Mac Corner: Meet your Computer, Part 2

By Larry Grinnell, Palm Beach Phoenix Apple Users Group

larry grinnellLast week, I took you through the opening screen of the About This Mac application, and showed you where to find some very basic information about your computer that you might need to give a technician or support person.

To recap, the opening window of About This Mac presents information about the kind of processor your computer has, and the speed at which it operates; how much memory (RAM) your computer has, and its speed and type; what version of the Macintosh operating system you are running; and which hard drive is the startup disk (more important when you have multiple hard disks connected to your Mac--usually with a Mac Pro or other tower-type machine, but it could also indicate a bootable external drive (by bootable, I mean that the drive is capable of starting your computer from initial power-up) connected through a USB 2.0 or FireWire port.

Less obvious, but just as useful, is the information you can find below the big apple graphic and the Mac OS X text. Click on the Version text and see that it changes to the Build number (information about what exact version of the operating system is installed—this number changes with each Apple software update). Click again, and the serial number is displayed. Click one more time, and the operating system version is again displayed.

Before we leave this, it’s important to note that if your computer’s motherboard (the main circuit board that contains the major components of your computer) has been replaced, the serial number either won’t be displayed, or may not match the serial number that is printed on the serial number label. This website ( has a useful PDF file that identifies the location of most serial number labels on Apple computers.

If the serial number is blank in the About This Mac window, or is different than what is printed on the serial number label, it could mean one of several things: your motherboard was replaced by an authorized Apple service center, or unauthorized repairs or modifications were performed on your computer’s motherboard. In the worst case, it could mean that the computer may have been stolen at one time and was altered by the thieves.

Finally, clicking the Software Update button causes your Mac to connect to servers at Apple, Inc., where it compares the system software installed on your computer against the very latest versions on Apple’s servers. If newer versions are available, or if major system software updates are available, your computer prompts you to install or cancel the transaction. Normally, the process of updating system software is automatic, but the configuration for this can be adjusted in the System Preferences application. Note: This will only update within your current system software release. In other words, if you are running any version of Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger), Software Update will not upgrade your system software to Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard). 

Okay. We now have some very basic, and valuable information about your computer, but you can learn even more with just a few mouse clicks. It is fairly "techie," but still extremely useful for anyone from rank novice to certified professional, but we’re out of space, and so will have to wait to talk about this until next time.

About Larry Grinnell: Larry has been working with Macintosh and Windows PCs for over 25 years and worked as a senior technical writer and IT support professional for a major midwest-based consumer electronics and telecommunications equipment manufacturer here in South Florida. His musings on a wide variety of topics from computers to jazz guitar to strange foreign cars from the 1950s can be viewed at the website. Click here to reach him by email.

palm beach phoenix logoWriters of this column are members of the Palm Beach Phoenix Apple User Group, a nonprofit organization for Apple Computing Device Users, recognized by Apple Inc., with the purpose of providing educational training and coaching to its members (students, professionals and seniors alike) in a cordial social environment. The club meets the second Saturday of each month from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Fire Station #2, 4301 Dixie Highway in West Palm Beach (just two block south of Southern Boulevard). Click here to visit their website. Click here to reach them by email.


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JUNE 10, 2009 click to go home
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