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Mavericks Can Be Fountain of Youth for Old Macs

Mavericks Can Be Fountain of Youth for Old Macs

Mavericks has a new memory compressing scheme that allows a Mac to get more out of its existing RAM. Since I have only 2 GB of memory in my MacBook Air, this feature is heaven-sent. It works like this: As a Mac approaches its memory limits, Mavericks compresses memory being used by idle programs to provide more RAM for your system. That allows you to get more bang for the memory you have in your Mac.

OS X Mavericks is available from Apple for free.

OS X Mavericks
As someone with a reluctance to upgrade his hardware as often as Apple would appreciate, two aspects of OS X 10.9 Mavericks immediately caught my attention: its memory management and battery-life enhancements.

Mavericks makes a number of changes in power management that improve battery life substantially -- even on my old 2009 13-inch MacBook Air.

It has reduced demands on a system's central processing unit through something called "Timer Coalescing." The technology squeezes more time out of a battery charge by grouping together low-level operations -- transitions and interrupts, for instance -- to allow the CPU to enter a low-power state more often. It can reduce CPU activity by as much as 72 percent, according to Apple.

Another major juice saver in Mavericks is App Nap. What that does is slow down inactive apps when they're not working in the foreground. It reduces demands on a processor even more and decreases energy consumption by as much as 23 percent.

Mavericks also adds some additional information under the power icon on the OS X toolbar that I found very handy. Along with the an estimate of the battery life remaining in your current charge, it tells you what apps are using significant energy on your system.

Doubled My Battery Life

While those claims sound good, I've always been a doubting Thomas when it comes to battery-life claims. Claims can be fudged or can be the fruit of lab conditions that don't emulate the real world.

That's not the case with Mavericks. Amazingly, I easily doubled the battery life on my MacBook Air. From averaging two to two-and-a-half hours, my battery life was suddenly in the four-to-five hour range.

On the memory side of the ledger, Mavericks has a new memory compressing scheme that allows a Mac to get more out of its existing RAM. Since I have only 2 GB of memory in my MacBook Air, this feature is heaven-sent. It works like this: As a Mac approaches its memory limits, Mavericks compresses memory being used by idle programs to provide more RAM for your system. That allows you to get more bang for the memory you have in your Mac.

An added benefit of memory compression is it cuts down on disk access. That's because the more tasks you can perform in memory, the fewer you'll have to swap off to disk. All of that is supposed to improve your system's performance. If it did, I didn't notice it.

Tabbed Finding

In recent times, Apple has been trying to offer alternatives to doing grunt work in the Finder. After all, folders and files are so 20th century. However, Mavericks has added some Finder features that can make working with folders and files more efficient.

Both tabs and tags are now part of the Finder's repertoire. Tabs were originally introduced in browsers to cut down on screen clutter. They've proven to be useful in other kinds of software, too, such as email programs.

In Mavericks, Finder windows can be set up as tabs. For example, you could set up tabs for a Dropbox disk, your Desktop and Documents folder. Then you could jump to those areas with a click without hunting for them in the Finder's sidebar.

Tabs make moving files easier, too. You can drag items from an open Finder window to a tab, and the item will be moved to the tabbed location.

In a browser, you can choose to have new windows opened automatically in a tab; not so in the Finder -- you have to create them manually. That's done by selecting the item you want to be the focus of the tab and using Command-T or Command-double click.

Finding With Tags

Just as tabs make navigating in the Finder easier, tags can make finding items snappier. Tags are words used to identify an item. "St. Bart, Caribbean, vacation, 1995," for example, might be tags used to identify pictures from a memorable event from your past.

Tags can be added to files and folders in Mavericks. In a Finder window, you can select an item, press control-click and choose the tags item from the pop-up menu. When saving a file, a field will appear in the save box for adding tags.

You can add as many tags as you like. You just need to separate them by commas. Comma separation also allows you to use more than one word as a tag.

In addition to tagging items with words, you can tag them with colors. Since you only have a limited color palette to work with, I found that feature marginally useful.

More Than 200 New Features

Mavericks adds a new Tags section to the Finder's sidebar. You can specify which tags you'd like to appear there. That's a good thing, since as you create more and more tags, the sidebar could get flooded with them.

In the Tags section, though, there's an All Tags item. It will open a window in the Finder that shows all your tags. In that window you can search for tags, edit them, and display items associated with them -- wherever those items are located on your system.

These are just a few of the goodies that can be found in Mavericks. Interactive notifications have been added. Passwords, usernames and credit card information can be stored across devices with iCloud Keychain. There's even iOS favorites like iBooks and Apple Maps.

In fact, Apple says it has added more than 200 new features to the latest version of OS X. However, for my money -- oops, did I mention the upgrade was for free? -- the improved battery life and memory compression features alone make upgrading to Mavericks worthwhile.


John Mello is a freelance technology writer and former special correspondent for Government Security News.


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