Is the MacBook Air 11" good enough for programming?

Discussion in 'MacBook Air' started by Mr. RPG, May 14, 2013.

  1. macrumors 6502a

    Sep 21, 2012
    I've been wanting a MacBook for a very, very, very long time. I plan on getting one after the new 2013 model is released. Bear in mind, I've never had a Mac before or even a labtop for that matter. The only two Apple products I have is a very old iPod touch 4 and my iPhone 5. However, I love the Apple ecosystem. I've predominantly been a Windows user and still prefer it for gaming and pretty much everything else. However, I love the premium build of Apple products and their interfaces.

    Anyway, I'm going to college as a freshman this fall (Computer Science major) and therefore I need a labtop so I want the MacBook Air since it is cheaper than the MacBook Pro and lighter.

    Is the 11" good enough for programming? I do want the 13", if not mostly for the SD card slot.. as that would solve almost all of my storage issues. My only gripes with the MacBooks (other than the cost) are storage issues. SSDs are great (have one on my PC running Windows 8 on it), but you can only fit so much in them..

    Edit: I plan on programming for iPhone / iPad and perhaps some Mac games. Considering that, I do want the MacBook Air to handle everything I throw at it.
  2. macrumors 68040

    Jul 1, 2004
    With an external screen, I think you'd be fine. It might get very cramped if you had to do all of your programming on that screen.

    Processing power, storage, graphics & RAM can all be configured the same on both 11 & 13 inch models. Any computer is more than capable of the tasks you've outlined.
  3. thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Sep 21, 2012
    I don't have another display (except a 23/24" monitor that my PC is on)

    I don't have the money and time to save up to get more RAM and stuff.. I don't think RAM will be an issue.
  4. macrumors 601

    Aug 27, 2012
    Programming is like doing spreadsheet, I want the biggest screen I can get away with while retaining portability. 11" is a bit crammed.

    Now, freshman year, yer not doing anything heavy duty yet, the classes are for theories of programming, you not going to build a Facebook II until junior year, so u may get away with a 11" that is NOT optimized for heavy programming work.

    Remember, the classes will most likely, in fact am 98% sure, want you to run Windows-based compilers so you should plan to run Windows on that Mac. Hope u got another Windows license, and 128GB+ to be comfortable.
  5. macrumors regular

    Jan 3, 2011
    No problem at all/ I use the 13" MB Air with 4 GB memory & 128 GNB SSD for iOS Development.

    The only potential is screen size. Can you handle developing on a 11" 1366 x 768 screen resolution. Only you can answer that.

    The 13" has 1440x900 which is much better IMO.

  6. thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Sep 21, 2012
    11" is fine to me, but that SD card solves my storage problems.

    That last part kinda worries me. I don't really have a spare Windows license, so I will have to shell out $150-$200 for a new one..?

    Isn't JDK and an alternative to C on Mac?


    I guess really only seeing it in real life would solve that maybe..? Dx
  7. macrumors 603


    Dec 2, 2006
    the OC
    if you're a student, your school might have some really nice pricing for windows licenses.
  8. thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Sep 21, 2012
    I'm going to a community college for my first 2 years.

    By the way, am I eligible for discount pricing on MacBook Air?
  9. macrumors 601

    Aug 27, 2012
    Yes but as slurpeeman says, a student license, probly $80 bux.

    The sure way to find out is, go in to the program's department and ask exactly what they require you to use.
  10. macrumors 65816

    May 1, 2009
    well, what's your priority? if it's portability then i would save up a few bucks more and get myself a nice external monitor.
    your school might have apple displays or any number of other displays available in the labs.... most modern classrooms these days have plugs available but do be aware that the battery life on an 11 won't get you through a full day so you'll need to bring your power supply along and have somewhere to use it.
  11. thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Sep 21, 2012
    is that for a NEW license?

    && Alright, I'll do that.


    It's definitely portability..

    but I don't even want an external monitor..? I seriously could care less. The whole point of a labtop is for the portability... The screens on the MacBooks aren't that bad are they? o_O I don't think so...

    I doubt the battery will last me something like 3 hours.. As long as it lasts as much as my iPhone does, then I'll be fine.
  12. macrumors 68000


    Mar 7, 2013
    Since the 11" Air lasts 5 hours max, don't expect much more than 3 with heavy usage.
  13. thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Sep 21, 2012
    Ouch, the battery wasn't as good as I thought it would be. Bear in mind again.. that I have never had a lab top.

    Is this comparable with other lab top's batteries?
  14. macrumors 68000


    Mar 7, 2013
    laptop? The 13" MBA has a 7 hour battery. Most Windows computers have around 4-5 hours, and some ultrabooks offer 7+. But 5 is sub-par, and one of the reasons why I would currently never get a 11" MBA.
  15. thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Sep 21, 2012
    Oh, yes, laptop. Sorry.

    The 13" must be that gooooood. However, for $300 more I can get a rMBP :s
  16. macrumors 601

    Aug 27, 2012
    One more thing.

    Schools tend to have those narrow seats, a 13" maybe a bit clumsy if u intent to use yours during lectures.

    BUT weight it along your other requirement.
  17. thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Sep 21, 2012
    Haha, I think you're getting a little ridiculous now. Soon I might have to consider if my teacher will allow a Mac or a PC only in their class lol
  18. macrumors 65816

    May 1, 2009
    it's nothing to do with good or bad, it's to do with the fact that it's 11"
    i don't care if it's a high res window into Heaven, 11" is going to be too small for some people...hence the desire for an external or even a larger laptop.

    For a student i think the 11" is a great choice, for programming i think maybe that's a good argument for a bit more real estate but ultimately a personal choice... i'm a scientist - i do lots of spreadsheet stuff, perfectly happy with a 13" MBP but I am still electing for a smaller MBA because the portability is more important. whatever you do, go to the Apple store and play with both.

    regarding your phone, it's definitely not going to last as long as your iphone - no laptop will. unless you're saying you have a sub 3 hour battery life on your phone. if so then you need to fix that stat.


    there's nothing ridiculous about what he's saying at all. he's talking about those lecture hall seats that have the tiny fold up desk that only covers about 1 knee.

    for those situations you are going to want something small and something that doesn't get too hot.

    i went to a 200+ year old school...some of those lecture halls weren't exactly designed to be laptop friendly.
  19. macrumors regular

    Jul 30, 2010
    If you are a big man, might want to get the 13'' to type on all days. I gather the 11'' feels cramped over time.
  20. macrumors 601

    Aug 27, 2012
    This has nothing to do with the teacher, I said the seats are small, like airline's seats, can't put a large laptop in there, BUT you got enough info going forward.
  21. macrumors newbie

    May 14, 2003
    The macbook air 11 inch is perfectly adequate for your needs. Buy it and you won't regret it.

    I wouldn't rule out buying an external display though. The extra real-estate you gain can be really useful when you are programming. Keep the external display at home or in your dorm or wherever you are staying and simply plugin your laptop when at home and unhook it when you need the portability. The reason the extra resolution is handy when programming is because you can do stuff like have your code and the programming documentation running side by side which I have found to be a huge help in working out exactly where I went wrong when I make a mistake.
  22. macrumors 6502

    Sep 22, 2009
    I just wanted to chip in, mostly agreeing with what others said. The 11" is, hardware-wise, perfectly suited for programming. I would recommend 8Gb, that's the best upgrade. Processor is great if you can get the fastest, but won't make a big difference. SSD I have a hard time finding use for more than 256Gb, but that's an individual choice. Anyway, it will handle everything you throw at it, with no problem at all.

    I was personally working out-of-office with a large web project a few weeks back on my 11" Air. That means a couple of decent-sized photoshop files open, text editor with tons of files open for editing html/css/php and whatnot, and Flash CS6 with a HUGE flash project running. That is of course on top of the usual mail/twitter/IM clients, browser with lots of tabs open, spotify and things like that. I actually noticed that the Air published the flash project FASTER than my i7 iMac I use as office computer, probably mostly due to the SSD and the many files involved. But still, the experience was great, never noticed any slowdowns at all.

    That beeing said, I DID have to run on an external screen. You will have a hard time fitting a proper workspace with all your toolbars and such on that 11" screen - it's great for working on the road, but for long-term, a desktop "docking station" with screen/mouse/keyboard is what I would have used.

    And about the battery, I was worried about that too. However, it lasts long enough for travel / flights / surfing while waiting for something, and after almost 3 years of getting my first Air I have yet to find a place at a school/workplace that doesn't have power outlets where I can plug it in if I stay for a longer period of time ;)

    Best of luck with your purchase!
  23. macrumors member

    Jun 22, 2012
    I have the MBA 11' 1.7/8/128 and i am a Masters student in Advanced Computer Graphics. I do all the programming on my laptop.At first the screen felt small but after 1 month it is great. MBA is very powerful and i did not have any problems programming whatever i was told even pretty large code for a Modelling and Animation course with tons of polygons etc. Also working with Xcode is really great simple and fast. Finally it is really easy to have an ultrabook do your job as you can carry it around and present projects and stuff.
  24. macrumors 604

    Jul 29, 2003
    Silicon Valley
    I have an MBA 11 that I use for developing iOS and Mac OS X apps and Linux utilities, no problem. Excellent size for tight seating in crowded lecture halls. A large external monitor can help when developing iPad apps though.
  25. macrumors 6502

    Jan 8, 2011
    I just finished my freshman year at a University with a 15" MBP. I don't mind the weight, the screen is fantastic and having the graphics card is nice every now and then.

    That being said, if I had to do it again, I would absolutely pick the 13" Air or Pro. The SSD is nice, but nothing I do for my degree really would show the speed, so I'm absolutely fine with a mechanical drive. I use an external monitor in my dorm, since any extensive project demands more screen real estate. Writing code on that 11" Air will be one of the worst experiences, unless you have great eye sight and small text isn't a problem. I will say that I wear contacts for my vision and I had a hard time reading code on my friend's 13" Air.

    On the point of needing Windows: I ultimately haven't yet, and I know plenty of other people who haven't through their Junior year. Yes, I did use it to write Assembly for a class because I wanted to use the MASM assembler and Visual Studio, but plenty of people got by just fine using OSX and Linux only. All of the intro classes at my university were done in Python, and most other universities use either that or Java, both of which are ultra cross platform. C and C++ are also cross platform and very well supported by Xcode.

    Battery life wise: Only my CS classes were in rooms with power outlets around, most other lecture halls were pretty old. Granted, I only needed my laptop for CS courses, and I was good for around 4 hours with the keyboard backlight off and screen brightness turned down. I also always had a charger with me, and I was able to charge it a bit between classes if I ever needed to.

    My suggestion would be to hold out first for WWDC and see what gets announced. Hardware releases don't typically come at WWDC, but there is speculation due to shortening supply of Airs. After that, 13" Air or 13" rMBP is my suggestion, but with maxed out RAM. You'll want it later. Don't get hung up on 11 vs 13 for fitting in lecture halls, I could sit with my 15" just fine in any lecture all I was in, and there were other people with much thicker Windows laptops that fit just fine as well.

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