Friday, 18 March 2016

5-Star Products for your Mac!



(I want to mention, up front, that this article is a test of Amazon's associate program. If you purchase something through the Amazon links here, I will earn a commission at no additional cost to you. I will get nothing from the other links. This is something I want to try as it might help support my writing habit. Regardless, the information I provided is my honest opinion. The advice given here is the same I would offer a friend. Once I've gathered enough information and experience I will blog about this revenue experiment.)


What follows is a list of Mac-related computer hardware and software that I have purchased and used and can wholeheartedly recommend. These are not the ones that just worked; these are the ones that worked remarkably well and that I use every day.

I usually purchase through Amazon.com for the security, as well as the price. I have checked prices for you and featured the cheapest link I could find for a new product, from a reputable dealer. You might find something cheaper, used, but I am not generally comfortable purchasing used electronics.

1) Apple computers: In no way do I want to wage in on the PC vs. Apple debate. All I can tell you is, that from my broad computer experience of more than 30 years, I consider an Apple to be like a highly customized PC. The average PC appeals to people who are on tight budgets or who really like working on computers and customizing them. You can buy them pretty cheaply, but those devices are slow and limited. If you intelligently add parts you can match the performance of any Apple, at the same price tag.

I love computers for what they can help me produce. To me, they are a tool. I have the ability, but no interest in spending countless hours repairing or tweaking my tools, and this is why I love Apple. As much of a unique individual as I consider myself, my computer needs are extremely similar to every other productive person's, and Apple has built an empire by anticipating and providing what productive people need. A hardcore PC-fan views an Apple computer as inflexible, but those restrictions are intelligently designed to keep users in bounds and out of trouble. Think of an Apple computer as a sharp, high-quality kitchen knife: It can do most everything the average person might ever want, and be relatively flexible beyond it's intended use. And, when was the last time you really needed a Swiss army knife?

For me, it all comes down to what I can get done with as little attention spent on the computer, itself, as possible. Apple computers "just work and work well." If you are happy with what they can do, then you will be happy with how they do it.

One caveat: I am not a gamer and can not attest to a Mac's performance against a suped-up gaming PC. I have read that there may be issues in driver-software availability, at the upper end.


2) Samsung EVO 850 Solid State Drive (SSD): My iMac is more than 5 years old and currently runs the most recent version of Apples OS which is about 4 major revisions above what it shipped with. About a year ago I noticed that the internal hard drive was laboring to keep pace with the OS-innovations. My computer became noticeably and irritably slow. I could fork out another $2000-plus for a new computer and go through all the troubles associated with upgrading and porting data and apps, or I could gamble $500 on an SSD hard drive and hope for some speed increase. I gambled and won! The speed enhancement was instantaneous and startling. Even though my son has a brand new iMac, mine is still the fastest and most powerful in the house, thanks to replacing the main hard drive with an SSD. I have since upgraded three other computers and found that these Samsung SSD's hooked up and instantly started working without issue.

Samsung SSD's are the top-selling SSD hard drives on Amazon. They come in 250GB, 500GB and 1TB sizes. I have personally bought 500GB and 1TB versions and recommend the highest capacity that you can afford so that it will have the longest useful life. Here are the two versions of the 1TB SSD that I have used. One is slightly cheaper and slightly slower. You can decide which is worth more to you, speed or cash...


3) Newertech Voyager External Drive Dock: After more than 30 years in the computer biz, I've accumulated a lot of data. As well, I'm paranoid about losing my collection. So I have a complex backup scheme which involves cloud storage, and several hard drives stored off-site. I got tired of paying for the external drive enclosures every time I got another drive, and even more irritating was keeping track of the power cord that went with each drive. Then I discovered these inexpensive drive bays which allow you to just slot-in a raw hard drive. These do not allow "hot-swapping" but as long as I remember to soft-eject them first I can efficiently switch between drives, on the fly. As well, I can purchase raw drives at really low prices and just pop them in.

Also, I set up the external SSD hard drive that operates as my computer's brain in one of these drive docks allowing me to pop it out if I ever wanted to secure my computer. It did come in useful one time when I needed to bring the work computer home. I shut down, popped out the SSD with my personal computer's brain on it, inserted the work brain SSD and rebooted. Voila!

I have upgraded three or four Mac computers to SSD by using Voyager Drive Docks. I don't want to open the Macs to install an SSD upgrades because it takes quite a bit of time, it's a delicate operation and also because when I eventually sell the computer I want it "as shipped from the factory." New owners who are not technically proficient are often hesitant to purchase a Mac modified in some non-standard way. To perform the upgrade, I plug in the drive dock, slide the SSD in, copy the system from the internal HD to the SSD, set the startup disk to the SSD in System Preferences and then reboot; all of which combines to instantly accelerate the entire system. Upgrading could not be easier.

These devices have always worked flawlessly for me. Plug and play. The only thing I don't like is that all models appear identical on the outside so that I can not easily tell the newer from the older. In general, the price differences between models reflects the types of connectors they have. All of mine are USB 2.0 or USB 3.0 because those are the ports I have on my mac that are not otherwise occupied. I am satisfied with my speed enhancements, however, there may be models that have faster connectors that might be of use in your situation. The one featured below is the one I used.


4) Newertech Video Display Adapter: If you've never added an extra monitor to your Mac, then you need to do so. You can buy any number of adapters which will allow you to plug that second monitor into your mac. The OS is built for this, so you don't need any additional software. But, if you are a "power user" like me, then 3 or 4 monitors is better still and only slightly more trouble, once you've found the device listed below. I did this about 2 years ago with an earlier version of the product.



The Newertech video adapter allows you to hook up a projector TV, HD TV, or HDMI, DVI or VGA monitor to your Mac through a USB port. My model (which is an older version) uses free software from DisplayLink to make the Mac aware of the monitor. Once you've installed that software and restarted your computer, it all works seamlessly, behind the scenes. You can configure the extra monitors through System Preferences as you would expect. I have never had any issues with my device... worked first time, right out of the box. When you upgrade your OS, though, you might have to upgrade your version of DisplayLink as well.


5) DYMO Labelwriter 450 Turbo: I have purchased two of these sturdy little label printers and have to say that they just never stop! Mine have been put through their paces, having printed well over 10,000 labels without a hitch. The label software that is provided is good enough for almost any application, but the printer is completely compatible with Mac or PC and seems to play well with any software. It's thermal, and so needs no ink and has a decent resolution, reproducing black and white photos well enough for most label projects. The labels can be expensive, but in the past, I've sourced them through AliBaba.com at about 15% of the usual costs.


6) Carbon Copy Cloner (from bombich software - $40 USD): The simplest way to securely back up everything. This software will duplicate your entire hard drive and OS. If your system ever crashes, just switch to the copy and carry on. To me the simplest backup solution of all with the least impact on productivity. The software itself is dead-easy to understand and use, and operates in the background while you continue to use your computer as normal. There is some noticeable slowdown, but nothing worth complaining about.

7) Beamer for OS X - $15 USD: Easily beam movie files from your Mac to your Apple TV, through your wireless network. Run the app, then drag and drop movie files onto the Beamer icon. They are automatically queued up and delivered to your Apple TV. Lots of features, easy to operate, works flawlessly. You can download it the 30-day trial version and fully activate it, when you are ready to purchase.

8) Dropbox cloud storage - (2GB, free : 1TB, $99.00/yr USD): I have used this cloud storage app for the past 4 years. I like it because it's a good value, the interface is relatively straight forward and it has proven completely reliable. It syncs all of my devices without interfering with my workflow. When I started using this, Apple's competing iCloud storage was awkward and expensive. This has since changed, but I still prefer Dropbox because it's slightly cheaper for the huge amount of data that I wish to backup, and I find it simpler to use. For me, iCloud remains a bit complicated primarily because Apple is using it to accomplish a lot, interfacing with their Apple ID, iTunes Digital Rights Management and all their other software.


I hope that you find these no muss, no fuss products as useful and enhancing to your computer experience, as they were to mine. Happy writing, video editing, accounting, music composing, databasing, number crunching, game playing or YouTube watching!

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5-Star products from William M. Dean...

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