Mac Option Key tip #01: the WiFi Menu

Updated April 20th, 2020.

First in a series, about special things you can do with the Mac’s Option key.

You really ought to get to know the Option key on your Mac’s keyboard. It helps you do all sorts of neat stuff. I am going to write Option key tips until I can’t think of any more, or until enough people ask me to stop. Anyhoo, here’s Option Key tip #1.

Hold the Option key and click the WiFi icon in your menubar to learn all sorts of interesting things about the wireless networks around you. Here’s what the WiFi icon looks like. It’s up by the clock, at the top right of your screen. If it’s not there, go to the Apple menu, then System Preferences, then Network, then WiFi, then check the box for “Show Wi-Fi status in menu bar.”

Apple's WiFi menubar icon
The WiFi icon

(Old-timers still refer to it as the “Airport” menu but Apple calls it the WiFi menu now.)

Normally, when you click on the WiFi menu it shows you the available networks and the one you’re connected to. Here’s an example:

Regular WiFi menu
Regular WiFi menu

With the Option key you get that, but you also get a lot more. Looky here:

WiFi menu with the Option key held down first
WiFi menu with the Option key held down first

Tip: hold the Option key first, then click the WiFi menu. If you click first, and then press Option, it won’t work.

Clicking while holding the Option key reveals a wealth of information about the WiFi network you’re connected to. All of that mumbo-jumbo would help someone (like me) figure out why you might be having problems with your internet connection. I’ve highlighted in blue two items of particular interest:

  1. this Mac is connected to the Airport Base Station (or other wireless access point) via 802.11n. 802.11ac is better, but it’s so new that almost no Macs (or wireless access points) have it. 802.11g is also common, but not nearly as good as 802.11n. If your Mac shows “n” be happy.
  2. the Transmit Rate will either be 300 Mbps (for newer Apple Airports, and some other wireless access points with “n”) or 130 Mbps or 54 Mbps (for older Apple Airports, with 802.11g). Higher is better. If it’s NOT 300 or 130 or 54 you probably have a problem either with your Mac’s WiFi card or with your Airport Base Station or other wireless access point. I saw this just the other day– a customer’s Transmit Rate was bouncing all over the place, between 2 Mbps and 20 Mbps, lousy either way. Another Mac in the same room showed 130. Conclusion: hardware problem with Mac #1, and a trip to the shop to replace the Airport card.

Try holding down the Option key and clicking on YOUR WiFi menu. See what you can learn.

BONUS: here’s Apple’s article about the WiFi menu and the various things you can do with it. Interesting stuff.

Click here to see all of my blog posts involving the Option key. Save yourself time and effort with the tips in those posts! Copyright 2008-2023 Christian Boyce. All rights reserved.

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