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Should you get a MacBook Air?

November 14, 2012 in Hardware

I’m quite often asked for advice regarding the purchase of an MacBook Air over a Pro. Is the Air powerful enough?, they usually ask.

To summarise in one sentence, when in doubt, choose MacBook Air.

It’s a fully functional consumer laptop encased in a half-inch of solid aluminium brick.

There seems to be a public opinion that the Air is a toy computer, designed to check email and show off to fellow cafe visitors. That’s just plain wrong. The Air is not a “netbook”, either – whatever you imagine a “netbook” is.

For the past year, a mid-2011 MacBook Air has been my primary computer. I do Ruby programming on it, I write articles, I browse the web and watch Flash videos; sometimes I edit photos in Adobe Lightroom and documents in Microsoft Word. I never found the Air lacking. (I don’t game on it, though.)

You see, the vast majority of modern computing tasks are IO-bound, meaning their performance is limited by the speed of the hard drive, or the network uplink, or external devices. Of these, only the HDD-bound tasks are limited by the computer’s configuration. And the Air has a SSD drive installed, which is a hundred times faster than a consumer hard disk drive.

Other than that, there are comparably very few tasks that can overload the Air’s quad core processor. Hitting the memory limit is also easily avoidable, considering that the SSD provides swapping much faster than an HDD drive.

The video adapter is capable of playing 1080p video on a 1080p external display without breaking a sweat; I don’t know what else to want for.

The MacBook Air is durable and firm. Neither the base nor the lid bends easily. Some thin-and-light laptops have lids made of basically a sheet of thick foil; Air’s lid is a convex piece of metal, which means you can safely pull open the lid by its corner.

What the MacBook Air will not provide

Air is not a gaming machine. It technically will run games, but while revving up the fan to audible levels and wasting battery life.

Air is not well-suited for tasks that tax the CPU (such as video conversion), or the RAM (such as running multiple virtual machines).

In other words, the only reason you may not want an Air is if you want a mobile powerhouse juggernaut, and I think you wouldn’t be even reading this article if that is the case.

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