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Do You Really Need a Mac Pro? What You Need to Know

The Mac Pro is the highest-end computer that Apple sells. It’s an extremely powerful machine with an eye-watering price tag to match.

But what is the Mac Pro actually used for, and who needs a Mac Pro? Let’s look at what the machine offers and find out why Apple makes such a powerful desktop computer.

What Is the Mac Pro?

The Mac Pro is an Apple desktop computer designed for professional work. Don’t confuse its name with the similar MacBook Pro or iMac Pro, which are different machines. We’ll touch on those later.

Apple has released three generations of Mac Pro. The first model, which used a typical “tower” look, was introduced in 2006. It was succeeded by the cylindrical Mac Pro in 2013, which had several issues, including a lack of upgradability.

The most recent Mac Pro launched in December 2019 and returns to the standard “desktop tower” setup. This is the Mac Pro we’ll consider here, since the old models are too outdated to recommend nowadays.

Mac Pro Specs and Upgrade Options

Unlike the 2013 Mac Pro, Apple’s current revision allows for tons of customization (including on your own after purchase). When you head to Apple’s Mac Pro purchase page, you’ll see two configurations. One is the standard tower setup, which starts at $5,999. You can also purchase it for use in a rack starting at $6,499, which is mostly for business use.

If you stick with the cheapest possible Mac Pro ($5,999), it comes with the following specs:

Mac Pro Base Model

  • 3.5GHz 8-core Intel Xeon W processor, with Turbo Boost up to 4.0GHz
  • 32GB (4x8GB) of DDR4 ECC memory
  • Radeon Pro 580X with 8GB of GDDR5 memory
  • 256GB SSD storage

Each Mac Pro also comes with a Magic Mouse 2, Magic Keyboard with Numeric Keypad, and a USB-C to Lightning cable. A monitor is not included.

You can upgrade the CPU, memory, graphics hardware, and storage if the base isn’t enough for your needs. There are too many upgrade options to list out here, but a few examples to give you an idea include:

Apple Mac Pro Upgrades

  • An additional $1,000 to upgrade to a 3.3GHz 12-core Intel Xeon W processor, with Turbo Boost up to 4.4GHz.
  • $1,000 more to upgrade to 96GB (6x16GB) of memory.
  • An extra $1,600 for two Radeon Pro W5700X cards with 16GB of GDDR6 memory each.
  • An additional $800 for 2TB of SSD storage.
  • $2,000 more for an Apple Afterburner card, which helps with extremely demanding video editing.
  • $400 extra to replace the computer’s feet with wheels so you can easily move it.

Extra Mac Pro Accessories

Apple offers a few additional accessories before you check out. The Pro Display XDR is a 32-inch 6K screen that’s available in either standard glass or Apple’s “nano-texture” glass. The standard model costs $4,999, while the nano-texture glass is $5,999.

The monitor doesn’t include a stand, so you’ll have to pay another $999 for the Pro Stand. This allows you to adjust the monitor’s viewing angle however you like and easily detach the magnetic connection in order to change the orientation or remove the display. If you’d rather, you can instead buy a VESA Mount Adapter for $199.

Clearly, if you have money to spend, you can put a lot of power into the Mac Pro. Just for fun, if you upgraded everything in the Mac Pro to its absolute max, here’s the setup you’d have (along with the cost of fully upgrading each item):

  • 2.5GHz 28-core Intel Xeon W processor with Turbo Boost up to 4.4GHz ($7,000).
  • 1.5TB (12x128GB) of DDR4 ECC memory ($25,000).
  • Two Radeon Pro Vega II Duo with 2x32GB of HBM2 memory each ($10,800).
  • 8TB SSD storage ($2,600).
  • Apple Afterburner card ($2,000)
  • Frame wheels ($400)

This all comes to the staggering sum of $53,799. Adding the Pro Display XDR would cost another $4,999, or $5,999 for the nano-texture glass model. And this doesn’t include AppleCare+ or preinstalled software like Final Cut Pro X, which come at additional cost.

What Is the Use of a Mac Pro?

Of course, what the Mac Pro offers exceeds the needs of 99% of people. This might lead you to ask what the use of a Mac Pro is. Let’s take a look.

Top-of-the-Line Image and Video Editing

People who work with terabytes of ultra-high-definition video footage need a powerful computer to handle it all smoothly and prevent hangups. The Mac Pro’s powerful video cards, massive amounts of RAM, and speedy SSD storage are built for tasks like that.

While you might balk at the extreme price of the Pro Display XDR, having accurate color display is essential for graphic designers and other creative professionals. They need a clear representation of how their work will look outside the screen, which is where premium displays like this shine.

Heavy-Duty Graphical Performance

Demanding 3D apps, such as engineering design software, require a lot of video resources. Professional-grade software is a lot more difficult to run smoothly than consumer-level apps, which is why specialized industries need a powerful computer like the Mac Pro.

This means that computer-aided design, medical imaging, emulating multiple instances of an app at once, and similar tasks require much more power than a standard computer can provide.

Gaming and Game Development

While Macs aren’t primarily known as gaming machines, the Mac Pro has enough power to run most games compatible with macOS. Of course, you can always use BootCamp to install Windows on your Mac and get access to the wealth of games on that platform.

Game developers who prefer Macs could also use the Mac Pro’s power to work on their titles.

Mac Pro Alternatives

Frankly, if you’re wondering whether you need a Mac Pro, you almost certainly don’t. The machine is designed for a specific niche of professionals who need a powerhouse of a computer. Unless you are a professional in the fields of video editing, image editing, or 3D rendering, you very likely do not need a Mac Pro.

Knowing that, which Mac should you get instead? Let’s consider a few options based on your use case.

MacBook Options

Macbook Pro 15 inch

If you frequently work on the go, a MacBook is obviously the best choice.

For light work like web browsing and word processing, the MacBook Air is a great all-around machine. It starts at $999 and goes up to $2,249 if you max out everything.

Meanwhile, if you need portable power, take a look at the MacBook Pro. The 13-inch model starts at $1,299, while the 16-inch model begins at $2,399. Maxing out a 13-inch MacBook Pro results in a $3,599 price tag, or $6,099 for the 16-inch model.

The MacBook Pro can’t handle extreme editing tasks like the Mac Pro can. But if you want to do some light video editing or app development on the go, it’s definitely capable of those tasks.

Take a look at our MacBook model comparison for more info.

iMac Options

iMac Pro looking sleek

You have more options on the desktop Mac front. The most direct comparison to the Mac Pro is the iMac Pro, which starts at $5,000.

It’s still way overkill for most people, but includes more in the box. You get a 1TB SSD and a 27-inch 5K display, giving you four times the base storage of the Mac Pro and a monitor ready to go. If you want to upgrade, an iMac Pro maxes out at $14,299—we’ve compared the most powerful Mac models if you’re interested in specifics.

For more modest needs, consider a standard iMac. The 21.5-inch model starts at $1,099, while the 27-inch iMac is available from $1,799. Unfortunately, the base models of iMac don’t include a solid-state drive, so we highly recommend upgrading to an SSD if you choose this computer.

Finally, you could go for a Mac mini. This tiny computer has you connect your own peripherals, including a monitor. It starts at $799 and is great if you want the desktop Mac experience on a budget.

Check out our iMac vs. MacBook guide if you’re not sure which to pick.

Consider Building a Windows PC

If you’re interested in a Mac Pro, chances are that you’re not a fan of Windows. However, if your primary interest is having a powerful PC for heavy-duty work or gaming, you can get a lot for your money by building your own PC.

Check out our guide to picking the right PC building components for help with this. You can build a respectable computer for much less than a comparative Mac costs. Of course, this option sacrifices the macOS experience, so you’ll have to decide whether it’s worth it for you.

The Mac Pro Is for Serious Professionals Only

We’ve seen that the Mac Pro certainly has uses, but it’s not made for the average consumer. Between the extreme hardware upgrades available and sky-high price tag, chances are that you won’t get enough value out of the Mac Pro to justify the cost.

Stick with one of Apple’s consumer-facing machines instead, and you’ll have enough for your needs. To help, we’ve shown how to build the perfect Mac for you on Apple’s website.

Read the full article: Do You Really Need a Mac Pro? What You Need to Know

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How to Get Wi-Fi Without an Internet Service Provider: 5 Methods

Getting on the web is expensive. In the United States, the average cost of a home internet connection is $60 per month. Don’t fancy paying all that money? Don’t worry; even if you don’t have a regular ISP, there are still ways to go online.

Here’s how to get Wi-Fi without an Internet Service Provider.

1. Mobile Hotspot

The best way to make sure you have the internet on your laptop at all times is to use a mobile hotspot.

Of course, there is an upfront cost of doing so—you will need to buy a hotspot device and subscribe to a mobile internet plan. Quite a few companies offer mobile hotspots.

There are three mobile hotspot models we particularly recommend:

Verizon Jetpack MiFi 8800L

Despite being a couple of years old, the Verizon Jetpack MiFi 8800L is probably still the best 4G hotspot available right now. It uses Qualcomm’s X20 modem and supports 11 LTE bands. It provides both 2.4 and 5GHz mobile networks, supports guest connections, and allows you to connect up to 15 devices to the network at once.

The device is only available through Verizon. You can get the device for $99 if you sign up for a two-year mobile internet contract. It is $199 if you buy the device contract-free.

HTC 5G Hub

The HTC 5G Hub is the best 5G mobile hotspot on the market.

The device has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 CPU, a Snapdragon X50 5G modem, 4GB of RAM, support for Bluetooth and Ethernet connections, all-day battery life, and the ability to connect up to 20 devices at the same time. It runs Android.

On the downside, 5G is still not available everywhere. If you’re looking for a hotspot that will work when you’re off the beaten path, the HTC 5G Hub might not be for you.

Sprint MiFi 8000 Mobile Hotspot

The MiFi 8000 (only available on Sprint in the US), can provide internet speeds of up to 1Gbps while you’re on-the-go.

The device will run for 24 hours on a single charge, supports guest connections, and offers an onboard VPN for added security.

Under the hood, you’ll find 4GB of RAM and the in-house MiFi OS2 operating system.

Roaming Man U2 Global 4G Wi-Fi Hotspot

If you need a laptop internet while you’re traveling outside of the United States, you need a mobile hotspot and internet plan that both work internationally.

We like the Roaming Man U2 Global 4G Wi-Fi Hotspot. It works in more than 130 countries with prices of $8 to $10 per day.

Of course, at those prices, it is not a suitable domestic option. But if you’re on vacation and need to stay connected to home, it remains cheaper than using roaming internet on your smartphone.

2. Tether Your Smartphone or Tablet

If you don’t need regular mobile data and instead just need occasional access to the internet on your laptop, the fastest and easiest way to get online is often to tether your smartphone.

Tethering your smartphone or tablet does have two drawbacks.

  1. You’re entirely dependent on the signal of your mobile phone carrier. That’s fine if you’re in a city, but less reliable if you’re out in the country.
  2. Laptops typically use much more data than smartphones, meaning you could be in for a nasty surprise when your next phone bill lands in your mailbox.

If you have an Android device, you can enable tethering by heading to Settings > Network and internet > Hotspot and Tethering, then slide the toggle next to Wi-Fi Hotspot into the On position. iOS users need to go to Settings > Personal Hotspot and slide the toggle.

On both Android and iOS, you should set a new username and password to protect the security of your hotspot.

3. Find Public Wi-Fi

Depending on where you find yourself when you need to get internet without a provider, you might be able to jump on a nearby public Wi-Fi network. Libraries, coffee shops, restaurants, and transport hubs often have networks you can join.

You can find nearby free Wi-Fi using apps like Wi-Fi Master Key on Android, and Wi-Fi Finder on iOS.

Note: If you decide to join a public Wi-Fi network, make sure you take steps to ensure your security and privacy are both safe. If you would like to learn more, check out our article on how to spot fake public Wi-Fi run by hackers.

Download: Wi-Fi Master Key for Android (Free)

Download: Wi-Fi Finder for iOS (Free)

4. Wi-Fi USB Dongle

A Wi-Fi USB dongle, a.k.a., an “internet stick,” is a cheaper and more accessible version of a mobile hotspot. Instead of committing to an expensive long-term mobile internet plan, you can insert a standard 3G or 4G SIM card and use its data connection.

ZTE MF833V USB Dongle Adapter ZTE MF833V USB Dongle Adapter Buy Now On Amazon $59.99

Because internet sticks for laptops are lighter and smaller than mobile hotspots, they are better suited for people who need a web connection while traveling. On the downside, don’t expect signal strength, Wi-Fi speed, or range to be as good as when using a hotspot device.

To learn more, check out our piece on the best Wi-Fi USB adaptors.

5. Share Someone’s Internet

windows hotspot connection

There’s a chance that someone else in your party might have an internet connection on their machine. For example, perhaps they have login credentials for a nearby private network, and you do not.

In those cases, you can share the bandwidth with a Windows or macOS machine.

To share an internet connection from a Windows computer, go to Settings > Network and internet > Mobile Hotspot. Choose the connection you want to share and slide the toggle into the On position.

If you need to share an internet connection from a macOS device, go to Apple > System Preferences > Internet Sharing. Choose the connection you want to share in the Share your connection from the drop-down menu, then select how you want to share the internet from the list of options underneath.

Learn More About Using Wi-Fi

The best way to get Wi-Fi without an internet connection depends on where you are and how you want to use the connection.

People who do a lot of work on-the-go should consider a fully-fledged mobile hotspot. Occasional casual users might want to use tethering or buy an internet stick. In rural areas, you can get online through wireless internet.

If you would like more information about using Wi-Fi, check our articles on the different types of Wi-Fi security and how to fix slow Wi-Fi speeds.

Read the full article: How to Get Wi-Fi Without an Internet Service Provider: 5 Methods

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What Are Facebook Stickers? Everything You Need to Know

Facebook stickers are images that you can send to your friends and family. They make for a fun, easy way to express yourself.

You can use stickers in various places on Facebook, including in comments, on photos, and on Facebook Messenger.

In this article, we explain what Facebook stickers are and how you can use them to express yourself on Facebook.

What Are Facebook Stickers?

Facebook stickers

Facebook stickers are much like emojis in that they are visual ways to express how you’re feeling, or they depict a particular object or scene. Some stickers feature characters from movies or TV shows, while others are people or animals from different artists.

Facebook defines a sticker as, “Stickers are different than emoticons. They’re detailed illustrations of characters with personality. Sending stickers is a way to share how you’re feeling with your friends.”

Note: If you’re wondering what the differences are between emoticons and emojis, we’ve got you covered.

Technically speaking, a sticker is just an image. One of the ways they are different to emojis is that they are larger. Also, they can’t be placed inline alongside some text—sending a sticker counts as a single message.

The term “sticker” is perhaps a bit deceiving. These aren’t physical stickers, nor can you stick them wherever you want on Facebook. However, much like real stickers, they are usually bold and colorful.

Facebook has thousands of different stickers available. Below, we’ll show you how to use them and add more to your collection.

How to Use Facebook Stickers

There are multiple places on Facebook that you can use stickers.

When you open the sticker interface, it will open by default on the Search tab. You can use the Search stickers text field to look for specific stickers. Search either by the name of the sticker pack or the emotion represented by the sticker.

This section also contains themes (like Happy or Angry) that you can click to browse stickers relating to that, across all of your packs.

The clock icon is a tab containing all of your recently used stickers. This is handy if you have some favorite stickers that you like to use often.

The other icons represent the sticker packs. Click one of the icons to browse the stickers within that pack. If you have multiple packs, you will see an arrow icon that you can click to scroll.

The plus icon is how you access the Sticker Store, which we will detail further below.

When you find a sticker that you want, just click on it to select it.

How to Send a Sticker in Messages or Comments

To send a sticker while in chat or Messenger, or when replying to a post, click the sticker icon near the text field.

Once you have selected a sticker, it will send. You can’t add text on the same message, though you can of course send a follow-up message.

How to Add a Sticker to a Photo

Facebook add stickers to photo

When adding a photo to a post, you can customize it with stickers. You can only do this when sharing the post. To do so, click Photo/Video, then upload a photo. Next, hover over the photo and click the pencil icon. Then, on the left pane, click Stickers > Add Sticker.

You can place multiple stickers on your photo. Click and drag to move the sticker, then use the arrow icon to rotate and resize the sticker. When done, click Save.

How to Get More Facebook Stickers

Facebook Sticker Store

It’s simple to add more stickers to your collection. There are hundreds of different sticker packs available, which are just a collection of stickers under a common theme or brand (like Lunar New Year or The Avengers). Each pack usually contains around 20 stickers.

These sticker packs are available from the Sticker Store. Despite the name, and since being on the platform since 2013, Facebook has never directly charged money for sticker packs.

To access the Sticker Store, follow the steps above as if you were going to send a sticker. Instead of selecting a sticker, click the blue plus icon in the top right. This will open the Sticker Store. Alternatively, visit the Facebook Sticker Store directly.

Here you can browse all of the packs available for download. Click Preview to see all the stickers in the pack. Click Free to add the sticker pack to your collection. It can then be used immediately.

How to Remove Facebook Stickers

Facebook remove stickers

You can’t disable the Facebook stickers feature entirely. The only thing you can do is remove sticker packs that you have added to your collection. Note that this will remove every single sticker in that pack—you can’t remove an individual sticker.

To do so, navigate to the Sticker Store. Packs that you have downloaded will no longer have a Free button. Instead, there will be a Remove button in its place. Click this to immediately remove the sticker pack from your collection.

Join the Facebook Stickers Group

If you want to stay up-to-date with the world of Facebook stickers and find out when new packs are added to the platform, you should join the Facebook Stickers group.

This official group announces new packs and also provide a handy link for you to click to instantly add the new stickers to your collection.

Avoid Sticker Apps

Facebook sticker apps

You might come across apps on the Android and iOS stores that claim to expand your sticker selection on Facebook. While Facebook has partnered with external apps in the past to provide sticker packs, the company no longer does. The best way to acquire new stickers is just to use the Sticker Store on Facebook.

These apps are often riddled with annoying adverts and are simply a clunky way of adding images into your posts or messages, which you can do directly from the Facebook interface anyway. They aren’t official sticker packs and therefore aren’t worth downloading.

More Things to Do With Facebook Messenger

That’s everything you need to know about Facebook stickers, including what they are and how to use them. So why not go grab some sticker packs and use them to express yourself on Facebook.

Stickers are just one of the many things you can do with Facebook and Messenger. For more, check out our list of hidden Facebook Messenger tricks you should try.

Read the full article: What Are Facebook Stickers? Everything You Need to Know

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Video Cable Types Explained: Differences Between VGA, DVI, and HDMI Ports

As technology has progressed, so, too, have the cables we need for our devices. Even though many manufacturers are moving to wireless solutions, you’ll likely always need some form of cable.

This is especially true for video devices. Televisions, monitors, and peripherals need a wide variety of cables and connections to work correctly. So, what are the differences between them all, and which ones do you need?

Let’s take a look at some of the most popular video cable types and when you may want to use each one.

VGA Cables

VGA display cable

VGA stands for Video Graphics Array. The connection was developed by IBM in 1987, making it one of the oldest video connections still in use today. It was widely used for video cards, TV sets, computer monitors, and laptops.

VGA can support resolutions up to 640×480 in 16 colors, although you can increase the colors to 256 by lowering the resolution to 320×200. This is known as Mode 13h and is commonly used when booting your computer into Safe Mode. Mode 13h was often used for video games in the late 1980s.

VGA is capable of transmitting RBGHV video signals, which includes, Red, Blue, Green, Horizontal Sync, and Vertical Sync. The iconic blue adaptor comes with a screw on either side to secure the connection. The socket consists of 15 pins, arranged in three rows of five.

It has since been surpassed by digital connections like HDMI and DVI but is still popular thanks to the resurgence of retro gaming and its inclusion on cheaper monitors and displays.

RCA Cables

RCA cable
Image Credit: William Krapp/Flickr

The RCA lead is one of the most visually identifiable video cables. The red, white, and yellow plugs are synonymous with audio/visual equipment produced in the 1990s and early 2000s. It was also the primary connection for many games consoles, including the Nintendo Wii. Most televisions no longer support RCA inputs, but there are still plenty of ways to connect your Nintendo Wii to your TV.

The name doesn’t refer to the technology itself, but to the company that popularized it, the Radio Corporation of America. The red and white connectors provide audio, while the yellow offers a single channel composite video.

When used together, the three cables transmit stereo audio with video up to 480i or 576i resolution. Just as with VGA, the once-popular RCA cable has been superseded by the digital DVI and HDMI connections.

DVI Cables

DVI video cable

The Digital Visual Interface, or DVI, was launched in 1999 by the Digital Display Working Group as the successor to the VGA cable. DVI connections can transmit uncompressed digital video in one of three different modes:

  • DVI-I (Integrated) combines digital and analog in the same connector.
  • DVI-D (Digital) supports digital signals only.
  • DVI-A (Analog) supports analog only.

DVI-I and DVI-D can come in single or dual-link varieties. Single-link can support 1920×1200 at 60Hz while adding a second digital transmitter for dual-link means the resolution can be increased to 2560×1600 at 60Hz.

To prevent forced obsolescence of VGA devices, DVI was developed to support analog connections using the DVI-A mode. This meant that DVI connections and devices could be backward-compatible with VGA connections.

HDMI Cables

HDMI cable
Image Credit: Lord_Ghost/DepositPhotos

The most popular digital video connection is the High Definition Media Input, also known as HDMI. This proprietary interface was created by a group of electronics firms, including Sony, Sanyo, and Toshiba. HDMI connections transfer uncompressed video and audio to computer monitors, TVs, and DVD or Blu-ray players.

There have been many iterations of the HDMI standard to accommodate advances in technology. The most recent is HDMI 2.1, which was launched in 2017. Among other technical changes, this update improved support for 4K and 8K resolutions and increased the bandwidth of HDMI up to 48 Gbit/s.

Importantly, HDMI cables are backward compatible, so that you can use a cable with the latest features on older devices. The reverse is also true, meaning you can use an older cable on devices made to the HDMI 2.1 standard. This is useful, as the HDMI Forum previously ruled that no HDMI cables or devices can display which standard they were manufactured to, making it impossible to determine your setup’s configuration.

HDMI uses the same video format standards as DVI, so the two are compatible through the use of an adaptor. As no signal conversion is necessary, there is no loss of quality either. Although, unlike HDMI, DVI does not support audio.

There are three commonly used HDMI connectors. Type A is the full-sized HDMI connection for use on TVs and home theater equipment. Mini-HDMI (Type C) is frequently used on laptops and tablets, while Micro-HDMI (Type D) is mostly used on mobile devices.

DisplayPort Connections

DisplayPort cable
Image Credit: Davis Mosans/Flickr

DisplayPort is a digital display interface developed by the Video Electronics Standards Association (VESA). DisplayPort can carry digital video and audio, making it functionally similar to HDMI. As of DisplayPort 2.0, these connections support resolutions up to 8K, High Dynamic Range (HDR) at higher resolutions, and better support for multi-display configurations.

However, HDMI and DisplayPort were designed for different markets. While HDMI is primarily for home entertainment, DisplayPort was designed for connecting computing devices to monitors.

Due to their similar functionality, it is possible to connect DisplayPort and HDMI devices together using a Dual-Mode DisplayPort adapter. DisplayPort operates using packet data transmission, most commonly used in Ethernet and USB connections. Thus, making it ideal for use in computing rather than home entertainment.

Thunderbolt Connections

Thunderbolt 3 cable
Image Credit: Tony Webster/Flickr

Thunderbolt is an interface commonly found on Apple computers, iMacs, and MacBooks. Intel developed the standard with support from Apple as a means to connect peripherals to your computer.

The connection made its debut with the launch of the 2011 edition of the MacBook Pro and is still commonplace on the company’s hardware. If you own an Apple computer, it might be worth checking out the best Thunderbolt accessories for your Mac. Like other video connections, Thunderbolt cables integrate other technologies into a single device.

The connection combines PCI Express and DisplayPort, while also providing DC power, enabling up to six device connections on a single cable. To complicate matters, there is an overlap between Thunderbolt and USB Type-C. Thunderbolt specifications have been integrated into USB standards across the years.

With the introduction of Thunderbolt 3, all Thunderbolt cables share the same connector as USB Type-C cables. This means you can use the cheaper USB-C cable with Thunderbolt ports and devices. However, performance will be limited as USB-C cables don’t support the same rates of data transfer or power.

The Right Video Cable for Your Needs

When a new technology hits the market, manufacturers compete to make their version the global standard. This is why there are so many video cable connection types that are still in use today.

However, standardization is possible. In the mid-2000s, each cell phone would come with a proprietary charger. These days, it’s almost guaranteed your smartphone will charge via a micro-USB or USB-C connector.

The same is true of video standards, where HDMI has become the most common connection. If you need a new cable, then consider one of the best HDMI cables for Smart TVs and displays.

Read the full article: Video Cable Types Explained: Differences Between VGA, DVI, and HDMI Ports

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How to Use NFC: 7 NFC Uses That’ll Impress Your Friends

Near Field Communication, known as NFC, may sound like a dry, technical specification. In many ways, it is. However, the applications of NFC are worth considering.

Android smartphones have had access to NFC for many years, while Apple’s iPhones previously had a feature-limited version. However, both platforms use the wireless technology for contactless payments, headphone pairing, and some level of automation.

If you want to make the most of NFC applications, we’ll show you how.

What Is NFC?

ways to use nfc

Near Field Communication (NFC) allows wireless communication between two electronic devices that are close to each other. Officially, NFC can support distances of up to 1.5 inches apart, but in practice, it can be up to 4 inches.

Generally, this comes in two forms; device to device communication or readable tags. While it is possible to make two devices interact via NFC, there are generally better methods of achieving this either through physical cables or other wireless technologies like Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.

That said, contactless payments are facilitated via NFC. So, when you walk into your local store and pay with your phone using Google Pay or Apple Pay, the transaction is initiated via NFC.

The primary interaction method, then, is between a device like a smartphone and a readable NFC tag. These tags are small, cheap, and unpowered. This is made possible because the reading device, often your smartphone, can generate a Radio Frequency (RF) field that will power the tag.

NFC Compatibility

Google Pay press demo

Android devices have supported NFC since the early days of the smartphone, but Apple chose to withhold support on the iPhone. However, when the company unveiled Apple Pay, a contactless payment system enabled by NFC, they began including these wireless chips on iPhones.

Before iOS 11, the company limited its use just to Apple Pay. However, iPhone models from the iPhone 7 and newer running iOS 13 and above now support contactless payments, the ability to read NFC tags, and the capability to write them, too.

This brings both mobile platforms into step with one another, allowing you to use NFC on your Android smartphone or iPhone. However, the specifications of Android phones vary considerably, so NFC support isn’t guaranteed. This is especially true of the affordable end of the market, where other features are given priority.

What You’ll Need

Timeskey NFC Stickers (10 Pack) Timeskey NFC Stickers (10 Pack) Buy Now On Amazon $9.99

If you own an NFC-compatible smartphone, then you’ll need to purchase some NFC tags before you get going. There are many types of NFC tags available, ranging from the affordable through to expensive industrial use varieties.

To make the most of the following NFC applications, you’ll want to invest in a set of rewritable NFC tags. Although there is a wide range of available tags, the Timeskey NFC Stickers (10 Pack) are great value, can be rewritten, and are easy to place wherever you need them.

You’ll also need to download an NFC tag writer app to your smartphone. NFC-enabled iPhones can read tags without additional software, but your experience may vary on Android.

There are many apps on the Google Play Store and Apple App Store that can write tags, one of the best options is the NFC TagWriter by NXP. The app is available for both mobile platforms and is easy to use.

Download: NFC TagWriter by NXP for Android | iOS (Free)

The Best Ways to Use NFC

Once you’ve got a compatible smartphone, rewritable NFC tags, and downloaded a tag writing app, you can then begin to make the most of what NFC can offer. As the tags can be rewritten, you can experiment with your own automated setup. That said, there are plenty of NFC uses that you can get started with right away.

1. Instantly Connect to a Wi-Fi Network

Wi-Fi passwords are lengthy and complicated. This makes connecting to your network a pain. If you’d rather replace that cumbersome process with a single tap, you can write your Wi-Fi password to an NFC tag. Android and iOS support this feature, so a tap on the tag will pre-populate Wi-Fi connection details and get you online without any fuss.

If you like this idea, but would rather have something a bit more formal, consider a product like the Wifi Porter. The device is a well-designed, easy-to-use NFC device that does the same thing. Still not sure? Take a look at our review of the Wifi Porter before investing.

2. Get Yourself Out of Bed

Waking up in the morning can be a considerable challenge. For some people, even the most relentless alarm clock doesn’t help. In that case, consider using an NFC tag to motivate you out of bed instead. Apps like Sleep As Android integrate alarms with NFC tags, through the use of in-app captchas.

These aim to verify that you have acted by making you interact with a physical item. Use the app to write an NFC-based captcha, then the only way to disable the alarm is to venture out of bed, find the NFC sticker, and tap your phone against it.

3. Launch a Website

There might be times when you want to direct someone to a specific website. This can be a bit tricky, especially if it’s not a simple website address. Instead of having them type out a long random URL, you can write the URL to an NFC tag. When tapped, it loads the user’s mobile browser and directs them straight to the site you wanted.

4. Automatically Enter Driving Mode

iPhone users know that when they get into the vehicle and connect to their in-car entertainment system, their phone will automatically enter Driving Mode. This silences notifications and optimizes your setup for your journey. Although some Android smartphones can do this, the majority don’t.

If you’d prefer to automate this process, you can write the tasks to an NFC tag. When placed inside the car, a tap of your phone can perform actions like enable Do Not Disturb, turn on or off data, and open your navigation app.

Some NFC tag writing apps, like Trigger on Android, let you set up a toggle switch to reverse the actions. So, the first tap will enable Driving Mode, while a second can disable it and return your phone to normal operations.

5. Make Payments

As we mentioned earlier, NFC enables contactless payments when using services like Google Pay or Apple Pay. In many places around the world, contactless payments have become commonplace. Indeed, in many food and convenience stores in the US, contactless is the preferred method of payment.

Both Apple Pay and Google Pay allow you to keep track of your spending, analyze your habits, and store coupons. Additionally, opting for NFC payments means you no longer need to carry other payment methods alongside your phone.

6. Automate Common Phone Tasks

Android and iOS now have methods of automating regular tasks, but they don’t always offer the kind of flexibility you’re after. Using NFC, you can set up shortcuts for actions like calling a specific friend or family member, opening your camera, or running your favorite streaming service as you leave the house.

If you want a more efficient way to automate these shortcuts, consider investing in a set of DIMPLE Smart Buttons. These physical buttons stick to the rear of your smartphone near the NFC chip. When pressed, they activate a custom NFC task, which you can set via the DIMPLE app.

7. Share Media

If you create videos for YouTube, stream on Twitch, or release music on Spotify, one of the biggest challenges is getting people to see your content in the first place. You can overcome this hurdle with NFC.

It’s possible to embed a link to your work on the NFC tag and then strategically stick it somewhere that’ll get people interested. Just be sure to explain what is on the tag, as people may be wary of the notable NFC security issues.

The Best Uses for NFC

NFC chips have changed the way we interact with the world around us. These cheap electronic components have enabled contactless payment systems like Google Pay and Apple Pay, made some physical tickets redundant, and made home automation an affordable reality.

However, although NFC is undoubtedly useful, like all technology, it is vulnerable to security issues, too. Before you delve into the wireless technology, you might want to read up on how a drive-by NFC hack works.

Read the full article: How to Use NFC: 7 NFC Uses That’ll Impress Your Friends

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Apple iTunes Gift Cards FAQ: 7 Common Questions, Answered

iTunes is Apple’s marketplace for all sorts of media, software, and entertainment. If you’ve been given an iTunes gift card, you can use it to purchase apps, books, music, movies, and more.

If you’re not familiar with iTunes or have never received an iTunes gift card before, you might have a few questions about how to use it and what to buy. Let’s address some of the most common iTunes gift card questions.

Note that with the release of macOS Catalina, Apple has removed iTunes in favor of individual apps, such as Apple Music and Apple Books. iTunes is still available on Windows, as well as individual apps on iOS.

What Is an iTunes Gift Card?

apple itunes gift card promo

An iTunes gift card (usually labeled as an App Store & iTunes card) is pre-purchased credit for Apple’s various digital services. This includes the iTunes Store—Apple’s media and software marketplace where you can buy music, movies, apps, and more. You can also use iTunes gift cards to subscribe to Apple Music and other Apple services.

Be aware that iTunes gift cards are different than Apple Store gift cards. Apple Store gift cards let you purchase physical Apple products, like an iPhone or MacBook, at Apple’s physical or online stores.

iTunes gift cards are available as physical cards, as well as digital codes delivered via email. The gift card don’t expire, and once the credit is applied to your account, it won’t expire either.

You can only redeem your card in the same iTunes Store from which it was purchased. Thus, a US gift card is only good in the US App Store.

How to Buy an iTunes Gift Card

You can buy an iTunes gift card in the following ways:

  • At the Apple Store online.
  • On an iPhone or iPad: Launch the App Store app, tap your user icon, then choose Send Gift Card by Email.
  • Using a Mac running macOS Catalina or higher: open the Music app, click iTunes Store in the sidebar, and choose Send Gift.
  • On older versions of macOS or a Windows PC with iTunes: Click the Store tab, then choose Send Gift.
  • At physical retail locations like the Apple Store, supermarkets, and convenience stores.

iTunes gift cards are a good way to pay for items if you don’t have a credit card, or are traveling and want to make a purchase on another country’s iTunes Store. When needed, you can often find these online from secondary sellers.

If you’re lucky, you can find discounted iTunes gift cards for cheap. Just be cautious when browsing gift card deals, as scams are prominent in this area. Review some important tips on how to recognize free gift card scams to keep yourself safe.

Speaking of safety, you should know that many common phone scams demand gift cards as payment for outlandish claims, such as overdue taxes or ransom payments. These are never legitimate, so if a caller demands that you buy thousands of dollars of iTunes gift cards for some reason, just hang up.

How to Redeem iTunes Gift Cards

To redeem your iTunes gift card on an iPhone or iPad:

  1. Launch the App Store.
  2. On the Today tab, tap your user icon in the top-right corner.
  3. Choose Redeem Gift Card or Code.
  4. Use your device’s camera to scan your gift card, or enter the code manually.

To redeem your iTunes gift card on macOS Catalina and later:

  1. Launch the Mac App Store and click on your name in the left sidebar.
  2. Choose Redeem Gift Card at the top-right.
  3. Login with your Apple ID and password if needed.
  4. Use your webcam to scan the card or enter the code manually.

To redeem your iTunes gift card on a Mac or Windows PC running iTunes:

  1. Launch iTunes.
  2. At the top of the screen, choose Account > Redeem.
  3. Sign in with your Apple ID and password if needed.
  4. Enter your gift card code to redeem it.

Redeem iTunes Card Windows

How to Check Your iTunes Gift Card Balance

Your iTunes gift card balance is also known as Apple ID credit, since you can use it for many Apple services.

To check your iTunes gift card balance from an iPhone:

  1. Launch the App Store.
  2. On the Today tab, tap your user icon in the top-right corner.
  3. If you have iTunes credit, it displays below your name.

To check your iTunes gift card balance on macOS Catalina and later:

  1. Launch the Mac App Store and click on your name at the bottom of the left sidebar.
  2. If you have credit tied to your Apple ID, it will show below your name.

macOS Catalina in the Mac App Store

To check your iTunes gift card balance on a Mac or Windows PC running iTunes:

  1. Launch iTunes and ensure you’re signed in under Account > Sign in. You’ll see your Apple ID at the top of the dropdown list if you’re signed in.
  2. Click on the Store tab and look for your balance in the top-right corner.

If you don’t have a balance, you won’t see a value in any of these places.

When you redeem your iTunes gift card, the balance is transferred to your Apple ID account. If you’re not sure if you’ve used a gift card already, try redeeming it.

What Can You Buy With an iTunes Gift Card?

Once redeemed, you can spend iTunes credit on these services:

  • Apps and games from the iOS App Store and Mac App Store, including Apple Arcade subscriptions.
  • Music, TV shows, and movies from iTunes or the Apple TV app.
  • Books from Apple Books.
  • Subscriptions that normally charge your iTunes account, such as Apple TV+ or Apple News+.
  • iCloud storage space upgrades.

Can You Use iTunes Gift Cards for Apple Music?

You can use your iTunes gift card to pay for an Apple Music subscription. Redeem your card as described above, then start an Apple Music subscription using the Music app on your iPhone, Mac, or Android phone. On a Windows PC, you can subscribe to Apple Music using iTunes.

As long as you have credit on your Apple ID, your subscription will deduct from that balance. Once it runs out, you’ll be charged on your primary payment method instead.

Can You Use iTunes Gift Cards for In-App Purchases?

apple itunes gift cards

Yes. As mentioned above, all digital purchases you make with your Apple account will automatically use your Apple ID balance first. This means you can use your iTunes balance for in-app purchases, including both subscriptions and one-time purchases.

Beware of any in-app purchases that charge a payment method directly (like ride-sharing apps or food delivery services) since they will charge the credit card you have on file for that particular merchant instead.

How to Use iTunes Gift Cards Instead of Credit Cards

When you sign up for an Apple ID, you’re given the opportunity to add a payment method. However, you don’t have to add a credit card to your account. If you prefer, skip the step of adding a payment method, then redeem gift cards to add credit to your account instead.

Remember that iTunes and Apple services will always use your iTunes balance before charging your credit card. There’s no way to buy an app or pay for a subscription with a credit card to preserve your iTunes balance.

For example, if you get $100 iTunes gift card as a present and you have an ongoing Apple Music subscription, your subscription will use that balance over time until it’s all gone. Once you’re out of credit, your subscription will use your default payment method again.

Can You Use iTunes Gift Cards in the Apple Store?

apple itunes gift card devices

No. iTunes gift cards must be redeemed for digital Apple services on the App Store, iTunes, Apple Books, and similar. Apple Store gift cards are a separate product used for Apple hardware. They are usable at physical Apple Store locations, as well as Apple’s online store.

How to Add Funds to Your Apple ID Without Gift Cards

If you have a credit card attached to your Apple ID, you don’t need to buy gift cards for yourself. You can add funds to your Apple ID account by charging your payment method.

To do this on your iPhone:

  1. Open the App Store.
  2. Tap the Today tab, followed by your profile picture in the top-right.
  3. Select Add Funds to Apple ID, choose an amount, and complete your purchase.

On a Mac or Windows PC:

  1. Open the App Store on macOS Catalina. Launch iTunes on an older Mac or a Windows PC.
  2. On a Mac, choose Store > View My Account. On Windows, select Account > View My Account. Sign in again if needed.
  3. Scroll down to the Apple ID Account section and choose Add Funds to Apple ID.
  4. Choose the amount you want to add and walk through the steps to complete payment.

Apple ID Add Funds Windows

How to Use the iTunes Pass

If you don’t have a payment method on file with your Apple ID but don’t want to buy gift cards for yourself, Apple also offers a service called the iTunes Pass. This lets you add credit to your Apple ID by visiting an Apple Store or other participating retailer.

To create an iTunes Pass:

  1. Open the iTunes Store app on your iPhone.
  2. Scroll to the bottom of the Music page and tap your Apple ID. Sign in if you’re not already.
  3. Choose View Apple ID.
  4. Select Add iTunes Pass to Wallet.
  5. You’ll see a preview of the pass. Tap Add in the top-right to send it to your Wallet app.

Now, you can open the Wallet app to view your iTunes Pass. When it’s open, show it to a store employee and let them know how much you’d like to add to your balance. They’ll complete your purchase in the store and you’ll have access to the credit right away.

A World of iTunes Entertainment Awaits

Now you know what iTunes gift cards let you buy, how to use them, and where to check your balance. In short, since iTunes gift cards add credit to your Apple ID, they’re good for pretty much any digital service Apple offers. Whether you want to buy paid apps, subscribe to Apple Music or Apple News+, or get more iCloud storage, iTunes gift cards let you pay for it.

If you’re not sure what to buy, we have you covered. Check out great uses for your iTunes or Apple gift card, including some hardware ideas if you have an Apple Store card.

Read the full article: Apple iTunes Gift Cards FAQ: 7 Common Questions, Answered

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What Are Config Files? How to Edit Them Safely

Most of the computer programs we use—whether office suites, web browsers, even video games—are configured via menu interfaces. It has almost become the default way we use our machines.

But some programs require you to take a step beyond that. Instead of menus, you must edit a text file for the software to run as you wish.

These text files configure the software and are—unsurprisingly enough—called “config files”. If you want to enhance your computer knowledge you will need to know what a config file is and how to edit one.

What Are Config Files?

Before we get into the technical nitty-gritty, let’s first define what a configuration file is.

Config files are essentially editable text files that contain information required for the successful operation of a program. The files are structured in a particular way, formatted to be user configurable.

While some configuration is hard coded into software, settings that you can change are included in config files.

Surprisingly, there’s no defined standard on how config files should work, or what they should look like. It’s entirely up to the whim of the developer of the program.

Edit the Raspberry Pi's boot config file

Linux users will be particularly familiar with config files as many basic maintenance tasks require you to edit them. Tweaking the Raspberry Pi often relies on editing config files. This might be to specify a wireless network to connect to or set the amount of RAM for graphics.

However, config files are not exclusive to Linux. There are times when you may have to edit them in Windows or macOS.

How to Find and Edit Config Files

Some config files are structured in a format of the developer’s own design. Others use widely known standards used to structure data, like:

  • JSON (JavaScript Object Notation)
  • YAML (YAML Ain’t Markup Language)
  • XML (eXtensible Markup Language)

Some programs load the information stored in their config files when they start. Meanwhile others periodically check the config file to see if it has been changed.

Whatever config file you want to edit it’s smart to make a copy of it before you make any changes. This way, if something goes wrong, you can restore the copy and start again!

Now, let’s take a look at a real-world config file. As we mentioned earlier, they come in all different shapes and sizes. One config file you’re almost certainly familiar with is the hosts file. Windows, Mac, and Linux all use this to manually map IP addresses to hostnames.

Windows Config Files

Windows users will find the hosts file in c:windowssystem32driversetc.

You can open it by double-clicking the mouse and selecting Notepad from the list of suggested apps. This is all you need to view and edit config files like hosts. However, several alternatives are available—see below for details.

With the file open you will see that it uses whitespace (literally spaces and tab stops) to separate elements.

Edit the Windows hosts file with Notepad

Each hostname has its own line, followed by a tab stop and the IP address. Furthermore, the hosts file allows the user to add annotations and comments, which all begin with a hash symbol.

Linux Config Files

On Linux, you’ll find the hosts file in /etc/. This can be opened in Gedit, or a command line text editor such as nano or vim. In most cases your Linux distro will have one or all of these preinstalled.

Some programs store the config file in the home directory, with a period at the beginning of the filename. These config files sometimes have the file extension .rc and we refer to them as “dotfiles”.

Config Files in macOS

Like Linux, the hosts file can be found in /etc/ on macOS.

Mac users will know that BBEdit is the default, preinstalled text editor. This makes it ideal for editing config files in macOS. However, as with Linux, command line editors vim and nano are also available.

Apps for Safely Editing Config Files

So, now we know what config files are used for, let’s talk about how we can edit them.

To do this, you’re going to need a text editor. Avoid word processors; these can add formatting to the file which would prevent them from being read correctly.

Edit a Windows config file in Notepad++

Native text editors are available, as mentioned. However, for extra functions, third party text editors are also available:

Download: Notepad++ for Windows (Free)

Download: Atom for Windows, macOS, Linux (Free)

Download: Sublime Text Editor for Windows, macOS, Linux (Free evaluation)

So many text editing tools are available for every platform that it is hard to recommend a single app. Linux users can also check our list of Linux text editors. Meanwhile this round up of text editors for macOS should help Apple computer owners.

When you edit a config file, it’s important to ensure you follow the conventions of it. This can be worked out just by looking at it. Some config files, like the hosts file, will explain these conventions to you in commented out lines. Others will force you to read some documentation, or a couple of blog posts.

Finally, if the config file you edit has a JSON or XML format, consider a text editor with syntax highlighting. Notepad++ and Atom are both good options here. Syntax highlighting will improve your accuracy by showing you when you’ve made a mistake.

Other Places You Can Find Config Files to Edit

If you’re interested in exploring config files further, you’ll find them in all sorts of applications and platforms. There is more to config files than specifying which websites and IP addresses to block!

Beyond the hosts file, you’ll find config files in video games. These are often used to define and control things like keymappings.

Meanwhile, some config files can be used to cheat. This was the case in the original Deus Ex game on PC. These days, cheating is far more difficult and often not worth the effort unless enabling an official cheat mode.

Web applications also use configuration files for customization.

What If Your Config Edit Doesn’t Work?

Problems associated with editing config files tend to fall into two camps: permissions and user error.

Issues with config files caused by permissions issues are down to system integrity. You’re unable to save changes because you’re editing as an ordinary user. To prevent accidental misconfiguration, many config files are only editable by those with administrator-level privileges.

Edit a Linux hosts file

Fixing this is easy:

  • On Windows, right-click the text editor, and select Run as administrator
  • On macOS and Linux, try escalating your privileges with the sudo command. So, if you were editing your hosts file, run sudo nano /etc/hosts

(Note that if you specified a different filename or location, you would effectively create a config file in the terminal.)

When the problem is user error, it means it’s your fault. Check that you haven’t made any typos, and that you’ve followed the conventions of the config file.

While it may seem obvious, a simple spelling mistake can render your entire file useless. Before committing to your changes and saving the file remember to:

  • Check the change you made
  • Ensure you left a comment

Also be sure to close the config file before trying to run the software you’re attempting to configure.

Config Files Are Important

More than important, they’re an essential part of using Linux. Knowing how to properly edit them can help you considerably.

While you can edit many config files, be sure to make a copy of the file before making any changes. That way, you can revert to the original if something goes wonky.

Using Linux? Here’s more about modifying and managing the hosts file in Linux.

Read the full article: What Are Config Files? How to Edit Them Safely

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What Is a Linux Swap Partition? Everything You Need to Know

Most Linux installations recommend that you include a swap partition. This may seem odd to Windows users used to having their entire operating system on a single partition.

What does a swap partition do, do you even need one, and how big should it be? These are all important questions that, with the right answers, can seriously improve your system’s performance.

What the Linux Swap Partition Does

Partitions in Ubuntu Linux

The swap partition serves as overflow space for your RAM. If your RAM fills up completely, any additional applications will run off the swap partition rather than RAM.

This may sound like an easy way to increase your computer’s amount of usable memory without actually getting more RAM, but that isn’t the case. RAM is the ideal hardware for memory because it’s extremely quick, unlike hard drives which are, relatively speaking, much slower.

Solid state drives may have made the performance hit less of an issue with their much-improved speeds, but even they can’t match RAM. This is also true of newer NVMe SSDs. In either case, you wouldn’t want to cause additional wear and tear on your solid state drive.

A close analogy of the swap partition is the Windows pagefile, although there are many technical differences between the two.

The Linux swap partition is not limited to being overflow storage space. It can assist your PC in other ways.

Prioritization

A swap partition can also help move some items from your memory to your hard drive in order to leave more room in memory for more important items. This implies that items that are rarely touched would get moved to the swap partition.

The threshold of what is considered “rare” depends on the “swappiness” (yes, that’s the actual term used), which is configurable. A higher swappiness means data is more likely to be moved to the swap partition. A lower swappiness means data is less likely to be moved to the swap partition.

Hibernation

A swap partition is used as the destination of your memory’s contents whenever you tell your system to hibernate. This means that without a swap partition, hibernation on Linux is impossible.

That said, it has become rather rare for people to use the hibernation feature, so this may not matter to you.

Do You Need a Swap Partition?

Create swap partition in Ubuntu Linux

Does this mean that a swap partition is necessary? Not at all! A Linux system can perform perfectly well without a swap partition. We’ve already discussed the benefits of a swap partition. Now, why might you not want to have one?

When Swap Partitions Don’t Help

Swap partitions have their downsides. They take up space on your hard drive that doesn’t resize dynamically when not in use. Heavy swap usage can also increase wear and tear on your main drive. In some cases, swap partitions don’t even help improve performance. Here’s an example where having a swap partition can actually be worse than not having one.

Say you’ve installed Linux on an old netbook with only 2GB of RAM and a 5400rpm hard drive. With just 2GB of memory, you can imagine that filling up pretty quickly with a few open browser tabs. The swap partition allows you to keep them all open as the memory overflows.

But then a bottleneck appears because of the hard drive’s 5400rpm speed. Since the hard drive is so slow and the system constantly wants to access the swap partition, the netbook becomes extremely sluggish. The machine is slow enough to be unusable unless you close everything to free up some memory.

The set swappiness doesn’t guarantee that everything in the swap partition will move back over once space becomes available in RAM. Instead, much may stay in the swap partition, causing the netbook to continue to be sluggish. So you’re left rebooting your computer to start from a clean slate, which takes a while because the system has to remove everything from the swap partition before shutting down.

What Happens When You Don’t Have Swap

If you do decide to forego a swap partition, know the risks. When your computer needs more RAM than is available, the interface can lock up. You risk having to force quit your computer and lose all the data you were working on.

In such cases, you may wish you had a swap partition around, even if it were only used that once. This depends on whether you find yourself running out of storage space often. Would you notice if you had 4GB less storage space available because you devoted that amount to swap?

Linux Swap Recommendations

Here are some recommendations for when you may want to have a swap partition and how large to make it.

  • If you would like to be able to hibernate your computer, then you should have a swap partition. The size of this partition should be the size of your installed memory, plus an additional 10-25% to leave room for any items that were already moved over into the swap partition.
  • Just want a small performance boost (and you have at least a 7200rpm hard drive)? Then you can add a swap partition if you want. The size of this can be whatever you’d like, but I wouldn’t make it any bigger than you would if you were creating a swap partition to enable hibernation.
  • If you occasionally use heavy applications that require extra RAM, a swap partition can serve as peace of mind. In this case, you don’t need your swap partition to be as large as your RAM.
  • If you have a 5400rpm hard drive, then you may not want to create a swap partition simply because the bottleneck can make your computer worse off. But if you absolutely want to have swap, then you can still create a partition using the same sizing guidelines outlined above. Just be sure to change the swappiness value to something much lower.

Changing Swappiness

Ubuntu Linux swappiness file

Like many aspects of the Linux desktop, your computer’s swappiness is stored in a text file. You can find this file by navigating to /proc/sys/vm.

When you open the file, you will see a single number indicating your current swappiness. You can edit this file using any text editor of your choice, as long as you have root permissions.

To do this with the default GNOME text editor found in Ubuntu and Fedora, you could try:

sudo gedit /proc/sys/vm/swappiness

There is also a command line option that works regardless of which text editor you have installed. Simply enter:

sudo sysctl vm.swappiness=20

You can enter any digit ranging from 0 to 100. The value indicates when you want Linux to start actively moving processes from the memory to the swap partition. So for example, a value of 20 indicates that processes will be moved when memory usage reaches 80%; the default swappiness value in Ubuntu of 60 indicates that processes will be moved when memory usage reaches 40%.

You can check whether the change was successful by reopening that text file. Unsurprisingly, the terminal offers a faster way to check your swappiness. Just enter this command:

cat /proc/sys/vm/swappiness

Does Your PC Feel Faster?

Swap partitions can make a major difference in your system’s performance—sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. Now that you know what the swap partition is for, hopefully you’re better equipped to make the decision appropriate for your situation.

But before you re-partition your drive, know that there’s more to memory management than the amount of RAM you have and the size of your Linux swap partition. Take a moment to learn how Linux manages RAM.

Read the full article: What Is a Linux Swap Partition? Everything You Need to Know

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What Is a Ping? Is Zero Ping Possible? The Basics of Ping, Explained

If you’re an avid gamer, there’s a good chance that you’ve experienced high ping and cursed how laggy everything felt. It would be better if ping didn’t factor in at all; but what is ping, and can you achieve a 0ms ping?

Let’s explore what ping is, why it exists, and if you can get a zero ping.

What Ping Is Used For

Ping isn’t just a measure of “performance.” Specifically, it’s a measure of the latency between your computer and a remote device. A ping tells you the time it takes for a single package of data (known as a “packet”) to leave your computer, reach a remote server, and then return to you.

How Ping Affects Web Browsing

Have you ever noticed that when you click a link on a web page, the new web page doesn’t load instantly? The small delay between your click and the page loading is called “latency”.

Your computer has to request the new page and have it sent back to you. It takes a small amount of time for every packet to travel between your computer and the remote computer. Ping lets you measure this latency.

How Ping Affects Online Gaming

Ping is very perceptible in online games. For example, if you’re playing a game with a 20ms ping, you should have very low latency. Actions you take appear to take place in the game near instantly. If you have a higher ping like 200ms, actions you take will be noticeably delayed and you won’t be able to keep up with other people playing the game.

This is why many online multiplayer games show you what your ping is. It helps you understand how good your connection is and what kind of experience you should expect on the server.

The ping statistic in Diablo 2

A lower ping is always better; it means lower latency, which is faster communication between you and the remote server. This applies to everything you do online—whether you’re playing an online game or just browsing the web.

Sometimes, games and software will call ping “latency,” but it’s the same thing. Games often identify ping with color to help you understand how good your ping is at a glance. Typically, a green ping is ideal, yellow is borderline, and red is bad.

How Ping Works

Here’s how ping works, in a simplified way:

  • Your computer sends a small packet of data to a remote computer.
  • The remote computer receives the packet, which requests a reply.
  • The remote computer sends a packet back to you.

This is a single ping. Ping allows you to measure the round-trip time for a packet between your computer and a remote computer.

For example, in the image below, we use the ping command in a Windows Command Prompt to ping google.com.

Using the Ping command on Google

As you can see in the “time” column, our ping to Google was around 11ms. This is pretty quick, so we know we have a solid connection to Google’s servers.

If you want to give this a try yourself, why not learn how to ping any website or computer and see the results?

The Technical Side of a Ping

When you send a ping, your computer sends an ICMP echo request packet. ICMP stands for “Internet Control Message Protocol”, and it’s used between network devices so they can communicate with each other. The packet requests an “echo;” in other words, a reply.

The remote server, when it receives the ping, will generally respond with a message of its own. When you run a ping command and see several pings in a row, each line is a single packet and its reply.

However, not every computer or server can reply to ICMP echo request packets. If the computer’s owner told it not to respond to ping, you won’t get a reply. Instead, you’ll see the “Request timed out” message as the server fails to respond to your pings in the allotted time. Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks sometimes abuse this ICMP protocol.

Using Ping to Spot Packet Loss

Ping can also help you spot packet loss. For example, let’s say you ran the ping command and you saw a mix of replies and “Request timed out” lines.

This would indicate some ping packets either weren’t being received by the remote computer or that their replies weren’t reaching you. Somewhere along the way, the packets go missing. This occurrence is known as “packet loss,” and it can be a major headache in networking.

If you see “Request timed out” when you ping a website or server, you’d know that packet loss was occurring somewhere in the route between you and the server. This could be on the remote computer’s network, a router somewhere in between, your ISP, or your home network.

If you’re experiencing trouble while browsing the internet or playing an online game, the ping command can help identify packet loss. You can also use a traceroute to see the path your data packets take and identify when packet loss occurs.

Is a Zero Ping Possible?

Achieving the lowest ping possible is ideal for using the internet. As such, a zero ping is the perfect scenario. This means that our computer was communicating instantly with a remote server.

Unfortunately, due to the laws of physics, data packets take time to travel. Even if your packet travels entirely over fiber-optic cables, it cannot travel faster than the speed of light.

It’s also limited by the routers connected to those fiber-optic cables, which receive the packet and pass it on to the next one in the chain. This takes a little bit of time, thus ruining our plan for instantaneous data.

Getting Zero Ping With Localhost

However, there is one way to get a zero ping, even if the end result isn’t that useful. If you try pinging your local computer—with the “ping localhost” command—you’re asking your computer to contact itself and reply to itself. In this case, you’ll often see a ping of “<1ms,” which is essentially zero.

This simply means that your computer can communicate with itself instantly. Of course, it really isn’t instant because the software takes a small amount of time to perform these operations. However, it’s so low that we can round it down to 0ms and say we have a zero ping to our own computer.

Using the Ping command to the PC itself

How Cables and Wi-Fi Complicate Matters

Once you start adding in lengths of cable, routers, and distances, you won’t get a 0ms ping. For example, you could try pinging your own home router. In the screenshot below, we pinged our home router over a Wi-Fi connection. It’s in the same room as the computer, and yet, it can’t reach 1ms ping, let alone zero.

Using the Ping command on a router

Unfortunately, as we can see from this, it takes some time just to communicate with a device sitting in the same room as you. As such, it’s hard to get a 0ms ping with your own router, let alone to a website or server somewhere else in the world.

So, what does this mean for the concept of a zero ping? Well, unless scientists somehow bend the laws of physics and achieve instant transmission of data, we’ll probably not see a 0ms ping for a long time; if ever!

Using Ping to Diagnose Laggy Internet

When a bad ping latency ruins your online gaming, it’s easy to think about how much better life would be if it wasn’t a factor. However, as long as we use cables and pass our data to servers across the internet, 0ms ping will likely be impossible.

While you can’t achieve the mythical zero ping, you can fix slow Wi-Fi with some helpful tips.

Image credit: chromatika2/Depositphotos

Read the full article: What Is a Ping? Is Zero Ping Possible? The Basics of Ping, Explained

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Why You Shouldn’t Buy a MacBook With Only 256GB Storage

When Apple unveiled the first MacBook Pro with Retina display in 2012, it shipped with 256GB of flash storage at minimum. Nearly a decade later in 2020, the entry-level MacBook Pro still only includes 256GB of storage, unless you upgrade it.

Meanwhile, in 2012, the iPhone 5 shipped in 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB variants. In 2020, the iPhone 11 is available in 64GB, 128GB, or 256GB flavors. So why has Apple put the MacBook on a diet? And is 256GB of space enough?

Let’s examine why you shouldn’t settle for just 256GB of storage when buying your next MacBook.

The Unstable Price of Storage

A lot of the time, we expect the price of technology to fall as it becomes more prevalent. But in the case of components like memory and storage, that’s not always the case. Scarcity is one of the biggest drivers of price hikes in the tech space—think of how expensive video cards were during the cryptocurrency mining hype of 2017 and 2018.

Though the price of SSD storage has fallen overall during the last decade, there have been some notable price hikes too.

After prices plummeted in December 2016, some manufacturers hiked prices by high percentages at the start of the following year. Price rises can be attributed to shifts in manufacturing techniques, increasing raw material costs, demand for components in other industries, and freak weather events like the flooding in Thailand that occurred in 2011.

Has Apple been hit by the volatile price of computer memory and SSDs? Sure. But the company has much more bargaining power with manufacturers than consumers and most retailers. This is likely why we’ve only seen small increases in iPhone storage (like a 64GB baseline taking over from 16GB and 32GB) rather than larger leaps in base storage for MacBooks (like moving to 512GB or even 1TB).

MacBook Storage Upgrade Costs

Apple’s high-end offerings (like the iMac Pro) come with a 1TB solid state drive as standard now, but these machines are extremely expensive. The iMac Pro starts at a staggering $5,000; hardly anyone needs that aside from creative professionals.

Meanwhile, an upgrade to a 1TB SSD adds $400 to the $1,299 you’re already paying for a 13-inch MacBook Pro. In spite of the cost, Apple should still provide more than a measly 256GB in its flagship laptop.

Is 256GB Enough?

If you’re buying any model of MacBook and plan to use it as your main machine, buy a model with more than 256GB of storage. Even if you only double the internal storage to 512GB, you’ll thank yourself in a few years. Constantly juggling free space is miserable.

Generally speaking, MacBooks tend to last a long time. Apart from aging internals and a lack of some newer fancy features, you can conceivably use a MacBook for the better part of a decade before you need to replace it. It obviously won’t perform as well as newer models, but your purchase will last you longer than many other tech items.

MacBook Pro
Image Credit: Simon Waldherr/Flickr

The flipside of the oft-lauded reliability of MacBooks is that you might have to live with your choice of machine for longer than you expect. If you don’t have the money to upgrade the hardware, or you don’t see the sense in replacing a perfectly serviceable laptop, you’re going to regret opting for the smaller-capacity model.

As a main machine, your MacBook will host your Photos and iTunes libraries. This is where all your iPhone photos and videos are stored, plus any media managed or purchased through iTunes. While it’s possible to store some macOS libraries remotely to save space, it’s inconvenient. You’ll have to rely on plugging in external drives or network drives on your local network.

If you don’t pay for iCloud storage and back up your mobile devices to the cloud, you should create regular local backups instead. These backups are stored on your computer in the ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup folder. Depending on the size of your device, these backups could be huge. Storing them elsewhere is one solution, but it also relies on external drives.

macOS Storage Management

If you use cloud storage to sync your files from other machines, those could take up a lot of space too. It’s easier to have instant access to everything instead of constantly changing what you sync, but you need free space to do that.

Don’t forget to make room for your apps. If you’re a student who spends half your digital life in a web browser and the other half in a word processor, this might not be an issue. But if you’re a photographer with an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription, you’ll likely want to get your money’s worth by installing the apps you need. Apps like Premier Pro CC and Lightroom can take up several gigabytes each.

Finally, you’ll want space for the projects you’re currently working on. This could be your Lightroom library or somewhere to dump your video files while editing. If you’re working with high-bitrate video or another medium that relies on fast read-write performance, you’ll likely need to keep your source files on your SSD rather than an old external drive.

It’s Better to Buy Big

It’s always better to buy more storage than you need at the start than trying to upgrade at a later date. While you can increase your storage by replacing the drive on older models, most MacBooks from 2016 and later are not user-upgradeable.

The latest MacBook Pro models include soldered RAM, a glued-down battery, and a proprietary solid state drive which Apple does not make available outside its own channels. It’s possible we’ll eventually see compatible SSDs hit the gray market, but they likely won’t be cheap when they do. You also need to perform the upgrade yourself.

Samsung EVO SSD

You can currently only buy SSD upgrades for MacBook Pro models made in 2015 or earlier. While this is a great option that’s cost-effective if you have a compatible machine, it has its own drawbacks.

Performing an upgrade like this yourself will invalidate your warranty and any AppleCare plans you’ve purchased. You could look at other methods of adding storage to your MacBook, but the latest models lack an SD card reader. This was the previous go-to method for adding a nice chunk of storage to your laptop’s capacity.

Apple Bets on iCloud

macOS Sierra introduced a feature called Store in iCloud. This automatically uploads files to iCloud, then when you run low on storage, keeps only recently opened files on your system so you can access them locally. This only works if you have enough free iCloud storage space once you’ve enabled the feature under System Preferences > Apple ID > iCloud.

Store in iCloud

Similarly, iCloud Photos offers to store your high-resolution photos so you can optimize local space with lower-quality copies. Subscribing to Apple Music provides access to some 30 million songs, while iCloud Music Library makes them available on all your devices. However, you’ll need a data connection to stream them.

The main reason most people buy more iCloud storage is to have enough space for cloud backups. This removes the strain of storing all your backup data locally. Apple’s 5GB free storage allotment has not increased since it introduced the service in 2011, despite its pushing customers further toward cloud solutions.

But even if iCloud is meant to pick up the slack, we’re still in dire need of more local storage.

When Smaller Is Better for MacBooks

If you already have a desktop or other primary computer, MacBook storage is much less of a concern. Not keeping personal Photos and iTunes purchases around might even boost your productivity. You can save money by opting for a smaller model, while relying on your main machine for storage-intensive tasks.

For everyone else wondering how much storage they need for their MacBook: consider how long you expect to use your machine and your storage requirements before you buy. 512GB of space is decent if you don’t plan to install big apps or keep huge photo/video libraries around. If you do, get at least 1TB. Otherwise, you’ll have to add more MacBook space by relying on external drives, the cloud, and network storage.

If you’re low on space and can’t upgrade your machine, see how to free up space on your Mac.

Read the full article: Why You Shouldn’t Buy a MacBook With Only 256GB Storage