I never thought I would ever purchase a MacBook Air. Since its release, I’ve seen it as more of a fashion statement than a worthy machine. For me, the lack of an optical drive was a sign of progress (even though that also meant I didn’t have room for a second internal hard drive). It was the slow processor speed, slow iPod hard drive, low storage capacity, and ridiculously insane price tag that allowed me to easily avoid it. Three years later, the ultra-thin mobile computer has really grabbed my attention. I’ve decided to move away from the 15″ MacBook Pro and all its glory and gpu for the new mid-2011 11″ MacBook Air. I’m glad I did…
The packaging is unlike the other models, resembling a box more fit for a board game. The small footprint of an 11″ Air is definitely amazing compared to what I’ve been used to and using it felt completely natural to me. The 1366 x 768 resolution is crisp (I’ve previously worked using a Mac mini connected to an 37″ HDTV of the same resolution) and the display noticeably has less glare than the glass-covered displays of the Pro models. However, I’ve always found the glare to be tolerable, especially when indoors. The white balance of the 11″ Air is a little warmer vs the pure whites on the Pro models; not a major concern but makes me wonder if I should double check the color tones in my photos and videos on a different display before publishing my work.
Sizing the 11″ Air up w/ my 2010 15″ MacBook Pro, the entire Air is thinner than just the base of the Pro. Since the 15″ Pro is a giant next the to Air, anyone would wonder how could I easily make such a smooth transition w/ a dramatic difference in size. The 11″ Air also sports a 16×9(1.85:1) widescreen display vs the 16×10 ratio most notebook computers have. Others have complained about the aspect ratio and it’s lack of vertical height but I had no problems adjusting here. You may have to scroll a tad bit more but who cares? I have been using the new Full Screen Apps mode in OS X Lion a lot more on the Air and have absolutely ZERO issues w/ screen space when an app is running full-screen; no menu bar and no dock.
I did plenty of research and also demoed the 11″ Air in Apple stores before I made my final decision. A few things I’d lose w/ the MBA are:
Discrete GPU: The whole reason I traded in my 13″ MBP for the 15″. A dedicated GPU to help out w/ the photo, video & graphic editing.
8GB+ RAM: 8GB RAM is cheap these days. What was $800+ a few years ago is now under $50. A must for the multi-tasker.
Dual SATA ports: With every MacBook I purchase, the first thing I do out of the box is always remove the Superdrive & replace it w/ a high capacity 7200rpm hard drive.
Firewire 800: I have plenty of external devices(especially hard drives) that support FW800.
RJ-45 Ethernet: When the WiFi connection gets slow, mainly in hotels.
SD slot: My DSLR and smartphone use SD cards.
Speakers: Great speakers for a notebook, better in the low end.
FaceTime HD: HD webcam! Too bad most people have a 640 by whatever, so while they see me in HD, I still get pixels.
Quad-Core i7: Plus hyper-threading! Count the virtual cores and you pretty much have a Xeon in your lap!
GPU: The Air comes equipped w/ Intel’s HD 3000 integrated GPU. It’s noticeably better than the integrated nVidia 9400M in the 2009 Pros but not so much against the GeForce 320 & GT 330s in the 2010 Pros. Artwork in iTunes springs right up and iPhoto doesn’t take seconds to load thumbnails anymore. I edited some photos in Photoshop and Lightroom, cut and previewed video in Premiere Pro, and composited special effects in After Effects on this little notebook. Everything was a breeze on the Air and actually performed better than the 2010 15″ Pro! Some intense stuff! Those who stated that the 2011 Air shouldn’t be a primary computer have some explaining to do. Intel’s iGPU is okay w/ me here…moving on.
Storage Capacity: I’m used to having a 320GB 7200 rpm hard drive as a primary & a 720GB 7200rpm hard drive in the optical bay for all of my multimedia files. This worked perfectly for my needs and I never had to offload a single file to free up space. The Air confines me to a teeny 128GB, but the SSD is crazy fast, between 240-270 MBps vs 40-70 MBps on a traditional hard drive, so there was no way I was going to say no to an SSD that’s included w/ the computer. Though I had no issue w/ placing the media HD in an enclosure but I still needed more room on the main drive. My iTunes library was initially on the OS drive but was moved to the second drive since it was internal; but thinking in terms of MBA, I resented the idea of connecting an external hard drive whenever I want to listen to some tunes or audiobooks. I did some digital cleaning w/ the help of DiskWave and freed up a lot of room on the main drive. As far as my music library, iTunes Match couldn’t’ve came at a better time!
RAM: Since the RAM is soldered to the logic-board, there’s no way to upgrade it past 4GB. 4GB RAM on the 2010 15″ MBP running OS X Lion, web browsers(Safari/Chrome), Mail, iTunes and Skype ate a good chunk of my RAM. Launching an Adobe app or Parallels instantly becomes beach ball paradise. When the RAM fills, the OS starts pouring data onto the hard drive which causes hangs and slow downs. I haven’t noticed any slowdowns so far w/ the Air and believe it’s because OS X has no slow mechanical hard drive to page out to. Since the Air uses an SSD-blade for flash storage, accessing it is just as fast as accessing the flash chips on RAM modules. Even w/ the OS paging out almost 65% of the page-ins and w/ only 49.7MB free, the Air is just as snappy as if I had a full 3GB+.
Expansion Ports: I’m not happy w/ the fact that I’ll be stuck using USB 2.0. Come on Apple, USB 3.0 has now been out for quite some time. I find it strange that Apple has yet to implement it but immediately adapts Thunderbolt technology in its infancy. However, Apple’s Thunderbolt Display does allow the connectivity of multiple USB and Firewire devices back to the host over the single TB connection, so third-party companies are developing USB3/FW/eSATA-to-TB adapters to allow the connectivity of those devices minus the $1000 monitor. The only solution here is patience, then I’ll be able to breathe.
The 2010 15″ MBP comes w/ a 2.4GHz i5 processor vs 1.6GHz in the Air. However, the new low-powered i5 processor in the Air will turbo-boost itself up to 2.3GHz when it’s power is called upon. I believe anyone can live w/o 100MHz.
Aside from the obvious sacrifices there are plenty of external USB optical drives, USB-to-Ethernet adapters and USB SD card readers so those will have to suffice. I’ll gladly give up a little room in my gear bag to carry a few adapters(better to have it and not need it). The speakers are definitely lacking in the low end but are audibly louder than I expected considering how small and thin this notebook computer is.
I can honestly say this is my favorite computer to date. Out of the box, it’s more capable than last year’s 15″ MBP. It’s fast, light, ultraportable and while I have to settle for a few workarounds, I don’t have to make any major sacrifices. Did I mention that I am hooked on the light weight of this computer?
With the intent to inform, indulge and inspire!
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