10 Add-Ons to Make Your Mac Better

By Bob LeVitus

Even with OS X El Capitan, you can add even more power, capability, and convenience to your Mac. These ten add-ons make your Mac faster, easier to use, and more fun.

RAM

RAM, or random-access memory, is your computer’s primary working memory. The more you have, the smoother your Mac runs — period. If you have only 4GB in your Mac, you’ll like your Mac a lot better if you upgrade to at least 8GB. If you like to do more than a few things at the same time, the more RAM you have, the happier you’ll be. (For what it’s worth, RAM has never been cheaper than it is today — and it’s worth every penny.)

In addition to speeding up your Mac, more RAM makes using your Mac better in other ways. For example, when you have plenty of RAM, you can open many programs at the same time without a performance penalty.

It’s also easy as pie to install RAM in many Macs made this decade. Chances are good that the manual for your Mac includes step-by-step instructions simple enough for a 9-year-old to follow.

Backup software or hardware or both

Only two kinds of Mac users exist: Those who have lost data and those who are going to lose data. If the files on your hard disk mean anything to you, you must back them up before it’s too late.

If you have a spare hard drive around, by all means use the cool (and free) Time Machine software that comes with OS X El Capitan. And because it’s a good idea to have multiple backups, you may want to invest in additional hard disks or a cloud-based storage service.

If you don’t back up, it’s a good bet that your hard drive will die (they all do eventually), and if your files aren’t backed up, you’ll lose them all. These days you can pick up a 1TB external hard disk for around $100. Professional data recovery services charge $1,000, $2,000, or even more.

A better monitor (or a second one)

If you have a small monitor or a notebook, get a bigger display. With a larger monitor, you spend less time scrolling and rearranging windows and more time getting actual work done — which is a good thing, right?

The best thing about it is that all current Macs let you use two monitors as though they were a single display.

Another thing Macs can do with two monitors is mirror what’s on one display on the second one. So you can work with one display facing you and point the other one (or a projector) at the audience so they can see what you’re doing, too.

Flat-panel displays have come down dramatically in price over the past few years. If you can afford a bigger display, or a second one, you’ll love it.

A fast(er) Internet connection

Not all DSL and cable Internet connections are equal. A faster Internet connection equals a better experience. And the more devices you use at the same time — computers, iPhones, iPods, iPads, Apple TVs, Roku boxes, smart TVs, and DVD/Blu-ray players, and such — the more you’ll benefit from additional bandwidth.

Check the prices for higher-speed digital subscriber line (DSL) or cable modem connections. Or threaten to switch and see what kind of deal you can wrangle for a faster connection.

Once you do, web pages that took a while to load appear onscreen almost instantly. And streaming audio and video play with few, if any, hiccups.

If you can afford a faster tier of cable/DSL (from around $50/month and up in most places) and live in an area where you can get faster cable modem or DSL (not all places can yet), it will change the way you use the Internet.

Games

Gaming on the Mac has never been better, and the game developers are getting better and better at coaxing even more performance out of OS X.

Some popular games include Bejeweled 3, Angry Birds 2, and any LittleWing pinball game. Try one — you’ll be amazed at how far computer gaming has come. Apple’s Mac App Store has a plethora of great downloadable games, as does the Steam gaming service.

Multimedia titles

Many great games, references, and educational titles are available in the Mac App Store. World Book makes use of many Mac features to deliver an encyclopedia that’s both authoritative and fun to use (though it’s the 2013 edition and getting a bit long in the tooth). Even so, you’ll love it, and so will your kids. And don’t forget that thousands of educational titles are available at no cost in the iTunes U section of the iTunes store.

Remember, your Mac is more than just a computer — it’s a full-blown multimedia player. Enjoy it.

One last thing: Macs with built-in optical drives can also play video DVDs like those you rent at Blockbuster or NetFlix. (The Mac mini and most recent notebooks require an optional external optical drive to do this.)

Big speakers with a subwoofer

Face it: Macs have crummy speakers (or, worse, only one crummy speaker). With a decent set of speakers, games are more fun, music sounds like music instead of AM radio, and the voiceovers in your multimedia titles suddenly become intelligible. If you’re into sound, you’ll enjoy your Mac much more if you add a set of window-rattling speakers, preferably with a massive subwoofer to provide that booming bass that sound lovers crave. So crank it up! Any good speakers kick the stuffing out of the speakers built into any Mac.

A killer set of speakers makes watching movies on your Mac a zillion times better.

A new mouse or keyboard or both

If you don’t really love the mouse or keyboard you’re using, do yourself a favor and beat them to death with a hammer. Then buy a mouse or keyboard that suits you. You’ll be so much happier if you upgrade to a mouse that’s easier to move around, is more comfortable to use, and maybe even has extra buttons and/or a scroll wheel. Or consider Apple’s Magic Trackpad so you can enjoy gestures like your laptop brethren and sisteren.

You’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to work with a mouse, trackpad, or keyboard that fits your hand size and needs.

Most third-party mice and keyboards work flawlessly on a Mac. Also consider ditching the silly little keyboard that came with your iMac, Mac Pro, or whatever. Third-party Mac keyboards on the market today are a huge improvement over what came with your Mac. You might want to check out the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 (around $40), which is a wired keyboard, and the wireless Logitech MX Master (around $100).

Finally, it is not a bad idea to keep a spare keyboard and mouse nearby in case something goes wrong with the ones you’re using.

A MacBook, MacBook Air, or MacBook Pro

You need a laptop because one Mac is never enough. With a portable Mac, you can go anywhere and continue to compute. And since all current Macs come with 802.11n or faster Wi-Fi built in, you’ll be able to surf the Net, print, share files, and much more at the highest speeds possible, from your couch, the pool, the airport (the kind with airplanes and a lowercase a and p) — or even Starbucks, for that matter.

An iPhone or iPad

Nothing extends the usefulness of your Mac like an iDevice, which is designed from the ground up to work seamlessly with your Mac. That means that your appointments, reminders, passwords, bookmarks, contacts, and much more stay in sync on all of your devices. And the Handoff feature lets you start a task on one device and finish it on another — when it works, which is most of the time.

Nothing else comes close.