Common Features on Apple Macs - dummies

By Arnold Reinhold

Switching to a Macintosh means getting a computer manufactured by Apple, Inc. If you found shopping for Windows PCs to be a bit bewildering, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. Apple has only a few models in each category: a lowest-price basic version, an intermediate version, and a loaded version. Certain features are common to all current Mac models:

  • Processors: All Mac models made in the past five years use fast Intel microprocessors, similar to those used in most PCs. Apple uses processors that feature two or more processor cores, allowing them to work faster. They all support 64-bit operation, allowing main memory greater than 4GB, though not all Mac models let you install so much memory.

  • Memory: As with PCs, Macs come with two types of memory:

    • Random Access Memory (RAM): All Macs come with at least 2GB (2 gigabytes) of RAM. Having more RAM lets you do more things at a time and is especially important if you work with very large files, such as movies.

    • Hard drive mass storage: A bigger hard drive means more space for music, photos, and video files. Some models include solid state drives instead of, or in addition to, traditional hard drives. These offer faster performance but are more expensive for the same amount of storage.

  • Graphics: All Macs include a graphics processor unit (GPU) to speed the display of pictures and video. The low-end version of Mac mini and 11- and 13-inch Mac laptops use an Intel HD 3000 graphics processor integrated into the CPU chip set. Higher-end models add more powerful GPUs in addition to the integrated unit. Serious gamers need the higher-performance GPUs.

  • High performance video output and data I/O: All new Macs include a Thunderbolt input/output port, which is compatible with Mini DisplayPort for output to high definition video displays and allows very high-speed peripherals to be connected as well.

  • LED displays: All Mac displays feature a screen that lights up using light-emitting diodes (LEDs) rather than the fluorescent lamps used in many other flat-panel displays, which contain trace amounts of mercury, a hazardous material.

  • Headset jack: All Macs have a minijack that works with regular headphones and also supports Apple iPhone compatible headsets, so you can use such a headset to make FaceTime and iChat calls. High-end Macs have a separate audio line-in jack as well.

  • Software: All new Macs come with OS X Lion software, and all Macs except the Apple mini server include the integrated iLife suite of digital lifestyle applications.

  • Wireless networking support: All new Macs have built-in wireless networking using the latest Wi-Fi and Bluetooth standards. Apple was the first computer company to embrace Wi-Fi, using Apple’s own brand name, AirPort.

  • Wired networking support: All new Macs, except the minimalist, ultrathin MacBook Airs, have Gigabit Ethernet jacks for wired networking and connecting to high-speed cable and DSL modems.

  • No built-in dialup modems or floppy drives: You can buy an Apple Modem (a small external modem) as an accessory, and external USB floppy drives are available from third parties.

  • SuperDrive: All models except the mini and MacBook Air can read, play, and write (burn) CDs and multilayer DVDs, incorporating what Apple calls a SuperDrive. Apple offers an optional external SuperDrive for the mini and Air and software that allows these models to use a CD/DVD reader on another Mac or even a PC.

  • HD support: Apple displays are normally set up with a 16:10 aspect ratio, which is ideal for HD video.

Other discriminators among models are screen sizes for laptops and iMacs, memory, and hard drive space. The more expensive models also have bigger hard drives and faster processors, though the speed difference generally isn’t dramatic — 20 percent or so.