The System Information Utility, and why you should use it
If you're the sort of person that likes to try to fix simple errors on your Mac yourself, then you should get to know the System Information utility. If you're running a version of OSX before Lion then it will be called System Profiler, but either way you access it by navigating to 'Applications > Utilities > System Information/Profiler'.
What does it do? Well, it gives you access to a system specification - lots of information about the hardware in, and firmware and software running on, your Mac and any devices attached to it. This can be used to help diagnose and remedy any problems that you might be having. The display might look a bit intimidating to a first-time user, but just knowing how to access it will enable you to give better information to any support people you talk to, and allow you a little insight into problems when they arise - and better still, the foresight to stop them happening in the first place.
For this article, we're going to mention four initial things to look into.
MacBook battery status and health
Once you're in the System Information utility, navigate to 'Hardware > Power' and look for 'Battery Information'. If this doesn't say 'Normal' then get your MacBook serviced as soon as possible.
Battery life is calculated in what are called 'charge cycles', with each cycle being anything that adds up to 100% power capacity. Here's an example: you use your MacBook until it's on 25% charge. You recharge it to 100% and then use it again until it's on 75% charge before recharging it, again to full capacity. The combination of 75% and 25% charge means one full charge cycle. Depending on model, your battery could be good for 300-1000 charge cycles.
You can make your battery last as long as possible by keeping it away from extremes of hot and cold, and only charging it to 50% capacity if you intend not to use it for some time.
Hard Disk status
Navigate to 'Hardware > Storage' to see information about things like the type of drive, formatting, encryption and storage capacity.
External devices (peripherals)
In the 'Hardware' section you can check devices by connection type (for example FireWire or Thunderbolt) and see information about the following:
This will allow you to check that you have devices connected via ports that support that type of device or the connectivity protocol it runs on (say a USB 3 device on a USB 2 port).
For each connected device the utility will tell you how much power it needs, and how much it's getting. It might be that you and need to take a look at your connections to maximise external device performance, or use separate power adaptors for some devices if not enough is coming via their connection to your Mac.
Navigating to 'Software > Extensions > Installations > Applications' and ordering the results by the 'Obtained From' or 'Source' columns will allow you to see which apps are from Apple and which are from third party providers. Just one bug in Kernel software can compromise performance across your whole operating system, because the Kernel is the foundation on which your OS hangs (read this article for a slightly longer explanation of what the Kernel is).
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