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How to use Windows PC peripherals on your new Mac

Making sure all the other stuff — mice, keyboards, printers, displays, external drives, gamepads, and more — works is important, but Apple makes it pretty easy. Whether it's mice, keyboards, printers, monitors, external drives, or more, that's the switcher concern I'm trying to alleviate this week.

P.K. writes:

"I have an HP I'd like to give up on and use a Mac instead. But I've got a perfectly good Wi-Fi printer and a Logitech keyboard and mouse combination I've spent good money on. Not to mention this external screen. Do I have to buy those again?"

That's one of the great things about the Mac mini: It comes with none of that stuff. Neither does its bookend on the other side of the Mac line, the Mac Pro.

If you're on a budget and you'd like to reuse as much of your PC as possible without, y'know, the actual PC part, swap it out with a Mac mini. They start at $499.

Macs are really good at figuring out what kind of devices are attached or available on the network, and they've gotten progressively better about filling in the gaps themselves.

Keyboards and Mice

Any USB keyboard or mouse, unless they're a really funky, unique and non-standard layout, should work without having to install any special driver software.

Some mice manufacturers do offer special driver packages for OS X — consult your mouse maker's web site to see if they do. Even without it, though, Apple's built-in drivers are aware of two-button mouse designs, and lets you manage tracking speed and double-click speed at the bare minimum. Even a wireless mouse that works with a USB dongle should be plug and play.

The first time you plug a new keyboard into the Mac you're sometimes asked to press the keys next to the keyboard shift keys so the Mac can figure out what you're using. But after that it should work.

Again, some keyboard manufacturers offer OS X driver downloads to enable media control keys and other special buttons to function, so check with your manufacturer for sure.

Good news for P.K. — Logitech's one of the companies that is pretty good about OS X support.

Printers, Scanners and Multifunction devices

The Mac can make sense of just about any printer on your Wi-Fi network, and most of the big names support OS X more proactively right out of the box. Even if the printer connects using USB, OS X's printer drivers will try to match it, and if they don't find a match, they'll ask you if it's okay to download drivers to make them work (it's okay).

I generally shy away from the "driver" packages available for download from printer makers' web sites, because they're often bundled with lousy apps that don't work very Mac-like.

Features like faxing should be pretty well supported using existing driver frameworks, often available as an option when you go to print a document.

The Preview app Apple includes with OS X, already on your Mac, supports scanning itself (go to the File menu, then select Import from Scanner. If you have a Wi-Fi printer with scanner built in, you'll find it there). Many image editing applications like Adobe Photoshop also include scanning ability, so don't jump to put the one that came with your printer on there.

Storage

If you've invested in external hard drives or other external storage devices like USB thumbdrives, they'll all work with the Mac. Though you'll likely have to reformat them using Disk Utility in order to get them to work well on the Mac.

The Mac should, at the very least, be able to read those drives even if they're not formatted with Mac-compatible partitions. Having a good file conversion plan like using Apple's Migration Assistant is important here.

Joysticks and gamepads

Gamepad and joystick support is very hit-or-miss in Mac games, though some companies clearly invest more effort in it than others.

I've had the best luck with games I've downloaded from Steam. Games I've downloaded from Feral Interactive and Aspyr are usually pretty good at supporting mainstream game controllers from Logitech and other makers; you can even get your PlayStation or Xbox controllers to work if you're willing to put in a little effort yourself.

Bottom line: Apple's made it less scary than ever to switch to the Mac. So enjoy your conversion!

Have any questions? Let me know in the comments.

6 Comments
  • I would recommend buying a Mac keyboard. I actually bought a Logitech wireless keyboard with the Mac layout despite having a keyboard and it was because of the CTRL-OPT-CMD screwiness that ensues when I used my old keyboard. I use Synergy for keyboard-mouse sharing and control both a Mac and Windows with it, so I can say it was certainly easier for me to use a Mac layout with Windows than vice versa.
  • You can also remap those keys in System Preferences.
    .
    Synergy is great, recommend Ethernet cables over Wi-Fi. Gets jumpy. At least on my Mac mini. Sent from the iMore App
  • Agree totally with davidbowser on the keyboard!
  • Razer has recently greatly improved their Mac support with their keyboards and mice.. One of the few fully supported gaming peripherals that works in both PC and Mac fairly well.. Though they are more expensive.. Been very happy with them and managed to keep my Gaming Naga mouse and Gaming keypad Orbweaver and use them on my Mac w/o any issues. Can even re-bind any of the keys with Razer's Mac version of Synapse software. Logitech has some 'OK' support for gaming geared mice that works on both PC and Mac (G602 for example).. but their driver support for 'gaming' keyboards is somewhat less than stellar. If you want to re-bind keys for gaming with a 'normal' keyboard.. their's Karabiner.. seems to work well.. You can find them at https://pqrs.org/osx/karabiner/
  • I have a Razer Death Stalker Untimate, the one with a stupid name, but awesome touch-screen trackpad & 10 customizable color keys, aka Switch Blade User Interface (SBUI). I use it for work on my WinPC. Love it.
    Unfortunately, this seems to be the one keyboard Razer doesn't support for Mac. Even the keys were acting up on me. Glad you've had good luck! Sent from the iMore App
  • I generally find that drives formatted for Windows work just fine with my Mac. That goes with everything from USB thumb drives to dedicated USB drive enclosures. It's good to know that if a friend brings over his Windows drive I can just plug it into my Mac to trade files and it just works. I do format my own drives for the Mac, however, so people outside the Apple ecosphere have to bring their drive to me, not the other way around.