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Snow Leopard System Preferences: Hardware

There are many new features and tweaks in Snow Leopard and this is the second of a four-part look at the changes that have been made to System Preferences. Go to the Apple menu in the top left corner of the screen and select System Preferences. The System Preferences is where you can configure the look and feel, options and settings for OS X. It is divided into four sections - Personal, Hardware, Internet & Wireless, and System. (You may have a fifth section for other applications that you install yourself, but we're just looking at OS X here.)

In this part the focus is on the items in the hardware section.

CDs & DVDs

There have been no changes to CDs & DVDs in System Preferences.



There has been a big change in Displays in System Preferences and you will find that the colour selector and refresh rate selector are missing in Snow Leopard. For some unknown reason there is now just a big empty space where the controls used to be. The refresh rate selector used to say n/a (not applicable) with the built in display, which is fair enough because OS X knows the exact frequency that is best, and the colour depth selector used to let you choose 256, thousands or millions of colours. Presumably it is fixed at the Millions of Colours setting and the thinking is probably that there's no reason why you would ever want to work with fewer colours. (Millions of colours is actually confusing. Is that 24-bit or 32-bit? Can't we have a bit depth selector?)

Another change is on the Color tab and there are now several predefined display profiles: Adobe RGB (1998), Generic RGB Profile, sRGB IE61966-2.1 and perhaps more. There is also a tick box to show only the profiles applicable to the current display too.

Energy Saver

There have been quite a few changes to Energy Saver and it looks like Snow Leopard has fewer options. It hasn't, but the way they are presented makes it look like it. For example, you used to be able to select Battery in a pop-up menu and then select the optimisation, such as better performance or longer battery life. The Optimization pop-up menu has been removed and the settings for battery and power adaptor are on tabs.

Choose the Battery settings in Leopard and you used to have Sleep and Options tabs, but now everything is on one Battery tab. If you want performance or longer battery life you have to adjust the sliders and change the tick boxes yourself. It's better having everything on one tab, but it's a shame the old Optimization pop-up menu has gone. There used to be a button to configure the screen saver, but that has been removed too. Of course, it can be set elsewhere, so it's not really a problem.


Leopard has a Keyboard & Mouse preference pane, but Snow Leopard has split them into two separate items. If you access Keyboard you can modify the key repeat rate and delay until a key repeats. An extra option we didn't have before is to show the Keyboard and Character viewer in the menu bar. It is actually a duplication of the option in the Language and Text pane, so you can access it in two places now.

The Keyboard Shortcuts tab has been completely redesigned and it is now much easier to use than in Leopard. There are two lists and on the left are groups of functions and on the right are the actions and keyboard shortcuts. The long long list of items with folder-like triangles that revealed sub-items when clicked are gone. Well, almost. There are some, but the number of items in the keyboard shortcut list has been greatly reduced. You just select the group on the left, such as Front Row or Expose and Spaces, and you can see the shortcuts on the right. Watch out for clashes! Snow Leopard can assign several different functions to the same keypress for some reason and you'll see a yellow triangle with a white exclamation sysmbol in it.


The Mouse system preference pane in Snow Leopard is exactly the same as the Mouse tab from the old Keyboard & Mouse pane in Leopard. No new features have been added apart from giving Mouse its own pane.


Whether you see a Trackpad preference pane and what you see in it will depend on which Mac you have. iMacs don't have trackpads and older MacBooks have a completely different trackpad to new MacBooks with their multi-touch capabilities. There used to be an option to ignore the trackpad when a mouse was plugged in to an old MacBook, but this has been removed in Snow Leopard. It's not an important issue and you can ignore the trackpad yourself simply by not touching it. Perhaps that is the reasoning behind removing this option.

The Trackpad preference pane has changed the most on new MacBooks and the main difference is that features are now selectable options. You can now choose whether to enable three finger and four finger swipes, you can choose which corner you want for the secondary click, you can choose whether to have two finger rotate, and so on. The features haven't changed, but now they are optional instead of compulsory.

Print & Fax

Nothing significant appears to have changed in the Print & Fax preference pane.



There are no differences in the Sound preference pane, but if you tick the option to add a speaker icon to the right side of the menu bar you will find a useful new feature. Hold down the option key and click the speaker icon to see a new menu. It enables you to select the input source, such as the microphone or line in, the output device, and to open Sound in System Preferences.

Part 1: System Preferences - Personal section
Part 2: System Preferences - Hardware section
Part 3: System Preferences - Internet & Wireless section
Part 4: System Preferences - System section

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