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The best tools to make your Mac like new
Chances are if you took your Mac out of the box when you got it home, powered it up, and then never installed anything on it and never went online, things would rarely go wrong. Also, you’d probably be very bored. But once you add anything on top of vanilla OS X, the potential for problems rapidly increases. Software can clash with the operating system or other software, websites and apps can cause network issues, disk space can run out, and processes can run riot, causing your Mac’s fans to go into crazy mode. Furthermore, hardware can and does invariably – if rarely – fail. So what we’re saying is that your Mac is essentially a sleekly designed and very stylish time bomb, waiting for the day when it’ll quietly detonate, not so much with a bang, but with a “not working so well today – sorry”.
If you’re quietly panicking, don’t. Most problems can be fixed, and we provide ideas about how to do so later in this tutorial. Moreover, issues can be headed off at the pass. Rather than reacting to problems after they’ve occurred – frantically trashing files if you abruptly run out of disk space; realising you have precisely no charged batteries when your mouse, trackpad and keyboard conspire against you by simultaneously stating they’re out of juice – it’s smarter and more efficient to get some advance warning. What you need is monitoring tools which lurk in the background, patiently probing your Mac, and enabling you to poke around facts, figures and data as you see fit.
Once you add anything on top of vanilla OS X, the potential for problems increases
Apple bundles some handy tools with your Mac. Visit the Network and Bluetooth panes in System Preferences. Each has an optional menu bar extra that can be activated, enabling you to check on the status of the relevant type of connectivity. With Bluetooth, you’ll see a battery indicator if one of your
connected accessories is running low on power, giving you ample time to find new batteries. Clicking the menu extra lists the devices, and clearly shows which one needs attention; dipping into the sub-menus details charge levels. As for the Wi-Fi menu extra, it provides a straightforward visual indication of when your network connection is flaky. Once connected, it should remain a solid black. If it keeps flicking to grey and back, and you’re in a place where the network connection should be solid, you might need to think about running some diagnostic checks. (Note that should you quickly need additional details about your current network settings, å- click the Wi-Fi menu extra. The information in the menu will then be rather more involved.)
Plenty of third-party tools exist for similar and additional scenarios. Some are quite specialised. TG Pro ($15 – about £10, tunabellysoftware.com) monitors temperatures in your Mac (the ‘TG’ stands for Temperature Gauge), finds faulty sensors and gives you the option to control fan speeds. (If you’re lacking funds to spend on an app, also consider the free Macs Fan Control (crystalidea.com.) Generally, we don’t recommend messing with Apple’s default fan settings, but it’s worth having the option in mind if your Mac’s getting very hot, and being able to do something about it if you’ve got days to wait for a Genius Bar appointment.
Elsewhere, the best utilities tend to be modular bundles that perform various tasks. Monity (£2.29, Mac App Store) is an affordable utility designed to monitor CPU usage, network activity, batteries, and disk usage that enables you to drop into Notification Center at any time to see how things are going.
Our favourite product of this kind, though, is iStat Menus ($18 – about £12, bjango.com). This comes in the form of an app that’s essentially a bunch of settings that control a bunch of icons
Little Snitch monitors network connection attempts, so you can control app communication with remote servers.