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Choosing the best Mac for college-bound student

Do you have a child or grandchild starting college soon? It’s likely that your student has been relying heavily on a computer throughout high school, but if it was a school-provided laptop or shared family computer, now’s the time to get them something of their own. And even if they had their own laptop throughout high school, if it’s old or unreliable, college is a good excuse to bring them up to date. If you haven’t been paying close attention to Apple’s Mac lineup, you might wonder which model makes the most sense.

First, don’t buy anything without first checking with the college. Many college departments have specific requirements based on the software students use in their classes. Generally, these revolve around processor type, amount of RAM, and storage space. Luckily, current Macs should meet the requirements. Second, see if the college provides access to education pricing—most will—to save a few hundred dollars.

Colleges often specify—and students usually prefer—laptops instead of desktop machines. Although the 24-inch iMac is an excellent machine with a gorgeous screen, it’s too big and unwieldy for the transient lifestyle of the typical college student. The same applies to a Mac mini or Mac Studio with an external display. A laptop is much easier to pack during moves, and it can travel to class every day. A student who’s accustomed to taking notes on an iPad with a Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil might be able to use that along with a desktop Mac, but most students should focus on Apple’s laptops.

In the past, it was harder to decide which model was best for a given student, but with Apple’s move to the M1 and M2 chips, which significantly outperform the Intel processors used in previous models, the decision is easier. We see three primary scenarios:
  • Most students: Buy Apple’s MacBook Air. It’s Apple’s smallest, lightest, and least expensive laptop, but thanks to its M1 or M2 processor, it has fabulous performance for everyday tasks. Although the M1 MacBook Air from 2020 remains available for those who need the most cost-effective option (starting at $999), the new M2 MacBook Air is a better choice for most people, thanks to its bigger-brighter-better 13.6-inch screen, faster performance, 24 GB memory ceiling, and higher-resolution webcam. It starts at $1199.
  • Better specs: If performance is more important than cost—particularly if your student will be working with processor-intensive tasks like video editing—look to the 14-inch MacBook Pro. It features an M1 Pro chip that’s more powerful than the base-level M2 and is configurable with an even faster M1 Max chip. Its screen is bigger, and it can take up to 32 GB of memory. Its price starts at $1999.
  • Windows compatibility: The only downside of the transition to Apple silicon is that it’s no longer easy to run Windows using virtualization software like VMware Fusion (free for students) or Parallels Desktop. On M1 and M2 Macs, it is possible to run Parallels Desktop and Windows for ARM Insider Preview, but we can’t recommend that anyone rely on that combination yet. If Windows compatibility is paramount, your choices are a used Intel-based MacBook Pro or—much as we hate to say it—a PC laptop that runs Windows natively. 

Regardless of which laptop you decide on, you’ll have to pick a processor, an amount of RAM, and storage capacity:
  • Processor: With the M1 MacBook Air, you’re limited to the M1 chip with an 8-core CPU and 7-core GPU, so there is no choice to make. However, with the M2 MacBook Air, the M2 chip always has an 8-core CPU, but you can pay $100 to upgrade from an 8-core GPU to a 10-core GPU. The performance difference isn’t likely to be noticeable with everyday apps, but for $100, it might be worth it, just in case. The 14-inch MacBook Pro has three M1 Pro options and two more M1 Max options, and choosing among them is probably best done by weighing likely performance needs against the increased cost.
  • Memory: The M1 MacBook Air offers the choice of 8 GB or 16 GB. 8 GB is acceptable for most college students, but we’d encourage 16 GB to reduce the chance that memory becomes a limiting factor in performance. The M2 MacBook Air lets you choose from 8 GB, 16 GB, or 24 GB, and again, we’d default to 16 GB unless there’s some particularly memory-hungry software in play. With the 14-inch MacBook Pro, 16 GB is standard and fine for most tasks, but 32 GB is available if you think it will be necessary, and for seriously intensive work, the M1 Max chip in the 14-inch MacBook Pro offers a 64 GB option.
  • Storage: For both MacBook Air models, 256 GB is the lowest storage level, and you can upgrade to 2 TB. The 14-inch MacBook Pro starts at 512 GB and offers upgrades up to a whopping 8 TB. Choose the amount of storage based on budget—it gets expensive fast—and anticipated usage—audio and especially video can consume a lot of space, as can large numbers of photos, but most other uses don’t. Remember that it’s easy to connect an external Thunderbolt SSD or hard drive to offload large files that don’t have to be kept available at all times.

To our thinking, the most obvious choice for a Mac that’s likely to last for four years of college would be the new M2 MacBook Air with a 10-core GPU, 16 GB of memory, and 512 GB of storage. Be sure to budget for AppleCare+, too; it’s almost guaranteed that some mishap will befall a student laptop, and AppleCare+ covers up to two incidents of accidental damage every year.

You’ll need to have some conversations with your child to find out what they think they’ll need—and be sure to double-check that against the college’s recommendations—but if you have any questions after that, don’t hesitate to contact us.

(Featured image by Apple)

15 Ways to Solve Call Failures on Your iPhone

Sure, we know that phone calls aren’t the most common thing people do on their iPhones—especially anyone under 30—but it’s still important to be able to make and take calls. There are a wide variety of reasons that outgoing or incoming calls might fail, so the solutions vary equally as widely. Some may seem a little scattershot, but most are easy to try and set back if they don’t help.
  1. Try another location: This can’t come as news, but sometimes you’re in a bad spot for cellular coverage. Move to another area and try again.
  2. Check Do Not Disturb in Focus: The Focus feature won’t prevent you from making a call but can prevent you from receiving one. Go to Settings > Focus > Do Not Disturb and make sure Do Not Disturb is off. Also, check any other Focus you created that could be blocking calls.

  3. Toggle Airplane mode: Although the Phone app should alert you if you try to make a call while in Airplane mode, the entire point of the feature is to block cellular access. If Airplane mode is on, turn it off, and if it’s off, turn it on briefly and back off to reset the iPhone’s radios. Note that the Wi-Fi Calling feature may let you make a call even if Airplane mode is on.

  4. Turn off Silence Unknown Callers: This feature can be a boon for avoiding telemarketers and spam calls, but it also prevents legitimate unknown calls from ringing through. Either turn it off in Settings > Phone or pay more attention to adding new numbers to Contacts.
  5. Unblock the contact: In theory, you should still be able to place calls to blocked numbers, but incoming calls from blocked numbers will be sent directly to voicemail. Look for blocked contacts in Settings > Phone > Blocked Contacts and swipe left on a contact to unblock it.

  6. Disable call forwarding: Needless to say, if you’re forwarding your calls, you won’t be receiving them. Go to Settings > Phone > Call Forwarding and make sure the switch is off.

  7. Toggle Dial Assist: The Dial Assist feature determines the correct international or local prefix when dialing, so if it gets confused, all bets are off. It can’t hurt to go to Settings > Phone, turn off Dial Assist, make a call, and then turn it back on again.
  8. Show Caller ID: Some phone systems refuse to accept calls that aren’t associated with caller ID information. Check that Show Caller ID is turned on in Settings > Phone > Show My Caller ID.

  9. Check for a carrier settings update: Carrier updates are always worth installing because they can improve network connectivity and performance and add new features like 5G or Wi-Fi Calling. If you dismiss a carrier update installation notification, you can install it later by going to Settings > General > About and following the onscreen instructions.
  10. Restart the iPhone: When in doubt… We know it’s a cliché, but restarting the iPhone really does solve many inexplicable problems. The easiest way to do this is to go to Settings > General > Shut Down (at the bottom) and then drag the slider. Press the side (Sleep/Wake) button on the iPhone to turn it on.

  11. Update iOS: It’s very unlikely that an iOS version would have a bug that caused problems with phone calls, but updating iOS creates enough of a clean slate that it can resolve quirky problems. Besides, it’s good to stay up-to-date for security reasons. Look in Settings > General > Software Update for any available updates.
  12. Reset network settings: Leave this option for late in the troubleshooting process because it will erase your saved Wi-Fi passwords, preferred networks, and VPN settings, which will be annoying to recreate. If it becomes necessary, invoke it in Settings > General > Transfer or Reset iPhone > Reset > Reset Network Settings.

  13. Eject and reinsert SIM card: If all outgoing and incoming calls fail, it’s worth using a paperclip or SIM extraction tool to pop your SIM card out and reinsert it. Be very careful when doing this because the card is small and easily dropped.
  14. Contact your carrier: If all else fails, contact your carrier. (Yes, we see the irony here—you may have to use another phone.) There may be a problem with your account, a service outage in your area, or some other problem in their system. You might even need a new SIM card.
  15. Contact Apple support: If none of these work, your iPhone could be broken and need repair. Contact Apple support and see what they say—a replacement iPhone will almost certainly fix the problem.
We’re confident that something on this list will resolve your problem!
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We help people with Apple technology. Thank you for working with us to maximize our ability to do this. 
Always have a current backup of your Apple device prior to upgrading. 

macOS 12.5 Monterey We recommend Monterey for any Mac capable of running it. It's now at a state where we find Monterey more stable than the last release of Catalina or Big Sur.

If you are upgrading from Mojave (or earlier) to Catalina, Big Sur, or Monterey you should check that your important apps will run. (Apple apps are fine.) You may need to upgrade. You can check your apps here: 

macOS versions before Catalina should be upgraded ASAP unless your Mac never goes online. You can see your Mac's operating system version by going to the Apple menu in the top left corner of the screen and choosing "About This Mac."

iOS 15.6 All iPhones capable of running iOS 15.6 should be upgraded to that version. This would be any iPhone from the 6S and 1st generation SE onward. Phones earlier than that should be replaced. If you're not sure what iOS version you have, you can see your iPhone or iPad's operating system version by going to Settings > General > About > Version. You could also ask Siri, "Which version of iOS do I have?" 

iPadOS 15.6 Similar to the iPhone, any iPad running iPadOS 15 should be upgraded to 15.6. iPad incapable of running 15.6 should be replaced.

watchOS 8.7 Older versions of WatchOS acceptable if necessary; upgrade if your devices (iPhone and Apple Watch) support it. You can see your Apple Watch's operating system version by going to Settings > General > About > Version. Generally, one does not have to worry about AppleWatch software security.  

tvOS 15.6 Some other versions (tvOS 14.7, tvOS 13.4.8, and tvOS 12) also acceptable. Note that earlier models of Apple TV do not run tvOS and are fine for what they do; not all channels, features, or apps will be available. You can see if there's a software update available for your Apple TV by going to Settings > System > Software Updates > Update Software. Generally, one does not have to worry about tvOS security. 
  • MacBook (Early 2015 or later)
  • MacBook Air (Mid-2012 or later)
  • MacBook Pro (Mid-2012 or later)
    • Note that 2016-2019 MacBook Pro models have a higher than usual keyboard failure rate. Used 2015 models, which use a different style keyboard, may be a more reliable option. The new 2019 MacBook Pro 16" model uses a new keyboard mechanism and should be fine.
  • Mac mini (Late 2012 or later)
  • iMac (Late 2012 or later)
  • iMac Pro (all models)
  • Mac Pro (Late 2013 or newer)
These are minimum hardware recommendations based on what is necessary to run a secure operating system (macOS macOS 10.15.7 Catalina). If your Mac does not meet these specifications—that is, it will not run at least Catalina—it needs to be replaced unless you will not be using it online. macOS 10.14 Mojave and earlier are not secure.

macOS 11 Big Sur was released in November 2020; macOS Monterey was released in October 2021. Both have their own set of system requirements. 

If we were buying a Mac today, we would look exclusively at machines that use Apple's M1 or M2 chips. Intel-based Macs are being phased out and however good the pricing might be, we believe those Macs will have a shorter useful life.

iPhone and iPad
  • iPhone 6S or newer. Older iPhones cannot run iOS 14 or iOS 15. 
    • iPhone 7 models have a higher than normal failure rate over time. Given the choice, we would recommend iPhone SE (2020) model as a strong alternative to iPhone 7 models. 
  • iPad Air 2 or newer
  • iPad mini 4 or newer
  • iPad Pro (all models)
  • iPad 5th generation or newer
The iPad line is made confusing by the multitude of model names and types (Air, mini, Pro, and just plain iPad). Generally speaking, devices introduced in October 2014 and later will run iPadOS. iPads that will not run iPadOS and should be replaced unless they will not be used on the internet. 

Apple Watch
  • Apple Watch Series 4, 5, 6, 7 or SE highly recommended.
  • All versions (Series 0 through Series 7 and SE) are secure and acceptable though Apple Watch Series 0, 1, and 2 will not run the latest version of WatchOS and therefore lack both the speed and features of later Apple Watches.  
Apple TV
  • Apple TV 4K is recommended. Apple TV HD (4th generation) is fine as well.
  • The latest version of the AppleTV Remote is available for stand-alone purchase ($59). It works with Apple TV 4k (1st and 2nd generations) and Apple TV HD. It's a lot better than previous remotes. 
  • Older models of Apple TV do not support tvOS and cannot run Apple TV Store apps, though we are unaware of any major security issues. 
A secure operating system
See Software Recommendations for details. If you're not running a secure operating system, it will be difficult to impossible to protect your data. 

We recommend using Apple's built-in whole disk encryption, FileVault. It can be turned on in System Preferences > Security & Privacy. 

We recommend and use Apple's built-in Time Machine backup system. You'll need an external hard drive so that the data is automatically saved to a second location. Off-site backup remains important in mitigating the risk of fire or theft. We use and recommend Backblaze. At a cost of $6 a month per Mac, Backblaze will encrypt then backup an unlimited amount of data from your Mac. Data has a 30-day retention window, though longer time periods are possible for an additional couple bucks. 

Sentinel, Sentinel+, Sentinel Ultra, Sentinel AM [warning: we are tooting our own horn here]
Sentinel provides professional 24/7 oversight of the health of your Mac. We're monitoring all kinds of things (RAM, hard drive, Time Machine backups, battery, etc.)—150 different data points every hour.  

Sentinel+ adds maintenance and security to Sentinel's 24/7 monitoring. Sentinel+ will handle most software updates so you don't have to and run maintenance routines to keep things tip-top. This is includes basic scanning and quarantine of malware. 

Sentinel Ultra is our top-of-the-line, four-in-one service that includes everything in Sentinel and Sentinel+. Ultra blocks malicious web sites, filters objectionable content, protects against email phishing threats, and even increases the speed of your web surfing. It's proactive security. Ultra represents our best effort and the best tool in our arsenal to keep clients safe on the web. 

Sentinel AM is our anti-malware offering. It's a $5/mo add-on for Sentinel+ or Sentinel Ultra services. 

A secure web browser with ad blocking
Firefox with the free open source content blocker uBlock Origin is our first choice. Safari with AdGuard (and blocking cross-site tracking turned on)  is another fine option.

There's really no good reason to use Google, Bing, or any of the other search engines. Not only does DuckDuckGo return excellent search results, you can use commands in the search bar (like "!g"—that's exclamation point plus the letter g) to search Google anonymously. You can search other search engines anonymously too via DuckDuckGo, and DuckDuckGo won't track you. In the search engine preferences for either Safari or Firefox, you can set DuckDuckGo as your default search engine. 

A Virtual Private Network
A Virtual Private Network, or VPN, is an encrypted tunnel between your Mac (or iPhone or iPad) and another computer run by the VPN company. It protects your internet traffic so that anyone who might want to spy on your traffic locally can't. The need for a VPN while traveling is diminishing as an increasing number of web site adopt encryption (https). That said, your Internet Service Provider can legally spy on your web traffic, and little but a VPN is going to prevent that. 

A Password Manager
We consider password managers like 1Password indispensible. Instead of having to remember lengthy passwords or reusing the handful that we can remember, we remember one password to unlock 1Password, and the program takes care of the rest. 1Password can be a little complex to set up, so we typically will help clients with that. Actual use isn't too bad though and is typically within the reach of even basic users.  

A Spam Filter
Apple's built in Junk Mail filter works for most spam assuming your email address isn't widely dispersed on the internet. If you're swamped with spam email, though, SpamSieve can rescue you.

Avoid Social Media
If you're posting to social media like Facebook, you're not just telling your friends something. You're telling Facebook, and Facebook is hardly keeping your information top secret. Want to say something privately to a friend? Use Apple Messages or Apple's FaceTime. Both are end-to-end encrypted, and not even Apple has the keys. 
MacAtoZ LLC provides technical support, upgrade, installation, networking, training and tutoring, and remote support services for Apple products like Macintosh computers, iPhones, iPods, and iPads. 

Ty Davison, Dyneé Medlock, and Kelly Robison, our Apple technicians, are the only Apple-certified, Apple Consultants Network members serving both residential and small business clients in Oregon's mid-Willamette Valley.

MacAtoZ has been providing computer services for clients in the Salem area since 2006 (and since 1999 as Our technicians are certified by Apple and carry $2 million in business liability insurance. We frequently present and are well-known at the Salem Macintosh Users Group (SMUG). You can count on us.

Our SentinelSentinel+, and Sentinel Ultra services offer home users 24/7 Macintosh monitoring, maintenance, security, and web browsing protection. Join today!
Quick Links
MacAtoZ LLC: The main company web site. You can find information about products and services as well as advice here.

Amazon via MacAtoZ: Shop at Amazon via our referral link. Help us to help you. 

Offsite Backup: You should have one, and we recommend Backblaze. Only $7 a month for unlimited data. Get your 15-day free trial here. 

Salem Mac Users Group: Macintosh and Apple gear enthusiasts in Oregon's Mid-Willamette Valley. Now holding Zoom meetings monthly. Visitors welcome! Visit the web site for details.

Apple Consultants Network: If you need help, entrust your computer and your data to professionals. 
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