Macbook peripherals for dummies
January 1, 2017 8:04 AM   Subscribe

Questions about a keyboard, monitor and USB hub for my Macbook Pro. With bonus hard drive question. Snowflakes inside.

For clarity: I have a retina Macbook Pro that comes with two Thunderbolt 2 ports, a HDMI port and two USB 3 ports.


I have an old 18" monitor (widescreen, 41x22cm screen size) sat gathering dust. Its connector looks like so. I would like to set it up semi-permanently on a shelf in my bedroom so if I want to watch Netflix in bed, I can connect my Macbook to it.
  • Is there a not-too-expensive adapter I can use to do this? (I'd Google, but not even knowing what to call the monitor's connector beyond "a monitor connector" kinda prevents that, unfortunately.)
  • Will the Macbook just clone its desktop gracefully to the monitor when I plug it in or do I need to mess about setting things up every time I connect and disconnect it?

I would like to get a full-size keyboard (number pad and all) to take with me when I go on longer trips, because as I unfortunately found out this past week, typing for an extended period of time on the Macbook's fairly cramped keyboard makes my hands hurt. I'd like it to be cheap, something I can just throw in my suitcase and won't mourn if it gets lost or broken. The cheap keyboards I can find all have Windows keys. So...
  • Can I just get a Windows keyboard and it'll work with the Macbook? I'm happy memorizing which function keys turn into which (or just using stickers to relabel the keys if I can't), just as long as it works.
USB hub

Too many USB devices, too few ports. Currently the two USB ports on my Macbook are taken up, respectively, by my portable hard drive and wireless mouse. The issue is whenever I want to connect anything else (my iPhone or my camera, for instance) I need to disconnect one of the two, which I'd rather avoid.
(I know the Macbook has a SD card slot, but sometimes it's just simpler to use the USB cable instead of pulling the card out the camera and sticking it into the Macbook.)
  • Any portable USB hub recommendations? The smaller the better, so I can take it with me all the time, and ideally not too expensive. Best-case scenario would be if the resulting extra USB ports could be used to charge / power devices so I can recharge the rest of my stuff (including my portable phone battery charger, which recharges via USB) when my Macbook is connected to power, but I have no idea where the technology is at or if that's even possible.
  • Alternatively, any adapter or hub that is not grievously expensive and can turn that pair of Thunderbolt 2 ports I never see myself using into one or more USB ports each?
Hard drive

My portable hard drive is HFS+ formatted, since I wanted to use it for Time Machine backups. I would like to also be able to use it to move files to and from my Windows computer. Since reformatting it with a different file system isn't an option, I need something that'll let my Windows computer access HFS+. (I'm disinclined to move stuff via Dropbox, Google Drive or similar, for a variety of reasons including large file sizes and one of the things I want to copy to that portable hard drive being a 60GB++ music library.)

Googling found me Paragon HFS+. They appear to have a free version, but that's only for Windows 8 and I'm on 7. So...
  • (Is there a free equivalent for 7 anywhere? I'm happy to cough up the $20 if not, since I specifically need write access and therefore the read-only free solutions I've found won't work, but figured it's worth asking.)
Thank you!
posted by sailoreagle to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: To snipe off two at the start:

Monitor: that is a DVI cable. So you'd want a DVI to HDMI adapter. And no, they aren't terribly expensive.

Keyboard: Yes, any USB keyboard should work.
posted by Zephyrial at 9:06 AM on January 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Ah, excellent, thank you. So something like this then?
posted by sailoreagle at 9:43 AM on January 1, 2017

Best answer: Any USB keyboard will work, although last time I tried using a Windows keyboard on a Mac I could never get the mapping to work correctly.

Apple sells a corded keyboard that has 10-key (I really don't understand why their wireless keyboard doesn't!)

My husband uses the Logitech keyboard designed for Macs (although I think you need to plug in a USB dongle).
posted by radioamy at 11:05 AM on January 1, 2017

Best answer: For the hard drive: You can use Disk Utility to create 2 partitions on it (that will delete all the data on it, so backup first), format one into HFS+ for backups and the other into exFAT for moving files between computers.

The downside of this approach is that you need to choose the partition size beforehand and they're hard to resize without reformatting.
posted by mavrik at 12:57 PM on January 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

I would like to get a full-size keyboard (number pad and all) to take with me when I go on longer trips, because as I unfortunately found out this past week, typing for an extended period of time on the Macbook's fairly cramped keyboard makes my hands hurt.

The MBP's keyboard IS full size, but it's flat. Apple's current separate keyboards are the same. Their keyboards from a few years ago might be more to your liking, if you can find 1 secondhand. Alternatively Das Keyboard makes a big oldschool keyboard for the Mac.
Personallly, I've found that I have got used to the flat keyboards now and prefer them.
posted by w0mbat at 1:26 PM on January 1, 2017

Best answer: Paragon HFS+ appears to work for 7, according to this page of theirs. So, you should try the free version; if it has been set to never work on 7, then it probably won't install at all. If it will install, though, it's likely to work.

The fastest way to move files between Mac and Windows machines, though, is still by network. Windows uses Windows File Sharing, aka CIFS, and Mac supports the same thing, only they call it SMB/Samba. I guess technically CIFSs is a "dialect" of SMB, whatever that means. Point being: they can both share files/folders to one another.

I suggest creating a nominally-empty "drop" folder on each one, share it to the other (might be handy to call them "WINdrop" and "OSXdrop" and you can copy files to that, and pull them from the other one. That way you're not exposing important folders to file sharing (some basic security hygiene) and you can park things for later transfer without confusion. You can even mount one machine's shared folder as a network drive on the other, which will make things very simple.
posted by Sunburnt at 1:51 PM on January 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Oh, for...

See, if I were actually smart, it would have occurred to me to share across the network. That does seem to be the optimal solution for file-moving, since it's the most painless (although reformatting the hard drive so it's partitioned is also an interesting thought, and I might've done that if I'd thought to ask this before I started using the drive).

Going to call that, the monitor and the keyboard issues solved, and mark accordingly.

(Though a note - w0mbat, no, the MBP keyboard isn't full size, it stops at the enter key, at least on my 13". So it lacks page up / page down / etc keys, as well as a number pad. Also, if it were just the flatness that's the issue in terms of hand pain, I'd prop the Macbook up so the keyboard's inclined and deal with it. Alas, I tried that and it made no difference - it's the keyboard size, more specifically the space between one key and the next. It's got 3mm between key tops, whereas the full-size one I use on my Windows computer has 7mm, and while you wouldn't think 4mm would have that much of an effect...)

Would still love to get recommendations for a USB hub or a Thunderbolt 2 to USB converter, though!
posted by sailoreagle at 2:24 PM on January 1, 2017

Best answer: Thunderbolt 2 to USB isn't a very common solution. A USB 3.0 hub would be a much better solution, and much cheaper. The Wirecutter has a great review of USB hubs.
posted by blob at 3:17 PM on January 1, 2017

I have the Logitech keyboard as my everyday keyboard, and it's terrific. Even cheaper on Amazon.

Can echo blob that the Wirecutter selections for USB hubs are spot on.
posted by General Malaise at 4:48 PM on January 1, 2017

Oh, should add: second monitor setups on MacOS are pretty seamless, but they're especially more seamless on MacOS Sierra if you haven't updated and wanted a reason to.
posted by General Malaise at 4:52 PM on January 1, 2017

If you plug a Windows-style keyboard into a Mac, the option and command keys won't be where your fingers expect them. If memory serves, you can fix this in System Preferences > Keyboard > Modifier Keys.

You could free up a USB port by using a Bluetooth mouse (and keyboard). The Bluetooth receiver is already inside the computer, so you don't need a receiver plugged in via USB.
posted by actionstations at 7:33 PM on January 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

« Older Identify my Taiwanese taxi lullaby   |   I'm sleeping with my head in a 6 milliGauss AC... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.