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Old Mar 8, 2011, 01:45 PM   #1
hb13
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Buying Advice - Can the 13" MBA be my primary computer?

Long time lurker, first time poster. I currently own a C2D 2.1GHz, 15" HP Pavilion laptop that I've made small mods to over the years, so now it is 4GB Ram and a 465GB standard disk drive running Win7. Nothing amazing, but it gets me through small web development and light graphic design; though I want something a little more.

I plan on starting grad school here in the summer, and know my wife and I will be in opposition for computer time, so I started looking at a second laptop. My wife would use the HP for her web browsing and Facebook stuff; while I wanted to upgrade to something slightly more powerful and much more travel friendly.

Originally, did not want to pay over $1k for a computer with relatively similar specs as my current setup, but after the rave reviews MBA owners are experiencing, I am leaning heavily towards an 4GB Ram MBA over a 13" MBP.

My only concern is if it can handle what all I throw at it. Work opened up from a 9-5 desk job to a more flexible and travel heavy, graphic design position. I need a computer that can handle graphic design CS5 Photoshop-y stuff, some web development, and some light video editing; along with the other stuff that I already know the MBA has no problem doing, like word editing and web browsing.

The new 13" MBP resolution was extremely disappointing, and ultra-light MBA form factor is a huge plus for the MBA. My graphic design friends with MBPs think I'm crazy for considering an MBA, but my MBA toting friends (who at the most do light graphic design) keep telling me I won't regret it. I don't do any gaming, so graphics is a mute argument in my case.

I know it can handle light photoshop, and I wouldn't be designing building side billboards with 100s of layers. I would mostly be designing conceptual marketing flyers, brochures, web design, & video based promotions. Simple, just not what I would consider "light".

So, anyone use (or has tried to use) the MBA as their primary computer for graphic design?
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Old Mar 8, 2011, 02:36 PM   #2
pctomac2011
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Possibly, but it really depends on you. IMO the 13" MBA should not be used as a primary system, it's just not "beefy" enough.

I've recently purchased the new 15" MBP, and like yourself I was debating a 13" MBA instead, but it misses the extra horsepower when on occasion I may need (as a primary computer), and also lacks a DVD drive.

If you already have a desktop, then I would say go for it, however if this will be your "go to" PC, consider a 13" MBP. I went for the 15" MBP due to the extra real-estate and a very minor extra 0.8lbs or so of weight, quad-core, and the secondary graphics card.

I think it comes down to personal preference. I've still debated this seeing as I'm within my 14 day return to swap with a MBA 13" if necessary, but when push comes to shove, I appreciate the choice I made.
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Old Mar 8, 2011, 02:44 PM   #3
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I'm using an early 2008 MBP as a main machine.

I can easily see myself using the 13" MBA as a main machine seeing as how spec for spec it's almost identical. The same real-estate 1440x900 desktop just on a smaller screen.

I'd want to carry with me the external burner just in case though in my laptop bag.
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Old Mar 8, 2011, 03:00 PM   #4
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I purchased a 13" MBP a while back. But I can easily see myself using the 13" MBA/Ultimate. Like the others said, I'd get an external DVD drive, but I don't think I'd miss anything else.
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Old Mar 8, 2011, 03:11 PM   #5
entatlrg
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The 13" MBA will definitely handle your tasks and more.

We have 13 and 15" MBP's in our office as well as 11 and 13" MBA's ....

I'm a convert coming from a 15" MBP and I can tell you with confidence you will have enough power, the screen since it's 1440x now has the same screen real estate as the 15" MBP.

I've never noticed the lag I thought I would, I'm an Industrial Designer, doing vector graphics all day, 20 or more firefox tabs open, safari and chrome as well, also running win7 via Fusion and iMovie and Evernote open as well with zero problems.

Some may say the 13" MBA fans can roar, yes that's true especially if I'm running something heavy in Win7 ... however the 13" (and 15") MBP's roar up real good too. The 2010 13" MBP fans rev up as often as the 2010 MBA's, in my experience the 2011 13" MBP fans rev up more than the 13" MBA under similar load.

I'm around all models of Macs, except the 17" MBP, everyday, we do a lot of testing and comparing in our spare time.

I also have a 27" acd I occasionally hook up and the MBA handles that fine.

I use usb drives instead of dvd's ... I bought the dvd drive to go along with my Air, still haven't opened the box ...

This constant talk about spec's ... it's different in the Mac world I guess. All the power windows machines need to run all the av software etc etc isn't applicable to Mac's ... constantly surprises me too.

If you can try the machines out in a store first, take your time do some tests you'll be glad you did.
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Old Mar 8, 2011, 03:17 PM   #6
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The 13" MBA will definitely handle your tasks and more.

We have 13 and 15" MBP in our office as well as 11 and 13" MBA's ....

I'm a convert coming from a 15" MBP, you will have enough power, plus since the screen is 1440x its the same real estate as the 15" MBP.

I've never noticed the lag I thought I would, I'm an Industrial Designer, doing vector graphics all day, 20 or more firefox tabs open, safari and chrome, running win7 via Fusion, I've got iMovie and Evernote open as well with zero problems.

Some may say the 13" MBA fans can roar, yes that's true especially if I'm running something heaving in Win7 ... however the 13" (and 15") MBP's roar up real good too. The 2010 13" MBP fans rev up as often as the 2010 MBA's, in my experience the 2011 13" MBP fans rev up more than the 13" MBA under similar load.

I'm around all models of Macs daily, except the 17" MBP, , we do a lot of testing and comparing in our spare time.

I also have a 27" acd I occasionally hook up and the MBA handles that fine.

I use usb drives instead of dvd's ... bought the dvd drive to go along with my Air, still haven't opened the box ...

This constant talk about spec's ... it's different in the Mac world I guess. All the power windows machines need to run all the av software etc etc isn't applicable to Mac's ... constantly surprises me too.

If you can try the machines out in a store first, take your time do some tests you'll be glad you did.

Only reason I'd change from the MBA would be for the larger screen size ... in that case I'd go all out and get the 17"
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Old Mar 8, 2011, 03:31 PM   #7
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I'd generally agree with the consensus in this thread that you could use the 13" MBA for most of your primary computing tasks. I think its superior to the 13" MBP in almost every way possible.

The one exception is for video rendering. I have a business where we do "before/after" creative work in real-time while visiting with a client. We snap a bunch of high resolution pictures, a few short video clips, do some quick photoshopping to show the "after" image of our work efforts (custom woodworking) and then create little interactive videos designed to show how the transformation will look once we are finished. Traditionally, I've always used my 15" MBP for that...most recently with the late 2010 i7 model. Rendering times were very fast for this effort.

On my 13" MBA, the rendering speed is very slow. And the fans, as you've noted, scream during the process which is very distracting when meeting with someone and doing the rest of the sale presentation (on the same laptop) while the rendering is happening.

In a nutshell, I had to abandon the 13" MBA for this one task. I still make it my primary travel computer and use it for all the purposes I outlined above BUT the rendering. For that, we've developed a cloud-based solution so the rendering is happening offsite while I'm doing the sales presentation.

Like anything else, YMMV. But for me, the MBA just isn't cut out to be a video editing/rendering machine. Everything else....awesome rig. Just not for that.
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Old Mar 8, 2011, 03:48 PM   #8
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I would definitely agree it takes longer to do rendering.

Depending on the length and detail that's a task better suited for MBP's or a desktop.
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Old Mar 8, 2011, 03:50 PM   #9
hb13
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Awesome! Thanks for the insights! Keep them coming!

Quote:
Originally Posted by pctomac2011 View Post
Possibly, but it really depends on you. IMO the 13" MBA should not be used as a primary system, it's just not "beefy" enough.

I've recently purchased the new 15" MBP, and like yourself I was debating a 13" MBA instead, but it misses the extra horsepower when on occasion I may need (as a primary computer), and also lacks a DVD drive.

If you already have a desktop, then I would say go for it, however if this will be your "go to" PC, consider a 13" MBP. I went for the 15" MBP due to the extra real-estate and a very minor extra 0.8lbs or so of weight, quad-core, and the secondary graphics card.

I think it comes down to personal preference. I've still debated this seeing as I'm within my 14 day return to swap with a MBA 13" if necessary, but when push comes to shove, I appreciate the choice I made.
I would definitely be picking up an optical drive as a "just in case", but I know I haven't used my drive in probably over a year, and virtually all of my work is able to be attached in an email or at most, I just house it on Dropbox, but hey, you never know.

My 15" HP would, for the most part, move to a more sedimentary, desktop-like life on a desk hooked up to a monitor mostly as a storage device and internet browser for my wife; while the new computer would be floating around the house, and be with me out and about.

At most, I would be looking at a 13" MBP as an alternative to the MBA. I know the 15" MBP is just more than I need and more than I want to carry around. I tend to work better while standing up next to a kitchen counter, or slouched down on a couch, or at a visitor's chair in other coworkers' offices. That's possibly why the MBA is so appealing to me knowing I move around frequently as opposed to sticking to a desk.I may try the opposite of your approach and go with the MBA, and if it's not working after 14 days, switch it for a 13" MBP.
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Old Mar 8, 2011, 04:01 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hb13 View Post
Awesome! Thanks for the insights! Keep them coming!



I would definitely be picking up an optical drive as a "just in case", but I know I haven't used my drive in probably over a year, and virtually all of my work is able to be attached in an email or at most, I just house it on Dropbox, but hey, you never know.

My 15" HP would, for the most part, move to a more sedimentary, desktop-like life on a desk hooked up to a monitor mostly as a storage device and internet browser for my wife; while the new computer would be floating around the house, and be with me out and about.

At most, I would be looking at a 13" MBP as an alternative to the MBA. I know the 15" MBP is just more than I need and more than I want to carry around. I tend to work better while standing up next to a kitchen counter, or slouched down on a couch, or at a visitor's chair in other coworkers' offices. That's possibly why the MBA is so appealing to me knowing I move around frequently as opposed to sticking to a desk.I may try the opposite of your approach and go with the MBA, and if it's not working after 14 days, switch it for a 13" MBP.
I just replaced my late 2009 Macbook Pro 13" (2.5 GHz, 4GB Ram) with a MBA 13" (2.1Ghz, 4GB Ram.) The MBA is incredible. It is so light and portable, that it feels weightless on my lap, and the performance is as good or better than my MBP, because of the SSD. The extra screen resolution is great, as well. While I do have a home quad-core tower, I rarely use it at all (just for power Lightroom 3 usage.) I see no reason why the MBA 13 couldn't be your main computer.
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Old Mar 8, 2011, 04:20 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hb13 View Post
I tend to work better while standing up next to a kitchen counter, or slouched down on a couch, or at a visitor's chair in other coworkers' offices. That's possibly why the MBA is so appealing to me knowing I move around frequently as opposed to sticking to a desk.
Your new MacBook Air is SCREAMING your name, LOL.

But seriously, your words above are the biggest reason I don't use a 13, 15 or 17" MBP. I do not like to work from a desk. I have a Mac Pro with dual ACD's ... still I do not like to work from a desk.

The MacBook Air has allowed me tremendous freedom because of it's ability to do 98% of my tasks.

It's like selecting a camera. What's the "best"? The fancy DSLR or the iPhone. The answer is - The best camera is the one you have with you. For me that would be the iPhone, I don't like carrying around extra stuff or more weight/bulk than I need to.

Just having the MacBook Air means I'm on top of my work more than before, I never think twice of reaching for it to write a quick email, or bring it along, hell I carry it all over the house, in my car, to clients, vacation everywhere.

I'd never do that with a computer twice as heavy or larger ... Also, I spend less or almost no time plinking away on my iPad or iPhone keyboards ... with the Air nearby there's no need, it's been a time saver for me. Always a pleasure to use - everywhere
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Last edited by entatlrg; Mar 8, 2011 at 04:27 PM.
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Old Mar 8, 2011, 04:35 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by ReallyBigFeet View Post
I'd generally agree with the consensus in this thread that you could use the 13" MBA for most of your primary computing tasks. I think its superior to the 13" MBP in almost every way possible.

The one exception is for video rendering.
The only tasks for which the MBA is likely to be noticeably inferior to an MBP, particularly an MBP with an i7 CPU, is for tasks that are heavily processor intensive such as video rendering. There is a silver lining to this, though, which is that anybody who needs to do very processor intensive work is almost certainly going to know that work's requirements before deciding whether to buy an MBA. In short, if you don't know whether what you do is especially processor intensive, it probably isn't and and an MBA would handle your needs easily.
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