Macbook Air for a Comp. Sci. student?

Discussion in 'MacBook Air' started by DrHiggsBoson, Mar 30, 2011.

  1. macrumors newbie

    Hello all, I'm a few years into college now and have most of my gen. ed's out of the way. I recently picked up a 13" base MBP and I'm a little curious if any other CS majors, or anyone related in the workforce, could give me some advice on a few things...

    Basic info:
    I do have a powerful desktop with Windows/Linux installed for the majority of my bigger programs, gaming, etc...
    The notebook is going to be used for a few programming classes. C++, JavaScript, PHP, a few other basic programs. I might do some light gaming. SCII, maybe WoW if some of my friends keep forcing it down my throat. I might be looking into programming for the iOS and Mac apps, but that isn't going to be very extensive. I'll be updating to a more powerful notebook, or maybe an iMac when I get into that heavily.

    First, I am going to be exchanging out my MBP this weekend due to dead pixels (14 days per Best Buy) and I have been really interested in the Macbook Air recently. I love the size and the resolution, but without the extra power, backlit keyboard, and edge to edge glass I'm not sure if I should go that path. I've seen a few dozen threads on this subject and know most of the pro's and cons between the two, but with the recent updates I was wondering if the 11" would be a good choice as a portable programming computer. I'm not sure if bigger programs would be too intense for the C2D in the 11". I'm not big on the 13" MBA, I really like the 11" size and 16:9 screen, but if the 11" wouldn't be a good choice, I would more than likely stick with the MBP. The only question I would have for the 13" is, would the i7 and bump in HDD space really be worth the $300 upgrade?

    I would also like to hear of some of the favorite Mac programs for programming and the like! I have done a little coding with xCode 4 and I see it as a huge improvement from Visual Studios.

    I love the Mac OS and the Macbook Pro so far and I know I'll be happy with any choice I make. Just looking for outside advice. I appreciate all of the help.
  2. macrumors 65816


    Fourth year CompSci here, and happily using a Revision C 1.86GHz Air. They're much better machines than people give them credit for.

    As for applications, I do most of my coding in TextWrangler. Free, fast, and a decently simple feature set.
  3. macrumors 6502a

    It'll be fine. I started out and loved Netbeans but was tempted to switch over to Eclipse for Android development ease. Loving it now, especially once I figured out how to change the color theme. I write 90% of my code in Java.

    The ****** part is it's not easy to do C# with Macs, but whatever.
  4. macrumors 68020


    I went through my CS program at NCSU with a first gen white Macbook. That had a 2.0Ghz Core Duo which is pretty on par with the processor in the 11" air (A slower clocked Core 2 Duo). The graphics chip in the MBA smokes the GMA950 that my old machine had though.

    The main thing I wasn't a big fan of was the resolution (1280x800) but the 11" is slightly higher. But I got by with it (It was my main machine, so I hooked it up to an external monitor in the dorm room.) Having the SSD on the Air would be a major improvement in the overall speed of the computer.

    As for software I use Xcode, TextWrangler for general text editing and for languages other than c/c++/obj-c. Eclipse for java (Mainly for autocomplete).

    TextMate is also really awesome, but a bit pricey when compared to TextWrangler (free).

    And just for reference: I don't have a MBA, but am planning on buying one once they add a thunderbolt port and do the first upgrade on the new form factor. I am currently using a 15" MBP 2010 which I like, but I miss the portability factor that my 13" mb had.
  5. macrumors 6502a

    I'm a principal software engineer at a medical devices company here in San Diego. Graduated in '99 with a BSCS from UCSD.

    At work, my machine is a Windows 7 dual quad-core 3.33 extreme or something like that with 8 gigs of ram and 3 displays (2 24" and 1 19").

    At home my main machine now is a base Macbook Air 11". I also have a mini as a media center which I use to sync iTunes and general storage. My laptop is pretty much only used for dev (everything _non_ windows - ie. Ruby on Rails, iOS, things like node.js, scheme for SICP, etc). It's freaking awesome. RAM only comes into play using a VM, which I'm doing for a class on Windows Presentation Foundation at work - expression blend is a genuine dog on this thing, but otherwise 2 gigs is more than fine in most cases. If I gamed, photoshopped, etc, that might be a problem.

    Haven't been happier. The form factor and weight lets me use this thing in situations I normally wouldn't use laptops of the past, power is surprisingly not a problem. Large compiles sure, you might take 2-3 times as long as a MBP, but how often do you do large compiles?
  6. macrumors 6502a


    I was going to ask why no one was using TextMate. $60 I suppose you're all poor college students, thats a lot of Natty Ice to give up for a text editor.
  7. macrumors 6502a

    TextMate is pretty, aesthetically very Mac like. Used it a few years ago.

    If you're a CS student though you likely have had exposure to EMACS and VIM, and when you get down to it, they are just more powerful.
  8. DrHiggsBoson, Mar 31, 2011
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2011

    macrumors newbie

    Great to hear everyone, I really appreciate it. it's good to hear from other CS guys/girls that use the Mac OS. The CS program at my University has a 60% Windows, 38% Linux, 2% Mac ratio, so it's good to see others on the road less traveled. I'll be spending the next few days downloading and experimenting.

    Also good to hear about the Macbook Air. I guess it now comes down to glass to glass, HD facetime, backlit, 16:10 vs. Small form factor, 16:9, low(er) batt. life, and Hey-guys-look-how-thin-my-new-notebook-is factor.
  9. macrumors 601


    I love your username! I am a fan...

    I really believe you will want the extra workspace afforded by the 13" MBA. The capabilities and usability are much better yet it's almost as mobile as the 11" version. I think you will be much happier in the longrun with the more capable system that is still incredibly mobile. Go 13" MBA.
  10. macrumors 6502a


    Almost done with my first year of comp sci.
    We did Python first semester (IDLE GUI)
    and now C++ (Xcode for me)

    Works just great, you don't need windows for almost anything in college, except for the one windows application that everyone needs, Office.
  11. macrumors 6502a

    Coming from a 2k8 15" MBP myself, I've found it negligible vs. the 11". Screen width is more important than height when it comes to programming and you're only giving up 74 pixels, roughly 5%. The smaller form factor more than makes up for it.
  12. macrumors 6502a


    My only concern would be if you're doing web testing and need multiple VMs open. In which case I'd stick with the mbp and its higher memory capacity. I went through my CS program with my aging mbp and was fine. One of my mates had a mba and really enjoyed it. I'd say you'll probably be happy with either one.
  13. macrumors G4

    The 4GB version works well with virtual machines. The SSD makes page outs a bit faster, too. I run Windows 7 within Parallels about 1-2 times per week.

    Office 2011 for Mac has near feature parity with Office 2010 for Windows.
  14. macrumors member

  15. macrumors demi-god


    I agree with Scottsdale.

    For a main computer 13" ultimate will serve you better. There is a big difference in screen real estate and that does effect many tasks ... maybe not programming but just about everything else. Heck the 13" MBA has the same real estate as the stock 15" MBP's.

    11" is a really really nice little computer, but an only computer for school I'd bet money you'd be happier with the 13" ...
  16. macrumors G4

    If you stick with the Pro, I'd advise getting an SSD rather than bumping up to the Core i7 version. If a Core 2 Duo is enough for your needs, then you'll notice a much bigger boost going from a HDD-equipped MBP to an SSD-equipped one than from a Core i5 to a Core i7. Note that the Sandy Bridge Core i5 chip in the 13" Pro is about as fast as the Arrandale Core i7 was in the old 17" Pro.
  17. macrumors newbie

    I was actually thinking about going the 13" route. Although I'm a fan of 16:9, using the 16:10 screen on the macbook pro hasn't been all that bad. the upgrades seem like they would be worth it in the 13" air, but I'll probably head up to best buy and take a look at both and compare. I do love the size of the 11", so I might take the dive on the CPU and just get the 128gb model if I think it feels right.

    That's good to hear. I love the smaller form factor, so it's definitely a top choice.

    milbournosphere: I agree, I think I'll be just fine with either one :D. I shouldn't be working too much with VM's (at least within the next year), so I'll probably do most of the extensive work on my desktop.

    I would love to get a 13" ultimate, but my limit as of right now is around 1300. If I do go 13", it would more than likely be the base model. D:

    KPOM: Unfortunately, I don't have the option of upgrading the ram to 4gb. Best buy doesn't offer it and as a moderately poor college student, I'll have to use the BBCC to pick it up. I do have a desktop though, so I don't think I'll be running any VM's on it. I'm going to try and keep it purely Mac so I can really get used to the OS.

    I'll be picking up my final verdict tomorrow, so that leaves about 24 hours of research to go. :D
  18. macrumors 6502a

    Have you considered using the Barclay card if you're already set on using a CC? You can order a BTO from Apple on one.

    Not true so much with an engineering major, especially mechanical.
  19. macrumors newbie


    I did think about this option, but I don't think I have the credit for it. D:
  20. macrumors 68000


    I graduated last Spring with a degree in Software Engineering (was Comp. Sci. for 3 years, then focused for my 4th) and a Macbook Air will be perfect for your uses.

    I personally had a 13" Macbook, I would not recommend going any smaller than that. The 11" Macbook Air seems like it would become uncomfortable after a short period of time coding. If you were just surfing and listening to iTunes then you'd probably be fine, but if you're planning on spending any time in Xcode, Eclipse, or another IDE, you'll really appreciate both the extra screen space and the additional 2 hours of battery life. 7 hours for a school day will fare much better than only 5 on the 11".
  21. macrumors newbie

    That's a good point. I know it doesn't take a lot of power for most compiling and coding, so I'm not too extremely worried about it. I think my main issues with the Air (and the reason I'm in this predicament) are mostly looks and a few functions. The looks I'll get over. Glass to glass, backlit, things like that.
    It makes up for most of these issues with the beautiful design of it. I don't like the fact that the webcam is such a low quality, especially compared to the Pro. Also, the upgrading factor kind of bums me out. I would really prefer more than 2gb of ram, but that's just the hardware geek within. But I know how the game is played and there is a reason apple has these two notebooks so close in price.

    I think I've been rambling a bit too much, I know most of these options and dilemmas are discussed at length in every other forum. I appreciate all of the information and opinions that everyone has given to me and possibly will give me. I think I have a pretty clear picture of what I need as a CS student. :D you guys are a lifesaver.
  22. macrumors 6502a


    EMACS ****, but yes you are correct I do most of my programming at work in VI.

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