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You Need to Try These 17 Essential MacBook Settings Right Now

Customize your MacBook by following these tips during or after setup.

Matt Elliott Senior Editor
Matt Elliott is a senior editor at CNET with a focus on laptops and streaming services. Matt has more than 20 years of experience testing and reviewing laptops. He has worked for CNET in New York and San Francisco and now lives in New Hampshire. When he's not writing about laptops, Matt likes to play and watch sports. He loves to play tennis and hates the number of streaming services he has to subscribe to in order to watch the various sports he wants to watch.
Expertise Laptops | Desktops | All-in-one PCs | Streaming devices | Streaming platforms
Joshua Goldman Managing Editor / Advice
Managing Editor Josh Goldman is a laptop expert and has been writing about and reviewing them since built-in Wi-Fi was an optional feature. He also covers almost anything connected to a PC, including keyboards, mice, USB-C docks and PC gaming accessories. In addition, he writes about cameras, including action cams and drones. And while he doesn't consider himself a gamer, he spends entirely too much time playing them.
Expertise Laptops, desktops and computer and PC gaming accessories including keyboards, mice and controllers, cameras, action cameras and drones Credentials
  • More than two decades experience writing about PCs and accessories, and 15 years writing about cameras of all kinds.
Matt Elliott
Joshua Goldman
8 min read
Apple MacBook Air M2 2022 on a wooden desk.

The MacBook Air M2 is great out of the box, but can be even better with some setting changes.

Josh Goldman/CNET
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With the new year just around the corner, it's a great time to clean up your MacBook and get it running at its best. Or maybe you've got a pristine new MacBook and want to explore all it has to offer. Either way, no laptop comes straight out of the box optimized for maximum performance -- even one with an Apple logo. 

No matter if you have a new MacBook like the M2 MacBook Air or an M2 MacBook Pro, own an earlier M1 MacBook Air or Pro, or you have an older Intel-based MacBook, there are things you can do to improve the experience. A handful of tweaks, tips and fixes you should do on Day 1 or Day 101 that go beyond your default MacBook settings. I've put together some of my personal favorites here that will make your device easier to use.

So, after you've jumped through the initial screens from the Mac Setup Assistant that had you log in with your Apple ID, connect to a network and so on, consider changing these settings, or at least check them out, on your MacBook. This list is sure to grow, too, now that Apple's latest desktop OS, MacOS Ventura, has arrived.

Read more: The Quickest Way to Transfer Your Files, Apps and More From Your Old MacBook

Check for updates

Has Apple released an update to MacOS since it built your MacBook? Find out by clicking the Apple button in the upper-left corner of your screen and then clicking About This Mac. You should be staring at the General tab of the About This Mac window. If so, click the Software Update button, which will launch the System Preferences to check for updates.

Screenshot by Josh Goldman/CNET

Optimize battery charging

If your MacBook is going to spend most of its time plugged in, you'll definitely want to change this setting. MacOS can learn your charging habits to reduce battery aging. Click on the battery icon on the menu bar at the top of your display and select Battery Preferences from the drop-down menu. (If you don't see a battery icon, go to System Preferences > Energy Saver and check the box for Show battery status in menu bar.) At the bottom of the list of options, select Optimized battery charging. This will slow down your charging once the battery hits 80%. 

Screenshot by Josh Goldman/CNET

Read more: Best iPhone 14 Fast Chargers at the Lowest Prices We Can Find

Set up Siri

Siri should be enabled by default, but if you would prefer to use Siri only on your iPhone, then you can disable Siri by going to System Preferences > Siri and unchecking the box for Enable Ask Siri. If you plan on using Siri frequently, then you can use this Siri window to choose Siri's voice, language and a keyboard shortcut.

Screenshot by Josh Goldman/CNET

Customize the Touch Bar

If you have one of the last remaining Intel-based MacBook Pro or 13-inch M2 MacBook Pro models with the Touch Bar, then head to System Preferences > Keyboard and click the Customize Touch Bar button and then simply drag the buttons you want to show up on the default view of the Touch Bar to the Touch Bar below the display. Don't worry, they'll make the leap from your display across the hinge and to the Touch Bar. 

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Sync folders via iCloud

I find it incredibly useful to sync the Desktop and Documents folders between my two Macs and my iOS devices. To sync these two folders, go to System Preferences > Apple ID and click iCloud in the left column and check the box next to iCloud Drive. Click Options next to iCloud Drive and select Desktop and Documents folders.

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Choose default browser

Even though it uses more system resources than Safari , I use Chrome instead of Safari because the favicons help me keep track of all of my open tabs. To set a default browser, go to System Preferences > General and make a selection other than Safari for Default web browser.

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Read more: Best MacBook Air M2 Charger: Which One Should I Get?

Set scrolling direction

A MacBook's "natural" scrolling direction doesn't feel natural to me. If you want the two-finger swipe gesture to scroll vertically in the opposite way, head to System Preferences > Trackpad and click on the Scroll & Zoom tab. Next, uncheck the box for Scroll direction: Natural.

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Add and remove items from Dock

Apple throws a number of stock apps into the Dock at the bottom of the screen. You can make room for the apps you use most frequently by removing others you don't need in the Dock. To remove an app from the Dock, simply click on its icon in the Dock and drag it to the desktop until you see Remove appear above the icon and then let go. Poof, it's gone! To add an app to the Dock, open it and then right-click on its icon in the Dock and mouse over the Option line in the menu and click Keep in Dock.

Matt Elliott/CNET
Watch this: 7 things to tweak when setting up a new MacBook

Move the Dock

The Dock sits at the bottom of your screen, but on a widescreen MacBook display, you might find it better to have it on the side. To move the Dock, go to System Preferences > Dock & Menu Bar and choose either Left or Right for Position on Screen. While you're there, you can also drag a slider to adjust the size of the Dock. You can also make it disappear from view when you aren't using it by checking the box for Automatically hide and show the Dock.

Screenshot by Josh Goldman/CNET

Show battery percentage

Like an iPhone, a MacBook displays a small battery icon at the top of the display to show how much battery power remains. It's more helpful if next to this icon the percentage of battery you have left is also displayed. To show the percentage, go to System Preferences > Dock & Menu Bar and choose Battery from the left column. Check the box next to Show Percentage and it should instantly appear next to the battery icon on the Menu Bar.

A spare laptop charger comes in really handy but Apple sells its MacBook adapters at a premium. However, you don't have to use an Apple adapter to power up your MacBook via one of its USB-C ports. Instead, go with a less expensive third-party charger and keep one in your laptop bag and one at home. Just be sure to get an adapter that puts out at least the same amount of power as the one included with your MacBook.


Stop auto-play videos

Safari now combats two of the bigger internet annoyances: autoplay videos and ad trackers. Ad tracking is stopped by default, but there is a global setting for stopping autoplay videos that you'll want to enable. Open Safari's Preferences and click on the Websites tab. Choose Auto-Play from the left panel and for When visiting other websites at the bottom of the window, select Never Auto-Play or Stop Media with Sound (if you are OK with muted videos playing) and sit back and rejoice in the silence.

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Work the Night Shift

Staring at a blue-light screen before bed can shift your body's natural clock and make it difficult to get a good night's sleep. With Apple's Night Shift feature, the colors of your display are shifted to the warmer end of the spectrum during the evening hours. Head to System Preferences > Displays and click the Night Shift tab. You can set Night Shift to come on from sunset to sunrise, or you can select a custom time period. Use the slider to adjust the color temperature of the effect between less warm and more. Once you start using Night Shift, you'll wonder how you ever sat in front of a cold, blue screen in the evening hours.

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Make your desktop dynamic

With MacOS Mojave Apple introduced a dynamic wallpaper that slowly changes its lighting throughout the day, going from a bright, sunny desert scene during the day and transitioning to a cool, dark screen at night. You can find it by going to System Preferences > Desktop & Screen Saver. While Mojave started out with just two dynamic wallpapers -- Mojave and Solar Gradients -- there are now several to choose from and sites where you can download more.

Screenshot by Josh Goldman/CNET

Try out dark mode

MacOS Mojave also delivered an honest-to-goodness dark mode for Macs. Go to System Preferences > General and you'll see the Light and Dark options at the top for Appearance. On most apps, dark mode turns the background black and text white. Want to use both Light and Dark options? Select Auto and buttons, menus and windows will change throughout the day.

Screenshot by Josh Goldman/CNET

Set hours for Do Not Disturb

Along with overly blue screens, notifications have no place in my home after a certain hour. As with iOS, MacOS lets you disable notifications in the evening so you aren't disturbed while watching Netflix or sleeping. Go to System Preferences > Notifications and check the box Turn on Do Not Disturb. By default, it's set for the hours of 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. but you can set your own Do Not Disturb Window. There are options to enable the feature when your MacBook's display is sleeping or when you are mirroring the display to a TV or projector (and presumably watching a movie or show or video). You can also let calls come through (if you use your MacBook to answer calls) or just repeated calls, which might mean there is an emergency or something urgent to which you may need to respond.

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Set app download tolerance level

If you want to download apps from the web at large and not just from the Mac App Store, you'll need to tell MacOS to loosen up on the reins a bit. Go to System Preferences > Security & Privacy, click the General tab and then click the lock in the lower-left corner and enter your password to make changes. Next, for Allow apps downloaded from, choose App Store and identified developers.

More from 12 Days of Tips

Choose how quickly your MacBook locks

Screenshot by Josh Goldman/CNET

While on the Security & Privacy page, you can set the length of time your MacBook can sit idle before the screen locks. It's more convenient to set a longer time but also less secure. The time period to set here doesn't start ticking until the screen saver begins, so you also need to set the length of time before your screen saver kicks in. Go to System Preferences > Desktop & Screen Saver and you can select the style of your screen saver and also the time by using the drop-down menu at the top of the window.