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Q&A: MacFixIt Answers

MacFixIt Answers is a weekly feature in which we answer questions e-mailed in by our readers. We welcome alternative approaches and views from readers and encourage you to post your own suggestions in the comments.

MacFixIt Answers is a feature in which we answer questions e-mailed in by our readers. This week readers wrote in asking questions about ways to spin down network hard drives, the differences between Mac App Store updates and those in Software Update, options for dealing with noisy iMac fans, and how necessary it is to run maintenance routines. We continually answer e-mail questions, and though we present a few answers here, we welcome alternative approaches and views from readers and encourage you to post your suggestions in the comments.

Question: Spinning down AirPort Extreme and Time Capsule drives
MacFixIt reader "Joshua" asks:

Just read your posting about managing drive spindown. I am wondering if there is a way to control spindown/drive sleeping on external drives connected to an AirPort Extreme? I am a new Mac user and recently bought a refurbished AirPort Extreme to have a central network drive for Time Machine backups, but the drive I am using doesn't seem to go to sleep after inactivity like it used to when it was connected directly to my Mac.

Unfortunately you cannot do this because drive spindown is controlled by the computer to which it is attached, and not by the drive itself. Tools like SpindownHD or the power management commands affect local controllers, so any locally attached drive (USB, FireWire, SATA, and so on) will be spun down; however, networked drives are controlled by a different system and adjustments would need to be made to that system in order to govern the drive's spin behavior. To the best of my knowledge the drive spindown times for Time Capsule and AirPort Extreme devices cannot be modified, so you are stuck with the default spindown behavior (likely about 10 to 15 minutes, but I am not sure of this detail for Apple's network storage devices).

Question: Differences between App Store updates and Software Updates
MacFixIt reader "Dick" asks:

The information about software updates being only via the AppStore if the product was purchased there originally vs. being able to update automatically via the Apple SW update process otherwise leaves me with the question ... what are the pros and cons for the two options (I am relatively new to Apple) from a convenience, efficiency and cost perspective?

With respect to Apple's software there are no pros or cons to either method on the user's end; rather, the use of the Mac App Store is more beneficial to Apple for marketing purposes. The difference comes when managing third-party applications, where those purchased through the Mac App Store will need to be updated through the store instead of by visiting developers' sites or using built-in updaters for various software packages. This is built to provide a level of convenience to users (though it may be a touch confusing for people who have software installed both from the Mac App Store and from third-party websites), who would just need to visit the store's Updates section to see if there are any available updates for their programs.

Apple's built-in Software Update tool, on the other hand, appears to be morphing into a system-only update routine, so if Apple releases a security update or a firmware update for your Mac then you will receive it through Software Update. This may change in the future, but for now appears to be the course of what will (at least in Apple's eyes) differentiate it from the Mac App Store.

Question: Noisy iMac fans
MacFixIt reader "gercourt" asks:

Is there a fix for a suddenly very noisy fan in a 20" iMac?

Beyond blowing compressed air into the vent (or using a vacuum cleaner) in an attempt to dislodge anything stuck to it, the only option is to have the Mac serviced so the fan can be replaced. I would not recommend servicing the iMac yourself unless the system is out of warranty.

Question: The necessity of maintenance routines
MacFixIt reader "Paul" asks:

I am bewildered by the amount of Mac utilities there are - I think my Mac is running as normal - do I need Maintenance and File Management software? Always scared it might damage things as I am super cautious. What "Basic maintenance routines" do you recommend?

Maintenance tools are only necessary if you are experiencing a problem. Provided you keep your system tidy and only install what you need, then the chances of problems are relatively low. Many people (myself included) tend to install all kinds of random programs for various purposes, and over time things may begin to go awry for some of these setups. In these cases, being able to clear caches and perform other maintenance can be beneficial.

Overall, clearing caches and running other basic maintenance routines should not harm a system at all. You can do it all day and the system will just rebuild the cache each time. The only drawback is the system may run a little slower immediately after running maintenance routines while it rebuilds the caches, reverted settings, and other items that had been reset by those routines.

Basic recommendations are to periodically boot into Safe Mode (hold Shift at start-up) and then run a permissions fix on the boot drive using Disk Utility. Beyond that, my recommendation would be to run a general maintenance routine.

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