Answering Reader Questions About My MacBook Air

Reader Brendon Cromwell (among many others) writes in to ask about my MacBook Air:

How is it holding up for you in your daily routine? What’s your feel for how long you think it will hold up under the increasing software requirements?

I’m going back and forth between a 128GB MacBook Air (& replacing my older iMac w/ a new one) and an 128GB SSD MacBook Pro (& keeping my older iMac).

I am quoting Brendon because he rather succinctly asks everything that other people have been asking me about my setup, this is my attempt to answer these questions based on where I am today.

Daily Routine

This is a question that most people forget to ask, but my MacBook Air is the best Mac I have ever owned — hands down — no contest. I have had everything from the fabled 12″ Powerbook G4 to a pimped out Mac Pro — the MacBook Air takes the cake here. It is incredibly fast for 95% of everything that I do and the screen resolution is amazing give the small footprint of the machine. The size and weight of the machine still amazes me every time I touch it.

I love this machine.

I also take my MacBook Air to and from my office everyday and on travels. Just like all unibody MacBooks it is holding up very well from the wear and tear of everyday life. My cats are often found running over the lid when it is closed (and one cat weighs more than 12lbs) and they can be found sleeping on the keyboard too. (I don’t like them on my computer, but such is my life.) This machine has exceeded all my expectations, and they were pretty lofty expectations to begin with.

Longevity

This is the area that worries me the most — I typically like to keep a machine for 2-3 years before replacing it. So what will this machine perform like in 3 years? I have no clue and honestly only SJ would be likely to know that. My general sense though is that the most of the applications that I use (Safari, Mail, TextMate) will continue to fly for years to come.

My only concern areas are with:

  • Photo Editing
  • OS Upgrades
  • Parallels running Windows

I get the feeling that everything is constantly being optimized for lower powered hardware and that even though my MacBook Air may not run it as fast as the next generation — it will still be more than adequate. Parallels is especially good at making their system faster and faster with each update — so much so that it is probably faster than actually using a netbook for Windows at this point.

It is also important to note that while software wants to use every bit of juice it can get its hands on — I personally am using less and less software to get tasks done. So while more resources are needed for each app, I am using less apps.

The last thing I need to consider is price. When I buy a laptop I buy the fastest model I can (I ignore HD and RAM if I can upgrade it easily myself). My MacBook Air was $1,799 and the equivalent MacBook Pro (top of the line 15″, because why would you buy the 13″?) would cost me just over $3,200 (adding 3rd party SSD, Apple 8GB RAM and the Hi-Res screen). So if the MacBook Pro needed to last me 3 years, the MacBook Air could last me less and I still would be paying a similar computing cost year over year. That’s not a bad deal.

(If you don’t follow I am saying that because the MacBook Air is cheaper I can afford to upgrade it more frequently than I could a MacBook Pro that I would want to use.)

Desktop versus Mobile Desktop Conundrum

The decision that Brendon is struggling with is something that I have found myself asking a lot too. It boils down to:

  1. Do you get a MacBook Air and a desktop machine like an iMac, or;
  2. Do you get a powerful 15″ MacBook Pro, or;
  3. Do we just get the fastest, smallest machine we can afford?

That’s a tough call and to answer that I have to call on my own experiences. Here’s the computing setups I have had since leaving college. 1

  • Powerbook 12″ G4 and Mac mini G4 circa 2005
  • Powerbook 12″ G4 and Mac Pro and Mac mini G4 (from this point forward the Mac mini is a media center only) circa late 2006
  • MacBook Pro 15″ and Mac Pro and Mac mini G4 circa 2007
  • MacBook Pro 15″ Unibody and Mac mini G4 circa late 2008
  • MacBook Pro 15″ w/ SSD and Mac mini G4 circa 2010
  • MacBook Air 13″ and Mac mini G4 circa late 2010

In all my years of computing, no matter what the setup, I couldn’t be happier than I am now with just my MacBook Air. The problem with a dual computer setup is picking which machine to use. If you want a desktop for the power and a MacBook Air/Pro for portability then you will never be happy with your setup — because you will always be using the wrong computer at the wrong time.

It’s a pain in the ass to use two computers — even with Dropbox. Getting the settings the same, the shortcuts and the like consistent is never fun and always a pain. Running just a high-end MacBook Pro is a great solution, but often overkill and a pain in the back. I always found myself leaving my MacBook Pro behind, or not using it, because it was too big or too heavy for where I was going (especially a tough call to make when going away for just a weekend).

When I had my Powerbook it went everywhere with me, and since I got rid of it I never took another laptop as many places as I have now, again, with the MacBook Air. Here’s how you decide:

  • If you plan on taking your computer somewhere other than your desk at least once a week (hell even once a month), get a MacBook Air (as fast as you can afford).
  • If you plan on leaving your computer at your desk and only removing it once, maybe twice a year — get an iMac/Mac Pro with an SSD. Then buy a used iPad (new if you can afford it) and set it up to screen share over WAN with your desktop. This should solve most of the rare on the go problems you may encounter.
  • If you need the fastest, most portable (or not) powerhouse money can buy for highly specialized needs — then you already know what to buy.

In my opinion, it’s just not worth getting an iMac and a MacBook Air because for most people the MacBook Air will be more than enough. There are always exceptions and fringe cases, but those users already know that they are the exception.

Since getting my MacBook Air here’s some of what I have done on it with no problems:

  • Ran all Creative Suite (CS5) apps at once, copying and pasting between them.
  • Edited 1,200+ photos in Lightroom.
  • Recorded and edited every episode of the B&B Podcast.
  • Partitioned the HD to run another OS on a partition.
  • I run Parallels with Win XP Pro nearly everyday.
  • Power a 24″ LED Cinema Display
  • Converted movies for my iPad.

The only time I notice a difference between this machine and my old MacBook Pro 2 is when:

  • Playing back a 1080p h.264 video using the 24″ Cinema Display (in full screen), the computer drops a lot of frames doing this.
  • Saving 3.5GB AIFF audio files is slooooow.

Regular readers know that I don’t put praise on things where it is not due — the MacBook Air is due all the praise I can heap onto it. I love this machine.

You can check out my original review here.

  1. That’s the best timeframe that represents what a ‘normal’ business user does.
  2. Now my Wife’s
Originally posted for members on: April 27, 2011
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