IN THIS CHAPTER
Identifying the important parts of your Mac laptop
Comparing MacBook models and getting set up
Handling your MacBook with care
Buying additional stuff you might need
Most action films have one scene in common: I call it “gearing up,” because the good guys strap on their equipment in preparation for battle. (The era doesn’t matter: You see “gearing up” scenes in movies like Gladiator, Predator, and Aliens.) You’re sure to see lots of clicking straps and equipping of offensive weapons (and sometimes even a dash of war paint). The process usually takes a minute or so all told, with whiplash camera work and stirring martial music in the background.
Well, fellow Mac road warrior, it takes only two seconds and one move — closing the lid — for you to gear up. Your MacBook is a self-contained world, providing virtually all the essentials you’ll find on a desktop iMac, Mac Pro, or Mac mini. This is indeed the second “decade of the laptop,” meshing nicely with your smartphone and that wireless connection at your local coffee shop. You’ve selected the right companion for the open road.
Unlike Apple’s other designs — such as the Mac mini, the Mac Pro, and the iMac — your MacBook’s exterior looks much like a PC laptop. (In fact, an Intel-based Mac laptop can run Windows if it absolutely must.)
But your laptop holds several pleasant surprises that no PC laptop or tablet can offer — and, with the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, you’ll lose pounds and inches from your chassis!
In this chapter, I introduce you to the hardware and all the major parts of the machine. You even find out how to unpack and connect your computer. And as frosting on the cake, I preview the software of which Apple is so proud, as well as the accessories you should buy now rather than later.
Welcome to your Mac laptop, good reader. Gear up!
Sure, your MacBook Pro may be about half an inch thin (a MacBook Air is even more svelte; I get to that later in the chapter), but a lot of superb design lives inside. You encounter the same parts you’d find in a desktop machine. In the following sections, I discuss those important parts — both the stuff you can see and the stuff that’s shoehorned within.
Every laptop requires some of the same gizmos. Figure 1-1 helps you track them down. Of course, as you’d expect, a computer has a body of sorts in which all the innards and brains are stored, a display screen, a keyboard, a trackpad or other pointing device, and ports for powering and exchanging data with outside toys.
What a view you have! Today’s Mac laptops feature a 13- or 16-inch LED display. LED screens use far less electricity than their antique CRT ancestors, and they emit practically no radiation.
Apple’s laptop screens offer a widescreen aspect ratio (the screen is considerably wider than it is tall), which augurs well for those who enjoy watching movies. (A favorite editor of mine loves it when I use the antique word augur, meaning to predict or foretell.)
Hey, here’s something novel for your laptop. Unlike the external input devices on a standard desktop computer, your MacBook has a built-in keyboard and trackpad (which does the job of a mouse). The illuminated keyboard is a particular favorite of mine, offering special keys for activating all sorts of features within macOS (as well as keys for adjusting brightness and volume).
The latest crop of Mac laptops feature a great trackpad design as well. The Force Touch trackpad can sense the amount of pressure you apply with your fingers, activating features in macOS Big Sur that used to require a right-click (such as displaying the definition of a word in a Pages document or displaying a map of an address in Contacts). The Force Touch trackpad can even provide tactile feedback to your fingertips while you’re using some applications!
A machine this nice had better have great sound, and the Mac doesn’t disappoint. You have a couple of options for Mac laptop audio:
Sorry, you can’t get a wireless power system — yet. (Apple’s working hard on this one.) All current MacBook models use a USB-C port for charging the battery. The USB-C cable also does double-duty as a port for Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C–compatible devices. (If you’re familiar with the MagSafe power cord used on older MacBooks, take note: This USB-C cable connection does not detach easily if pulled, so it’s time to resume being careful navigating around your MacBook while it’s charging!)
The MacBook Air with Touch ID and the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar actually turn on whenever you open them. To turn these models off, you press and hold the Touch ID button on the far-right side of the keyboard.
Owners of the older MacBooks still have a power button. It’s in the top-right corner of the keyboard, bearing the familiar “circle with a vertical line” logo.
Check out that tiny square lens above your screen. That’s a built-in FaceTime HD camera, which allows you to chat with others in a videoconferencing environment by using the Messages and FaceTime applications that come with Big Sur. You can even take photos with the camera, using the Photo Booth software that comes with your laptop, or set up a travelin’ webcam. (If you need a higher-resolution camera — or one that can be easily turned or tilted — check out the discussion later in this chapter.)
Apple’s current laptop computers don’t include user-replaceable batteries. The battery is sealed inside the case and can be replaced only by an Apple technician. But you should get several years of trouble-free operation from your MacBook’s battery, especially if you maintain it properly (as I show you in Chapter 2).
The next stop on your tour of Planet Laptop is Port Central — those holes on the sides of your computer. Each port connects a different type of cable or device, allowing you to easily add all sorts of functionality to your computer.
Each of these stellar holes has an icon to help you identify it. Here’s a list of what you’ll find and a quick rundown of what these ports do. Although the latest MacBook models carry only USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports, I’ve included additional port types that may appear on older MacBooks running macOS Big Sur.
The following connections are used for external devices and networking:
Thunderbolt 2/Thunderbolt 3 port: The Thunderbolt 2 port (and its faster descendent, Thunderbolt 3) is the expansion racehorse of today’s MacBooks. It offers the fastest data-transfer rates and the ability to add all sorts of peripherals, from external drives to monitors to wired Ethernet connections. (A peripheral is another silly techno-nerd term that means a separate device you connect to your computer.) Thunderbolt 3 devices are somewhat more expensive than their Thunderbolt 2 and USB cousins, but prices are dropping as more Thunderbolt 3 peripherals arrive on the market.
Although Thunderbolt-compatible monitors are available, they’re significantly more expensive than standard displays. Luckily, you can also buy an adapter for this port that allows you to send the video signal from your laptop to another VGA, DVI, or HDMI monitor.
USB port(s): Short for universal serial bus, the familiar USB port is the jack-of-all-trades in today’s world of computer add-ons. Most external devices you want to connect to your laptop (such as portable drives, scanners, and digital cameras) use a USB port, including the iPod touch. (Today’s PCs also include USB ports, allowing you to share external USB peripherals such as optical drives and scanners between your MacBook and your desktop PC.) USB 3.0 connections are much faster than the old USB 2.0 standard, but they still accept USB 2.0 devices running at the slower speed.
Get the lowdown on Thunderbolt 2 and 3 and USB ports in Chapter 20.
All current MacBook models use the cutting-edge USB-C port that allows you to charge the laptop, connect a Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C device, or connect an external monitor or projector — all from one port! To make the USB 3.0 connection, you’ll need a USB-C–to–USB adapter (about $20) and a USB-C AV Multiport adapter (about $70) to connect an external display.
When you bought your new digital pride and joy, you probably noticed a number of subtle differences between the MacBook Air and the pricier MacBook Pro models. I call these differences the Important Hidden Stuff (or IHS, if you’re addicted to acronyms). They’re just as important as the parts and ports you can see.
Internal devices are as follows:
Storage: Today’s MacBook models are equipped with solid-state drives that use memory chips. The drive capacities are different across the entire MacBook product line.
Solid-state drives have several advantages over traditional magnetic hard drives: You’ll find no moving parts in a solid-state drive, and it offers better performance than a standard hard drive. Think of the solid-state drive as an internal USB flash drive that uses RAM chips rather than magnetic platters to hold your data.
Wireless communications devices include the following:
Wireless Ethernet: “Look, Ma, no wires!” As mentioned earlier, you can connect your laptop to an existing wireless Ethernet network. All current Mac laptops have built-in AirPort Extreme hardware. With wireless connectivity, you can share documents with another computer in another room, share a single high-speed Internet connection between computers, or enjoy wireless printing. Truly sassy!
Apple no longer sells the Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station or the AirPort Time Capsule unit, which were great devices for building a wireless network. But you can use your Mac with any standard 802.11b/g/n/ac wireless network. And yes, PCs and Macs can intermingle on the same wireless network without a hitch. (Scandalous, ain’t it?)
Here’s the hidden display device:
So far in this chapter, I’ve discussed the common hardware shared by today’s MacBook models. Now it’s time to compare the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro with an eye toward selecting the right one for you. (Unless you decide to pick up one of each. Certainly an elegant choice, but not everyone has that option!)
Consider the least expensive MacBook: the MacBook Air (shown in Figure 1-2), which is unique for both its size and weight. Yet the Air is just like the MacBook Pro. Well, mostly.
“Hold on, Mark. How can it be so singular and yet share so much with its road-warrior sibling?” I answer that question in the following sections, which discuss the many similarities and the handful of striking differences among both of the laptop models in the MacBook line. If you’re considering buying an Apple laptop, these sections can help you decide whether you’d like to go ultra-thin or stick with the more traditional (and slightly thicker) laptop crowd.
One thing’s for sure: Apple never creates a mundane design!
Do you remember when Apple introduced the first iMacs? Although they had the same basic components as any other computers — a monitor, keyboard, ports, speakers, and cables — the iMac was revolutionary because it was completely self-contained. And it came in colors. And it didn’t have a floppy drive. In fact, Apple redesigned the common computer with the focus on style and ease of use and scrapped the floppy drive (and rightly so, seeing as how floppies had become practically useless and were unreliable to boot).
I consider the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro to be extensions of the iMac revolution. With these designs, Apple focused on physical dimensions and weight, and tossed out everything that isn’t absolutely necessary for the lecture hall, boardroom, or city park. I’m happy to note, however, that these ultra-light MacBooks are neither toys nor bare-bones netbooks. In fact, the MacBook Air has some of the features of the high-end MacBook Pro.
Consider the similarities among the different models:
I think most Apple laptop owners would agree that these major MacBook features show there’s no underpowered pushover in the lineup!
I’m glad you asked! Here’s the checklist of striking differences that set the MacBook Air apart from the MacBook Pro:
Ports: As I mention earlier in this chapter, both of the two current MacBook models offer only two types of ports: the USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 (which requires adapters for use as a USB 3.0 and external video port) and a headphone jack. The difference is in the number of USB-C ports provided. The MacBook Air includes two, and the MacBook Pro includes two or four USB-C ports (depending on the configuration).
As I mention earlier, all current MacBooks lack a wired Ethernet port. All three models require a USB-C–to–Gigabit Ethernet adapter to connect to a wired Ethernet network. (Rats.)
As you can see, these striking differences make the choice between a MacBook Air and a MacBook Pro easy indeed. To wit:
You’re probably familiar with the common species of usbius flashimus, more commonly called the USB flash drive. With one of these tiny devices, you get the equivalent of a 4–512GB hard drive that plugs into a USB 3.0 port, allowing you to carry your data with you as you jet across the continents. But have you ever asked yourself, “Self, why don’t they make internal drives that use this same technology?”
Actually, dear reader, solid-state drives have been around for years. (Think the iPod shuffle and iPod nano.) Unfortunately, however, the solid-state memory used in today’s flash drives gets pretty expensive as capacity increases. In fact, cost has been the limiting factor, because a solid-state drive offers advantages that set it apart from a conventional magnetic hard drive:
It is indeed a bit disconcerting to encounter anything electronic these days that doesn’t sport a USB 2 or USB 3.0 port, from a smart speaker in your kitchen to your printer in your office. However, don’t be hesitant about the USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports on your new MacBook: They are versatile performers, with much faster transfer speeds than the older USB 3.0 hardware. Heck, you can do just about everything better and faster with your USB-C ports, including charging your MacBook, connecting an external monitor using DisplayPort, or connecting a superfast external drive!
If you do need to connect to an older legacy port—a USB 3.0 device, wired Ethernet port, a VGA or HDMI display, or an older Thunderbolt 2 device—you will have to invest in the correct USB-C adapter. The entire lineup of Apple connection adapters is available from the Apple website, or you can easily order a third-party adapter online. And rest assured that more and more USB-C devices are on the way, so that external drive you buy in the future will likely use USB-C anyway! These adapters are required only for older technology.
Personally, I have no problem toting around an external USB DVD burner with a MacBook Air. Heck, half the time, you’re likely to leave it at home because you don’t install software every day. The folks at Cupertino want you to download your movies from the iTunes Store and your software from the App Store, so if you follow the Apple Path, you still don’t need an optical drive!
A USB SuperDrive from Apple costs a mere $80, and it can read and write DVDs as well as any built-in drive. But you’ll need a $20 USB-C–to–USB adapter to connect it. You can also use any third-party USB-C DVD drive that’s compatible with Apple’s laptops and macOS Big Sur.
The other option for installing software or reading a DVD on your MacBook is the CD/DVD Sharing feature within macOS. Sharing is an option if you have a wired or wireless network (see Chapter 11) with at least one of the following computers available:
On the Mac computer with the optical drive, open System Preferences, click the Sharing icon, and select the DVD or CD Sharing check box. Note that you can set whether the Mac will request your permission when another computer attempts to share the drive.
On a PC, display the Control Panel, click the DVD or CD Sharing icon, and then select the Enable DVD or CD Sharing check box. Again, you can specify that permission is required if security is a concern.
After you set up the shared drive, just load the disc and select the Remote Disc item in any Finder Sidebar. (Remote Disc appears below the Devices heading in the Sidebar.) Now you can access the drive as though it were directly connected to your MacBook Air or MacBook Pro. Ah, technology!
If you choose the wrong spot to park your new laptop, I guarantee you’ll regret it. Some domiciles and office cubicles don’t offer a choice. You have one desk at work, for example, and nobody will hand over another one. But if you can select a home for your MacBook, consider the important placement points in this section:
A nearby Ethernet jack (if you use a wired Ethernet network)
If you prefer to send your data over the airwaves, consider wireless networking for your Mac. I discuss everything you need to know in Chapter 11.
Plan to expand. If your laptop hangs out on a desk, allow an additional foot of space on each side. That way, you have room for external peripherals, more powerful speakers, and an external keyboard and mouse if you need them.
If you want to keep an external keyboard handy, consider using a laptop shelf. These Plexiglas or metal stands elevate your laptop several inches above the desk, putting the screen in a better ergonomic position and allowing you to park your keyboard and external mouse below.
You’ll love the following sections. They’re short and sweet because configuring a laptop on your desktop is a piece of cake. (Sorry about the cliché overload, but this really is easy.)
Follow these guidelines when unpacking your system:
Check for damage. I’ve never had a box arrive from Apple with shipping damage, but I’ve heard horror stories from others (who claim that King Kong must have been working for That Shipping Company).
Check all sides of the box before you open it. If you find significant damage, take a photograph (just in case).
Keep all packing materials. Do not put the box and packing materials in the trash. Keep the box and all packing materials for at least a year, until the standard Apple warranty runs out. If you have to ship your laptop to an Apple service center, the box and the original packing are the only way for your machine to fly.
And now, a dramatic Mark’s Maxim about cardboard containers:
Smart computer owners keep their boxes far longer than a year. If you sell your laptop or move across the country, for example, you’ll want that box. Trust me on this one.™
Store the invoice for safekeeping. Your invoice is a valuable piece of paper.
Save your original invoice in a plastic bag, along with your computer’s manuals, original software, and other assorted hoo-hah. Keep the bag on a shelf or stored safely in your desk, and enjoy a little peace of mind.
Read the Mac’s manual. “Hey, wait a minute, Mark. Why do I have to read the manual from Apple along with this tome?” Good question, and here’s the answer: The documentation from Apple may contain new and updated instructions that override what I tell you here. (Say, “Never cut the red wire. Cut the blue wire instead.” Or something to that effect.) Besides, Apple manuals are rarely thicker than a restaurant menu.
You can always download the latest updated manuals for Apple computers in electronic format from Apple’s website. (Adobe’s PDF format is the standard for reading documents on your computer. You can open and display any PDF document in Big Sur by using the Preview application or the Quick Look feature.) I always keep a copy of the PDF manual for my MacBook Air on my internal drive, just in case.
Your laptop makes all its connections simple, but your computer depends on you to get the outside wires and thingamabobs where they go.
After your new Mac is resting comfortably in its assigned spot (I assume that’s a desktop), you need to make just one required connection: the power cable. First, plug the cable into the corresponding USB-C port on the MacBook; and then plug ’er into that handy AC outlet. After your battery is completely charged, you can go mobile at a moment’s notice.
If you have high-speed Internet service, or if you’re in an office or school with a local computer network, you can probably connect through your older MacBook’s built-in Ethernet port (or by using an adapter with your USB-C port). You make two connections:
Plug the other end of the Ethernet cable into the Ethernet port from your network.
Your network port is probably one of the following: an Ethernet wall jack, an Ethernet hub or switch, or a cable or DSL Internet router (or sharing device).
Proper handling of your laptop is important, so take a moment to read the Rules of Proper Laptop Deportment. Okay, perhaps I’m lecturing a bit, but a little common sense goes a long way when you’re handling any computer equipment, and your laptop is no different. (Scolding mode off.)
Keep these rules in mind while opening and carrying your laptop:
The following sections answer the most common novice computer question: “What the heck will I do with this thing?” You find additional details and exciting factoids about the software you get for free, software you’ll want to buy, and stuff you can do on the Internet.
Currently, Apple laptops ship with the following major software applications installed and ready to use:
Apple’s digital lifestyle suite: You know you want these applications! They turn your Mac into a digital hub for practically all kinds of high-tech devices, including camcorders, digital cameras, tablets, portable music players, and even smartphones.
What’s a modern computer without the Internet? Apple gives you great tools to take full advantage of every road sign and off ramp on the Information Superhighway right out of the box:
Web surfing: I use Apple’s Safari web browser every day. It’s fast and well designed, with features such as tabbed browsing and a customizable Start page.
If tabbed browsing sounds like ancient Aztec to you, don’t worry. Chapter 8 is devoted to Safari.
Instant messaging and video chat: Messages lets you use your MacBook to chat with others around the world for free on the Internet. You can also use the FaceTime application to video-chat with folks who have an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, as well as another Mac. If you’ve never seen a video chat, you’ll be surprised just how good your friends and family look! Chapter 11 introduces you to bot Messages and FaceTime.
Always wear a shirt when videoconferencing.
Dozens of small applications are also supplied with macOS Big Sur. I mention many of them in later chapters, but here are three good examples to whet your appetite:
macOS Big Sur includes one particularly exciting feature for Windows switchers: You can use the Apple Boot Camp utility and your licensed copy of Windows 10 to install and boot Windows on your Intel-based Mac laptop!
Boot Camp creates a Windows-specific partition (or section) on your drive where all your Windows files are stored. Other than the slightly strange key assignments you have to remember, Boot Camp is reliable and easy to use. I strongly urge you to back up your laptop on a regular basis, however; inviting Windows onto your Mac laptop invites potential viruses as well.
Apple’s Boot Camp Assistant provides step-by-step instructions, making it easy to configure your laptop for Windows. To run the Boot Camp Assistant, click the Launchpad icon on the Dock, click the Utilities folder icon, and then click the Boot Camp Assistant application icon. You’ll find more detailed information on using Boot Camp in Chapter 19.
No man is an island, and no computer is either. I always recommend the same set of stuff for new Windows and Mac laptop owners. These extras help keep your new computer clean and healthy (and some make sure you’re happy as well):
https://www.twelvesouth.com), which looks — you guessed it — like an old-fashioned leather-bound book. (I think it makes me appear scholarly while disguising my MacBook.) The BookBook (shown in Figure 1-3) is available for all sizes of MacBooks, costs about $80, and provides long-lasting, cushioned protection for your expensive road warrior computer.
A UPS (uninterruptible power supply) costs a little more but does a better job of filtering your AC line voltage to prevent brownouts or line interference from reaching your computer.
Your laptop’s battery immediately kicks in if you experience a blackout, of course, so a UPS is less important for your MacBook. But any computer tech will tell you that filtered AC current is far better for your laptop, and your UPS can also provide backup power for external devices that don’t have a battery.
Screen wipes: Invest in a box of premoistened screen wipes to keep your screen pristine. Your MacBook’s screen can pick up dirt, fingerprints, and other unmentionables faster than you think.
Make sure that your wipes are especially meant for LED, LCD, or laptop computer screens.