Setting Up Your New Mac

Discover a Few Tricks for Setting Up Your Mac

MacBook with manual
JiaJia Liu / Getty Images

Opening the box your new Mac came in can be an exhilarating experience, especially if it's your first Mac. The real fun comes after you power the Mac on for the first time. Although you'll want to dive right in and start using your new Mac, it's worth taking a few minutes to configure it to meet your needs.

How to Ergonomically Set Up Your Laptop

MacBook with manual
JiaJia Liu / Getty Images

If your new Mac is one of Apple's line of portable Macs, such as the MacBook Pro or MacBook Air, then you have some additional options for setting up a comfy work environment. Even though it's a portable, consider setting up a semi-permanent location for using it at home. This will let you enjoy the benefits of a well-planned workspace, while still letting you head out to the deck on those nice, warm evenings.

When you find yourself on the run with your portable Mac, the tips in this article can help you maximize its ergonomics. Your eyes, wrists, and back will thank you.

Creating User Accounts on Your Mac

Users & Groups Preference Pane
Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

When you first start up your brand-new Mac, it will walk you through the process of creating an administrator account. While many individuals are satisfied with a single administrator account, additional user accounts can make your Mac more versatile.

A second administrator account can be helpful if your Mac has problems caused by software issues. An existing but unused administrator account will have all of the system defaults in place, and can make the troubleshooting process easier.

In addition to administrator accounts, you can create standard user accounts for family members. This will allow them to use the Mac but prevent them from being able to make changes to the system, other than changes to their own account.

You can also set up managed accounts, which are standard accounts with parental control options that can allow or deny access to certain applications, as well as control when and for how long the computer may be used.

Configure Your Mac's System Preferences

Your Mac's System Preferences
Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

System preferences are the heart of the Mac. They determine how your Mac will work and what options are available; they also allow you to customize the user interface.

The Mac's system preferences are made up of individual preference panes. Apple supplies many preference panes, which let you configure your display, mouse, user accounts, security, and screen savers, among other options. Additional options are available through third-party applications. For instance, you may have a preference pane to configure Adobe's Flash Player or a third-party keyboard you added to your system.

If there's an aspect of your Mac that you'd like to customize, the system preferences are the place to start.

Using the Finder on Your Mac

Using the Finder
Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

The Finder is Apple's method of accessing files, folders, and applications. If you're switching to the Mac from a Windows PC, you can think of the Finder as equivalent to Windows Explorer.

The Finder is very versatile, as well as one of the most customized applications on the Mac. If you're a new Mac user, it's worth taking the time to become familiar with the Finder, and all the things it can help you accomplish.

Backing Up Your Mac

Carbon Copy Cloner 4
Carbon Copy Cloner 4.x. Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

The Mac comes with a built-in backup system called Time Machine. Because Time Machine is so easy to use and works so well, we encourage everyone to use it as part of their backup strategy. Even if you do nothing more for backups than turn on Time Machine, you'll at least have the basics covered.

There are additional steps you can take to help ensure that if something goes terribly wrong, it will be a minor inconvenience rather than a major disaster. These steps include learning how to make clones of your startup drive, learning how to use other popular backup applications, and putting together an external hard drive or two for your backup needs.

Before you start using your Mac to store a lot of pictures, movies, music, and user documents, take the time to configure your backup system.

Using The Recovery Disk Assistant

Recovery Disk Assistant
Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

The installation of OS X automatically creates a Recovery HD partition on the Mac's startup drive. This special partition is hidden from view but can be accessed by holding down the command + R keys when you boot your Mac. You can use the Recovery HD partition to repair your Mac or reinstall OS X.

One drawback of the Recovery HD partition is that it's located on the startup drive. If your startup drive should have a physical problem that causes it to fail, you won't be able to access the Recovery HD partition. You can manually create a copy of the Recovery HD partition on a second hard drive or a USB thumb drive, so that when things go really wrong, you can still boot your Mac and find out what's going on.

How to Perform a Clean Install of macOS Sierra

macOS Sierra on MacBook
Courtesy of Apple

 ​macOS Sierra is the first Mac operating system to use the new macOS name. The purpose of the name change was to associate the Mac's operating system more closely with the other operating systems Apple uses: iOS, tvOS, and watchOS.

While the name change brings consistency to the operating system names, the actual macOS Sierra operating system doesn't look much different than the previous OS X El Capitan. However, it does include a bunch of new features, including Siri for Mac, which many people have been waiting on.

If your Mac is running an older version of the Mac operating system, you'll find the clean install instructions for updating your Mac helpful.

Just one more thing. There's also an upgrade install available that is even easier to perform, and has the advantage of maintaining all your current user data and apps. You'll find the link to the upgrade instructions at the beginning of the clean install article.

How to Perform a Clean Install of OS X El Capitan on Your Mac

OS X El Capitan Installation Progress
The initial install of OS X El Capitan files can take from 10 minutes to 45 minutes, depending on your Mac model and the type of drive installed. Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

 If you picked up a new Mac this holiday season, then it is likely to have come equipped with OS X El Capitan (10.11.x). You're not likely to need to perform a clean install of OS X anytime soon, but perhaps someday down the road, you will need to know how to restore your Mac to the state it was in when you first got it.

This installation guide will take you through the process and leave you with a fully setup and pristine copy of OS X El Capitan installed on your Mac.

Perform a Clean Install of OS X Yosemite on Your Mac's Startup Drive

Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

OS X Yosemite, also known as OS X 10.10, is the first version of OS X that Apple has made available as a public beta before its final release. Yosemite offers a number of new features, including the Handoff service, which lets you pick up on your iOS device where you left off from on your Mac.

Older OS X Installation Instructions

Steve Jobs Introduces OS X Lion
Steve Jobs Introduces OS X Lion. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

 If you need to go back in time, at least when it comes to OS X, we've included links to older versions of the Mac operating system. You may need these for older Macs that don't support the more recent versions of OS X or macOS.