New Laptop: MacBook Air

by Kelle on May 6, 2009

apple-macbook-air

I’m going to buy a MacBook Air today. Yes, I have money burning a hole in my pocket and yes, I want a laptop that will fit in my purse. I’m surprised it took me this long to get one. At one point, I thought my iPhone could satisfy my need for an ultra-portable, but it turns out, I need both.

I do all my CPU intensive work (e.g., IRAF, IDL) remotely and just use the laptop as a dumb terminal. I expect the Air will be similar in performance to my current 2 year-old MacBook, which I am quite happy with as long as I don’t have Firefox and Parallels (running XP) open at the same time. I’m hoping slimming down my Windows virtual machine will make it not so much of a RAM hog.

Also, I’ll be moving back to New York this summer and will be carrying stuff a lot more than I do here in Los Angeles. I want a machine that I’ll decide to take with me based on what I want to get done, not on how much neck and shoulder pain I’m willing to tolerate.

Here are the reviews that helped me make my decision: Macworld, Gizmodo

Anybody else have an Air? or thinking of getting one?

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kurtis W May 7, 2009 at 6:58 am

I was in the market for a new Mac laptop last fall. Testing at the Apple Store, I found that the ~33% weight difference between the MacBook Air and the 15″ MacBook was barely noticeable to me. I went with the MacBook for the lower price and built-in optical drive, and I’ve not once thought that the computer was too heavy, even while walking the entire length of the O’Hare International Terminal.

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2 Melissa May 12, 2009 at 1:13 pm

I love my air – I have the external optical drive but almost never use it, and the only things that bother me are X11/mac issues that would be true on any mac. there are many many posts on various mac forums (mostly by men, I have to say) that try to make me feel like a wimp for wanting the 2 pound reduction in weight (I read way too many of these when I bought one of the first ones). but I have neck/shoulder issues, I don’t like carrying a heavy bag, and I find the air *much* nicer to cart around. the battery life is decent so I often don’t carry the charger as well.

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3 Henry December 14, 2009 at 10:20 pm

@Melissa, as a guy, I’ll be one to say that having a MB Air (MBA) has been a revelation – I hardly realize I’m carry the portable in my backpack. Given my frequency of travel, I’ll always take the two-pound reduction. Besides, it’s made my work-travel a lot simpler, especially because I don’t have to lug around the external optical drive. The MBA is not one for a lot of computing power, but I’m still getting stuff done. I think the battery life could be a wae better, though I have a 1st-gen MBA with an (non solid-state) hard disk. IMHO, the tricky bit would arise if the one and only USB port failed, and in truth, I miss having a FireWire port, even though I understand the sacrifices made to fit the ports where and how they are into the MBA.

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4 Kelle April 19, 2010 at 3:22 pm

Air Update — I’ve become really frustrated with the Air and indeed, regret purchasing it. I end up doing battle with the Spinning Ball constantly. 2 GB RAM is just not enough for Firefox + anything else to be open at the same time. The one USB port and lack of ethernet port has been an annoying problem on several occasions. Also, turns out I’m biking all the time in NYC and putting my laptop bag in a rear basket and not actually lugging it on my shoulder. I’ll be getting a 13″ MacBook Pro in the near future…which, to be fair, wasn’t a possibility when I got the Air…but still…

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5 Alan Stockton April 19, 2010 at 10:05 pm

I just picked up the new 13″ MacBook Pro last week and installed an OWC solid state drive in it. This gives ~11 hours battery life with airport and bluetooth off, enough for all of the work I can stand doing on a flight sequence between Hawaii and the East Coast (which I have just done). For me, at least, this seems so far to be an excellent choice for a travel notebook (OK, I’m a guy, but a pretty old one).

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6 Tom April 21, 2010 at 1:01 pm

Kelle: I’m surprised by your comment about the spinning beachball. I also got a MBA around this time last year, and I haven’t had any issues (in fact it’s the best laptop I’ve ever had). The fact that 2Gb of RAM is not enough for firefox + other stuff on your MBA is strange to say the least – as I am typing this, I have firefox, chrome (each with more tabs than I really need), and 16 other applications open right now, and I don’t notice any slowdown (I’m using 50% of RAM). I have the SSD version, so if you have the non-SSD version, that may somehow explain the difference? Otherwise, I don’t think such problems are normal…

I’ve personally never had issues with the single USB/Ethernet port, but that is probably more down to the individual user. Most of the time, I’m on wifi, without a USB device, so I’m not using any of the ports.

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7 Kelle April 21, 2010 at 1:08 pm

only 50%!!! wait, what metric are you using? Wired, Active, Inactive? Right now, I only have 23MB Free with Firefox and Mailplane + 4 other apps. But 460MB are Inactive. Still, if I opened Pages, say, my machine would slow to a crawl.

I’ve chatted with *many* people that have had similar issues with any machine that only has 2MB.

and i do have the regular HD, but why would that affect the RAM?

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8 Tom April 21, 2010 at 1:20 pm

I was including inactive RAM in the free RAM. In reality, the ‘officially’ free RAM is very small (50Mb), but that is true on any mac. Once you’ve opened and closed lots of applications, all the free RAM has got converted to inactive. That RAM is there in case you re-open the applications you’ve closed, but any other program that needs the RAM will use up the inactive RAM if there is no free RAM. The bottom line is that for most purposes, inactive counts as free, and as long as there is enough inactive+free RAM, the computer won’t swap to disk.

The reason I asked about the hard drive is that the only times I encounter spinning beachballs on macs are when the hard drive spins up, in particular when using the setting ‘put hard drive to sleep when possible’. I did have the beachball issue on my desktop (despite having 16Gb of RAM, so RAM was clearly not the issue), and all the beachballs disappeared when I disabled the ‘disk sleep’ option. In addition, if you do run out of RAM, swapping to an SSD drive might be faster (although I had no idea about this last point).

Edit: Right now, I also have 500Mb inactive (and 10Mb free), and I just opened Pages and Numbers at the same time, and everything is running smoothly, so I’m still surprised by the issues you are having with your MBA.

Edit 2: Are you using Snow Leopard? I did notice a performance increase when I upgraded.

Edit 3: Not using the ‘put hard drive to sleep when possible’ is not necessarily a good idea on a laptop, as it decreases autonomy, and means you have to be more careful when moving the laptop around while it’s on. But just wanted to point out the spinning ball issue might be a hard drive rather than RAM related issue, in which case you may have the same issue with the 13″ MPB.

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