Truly, it is made of unicorns

23 Mar 2011

Is a Macbook Air up to the job of being a primary working machine? It has for me…

Since 1995, I’ve always used a Mac laptop as my primary (and only) work machine. When at the office, I plug it into a large screen with keyboard and mouse, and then at home or travelling I’ve got absolutely everything I need with me. Having seen the new generation Macbook Air in the flesh/aluminium, and how small and light it is compared to my unibody MacBook Pro, I wondered if it could be the way forward. The fact that I now cycle to work gave me more impetus to get something that wouldn’t be so heavy on my back.

Just as Frank Chimero says in his post about the Air, you have to know what your needs are first. I wanted the power of my 15” MacBook Pro, but in a more portable form, that would allow me to run my day to day apps, and in particular the two resource hungry ones:

From what I read of people’s experiences on Twitter, I was confident it would work. The lady I spoke to at Apple Leasing felt different though, and quite fervently wanted me to get a Pro, but I ignored it and went for the top spec Air – 13” with 4gb RAM, 256gb SSD drive and 2.13ghz processor. The resolution is the same as my MacBook Pro, so while the screen size is 2” smaller, I fit in the same as I always did before.

It’s absolutely amazing.

Amazing, light and jolly fast.

The Air is leaps and bounds faster than my Pro, despite having a less powerful processor and graphics card. The speed gains must therefore come from the SSD drive. All computers (especially Macs) feel fast when they’re fresh out of the box. Over the months things start to slow down though, so it’ll be interesting to see if that happens with SSD. At the moment, restarts are matter of a few seconds, and the biggest test for me, my Windows 7 virtual disk with aero enabled, runs incredibly smoothly. On the Pro it would drag everything down with it, now I can use it without any issues.

When used on a desk, the wedge shaped body means my hands sit so much more comfortably than with the MacBook Pro – there’s no edge to dig into my wrists. It’s dramatically lighter as well of course.

I don’t miss the CD drive either, and 256gb is just enough to work with and keep a good iTunes Library around. Having Spotify helps too, until a proper cloud-music solution appears. Neither have I particularly missed the ethernet and firewire ports.

I’ve run it in clamshell mode (Macbook closed, connected to an external screen) all day without it feeling like it’s going to boil – something I’ve never been able to do with a Mac laptop. Many prefer to have the screen open, and make use of the extra space, I prefer one screen. In fact with the Air, it’s beneficial to do so, as the RAM is shared with the graphics card, it’s not powering two screens. It works great with my 24” LED Cinema Display (you can only get the 27” these days).

There’s only two negatives that I’ve found: Firstly, in some tasks, such as Flash, the fans can really kick in. It doesn’t get particularly hot (like the MacBook Pros always did), but it is rather noisy. In fact, running it in clamshell mode can exacerbate this, but it still doesn’t overheat.

The other is display issues after being connected to my 24” LED Cinema Display. If I don’t makes sure that the display looks right on the Air before I close the lid to sleep it, I can’t get it to come back on wake. The only solution is to force restart.

However, these are still pretty small negatives compared to benefits of this super-lightweight, fast workhorse. Hands down, it is the best Mac I’ve ever owned.

I really don’t regret going Air one bit, but as always, your mileage and needs, will vary…

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