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Doing diagnostics

Your buddy next door won’t stop crowing about his hot new Mac. Feeling the tiniest bit inadequate, you’d like to find out how your Mac measures up. To do so, you need a few tools to evaluate its performance. Here are some of my favorites:

•  Broadband Speed Test If your next-door neighbors are crawling to the Internet with a slow dial-up connection, who cares if their Mac boasts twice the gigahertz rating of yours? To gauge how quickly your Mac can sprint across the Web, try one of the many free broadband bandwidth tests. Seattle-based ISP Speakeasy offers just such a test. Broadband Reports provides links to Speakeasy’s tests, along with three other testing sites.

•  Compare and Contrast If you’d like a notion of just how much faster your neighbor’s Mac is than yours (or vice versa, if you’ve got the latest Mac on the block), download Xbench (free). This utility tests CPU memory and disk read and write speeds. If you care to, you can upload your Mac’s results and then compare them to those from other Macs of the world. Gloating optional.

•  Monitor Your Mac If you’re interested in what your Mac is up to—CPU load, processor temperature, drive read and write speeds, how full those drives are, which applications are occupying its RAM, and what’s taking place over the network—grab a copy of the Iconfactory’s iPulse ($13). iPulse is a gauge that reflects all this data in colored bars, in a menu-bar display, and in pop-up windows that appear when you mouse over particular parts of the gauge (see “Taking Your Mac’s Pulse” on Page 1). Using iPulse requires that you memorize what all its colors mean, but if you’re already fascinated by this kind of arcane data, taking that extra step shouldn’t be beyond you.

•  Aperture Able Apple’s Raw photo-processing application, Aperture, demands more of a Mac than just about any other program on the planet. If your Mac can handle it, you need bow to no one. To find out whether your Mac is up to the challenge, grab Apple’s Aperture Compatibility Checker (free).

[ Senior Editor Christopher Breen is the author of Secrets of the iPod and iTunes, fifth edition , and The iPod and iTunes Pocket Guide (both Peachpit Press, 2005). ]

Tip of the month

The Strength of Your Connections: Whenever I visit a café, a library, or another public place with my laptop, I like to check AirPort Status in my Mac’s menu bar to see what wireless networks are available. But sometimes, if I find myself in a particularly busy place full of hotspots, I would like to be able to view the list of networks sorted by signal strength.

You can do this with Tiger. First, though, you need the AirPort Status menu in your menu bar. Go to the Network preference pane. In the Show pop-up menu, select AirPort. Click on the AirPort tab; then select the Show AirPort Status In Menu Bar option at the bottom. An icon resembling a striped pie slice shows up in the menu bar. When you want to see all the wireless networks available to you sorted by signal strength, from strongest to weakest, simply hold down the option key and click on the AirPort icon on the menu bar. —Sandro V. Cuccia

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