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Old Dec 10, 2009, 05:06 PM   #1
Ping Guo
macrumors 6502
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Macbook Air w/external display vs Mac Mini + netbook

I have this dilemma. I'll be upgrading from my 17" HP beast, and while I enjoy the screen size, it really never leaves my desk except for the occasional trip to the couch. I want a small laptop to use with an external display, and a wireless keyboard and mouse.

My usage
  • 6-7 months out of the year I'm in China and will be using an external display setup 80% of the time. For the times when I take it with me on a short trip, or just to the coffeeshop, the 13" size is really convenient.
  • 2-3 months out of the year I'll be travelling, backpacking, etc. Oftentimes visit SE Asia, Africa, and places off the beaten track. In this case, the smallest, lightest laptop will be an advantage, but don't want to go less than 13" because I still have to do some real work while on the road.
  • 2-3 months I'll be back in the US, and will have a desk and external display to plug in to most of the time.

Power requirements

This is where I'm pretty easy. At any given time I'll be running web-based apps with 3-8 tabs open, Dropbox, iTunes, ThinkorSwim trading platform, and Skype. I don't watch movies or game on my laptop.


Right now the MBA is a serious contender. I am mostly worried about overheating and slowdown while using an external display. I don't think my usage will tax the MBA at all, but I'd like to hear from others who often use their MBA attached to an external display.

I am also considering a Mac Mini and a Netbook. When I travel back to the US I can easily pack the Mini and a netbook in my luggage. Downsides are while I'm travelling I'll be stuck with a small screen and won't get to use OSX. Keeping the computer in sync will be a bit of a hassle but with Dropbox it's not really a problem. Also, if my cheap netbook is stolen or damaged while backpacking I won't feel nearly as bad as if it were an MBA that also happens to be my only computer.

Option C. 13" Macbook Pro. This would seem like an obvious choice, but whenever I play with one in the store, something just doesn't feel right. I strongly dislike the glassy screen. The MBA screen is far more comfortable. MBP is heavier, and I never use the optical drive. The thick black bezel and super-reflective screen look cheap to me.

I'd welcome any thoughts, advice, opinions, and anecdotes, especially from people who use their MBAs with external displays.


Last edited by Ping Guo; Dec 10, 2009 at 06:39 PM.
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Old Dec 10, 2009, 07:59 PM   #2
macrumors 6502
Join Date: Dec 2008
Sounds to me like the MBA would be really good for you. I just got a rev B MBA (I had a rev A and B previously, but sold them for something else) that I use at work and on the go. At home I have a Mac Pro with a 30" Dell 3008WFP. My MBA can drive the 30" display with no problems, I had to try it out.

You should look up some of Scottsdale's posts on his MBA, he is the resident MBA champion of the forum and uses his in a similar way that you would.

I absolutely love the MBA and I knew I would return to using one, and I got this one partially because of the Runcore SSD. I got the 64GB version and it's terrific.

I understand your thoughts on having a cheap netbook. I had a Dell Mini 9 for a while strictly because if I lose it I'm not out my only computer or a thousand more dollars. It's a tough call and only you can decide if you want to risk losing the MBA to damage or theft.
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Old Dec 10, 2009, 09:30 PM   #3
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Join Date: Apr 2005
Location: Laguna Beach
the MBA would be perfect for you. I've had 3 MBA's in the past 2 years and recently sold my rev B and picked up a MBP and I've missed the air ever since I sold it. I bought a 10" netbook, dell mini 10v, and as good as it is, it's not a real computer by any means. Great for the couch and playing music but I would never even consider using it in my real computer rotation. Get the air and never look back.
Been waiting since 2005 for my 12" PowerBook G5
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