Chapter 22

Ten Laptop Rules to Follow


Bullet Protect your laptop and track it

Bullet Pack that MacBook with RAM

Bullet Encrypt your MacBook’s drive

Bullet Save energy by disabling wireless hardware

Bullet Back up your laptop

Ah, the sedentary life of a desktop Mac. It sits there like a bump on a log, comfortable and immobile. As long as you have a stable surface and an uninterrupted power supply, your iMac, Mac mini, or Mac Pro is a happy puppy.

But you, good reader, are mobile! Whether you’re on campus or attending a convention, your Mac laptop is rarely running in the same spot, so it’s susceptible to all sorts of road-warrior pitfalls. In this chapter, I remind you of ten of the most important rules every laptop owner should follow to prevent chaos and carnage while traveling.

Keep Your Laptop in a Bag

Using a laptop case or bag sounds like common sense. But MacBooks are so doggone sexy that you’d be surprised how many people carry them around without any protection. These Mac owners hear phrases like “unibody construction” and “solid-state drive” and figure that their laptop can survive a construction site, college campus, or hotel room.

Part of that is true. Mac laptops are some of the toughest ever made, but they’re not immune to bumps, scratches, and the rare fall. The moral? If you carry around your MacBook without any protection, soon it’ll look like a boxer after a bad fight.

If you’re like me, you’re proud that your computers remain in pristine condition, so use a laptop bag or case that offers ample padding and a convenient shoulder strap or carry handle. (My laptop bag even converts to a backpack. It includes plenty of extra space for power supplies, USB mouse and keyboard, and all the assorted hoo-hah that you know you need to carry with you.) Spend an extra $30 on a laptop bag, and your $3,000 MacBook Pro can weather the worst the world can dish out.

Using a traditional laptop bag comes with a caveat, however. Some folks think a bag draws too much attention to its expensive cargo. (To some extent, I agree. Few people tote an obvious 15-by-7-inch bag with a hardware manufacturer’s logo emblazoned on it these days.) If you’re a member of this group, consider a well-padded laptop sleeve (with corner protectors) that allows you to carry your MacBook in your backpack, such as the BookBook cover I describe in Chapter 1. The laptop always goes on top of those heavy books, of course. Remember, though, that the padding is the important thing. Without that extra cushion, you might as well just toss your unprotected laptop in with the rest of your books and must-have equipment.

Oh, and if you’ve been using your MacBook for a longer period, and it’s warm to the touch, don’t pack it away immediately. Allow it to cool for a few minutes before stowing it safely, and you’ll help prevent damage over time to your MacBook’s internal hardware.

Maximize Your RAM

Like any other computer running Windows or macOS, your MacBook will benefit from all the system RAM (memory) that you can squeeze onto it. (Chapter 20 describes the benefits of extra RAM.) The virtual memory functionality built into Big Sur (which I also describe in Chapter 20) results in mediocre performance during memory-intensive tasks such as video and image editing.

When your laptop has a full complement of RAM, its performance will rival the performance of a desktop computer with the same processor, and you’ll be using it on the go!

Current MacBook models can be configured with anywhere from 8GB to 64GB of RAM at the time you order one from Apple, depending on the model. Unfortunately, you can’t add more memory after purchase, so order your new MacBook with the maximum amount of memory you can afford! If you own an older MacBook model that can be upgraded, I discuss adding memory in Chapter 20.

Keep Tabs on Your MacBook

Suppose that the unthinkable happens: Your laptop is stolen while you’re on vacation or on a business trip, and you know that the chances it will be returned are next to nil. You’ve resigned yourself to replacing it (and all your data). But wait! What if I told you that you might just be able to display your MacBook’s current location, as well as wipe the data that’s on it (if necessary)?

If this scenario sounds a little like a James Bond movie, you’ll be surprised to discover that several tracker applications are available for Big Sur that can run invisibly on your laptop. A tracker application can turn your MacBook into a transmitting beacon, broadcasting to you its current location and all the Internet information it can get. Then you can alert the police, who will apprehend the crook (who may be in the middle of creating a new album in Photos).

In fact, the Find My Mac feature built into Big Sur is a tracker application in disguise! (Note that you must set up your iCloud account in the Apple Account pane in System Preferences before you can use Find My Mac, as I cover in Chapter 5.) If your MacBook is lost or stolen, and someone uses it to connect to the Internet, you can visit, sign in with the same Apple ID, and click Find My iPhone; then click the All Devices menu at the top of the window and click your MacBook. From the display that appears, you can choose to Lock or Erase your MacBook.

Keepeth Thy Drive Encrypted

In Chapter 5, I discuss System Preferences panes. The Security pane is particularly important to you because it allows you to encrypt your drive. Encryption prevents just about anyone from accessing (or even identifying) any of the files you’ve stored on your MacBook. The robust encryption provided by Big Sur will certainly stymie just about anyone but the National Security Administration. (I won’t even go there.)

In System Preferences, click Security & Privacy, click the FileVault tab, and then click Turn on FileVault. You can use your Apple ID to unlock your MacBook’s drive, or you can choose a unique recovery key just in case. (Your login account password is your primary password.) Big Sur takes care of automatically encrypting and decrypting files as necessary. You won’t even know that it’s working.

Remember To take full advantage of an encrypted drive, you need the proper login mode (as I discuss in Chapter 10). Think about this possible security back door: From the Users & Groups pane, you’ve set your laptop to log you in automatically every time you boot your MacBook Air. This scenario is the very definition of Not Secure, because your login account password automatically bypasses FileVault encryption! Therefore, make sure that you actually have to log in to access your account. For the full scoop, see Chapter 10.

Brand Your MacBook

Put your brand on your laptop! Whether you use an engraving tool on the bottom of the machine (my personal favorite) or a permanent metal tag, your MacBook deserves some sort of identifying information. After all, most people are honest, so you might not need to use the Find My Mac feature that I mention earlier in this chapter. You might have left your laptop behind by accident, and someone would like to return it to you. (Don’t forget to offer a reward!) Note that engraving or affixing a tag may void your warranty or AppleCare coverage, however, so it’s a step best used with older MacBooks.

Some laptop owners want to include their name, address, and other contact information. (I’ve even seen business cards taped to the bottom of MacBooks.) Other road warriors feel more comfortable with just their name and email address. Whatever information you choose to provide, branding your laptop is as important as backing it up — and avoids any confusion when going through airport security!

Disable Your Wireless

Funny how we don’t think about it, but wireless communications take juice, and that power comes straight from your laptop’s battery! Because your Mac laptop comes with built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth hardware, you’re constantly broadcasting — sending and receiving, or at least trying to exchange data with others.

Therein lies the rub: If you’re not connected to a wireless network or Bluetooth device, you’re wasting precious battery power. That’s why Big Sur lets you turn off your Wi-Fi and Bluetooth hardware to save energy. When you’re sitting in a crowded auditorium without access to an AC socket or a wireless network, the energy savings you reap when you disable your wireless hardware can be significant.

Warning In fact, you might have to disable your wireless connectivity in situations where cellphones aren’t allowed, such as during airplane flight takeoffs or in certain areas of a hospital. And because I’m a security-conscious kind of guy, I always disable my wireless hardware whenever I’m not using it, even if I’m in range of a wireless network. Call me overly careful, but none of my shared files has ever been sucked out of my MacBook without my permission!

To turn off your Wi-Fi hardware from the Big Sur Control Center in the Finder menu bar, click the Control Center icon, click the Wi-Fi icon, and then click the “master switch” at the top of the Center to completely turn Wi-Fi off. To turn off your Bluetooth hardware from the Control Center, click the Bluetooth icon and then click the Bluetooth switch at the top of the Center.

Take a Surge Protector with You

I’ll be honest: I’m usually not a huge supporter of surge protectors, because I think that they do only half the job. That job is protecting both your hardware and your data. And as you probably know, a surge protector doesn’t provide backup power in case of a brownout or total loss of power, as a UPS (uninterruptible power supply) can.

Many locales around the world offer a less-than-perfect power grid, which sometimes translates into a sudden loss of power — usually at exactly the wrong moment. (Think Great American Novel Takes a Nosedive.) Unlike a desktop, however, your MacBook is smart enough to immediately switch from AC current to its battery in case of a power failure, much as a UPS does. So why am I suggesting a surge protector for your laptop, especially seeing as how it adds bulk and weight to your laptop bag or luggage?

  • The risk of a power spike: A surge protector is good protection from a massive power spike, such as an overload or lightning strike.
  • Extra sockets on tap: Don’t forget that you might need several more AC sockets for external devices, such as a DVD drive, projector, and portable printer. A surge protector can provide extra access to power even when your host can’t.

Remember Naturally, if you’re traveling to a country with different AC standards (and different socket configurations), invest in an AC plug adapter that’s compatible with the standard used at your destination.

Use Power-Saving Features

Apple allows you considerable control over your MacBook’s sleep schedule, which is a real boon to power-hungry laptop owners. In System Preferences, click Battery to display the Battery and Power Adapter settings.

If your laptop is running on battery power, and you need to conserve as much power as possible, click the Battery entry in the sidebar. Make sure that you set the Turn Display Off After slider to 5 minutes or less. (You should also enable the check box titled Slightly Dim the Display While on Battery Power.) Now you’re squeezing the maximum amount of computing time out of your remaining battery power.

If you’re running your laptop while connected to an AC outlet, click the Power Adapter entry in the sidebar. Although power isn’t a problem, I still don’t recommend that you set the Turn Display Off After slider to Never. (Sleep mode helps prolong the life of your MacBook’s display, and a sleeping laptop generates practically no heat.) You can set the slider for a much longer delay while connected to AC power, however, such as the 30 minutes I use for display sleep when my MacBook is charging.

Use an External Keyboard and Mouse

Does your laptop remain in your home, dorm room, or office for long periods? If so, I recommend that you invest in an external keyboard and an external mouse, trackball, or trackpad for two very good reasons:

  • Adding external input devices helps lessen wear and tear on your laptop’s keyboard and trackpad.
  • External input devices are generally more comfortable and convenient to use than those offered by your MacBook, especially for gaming.

If price is no obstacle, a wireless keyboard and pointing device allow you far more freedom of movement. Note, though, that a standard USB keyboard and mouse do just as fine a job and cost less (and don’t eat their weight in expensive batteries as well). Either way, you can also place your MacBook on a stand and elevate the display to a more ergonomic height.

In fact, you can have two external keyboards if you like: one to work with your laptop while you’re running Big Sur (which has all the keys unique to an Apple keyboard) and one to use when you’re running Windows under Boot Camp (with those gnarly Windows-specific keys). Technosuave.

Not Again! What Is It with You and Backing Up?

Yes, this is one of the Top Ten Laptop Rules as well. I’m not kidding: If you think you don’t need to back up on a regular basis, you’ll eventually lose every byte of data you have. Period. It’s only a matter of time. Even if you have incredible luck and don’t do something you regret with a Finder window, your MacBook is just a machine, and it’ll wear out in the long run — especially with the mobile life of a road warrior, with all the bumps and bruises of travel. That’s why drive manufacturers list MTBF (Mean Time Between Failures) figures for their internal drives.

Backing up your drive with Time Machine isn’t difficult and doesn’t take long, and it does indeed protect every file and folder. Also, you can restore an entire drive with ease. Chapter 21 explains everything you need to know. After you finish your first full backup, drop me a line at [email protected] with the subject I’ve Got Laptop Peace of Mind. We can celebrate together!

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