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In this issue: Sentinel+ malware improvements on the way; Mute audio-playing tabs in Safari; Improve an old Mac's performance with an SSD; Get more info from the Wi-Fi menu; MacAtoZ Spring Break.
March 2017 Newsletter

Sentinel+ malware improvements on the way

We are in the Age of Malware, which is not nearly so catchy as "the Ming Dynasty," "the Cretaceous Period," or "the American Century." Better than "the Reign of Terror," though, so that's something.

What we've seen in the last year is, at least in the Mac universe, an unprecedented level of malware attempting to infect our machines. A lot of it actually succeeds, too, which would be scary except that most Mac malware is relatively benign. It might take over your web browser and force you to see ads or strongly encourage you to call scammers to fix your computer (or "your Windows PC"—always good for a laugh).

What the malware hasn't done is actually harm your data or permanently damage anything. That doesn't mean someday there won't be something that does, but as of right now, it's mostly just annoying stuff.

Sentinel Monitoring detects just about all the malware out there. That is, frankly, pretty awesome. The bad guys are constantly creating new stuff, but we've been pretty please with how Sentinel Monitoring has kept up. 

But it's easier to detect malware than it is to remove it, so Sentinel+ Maintenance has lagged in being able to remove what we're detecting. That means we end up doing a free remote session for Sentinel+ members to clear up any infections—something that takes a lot of extra time for members. We get the job done ultimately, but it's not been nearly so automatic as the rest of Sentinel+.

So we're very pleased to announce that we have a new 2.0 version of our Sentinel+ Maintenance malware removal engine that will be launching soon. As soon as it becomes active, it should keep in lockstep with Sentinel Monitoring and remove every bit of malware we detect. That means a major feature of Sentinel+ just got even better. 

When the new engine is ready we will automatically update Sentinel+ from here. There is nothing Sentinel+ members will need to do to have better anti-malware protection. 
 

Mute audio-playing tabs in Safari

Do websites that auto-play ads or videos drive you mad? (They should.) Especially when you reopen Safari and several of them in remembered tabs start playing simultaneously? Crazy-making.

Since OS X 10.11 El Capitan, Safari can put an end to that cacophony on your Mac. Whenever audio is playing in a tab, an audio icon appears next to the name of the tab and at the right of Safari’s Smart Search field. Click either one to mute the tab.

If you’ve ended up with multiple tabs playing, you can mute all those except the current tab by Option-clicking either of those audio icons. And, finally, click and hold the audio icon in the Smart Search field for a menu with Mute and Unmute commands, and a list of all tabs that contain audio.

Better? Yes!
 

Improve an old Mac’s performance with an SSD

That MacBook Pro you bought a few years back doesn’t seem like it should need replacing, but as anyone who has started wearing readers to look at a screen or a book can tell you, time stops for no-one. If your laptop's performance has begun to lag, and you don’t have the money for a shiny new Touch Bar model, adding RAM up to 8 GB can help. But nothing beats the performance that comes from swapping your Mac’s hard drive for a solid-state drive, or SSD.

What’s an SSD? As the name implies, it’s a storage device that has no moving parts—no spinning disks and no read/write heads skimming along just a few nanometers above the disk surfaces. Instead, SSDs use flash memory, a type of non-volatile memory whose chips retain data even without power.

SSDs have two huge advantages over traditional hard drives. The first is reliability, particularly in laptops that are picked up and set down many times a day. Drop your MacBook Pro on the desk a little too hard, particularly while it’s on and the drive is spinning, and that read/write head could hit the surface of the disk—the very definition of a hard disk crash. With no moving parts, SSDs aren’t nearly as vulnerable to physical damage.

But the second advantage is why SSDs have become so popular—they’re really fast. One SSD vendor advertises them as up to 92 times faster than hard drives. That's probably a bit of puffery, but in system benchmarks, swapping an SSD in for a hard drive can improve overall performance by 50 percent or more. Drive-intensive activities like booting see the most benefit—you’ll be shocked at how much faster your Mac boots with an SSD. It really can feel like you've purchased a new Mac. 

The downside? (You knew there had to be one, didn’t you?) SSDs can’t compete with hard drives on capacity or price. For a laptop, a 1 TB SSD could cost $250–$600, whereas a 2.5-inch 1 TB hard drive is around $50. And for a Mac that can take a 3.5-inch drive, a hard drive can be purchased in capacities up to 8 TB for roughly the same price as the 1 TB SSD.

SSDs are fast and reliable, but the tradeoff is that they’re much more expensive per gigabyte and can’t hold as much data. For many Mac users, the best combination is an internal SSD for booting, running apps, and holding frequently used data, and a big external hard drive for less important data and archives. And, of course, backups are best sent to a big external drive, since capacity is more important than performance with backups.

If you’re trying to goose the performance of your older Mac, look into an SSD. And give us a call. We can help with the specific purchase, the SSD installation, and the data transfer. 

Get more info from the Wi-Fi menu

Apropos of nothing, "Wi-Fi" isn't short for anything. It sort of brings to mind "Hi-Fi" which is how some of us used to describe our stereo systems before iPods turned songs into files. But "Wi-Fi"—a term that now means "wireless internet signal" or something thereabouts—doesn't stand for anything. 

That said, Wi-Fi pretty nifty. There's even a menu for it on your Mac's menu bar. (It's on the upper right of the screen and looks like a fan.) By default, the Wi-Fi menu on your Mac’s menu bar provides a list of available Wi-Fi networks and a few other commands.

Useful stuff, but for the real scoop on what’s going on behind the scenes, Option-click the Wi-Fi menu. In addition to several commands to run diagnostics, the menu provides oodles of details about the current Wi-Fi network. You’ll find info on your Mac’s IP address, your router’s IP address, if your Mac is reachable from the Internet, what form of security is in play, the router’s BSSID identifier (helpful if you’re not sure which router you’re connected to in a complex network), which channel you’re using, how strong the signal strength is (RSSI—the closer to zero, the better), and the transmit rate of the network. This information is most useful when troubleshooting problems, so take a look if something isn’t working right with your connectivity.

If you have additional questions about your iPhone, iPad, or Mac, feel free to give us a call 503-507-0410 or email us at info@macatoz.com to set up an appointment. We'd be delighted to help. 

MacAtoZ Spring Break

MacAtoZ will have limited resources available during Spring Break (March 27-31). Brittany will be holding down the fort, responding to incoming calls and emails, and monitoring any Sentinel issues that arise. Personally, I'm heading with family on our first ever skiing vacation. Since I haven't been skiing in 25 years, it ought to be a real adventure. 

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