven by a slim 2kg notebook!

The MacBook Air is not connected to any external monitor these days and takes the role of a floating companion. I still carry it with me from time to time and use it mostly for communication while having all screens of the MBP occupied with work.

Sound is covered by an Altec Lansing Octane 7 (VS4621) 2.1 speaker system that replaced the Harman Kardon SoundSticks II that went downstairs to the living room . The subwoofer is located on the right side on the bottom of the cabinet. The black cone in the right corner is one of its two speakers. They project the sound downward using the surface they stand on to achieve better sound. As it turned out, they work just short of incredible on IKEA desks as those are sort of hollow inside and thus allow for much better vibrations hence sound than a solid wood desk would. That’s however also the problem with these speakers: they works great on some surfaces and work mediocre at best on others.

On each side of the desk there is a small, open cabinet. They not only make the desk more stable, but also cover some storage needs. The right one holds the subwoofer, a TP-LINK gigabit switch, various external hard drives I like to keep easily accessible and a NAS (Synology DS214se with 2x 4TB WD RED). On top of the cabinet I also keep a Twelve South HiRise I plug my iPhone 5S or iPad mini Retina into.

Speaking of which, the row of green lights with a blue light beneath it in the left cabinet is my main NAS: Synology’s DS412+ with 4x 4TB WD RED HDDs. It runs my main storage, my own little cloud to sync some of my data across all devices and it also runs a Plex server with transcoding to feed us with movies and TV shows.

Unfortunately mostly out of the picture, there is also an AC Time Capsule (3TB) on top of the cabinet. Its purpose are Time Machine backups of all my Macs and to connect the network in my home office with the AC AirPort Extreme downstairs that provides the internet connection (50Mbit downstream, 5Mbit upstream).

My Mid 2011 Mac mini (i5 2.5GHz, 8GB RAM, Radeon 6630M, 600GB Fusion Drive) is next to the Time Capsule and is connected to the left 27” monitor (U2713H). The nice thing about the U2713H are two DisplayPorts so whenever I need the Mac mini I can switch input on the monitor to the other DisplayPort the mini is connected to and then switch back to the DisplayPort that’s hooked up to the MacBook Pro when I’m done. I use the mini very often for testing. As a general rule, I never test stuff on my main workhorse as I need to rely on it being fully functional at any time.

The Mac mini’s keyboard is a Kanex multi-sync keyboard sitting on a retractable keyboard shelf under the desk. The Kanex allows you to connect it to two other Bluetooth devices and even to a forth using USB. I keep if wireless though and out of shit and giggles have it also connected to the iPhone and the iPad.

My Mid 2010 Mac mini (Core 2 Duo 2.4 GHz, 8GB RAM, GeForce 320M, 500GB HDD) is downstairs serving as a HTPC connected to the TV in the den (there is also an Apple TV, but I can’t be bothered to make it work with Plex so it’s used for AirPlay only).

Apart of the insane screen real-estate, there is another thing I highly value about this setup: all these devices are virtually silent, even the Network Attached Storages. The only thing that occasionally makes some noise is the MacBook Pro 15” when stressed.

There is also a AMD PC (FX6350 @ 3.9GHz, 16GB RAM, GeForce GTX 460, 120GB SDD + 1TB HDD) under the desk that doesn’t see any use these days as it got replaced by a new one on the other desk.

The other desk. I have to admit it’s a bit less interesting, but that will change shortly when I’m done setting up the new gear.

What you see in the picture is a 21.5” Mid 2011 iMac (i5 2.7GHz, 8GB RAM, Radeon 6770M, 1.2GB Fusion Drive). What you cannot see is a duo of 24” Dell (U2412M) monitors standing next to each other connected to my PC (i5-4670K @ 3.4GHz, 8GB RAM, R9 270X, 120GB SDD + 2TB Hybrid HDD). Both monitors are running at 1920×1200 and in case you don’t feel like doing the math, that’s just 4.1 million pixels combined – which simply pales in comparison to the 15 million pixels on the other desk.

Both monitors serve a double purpose – well, the right one actually serves a triple purpose. The left one is connected to the PC via DVI while also being connected via its VGA port to my Mac mini G4 (PowerPC G4 1.42GHz, 1GB RAM, 120GB HDD).  The right one, apart from being connected via DVI to the PC is also connected via its DisplayPort to the iMac. It is however also connected to a tiny PC (Fujitsu Esprimo Q5030) via its VGA port. If I need to check something on the mini G4 I just switch the left monitor input source to VGA. If I need a second display while working with the iMac, I switch the right monitor to DisplayPort or VGA whenever I need to check up on something on the Esprimo.

The display quality and connectivity of Dell’s UltraSharp line of monitors is why I like them so much. I really love the ability to connect one monitor to different computers as it saves a lot of space on a desk and also ends the hustle of switching cables whenever you need to check something on one of the infrequently used computers. Yes, there are KVM switches for that purpose, but the ones allowing you to run 1920×1200 in good quality more often than not cost more than the computers you are connecting to it. That’s why I went the display input source route. For keyboard and mouse I use a tiny USB switch that switches a Logitech G110 gaming keyboard and a Razor DeathAdder mouse between the PC and the Esprimo. The Mac mini G4 has its own keyboard that’s sitting on a keyboard shelf under the desk while the iMac’s wireless keyboard and mouse are on the desk in front of the iMac.

The PC’s sole purpose is games. That it turns means that lately both 24” monitors spend most of their time being connected to the iMac and the Esprimo.

The job of networking my right desk falls to my previous generation Time Capsule (2TB). Turns out its WAN port can be used as a LAN port after all. For the new setup I will have to deploy  something with more ports, as now there will also be a Mac Pro under that desk and possibly also another MacBook Pro when I find a spot for it…

Well, that’s it for now. I will write another post once the right desk is set up properly. What you can look forward to is a 4 display setup powered by a Mid 2010 Mac Pro and a PC.

PC to Mac: Using Finder Effectively

The Finder is OS X’s central piece as much as the Explorer is in Windows. While I prefer Norton Commander style side by side file managers, I often used the Explorer in Windows and now am using the Finder whenever heavy editing or copying/moving of files isn’t involved. The Finder, like the Windows Explorer, is far from a perfect tool, but it can actually become a lot better when used correctly, when you apply some tricks and set preferences the right way.

As a Windows user, chances are that when you look at Finder, you are likely to see a Windows Explorer, just looking a bit different. I know I did. In turns out, the Finder is actually quite capable with lots of nifty functionality that you just don’t see at first. Once someone tells you that it’s there, you might actually start to consider using Finder as your primary file manager.

Before we start, here are some keys for you. The most important thing to know is that OS X uses where you would use CTRL in Windows. Copy, Paste, Cut, Undo, Redo etc. So it’s and C or and V instead of CTRL and C or CTRL and V.

Alt key also referred to as ‘option’.

Control also often shortened as CTRL.

Command also often shortened as CMD or occasionally referred to as Apple key as older keyboards labeled it with the Apple logo instead of the command symbol .

Show Sidebar and Status Bar

Finder_ViewSidebarThe first thing you want to do is enable some options to show certain elements that are hidden by default: Sidebar, Status Bar and Path Bar. Open the ‘View’ menu and enable all three.

The Sidebar allows you to quickly switch between the most important folders, drivers etc. While at it, open the Finder’s preferences and switch to the ‘Sidebar’ tab to check all the elements you want the Finder to show on the Sidebar. Unlike Windows Explorer, the Sidebar does not allow you to expand selections nor is it a tree view.  That’s where the Finder’s column view comes in, but more about that later.

You can easily add items to the Sidebar by selecting the item you want to add and pressing and T or using ‘Add To Sidebar’ from the Finder’s ‘File’ menu.

Finder_StatusBarThe Status Bar at the bottom of the Finder window will show you how many items are in the current folder and how much space is left on the drive. I personally find the free space information very useful when working with different drives. What is even more important, the Status Bar shows a slider on the right side allowing you to quickly change the size of icons when in icon view. Very handy when viewing folders containing graphical files or photos.

Harness the power of the Path Bar

Finder_PathBarThe Path Bar shows you where you are. If you are deep into a folder structure or just use a small Finder window, the folders in the Path Bar will automatically collapse. Hovering with your mouse over the collapsed folders will display their full name. While this is quite nice, it’s nothing to be really excited about, except that the Path Bar can do so much more. It is in fact an interactive element that can be used for navigation and file management.

By double clicking any folder on the Path Bar your Finder will switch to that folder. Double clicking a folder while holding will open that folder in a separate Finder window thus allowing you quickly and easily operate on two windows when copying or moving files when you need it.

You can also drag files directly onto a folder in the Path Bar to move them into that folder or drag them while holding the alt key to copy them to that folder. This is quite a powerful functionality that can save you a lot of time you would otherwise spend by opening and navigating new Finder windows.

Show Item Info

Finder_ItemInfoAnother useful option you want to enable is ‘Show item info’ that you’ll find by switching to icon view and using ‘Show view options’ in Finder’s ‘View’ menu. I suggest you set it as default. What it will do is show additional information to any file based on the type of file. For example for graphics files you will see their resolution, for movies their duration and for folders it will show you how many items they contain.

Use the right view for the right content

Finder_ShowAsWhen working with the Finder it is important to use the right view for the right content. Finder allows you to quickly switch between Icon, List, Column and Cover Flow using either the icon on the toolbar or pressing and 1, 2, 3 or 4.

When you browse pictures, photos or video files, the icon view is a good choice, although Cover Flow might be a good fit as well, depending on the type of the pictures or videos you are browsing. When using Cover Flow, you can easily change the size of the cover flow element by simply grabbing the graphical area at the lower part and moving your mouse up and town to decrease and increase its size.

When managing files where file sizes, dates of creation etc. are of importance, the list view often is the best choice, same as in Windows Explorer.

When you need to get to some place deep in the folder structure or do something you would normally have done by expanding items in the Windows Explorer’s tree view, your best bet is Finder’s column view.

Arrange & Sorting

Finder_ArrangeThis one fits very nicely with the views. If you need to “sort” your files by size, date etc., you can do it the same way as you did in Windows Explorer by clicking the appropriate column once or twice to show you the files in ascending or descending order respectively.

However, when you are in a different view than list view, you can still arrange your files. Sure, Windows Explorer can do in other views than detailed view by now, but it just doesn’t tell you anything. Finder on the other hand provides you with meaningful separators so that you actually get an idea about file size range or how old the files are.

Finder_Arrange_2On top of that, when there are a lot of files within one separator, the Finder switches that separator into a cover flow type view and that way keeps things very tidy without the need to scroll and scroll. If you need to see all those cover flown items at once, simply click on ‘Show All’ on the right hand side of that separator.

The combination of arranging and sorting files used together allows for a great overview in certain situation when dealing with extensive file libraries. Not a feature or rather combination of features most users will use often, but it is worthwhile to know that it is there and that Arrange By and Sort By can be combined.

Navigating files & folders

You opened Finder, selected a file and pressed Enter, didn’t you? Yes, it does rename the file. No, it does not open the file. It is just annoying when such basic functionality is handled differently between major operating systems. Finder expects you to press and O to open the file. Same when you want to enter a folder. However, don’t familiarize yourself with and O. Use and cursor down instead. It does the same thing, but when you familiarize yourself with that one, you can use and cursor up to leave the folder and that will feel more intuitive then.

When you are in list view, you can also use cursor left and cursor right to expand and collapse folders.

Windows Explorer’s Enter and Backspace to accomplish the same things and F2 to rename an item are a lot quicker, but it is what it is. Finder tries to make up for that annoyance with spring-loaded folders, though.

While on the subject of doing things differently, you might not have a Del key on your Mac’s keyboard. If you wonder how to quickly delete a file, the answer is: and backspace.

That being said, when you get used to the way OS X opens file/folders, it isn’t bad. When you are a keyboard person and you use cursor keys to navigate through your files, you’ll notice that using with cursor down to open a file or enter a folder and with cursor up to leave it actually is quite quick and intuitive. Combine that with fn and cursor up or cursor down for Page Up or Page Down and spacebar for preview and you find yourself navigating through your files with minimal movement of your hands. When you get back to Windows after a while, you will be annoyed about F2 and PgUp/PgDn being so far away. Go figure.

Spring-loaded folders

When you copy files from one place to another, you can copy them via and C, navigate to the place you want to copy them to and paste them via and V. That’s OK, but you can’t do that when you want to move files, as Cut is not available and pressing and X will just result in an error beep. You can of cause open a second Finder window. Let’s face it, when copying and moving files around with Windows Explorer, we are all used to have multiple windows open.

Finder offers an alternative approach called spring-loaded folders. When you drag a file onto a folder and pause for a moment, the folder springs open. It’s quick and intuitive.

If you are copying or moving files through several folders, that moment you pause over a folder to have it spring open can get annoying, though. You can make the folder open instantly by pressing spacebar when you have your files over the folder.

Finder_Spring-Loaded_FoldersYou can also set the delay for sprint-loaded folders in the Finder’s preferences in the ‘General’ tab using the slider at the bottom. Hint: to move a file rather than copy it, hold while dragging the file. The Command key modifies the Finder’s behavior from copy to move.

Get Info a.k.a. “Properties”

In Windows Explorer you used Alt and Enter to invoke an item’s properties to get detailed information about that file or folder. The Finder’s equivalent is Get Info and you invoke it by pressing and I. Unfortunately the Get Info window doesn’t close by simply pressing ESC like Windows’ properties do. You have to press and W, which is quite annoying and Windows clearly solved it better. What OS X does better is allowing you to have it open at all times, by pressing and and I. Alternatively use the Finder’s ‘File’ menu and hold down the alt key () to have ‘Get Info’ change to ‘Show Inspector’.

You get the “properties” window that will show information for every file you select allowing you to browse files while having their detailed information displayed instantly in a separate window.

Copy path to clipboard

Want to copy the current path to the clipboard to send it to a friend to tell him where he or she can find the file on their Mac? There is no easy way like in Windows Explorer where you just mark the path and press CTRL C.

In Finder you have to either use Item Info and mark the path there or open Terminal and drag the file or folder into the terminal window. That will display the full path in the command line and you can select it with your mouse and use and C to copy it to the clipboard and then paste it into your app with and V. You can also do it with a TextEdit document instead of Terminal, but you need to switch the document to plain text via ‘Make Plain Text’ from the ‘Format’ menu.

Quick Look

There is one key you want yourself to familiarize with: the spacebar. It is the default shortcut for Quick Look, OS X’s powerful preview. It will preview most of the common file formats, is very quick and you close it quickly by either hitting spacebar again or using ESC. To preview another file in the same folder, you don’t even have to close Quick Look, you can just navigate to the next file using the cursor keys. Really great for viewing files file by file while in list view.

Quick Look is quite powerful and depending on content allows you to do some interesting things, like showing page thumbnails when viewing PDF documents or scrolling through texts. When you select multiple files (such as pictures or movies), it will show you a grid icon that allows you to preview all of them.

Need to know how much space that folder occupies? Select it and press spacebar.

Using spacebar together with the alt key () will launch Quick Look in full screen mode. You can also switch it to full screen mode by using the full screen icon in the upper right corner of the Quick Look window or by using the pinch-out gesture on your trackpad.

Should Quick Look not be able to preview some of your files, just have a look for the right plugin on the net or try or

Toolbar Tricks

Finder_ToolbarLike most apps, Finder allows you to customize its toolbar via ‘Customize Toolbar…’ in the ‘View’ menu. I personally find it very useful to put New Folder and Get Info onto the toolbar.

If you look at the picture of my toolbar, you’ll notice a colorful icon left of the search field. That’s SimplyRAR’s icon, an app to handle RAR files. You can simply drag any app from your Applications folder onto the toolbar and launch it by just clicking on its icon. I find it very useful for apps I use a lot when dealing with files.

To remove an app from the toolbar, you have to use ‘Customize Toolbar…’ and drag the app outside the Finder window.

Finder_ToolBarFolderApps are not the only thing you can put onto your Finder’s toolbar. You can for example drag folders there, too. This way you can have the places you use very often in your toolbar. Simply navigate to the folder you want and drag its icon from the title bar onto the toolbar. That’s it.

Use Labels

Finder_LabelsLabels allow you to mark files or folders with colors. You can for example mark important files to have them stand out from the rest of the files. Or you can mark frequently used places with colors. Marking folders with work or school related items and private items is another fine application of labels. The important thing however is, to not overuse labels. If you label most of your files and folders, you won’t do yourself any favors. Labels are best used rarely.

Finder_Labels2To label a file simply select a color under Labels in the Finder’s ‘File’ menu or right-click the file and use a color from the context menu. To remove a label from an item, select the X instead of a color.

You can change the label for each color in Finder’s preferences in the ‘Labels’ tab to fit your own preferences, i.e. change ‘red’ to ‘Important’.

Labels can be very useful, but it is the next version of OS X, 10.9 a.k.a. Mavericks, where they should shine. Mavericks will feature a redesign of labels and allow you tagging of files. What this means is you being able to use tags like you see on blogs for your files making searches much easier and less cumbersome.

Final Words

While the Finder might not be the perfect file manager, it is by far more capable than many users who switch from Windows think. Considering the changes to Finder we will see soon with OS X 10.9 Mavericks it will even get better, especially when it finally supports tabs. I admit I was quite surprised how good Finder is and find myself using Finder more and more while I use Disk Order  less and less.

PC to Mac: MacBook Air Buyer’s Guide

MacBookAir_11_and_13_next_to_eachotherHaving written about the Mac mini recently it’s time to look into a mobile entry into the world of Macs. Like in case of the Mac mini, we are looking at a cheap way into mobile Macs and with the Macbook long gone, that would be the MacBook Air a.k.a. MBA.

It is a magnificent little machine, light, durable and very fast to work with. As a matter of fact, I started my Mac adventure with a 11” MacBook Air (i5) and I’m writing this post on the very same machine. It has been for the past 10 months or so my main working computer that endured all sorts of office activities, presentations, email, web consumption and creation, image editing and even movie editing recently.

Make no mistake: despite the relatively low clocked i5 CPU this is among the fastest computers for “normal stuff” I have ever worked on. For working with Office, browsing the web, mails, editing some graphics and just having tons of open documents, spreadsheets and browser tabs it feels a lot faster and more responsive than my i7 gaming PC running Windows 7. Obviously the Air isn’t really faster, but it feels that way due to the combination of its prompt response, SDD and to a huge part thanks to Mac OS X GUI’s fluidity.

I recently compared the 11” Air for my normal work with a mid 2012 MacBook Pro 13” with 128GB SDD that has a significantly faster CPU and GPU. I wouldn’t even think twice before choosing the Air. I can’t notice any difference when working on it, but the lower display resolution of the MacBook Pro (1280×800) is quite annoying. Let’s face it, most people, including myself, just don’t do many things most of the day that would actually tax a modern CPU or GPU.

MacBookAir_2012_sizeMacBook Air comes in two sizes: 11” (11.6 inch 1366 x 768) and 13” (13.3 inch 1440 x 900). If you look at width, depth and height we are talking really small here. Perfect for the road warrior, but not a bad notebook to be used for home either.

The MacBook Air comes with Intel’s i5 CPU clocked at 1.7 GHz (or 1.8GHz for the 13” model) and both can be ordered with an i7 CPU clocked at 2.0 GHz. This is however a dual-core i7, not a quad-core i7. There are and never have been any MBAs with quad-core i7.

Both models come with 4GB of RAM and you have the option to order them with 8GB. You cannot upgrade RAM on your own as it’s soldered to the logic board.

Both model also come with Intel’s HD 4000 graphics. Casual and old games run quite nicely on it, but proper, modern games will struggle at best.

The 11” model is available with 64GB or 128GB flash storage (SSD) up to 512GB, same as 13” model, except the 13” doesn’t have an option to be ordered with a 64GB SSD.

Both also come with a FaceTime camera (720p), 2x USB 3.0 ports, 1x Thunderbolt port, a headphone jack, dual band (2.4 and 5 GHz) 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0. Both use the new MagSafe 2 power connector and come with built in stereo speakers and a very good microphone. Considering the size the speakers are surprisingly good. The keyboard is the same Apple keyboard layout and size you get in all Apple notebooks and on the Wireless Keyboards and it is indeed one of the best keyboards for writing I have experienced in a notebook over the years. Of cause both come with the excellent glass multi-touch trackpad that, contrary to the vast majority of PC notebooks is just a joy to use when running Mac OS X with all the gestures. This is something that actually astounded me first time I used my MacBook Air: the touchpad’s quality and function and for the first time in so many years its ability to actually replace a mouse when travelling. I found myself to go for the touchpad rather than the mouse very quickly, something that was just possible on the many PC notebooks I had. Don’t get me wrong though, for certain tasks nothing beats a mouse, but this touchpad offers a real alternative to it.

Where they do differ is:

  • 13” comes with a SD card reader
  • 13” offers a larger battery thus increasing battery life by ca. 2h compared to the 11”.
  • And obviously display size, resolution and overall size and weight.

MacBook Air prices start with the magical $999 for the 11” model with 64GB SDD and $1199 for the 13” model with 128GB. Be very careful though, 64GB won’t be enough storage space for most users. It is meant to keep the price low and is nice for people who need their Air on the road while doing most of their work on another computer. Invest 100 bucks more and get 128 GB, you won’t regret it. Contrary to common belief, it is possible to replace the SDD on all MacBook Air models using OWC’s Aura Pro SDDs of various sizes from 120GB to 480GB. It is actually a very simple procedure, but paying Apple $100 to get from 64GB to 128GB is actually cheaper as the 120GB Aura costs around $180.

11” or 13”? This choice really depends on personal preferences and how you want to use your MacBook Air. If you plan on using it as your potential main computer, go for the 13” model. If you want to have a Mac for as little money as possible, get the 11” one. If you want something highly portable, go for the 11” model, too. While the size difference on paper doesn’t appear that significant with only an inch here and an inch there, in reality the 11” just feels significantly smaller. The weight difference isn’t really that noticeable, but the size is.

Should you plan on using your Air with an external display a lot, then the 11” might not be a bad choice either and it is a bit cheaper than the 13” model. The 2012 models are also able to use two external displays when daisy-chained via Thunderbolt. All earlier models can only use one external display.

MacBook Air (mid 2011)

Similar to the Mac mini buyer’s guide, let’s travel back in time from model to model for those interested in buying a second hand MacBook Air.

The previous MacBook Air models are still a very good choice today. They differ from the current mid 2012 models only in a few areas:

  • Sandy Bridge CPUs instead of Ivy Bridge CPU
  • CPUs are slightly lower clocked at 1.6 GHz vs 1.7 GHz or 1.7 GHz vs 1.8 GHz on the 13” model (i7 CPUs are clocked at 1.8 GHz vs 2.0 on the mid 2012 models)
  • Intel HD 3000 graphics instead of HD 4000.
  • USB 2.0 ports instead of USB 3.0
  • Can only drive one external display as opposed to two displays on the 2012 models.
  • Thunderbolt controller with 2 TB channels rather than 4 TB channels
  • FaceTime camera instead of FaceTime HD
  • No 8GB RAM option
  • No 512GB SDD option

On the surface 0.1 GHz doesn’t look like anything worth mentioning, but that is only part of the story. The bigger difference is Ivy Bridge in the mid 2012 models compared to Sandy Bridge in mid 2011 models. Being based on the older generation of Intel’s chips, the mid 2011 model have around 20% less CPU performance. With Ivy Bridge also came HD 4000 while mid 2011 models have the HD 3000. The performance difference in games between those is about 60%. What this means in the real world is that while the mid-2012 MBA can run some modern games on very low settings with playable frame rates, the mid-2011 model won’t be able to approach anything that could in some way be considered playable.

In normal, non-game and non-graphics intensive usage however the difference is negligible, except when running multiple displays.

Which in case of the mid-2011 model doesn’t matter much as its Thunderbolt chip only supports 2 Thunderbolt channels (all other Macs, including the mid-2012 MacBook Air support 4 Thunderbolt channels) and thus cannot drive more than 1 external display.

Despite those difference, as mentioned before, I still consider the 2011 models to be very good choices. Unless you need 2 external displays or want an Air that is a bit more capable in the gaming department, you might as well go with the mid-2011 models. I know I did. I got the mid-2012 11” for a weekend to play around with. I installed it on Friday and spent Saturday working most of the day using the mid-2012 model. I just couldn’t tell a difference, at least not until Sunday when I looked at some games. Games that were just unplayable on my 2011 become playable on the mid-2012 one. However, please keep in mind that we are talking lowest settings in those games, so don’t get your hopes up for anything even resembling serious gaming.

While I do find the HD 4000 and dual display support tempting, I decided to stick to my 2011 model and not buy the new one. I found the difference for most of the things I do not significant enough to warrant changing hardware. I am pretty sure I will buy the MacBook Air that will follow the mid-2012 model though as combined the difference should quite noticeable.

MacBook Air (late 2010)

Going another year back, we arrive at late-2010 models. Visually not much has changed. They still look exactly the same and the only thing you might spot right away is that the late-2010 models don’t have a backlit keyboard.

There aren’t many differences under the hood either, but those that are there might, depending on your needs and usage scenario, have a serious impact on your decision to buy a used 2010 model:

  • Intel’s Core2Duo CPUs instead of i5
  • CPU clocked lower at 1.4 GHz (1.6 GHz option) in the 11” model
  • Nvidia’s GeForce 320M instead of Intel’s HD 3000
  • No Thunderbolt port, just a mini DisplayPort
  • Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR instead of Bluetooth 4.0
  • SATA II instead of SATA III (300 MB/s vs 600 MB/s)
  • No AirPlay Mirroring support

MacBookAir_Geekscore_2012 vs 2011 vs 2010 modelsThe first thing one does notice, apart from the CPU being Core2Duo rather then i5 are the differences in CPU speeds. Until now, the 11” and 13” models had a tiny, rather negligible 0.1 GHz difference in their CPU speeds, but in the late-2010 models the CPU clocks are far apart and so is their performance. While the 11” model has its CPU clocked at 1.4 GHz or optional 1.6 GHz, the 13” model had 1.86 GHz or optional 2.13 GHz. While the difference in CPU performance between the 11” and 13” models in 2012 and 2011 was in the area of 10% and thus not a really a deciding factor between those two, in the late-2010 models the difference is over 30%! So choosing 11” or 13” is not a matter of display size and resolution and the preference in overall size, but performance as well.

Unless you really, really want small size, I can only recommend going with the 13” display mid-2010 model.

If you are looking into light gaming, you might think that similar to the Mac mini from that year, the late-2010 MacBook Air models might be better than the newer mid-2011 models. It packs Nvidia’s GeForce 320M instead of Intel’s HD 3000 and when it comes to games, the 320M is on average around 35% faster than the HD 3000. While this is true, there is a problem with that when it comes the MacBook Air. Unlike the 2010 Mac mini or the 2010 MacBook Pro, the MacBook Air not only has a slower CPU type, but also runs its CPU quite low at just 1.4 GHz in the 11” MBA. While on the two other Macs the GPU is the bottleneck when it comes to most games, on the 2010 MBA the CPU can be a bottleneck as well, especially on the 11” MBA. I have tested a 11” MBA for a while and compared to the mid-2011 model it is hit and miss when it comes to games. Some run slightly faster, some pretty much the same, some games run noticeably slower. In my opinion, when it comes to games at least the 11” MBA looses on the CPU what it gains on the GPU and should for all intends and purposes be considered at best equal. There was a 1.6 GHz option for the 11”, but I doubt that would make a difference, I do however suspect the 13” with significantly faster CPU speed would perform better, but I had no opportunity to test it.

There is also another difference between the Core2Duo and i5 CPUs beyond pure, upfront performance. In a notebook, you might want to protect your data in case you loose it or it gets stolen. A good way is to encrypt your drive with Mac OS X’s FileVault 2. However, the Core2Duo lacks hardware support for AES encryption and while encrypting your drive won’t really be noticeable with an i5 on board, with a Core2Duo you do actually notice the strain on the CPU occasionally, especially when opening lots of files or big files. Not a deal breaker in most cases, but something to keep in mind if your decision between the models is stuck.

The only other topic worth consideration when comparing it to its successor is Thunderbolt – or rather lack of it. Instead of the Thunderbolt port the late-2010 models come with mini DisplayPort. While it looks the same, you cannot connect any Thunderbolt devices to it. It is purely a connection intended for connecting an external display and is capable of carrying sound as well. Unless you plan on getting a Thunderbolt Display, this difference between the late-2010 models and their successors is negligible and I suspect if you’d go for a Thunderbolt Display, you wouldn’t be looking at buying an old MacBook Air. For the purpose of this buying guide and the goal of getting a Mac notebook cheap there is currently not a single Thunderbolt device worth mentioning. Sure, there are plenty of external HDDs, RAIDS and SSDs, but considering their prices, this would be a case similar to the Thunderbolt Display.

AirPlay Mirroring is not supported on Late-2010 MacBook Air models. AirPlay Mirroring is a very nice feature that allows you to mirror anything on your Mac’s screen to an Apple TV. I personally value this functionality a lot and thankfully there is Beamer – a little, inexpensive app that allows you to just do that on any MacBook Air.

Now, how do the late-2010 models perform in daily usage in 2013? Quite good actually. You’ll notice tiny stutters on the 11” 1.4 GHz when working with lots of open documents and apps or many tabs in your browser, but no major biggie. I briefly tested the 1.86 GHz 13” one with office apps, web browsing and graphical applications and it performed very well. Considering the prices these usually go for it is still a good choice. However, as always, try to get one with 4GB instead of 2GB.

MacBook Air (mid 2009)

First off, there was 11” variant back then. 11” MacBook Air started with the late-2010 models, before that all MBAs were 13”. The mid-2009 model is also different in many other regards, even visually. Let’s run down the differences compared to its successor, the late-2010 13” MBA:

  • SSD was an option, base model came with 120GB 4200 RPM HDD
  • Lower screen resolution (1280 x 800 instead of 1440 x 900 of later models)
  • Limited to 2GB RAM
  • Nvidia GeForce 9400M instead of GeForce 320M
  • Only 1 USB 2.0 port (all newer MBAs have 2 USB ports)
  • Slightly higher
  • Smaller battery
  • No SD card reader
  • Processor cache not on chip
  • Infrared or Apple IR remote
  • Backlit keyboard
  • SATA instead of SATA II (150 MB/s vs 300 MB/s)
  • 1.8” drives with SATA connector
  • Older trackpad
  • No AirDrop support

Quite a list of changes. Let’s start with the “package” itself. It looks pretty much the same, except it is slightly thicker. Not something you’ll notice right away though. 0.16 at the front and 0.76 at the back compared to the late-2010’s 0.11 and 0.68. Or 0.4cm at the front and 1.94cm at the back compared to 0.3cm and 1.7cm if you like. All other dimensions remain unchanged, so you really have to look close to notice the increased height.

What you will however notice right away is the screen resolution. 1440 x 900 in the newer 13” models down to 1280 x 800 in this one is quite a difference. That is by the way the same resolution that all 13” MacBook Pros have (except the new retina one obviously).

There are other things you will notice right away as well. The first is the backlit keyboard on the mid-2009 model, something that has been missing on the late-2010 model. The mid-2009 model also has IR for the Apple Remote, something that has been absent from all newer MBAs. While that’s really nice, only 1 USB port isn’t. While all the newer 13” MBAs have a card reader, the 2009 one does not.

Yet another thing that looks slightly different is the touchpad. While all MacBook Airs from the late-2010 on use the sweet, button-less, glass multi-touch trackpad the mid-2009 model comes with the old one with a button (solid-state trackpad). The button is just an easy way to tell them apart, the real, quite significant difference is what they can do. The old one only supports two-finger scrolling, tap, double-tap, and dragging, while the new, glass multi-touch trackpad also supports inertial scrolling, pinch, rotate, swipe, three-finger swipe, four-finger swipe, tap, double-tap etc. all those gestures that make Mac OS X so nice to use.

On a side note, you might notice that the 2009 model has an iSight camera rather than a FaceTime camera. It’s the same camera, Apple just started to name them FaceTime in 2010 and until the mid-2012 model nothing really changes (mid-2012 has FaceTime HD with higher resolution).

Performance wise the 2009 MacBook Airs are slower than their 2010 counterparts. While it is the same CPU with the same speed (Core2Duo L9400 @ 1.86 GHz and L9600 @ 2.13 GHz as option) and same 6MB cache size, the cache is not on the chip resulting in slightly lower CPU performance. The difference in CPU performance is only 7% between CPUs at 1.86 GHz and 8% at 2.13 GHz, so definitely not a deal breaker, but something to keep in mind in addition to all the other differences.

On the graphics side of things the difference is significant though. The GeForce 9400M just doesn’t compare to the GeForce 320M in the late-2010 model so anything beyond casual gaming is a pipedream. On other fronts the 9400M still does a decent job.

The mid-2009 model also comes with a smaller battery resulting roughly 2h less life when unplugged. That still leaves around 3h WiFi surfing time, but 3h is not 5h+.

Where it gets worse is RAM and storage space. The mid-2009 could not be ordered with 4GB so 2GB is all it has. You can make due with 2GB, no question about it, but 4GB these days is just recommended. The other problem is, that the mid-2009 MBA in its base configuration came with slow 4200 RPM hard drive instead of SSDs an all its successors. The difference in overall performance and how fast it feels is huge! With the HDD the MBA feels like any old computer and those 2GB RAM do not help. RAM and SSD are two main “cures” for slow computers and this one lacks both. Dependent on your location, all you might see on eBay or your local sources are MBAs with HDD rather than SSD. Don’t buy them unless they are extremely cheap, because MBAs with HDD are really no fun.

This doesn’t however mean one with HDD is a no-go area. Unlike its successors the mid-2009 model comes with a 1.8” drive, be it HDD or SSD rather than a custom format SSD. This means you can actually replace the HDD with an SSD. Keep in mind thought you’ll need a 1.8” SSD while most SSDs sold are 2.5”. Still, it’s nice to be able to replace a drive in a MBA for once…

Just be aware that you going to replace the drive in a very small, tightly packed notebook with basically no room inside and that makes it quite a bit more difficult than swapping the drive in a unibody MacBook Pro.

Mid-2009 MBA also don’t support AirDrop. To put it simply, AirDrop is a quick and simple way to exchange files over WiFi without having a WiFi network. You open Finder on both Macs and select AirDrop. Mac OS X will then create an ad-hoc WiFi connection between those two Macs and transfer your files. Very nice feature.

To bring it to a point: if you can get a mid-2009 MacBook Air with SSD very cheap, consider going for it. Don’t buy one with a HDD unless you plan on putting a SSD inside. Other than that, you should consider spending a bit more and get a late-2010 model – they are overall a lot better.

MacBook Air (late 2008)

The late 2008 model is very similar to the mid-2009 one thus the list of differences is pretty short:

  • 1.6 GHz or 1.86 GHz vs 1.85 GHz or 2.13 GHz
  • Slightly less powerful battery

The slightly less powerful battery means 37 watt-hour vs 40 watt-hour. In Apple claimed battery life its 4.5h vs 5h. In real life it’s more like 2:45h vs 3:10h, but as always with battery life, it depends on what you and YMMV. Anyway, the difference isn’t anything that should influence your decision at this level.

The performance difference again isn’t that significant either. At 1.86 GHz this one performs the same as the mid-2009 and the slower 1.6 GHz performs on a similar level than the one in the late-2010 11” MBA (Geekbench score of 2261 there vs 2245 here).

All in all the MacBook Air has seen only minimal improvements with its 2009 model making the late 2008 model a similar choice: if you can get a late-2008 MacBook Air with SSD very cheap, consider going for it. Don’t buy one with a HDD unless you plan on putting a SSD inside. And again, you should consider spending a bit more and get a late-2010 model – they are overall a lot better. I love copy & paste.

MacBook Air (original aka early 2008)

The original MacBook Air, the one that got the heads spinning when pulled out of a normal office envelope.

  • Slower CPU and speeds
  • 800 MHz system bus rather than 1066 MHz
  • No Mountain Lion support
  • Intel GMA X3100 rather than Nvidia GeForce 9400M
  • Micro-DVI port rather than Mini DisplayPort
  • External displays resolution of 1920 x 1200 rather than 2560 x 1600
  • PATA rather SATA drive interface
  • Same battery, but slightly longer battery life due to lower performance components.

Right away I would not recommend the original MacBook Air. The simply terrible graphics combined with not being able to install the latest Mac OS X 10.8 aka Mountain Lion are reasons enough to look for a newer model as your first Mac. Additionally, unlike the late-2008 model, the HDD upgrade is far from easy as Apple used a 40-pin ZIF connector and PATA SSDs in 1.8” are on their own hard to come by.

The limited external display resolution is not something that weighted on this decision. Considering the purpose and goal of this buyer’s guide, I doubt anyone will want to hook it up to a 27” display.

In terms of performance, the graphics side is simple: terrible. Playing YouTube videos and movies is the high-end capability of the X3100 in this little machine.

CPU wise, the one at 1.6 GHz is 11% slower than the one in the late-2008 model while the 1.8 GHz is 22% slower than the late-2008 model’s 1.86 GHz. The original MacBook Air used older Merom Core2Duo CPUs while the late-2008 used Penryn Core2Duo ones.

MacBookAir_all_models_CPU_performanceOver the course of the past models and years we have been looking at 10% of performance here and there. Going from year to year it doesn’t feel like much, but it adds up quickly. If you look at the chart with Geekbench CPU performance scores you will see how far down the performance road we have traveled. We have basically arrived at a third of the CPU performance of the currently sold MacBook Air.

When you decide on a MacBook Air model, look up its performance and compare it to the current mid-2012 model. In case of the MacBook Air it is often better to put some more bills onto the table and get a newer, faster model or just spend some more time looking at eBay or your other sources for one that’s cheaper than the rest.

The SSD does a lot for the overall performance of a MacBook Air, like for any computer for that matter. The MBA isn’t that old yet with its first model released in 2008, but the differences that Intel’s new architecture brought along with pure CPU performance is far from negligible. Please keep that in mind when deciding which model you choose. While cost is likely to be a determining factor for many, the purpose should be considered as well. If you intend to switch to a Mac and the MacBook Air will be your only computer, than I would suggest to go for at least a late-2010 model with 4GB RAM. If you want a cheap mobile Mac to see what the Mac and Apple fuss is all about, you’ll be fine with any of them as long as there’s an SSD inside. The only exception here would be the original MacBook Air. I did include it in this guide just to cover all models and on the off-chance someone might want some info about it when considering it for a future vintage Mac. It was after all quite a revolutionary notebook when presented for the first time and it is THE notebook that started a whole new market segment: ultrabooks.

The last bit of advice might sound odd, but I do really mean it. The touchpad. The reason I personally would not go for anything older than mid-2010 MBA is the trackpad. Using OS X with gestures on the multi-touch trackpad is just a whole different experience and the purpose of this guide is to get a Mac to get to know the Mac experience.

PC to Mac: When to buy a Mac?

Apple_Mac_LineupYou decided to buy a new Mac. How do you know if it’s the right moment to buy one? Will Apple release a new model in a month or two and you will regret buying the old one?

Don’t you hate it when you bought a new piece of kit just to discover that a month later the manufacturer brought a new model onto the market?

It’s no different with Apple. Like most hardware manufacturers Apple doesn’t have set cycles when they refresh their products or bring new models out. So there is always the risk that you buy a new Mac (or iPad or iPod or any Apple product for that matter) and a month later its new model will be introduced.

It is not so bad if the new one is only a minor update with slightly faster processors, but it would be nice if one could avoid it anyway. It gets worse when the new model is not just a speed bump, but brings major changes.

Let’s have an example: It’s September 2010 and you just bought a shinny new MacBook Air. A month later Apple made major changes to the MacBook Air line and brought new models onto the market. If you would have waited a month, you would not only have the choice between 11” and 13” models, but also the 13” you bought received a major overhaul. Higher resolution displays, better trackpad, SSD instead of HDD, significantly better graphics, 7h instead of 5h battery life and a lot better connectivity just to name some of the changes.

Apple is among the most secretive companies in the business and getting a heads-up on new models early on is very difficult. The amount of rumors surrounding Apple product releases isn’t helping either. Over the past few years the amount of rumors has increased significantly. When you follow Apple related news sites you get the feeling that not a week goes by without some rumor about a new release. The big problem with Apple rumors is, that those are not some rumors spread by users and their wishful thinking, but by supposedly serious people like consultants, analysts and industry insiders. While in other areas of the industry you can almost rely on their opinions and predictions, when it comes to Apple they are more often than not so far off it becomes tragically hilarious.

This doesn’t however mean there is nothing you can do except buy your Apple equipment and hope there isn’t a way better model coming in a month or two.

A good way to judge what is going to happen to a Mac model next is to orient yourself on the 4 following points:

  • Product refresh cycles & last model release
  • New technologies becoming available
  • Supply running low
  • Common sense and obvious things

Product Refresh Cycles

Apple doesn’t have set refresh cycles for their products, meaning you don’t know when a new or refreshed model(s) will be released. However, when looking at various products over the years, more often than not Macs get refreshed about once a year. Knowing when the last model has been released allows you to get an indicator if it’s plausible to await a new model or refresh soon.

Mac Rumors has a great Buyer’s Guide that tracks the amount of days from release and also the average amount of days between model updates for all Mac models. Additionally they list related news and rumors about things that may indicate upcoming model changes right next to each Mac making it a really great resource.  You don’t have to follow news about Apple and Macs, you get product related news right there.

However, keep in mind what I wrote about Apple rumors. Take them with a grain of salt or even a boulder rather than a grain…

New technologies

New technologies such as new processors or platforms are another good indicator. If let’s say Intel is releasing a new platform soon, it is feasible that Apple will update at least some of their models not long after these new chipsets and processors hit the market, especially if a model hasn’t seen an update for a while or the new technology would greatly benefit the product beyond just a speed bump.

Current example of technology having an impact on new models would be Haswell. Intel will begin shipping the first Haswell chips in June (desktop CPUs and mobile quad-core CPUs) and more desktop and mobile dual-core CPUs later this year. With Haswell being capable to bring a major boost in graphics performance, there is no way Apple will pass on bringing new models onto the market with Haswell instead of Ivy Bridge. While it is not likely to happen right away in June, is becomes very likely toward the end of 2013.

Supply running low

When supply of a model that has been on the market for a while is running low it’s a great indicator that a new model is coming soon. Apple seized production of the current model, sells off the stock and has begun production of its replacement. Don’t confuse it with supply running low on a newly introduced product, like the late 2012 iMac, when production yields are lower than expected or supply cannot meet demand.

Common Sense and Obvious Things

Many rumors or wishful thinking about new Macs can be eliminated using just common sense, a commodity that I sometimes believe it getting sparse these days. A new model just came on the market, don’t expect a new one 2 months down the road no matter what technology just became available. Apple to release a low-cost Mac Pro for the masses? Just think about it, how would it relate to the Mac mini and what would be the point? New Retina MacBook Air next month or so? The Air line has been updated in June 2012. Retina displays require more performance and especially more power and the smaller the package, the bigger the power problem. Unless something allows to save power elsewhere, were is it suppose to come from? Haswell should allow to save some power, but the dual-core CPUs won’t be available until later this year. So common sense dictates an Air with Retina display isn’t going to happen during the next few months and IF it happens, I will be towards the end of this year.

Then we have things that combined with common sense should make a situation obvious. Good example: Apple Thunderbolt Display. With all Mac models having been updated and now containing USB 3.0 ports, it is pretty obvious that the display should be updated soon as it offers USB 2.0 ports. Since it is on the market since mid 2011 enough time has passed for Apple to bring out a new model.

Not to mention there is the most obvious thing ever: Apple actually for once announcing (or in Apple’s case rather hinting at) changes to a model.

Case in point: the Mac Pro. You can’t buy it in Europe anymore and Apple has to update it in order to comply with new regulations. On top of that, Apple actually stated that it intends to bring a new Mac Pro onto the market this year.

In order to make the best guess about upcoming Mac models you should combine all 4 points. Make no mistake though; it will be a best guess only. Apple might for instance not update a model for 2 years. It has happened in the past.

There is no sure way to tell if it is the right moment to buy your new Mac, but these are good ways to get an idea what might be ahead.