The Mac "System Preferences" icon.

If you’re new to Mac and want to change some system settings, you might be wondering where to find the Mac equivalent of the Control Panel. It’s called System Preferences, and here’s what it does and how to use it.

A Mac’s Control Panel Is System Preferences

While Windows calls its configuration options “settings,” macOS usually calls them “preferences.” Before you change any preferences, you’ll have to launch the System Preferences app.

On every new Mac, you should be able to find System Preferences in the Dock by default. It’s the gray icon that looks like a gear; click it once to launch System Preferences.

Launch System Preferences on a Mac by clicking its icon in the Dock.

Other Ways to Launch System Preferences

If the System Preferences icon isn’t in the Dock, or you want a faster way to launch it, you can click the Apple logo at the upper left, and then select “System Preferences . . .” from the list.

Launch System Preferences from the Apple Menu on a Mac

You can also launch System Preferences quickly by using either Spotlight Search or Launchpad. In both cases, you type “system preferences,” and then press Enter to launch System Preferences. Both of these methods are equally as fast as the one we covered above.

RELATED: How to Launch Applications on Your Mac

A Quick Tour of System Preferences

After you open “System Preferences,” you’ll see a window full of icons divided into four regions.

Apple Mac System Preferences Regions

At the very top, you’ll see the Apple ID area. If you’re signed in to your Apple account, you can click that area to change your personal account info, iCloud settings, App Store payment options, and more.

Below that is the area that primarily controls macOS software settings, including your preferences for the Dock, your desktop background, and notifications. These options control how the operating system works.

In the next divider are the preferences that relate to your Mac’s hardware, including audio in- and output, your mouse or trackpad, Bluetooth, and your display.

Finally, at the very bottom, you might see some extra preference icons that control third-party apps, such as Adobe Flash. Every icon here (if you see any) was installed by an app and isn’t officially part of macOS.

Navigating System Preferences

Using System Preferences is easy. Just locate the preference you’d like to change and click it. The shape of the Preferences window will change, and new settings will appear.

Generally, you navigate through System Preferences using the Forward and Back buttons in the toolbar at the top of the window. You can also click the Icons button (the grid containing 12 black dots) to see the entire list of Preference icons again.

System Preferences Navigation Buttons on Mac.

If you don’t know where to find a particular setting, you can use the “Search” bar at the upper right to search for it in System Preferences.

System Preferences Search Bar on Mac

Just click in the “Search” box, type what you’re looking for, and then you’ll see the suggested results.

System Preferences Search Results on Mac

Click the result that most closely matches what you’re looking for, and you’ll be taken directly to the appropriate preference section.

Now that you know where (and how) to change fundamental settings, you’re one step closer to mastering the Mac!

Benj Edwards Benj Edwards
Benj Edwards is a Staff Writer for How-To Geek. For over 14 years, he has written about technology and tech history for sites such as The Atlantic, Fast Company, PCMag, PCWorld, Macworld, Ars Technica, and Wired. In 2005, he created Vintage Computing and Gaming, a blog devoted to tech history. He also created The Culture of Tech podcast and regularly contributes to the Retronauts retrogaming podcast.
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