11" MBA vs. 13" MBA purchase advice

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by marcnc, Nov 3, 2012.

  1. marcnc macrumors newbie

    Nov 3, 2012
    I have a 2007 15" Core 2 Duo MBP (2.2 Ghz, 2 GB RAM) with a 160 GB HDD with a 28 GB Windows Bootcamp partition (no space left on it--but which I only need one program on now and haven't used in a year) and a 132 GB Mac partition (51.5 GB left of which 36GB of the used is my Itunes library and pictures, which could probably be moved onto an external drive). When I purchased that laptop 5 years ago, I was attending college classes with no regular access to an external monitor. I now lug my MBP with me virtually everywhere I go, along with charger.

    Thus, I want a lighter/smaller 11" Macbook Air or 13" Macbook Air configuration as a supplement (or replacement, given who knows how much life my MBP has; while it lives, it would basically become a desktop). However, I am conflicted on which model and configuration would be best (I've also considered the 13" Retina, though I'm leaning Air). <i>Accordingly, I'd greatly appreciate advice on which (1) laptop model and (2) configuration people think would be sufficient and/or best for me, given their own experiences with any of the 2012 models/configurations and my current use.</i> Whichever model, I expect I also need to buy the external CD/DVD drive just for initial software installs that are only available to me via CD.

    I can afford anything up to $2000 or so. I am hoping to only buy what I need (at least for the next 2 years) versus an overkill config, so that I can also buy a $350 software package and/or Applecare at that price limit. I'm having the most difficulty deciding between 11" or 13", followed by which configuration of those between a 4GB 128GB SSD config to a 8GB 256 GB SSD configuration (based on my current use, I can't do a 64GB hard drive and anything more than 8GB/256 GB would likely be overkill). I've no clue about the processor; I suspect the base might be fine. A lot of my indecision re: configuration is because I don't know what I truly need specs-wise versus what would be nice but basically unnecessary icing. I do way more than web browse and email, but I don't think of myself as a power user either.

    In many other threads, the answer/advice has often been some form of "It depends" followed by more questions about current use/needs. Thus, below, I've also included exhaustively detailed information about my current use, hard drive usage, and access to other computer-related equipment, trying to anticipate information advice givers might need/want (so I apologize for the length of this initial post).

    Any advice is greatly appreciated--thanks in advance!

    (1) Weight/footprint is likely the strongest factor. Between the Airs, I prefer the footprint of the 11" over the 13", but the poorer battery life and the lower screen resolution give me serious pause, given there's only about $100 separating their models. Based on comments in other threads, I am a bit worried about the vertical screen space on the 11" because I work with data quite a bit and I multitask all the time (e.g., 2 Firefox windows with about 3 tabs each, Citrix Viewer, and at least 2 applications--most often, Word, Excel, SPSS, SAS, Stata, Preview, or Lightroom 3--running simultaneously). That said, between 2002 and 2007, I had a 3.3 lb laptop with a 10.1" LCD and, until its death, I was pretty happy with it (I then lacked access to an external monitor, so I do recall some annoyance with the screen size at times). I was pleased with the Acer weight, so I wonder if I'll even be able to discern a noticeable difference between the 11" MBA and 13" MBA weights (and even possibly the 13" MBP retina, which I have not seen in person). I suspect all those models' weights may be fine. The 15" MBP retina seems noticeably heavier to me, and I'm not sure only a 1 pound drop will be different than my current 15" MBP; this is the sole reason I have not considered it much.

    (2) I have access to an external monitor at work (a generic non-Apple 21 inch) and at home (a 2008 or 2009 20" Apple Cinema Display). Currently, I rarely hook into either unless doing major database/spreadsheet/statistics because I prefer to be mobile.

    (3) I am unsure what my RAM needs are other than that I likely could use more than 2GB (2GB is generally fine except when Lightroom is open and/or I'm in virtualization, whereupon I do experience intermittent beachball lags and general annoyance). I'd prefer 8GB but suspect 4GB may be sufficient. My page outs are pretty low except for when I run a program like Lightroom or a virtual machine, at which point used RAM can be 1.84GB to 1.99 GB and page outs can jump from 21.5 MB to about 181.3 MB just by opening and paging through Lightroom with minor "develop" changes for only 2 minutes. My Lightroom use is limited and not for work, but is usually in RAW (I regularly offload the images on an external drive); photography is a hobby so occasionally I will be doing a lot of editing, but usually it's rare, light use.

    (4) I use virtual machines somewhat--VMWare and Citrix. This is primarily to connect to my work desktop remotely on my laptop or to address software which I only have access to as a Windows version (thankfully a rare issue at this point; the full 30GB Windows partition was from when all stats programs my school provided were Windows only and since I went Bootcamp, I had all the programs (Office Suite, Adobe, etc.) installed both on that partition AND again on my Mac Partition). Now I think I'd just try and use VMWare Unity for the occasional needs I'd have, with just Windows and a 3GB program installed, but I'm not sure how that new approach works/how much space that would likely occupy on the hard drive, even if it would be sharing the same space on the full Mac OS drive instead of using a separate partition (at least if I understand this correctly).

    (5) I am eligible for a student discount, but I am leaning toward a refurb (they seem to beat the student discount in many cases).

    (6) I love the retina screen, but the 13" seems overpriced relative to the Airs to only have a 128 ssd (I'd be more inclined to buy the base 15" retina given its better specs for price, except for the fact that it's larger/heavier than I want). Thus, despite the pretty screen, it may be wiser to wait to buy a retina as a true replacement for my MBP until later when the price should drop (or the base storage expand).

    (7) I have an original Ipad (Wifi only) which I use only in my house for web browsing/videos. I don't think a new Ipad would be a feasible option as a replacement, given the breadth of what I do, so I haven't considered it much, although having internet access everywhere (3G/LTE model) would be lovely.

    (8) I never game. I stream TV shows in HD for a max of 2-3 hours a week (if I miss a show that's not available for on demand viewing). 36 GB of what is on my Mac Partition is iTunes and photos I have not yet pulled off to the external drive. I rarely listen to my music in Itunes off my computer; I usualy transfer songs from my library to my iphone 4 (which is what I usually listen to my music off of). Because 128 GB would be a smaller hard drive than I have now, I'm unsure if that would be too small; it might be workable if I moved all music/photos to an external drive.
  2. harleymhs macrumors 6502

    Jul 19, 2009
    I have the 11" air and LOVE it.. BUT battery life is short! I was thinking about getting the NEW rMBP 13" and this way get the retina screen and 7 hour batter life! But I read there are issues with the screens and not that much difference in the retina screen for 500 more!!
    read this post!


    I think I will pick up the 13" air today.. More battery life, more screen real estate, SD card reader...

    Hope this helps!
  3. PlumMac macrumors newbie

    Nov 18, 2012
    I have an 11" MBA that I adore in most ways, but I absolutely, utterly, totally regret getting the 11" instead of the 13" because running R and SPSS is a frustrating, frustrating experience on the 11" screen. Forget being able to see your syntax and output at the same time - and it's a pipe dream to see your syntax, output, and a word processing document! I'd highly recommend going with the 13" MBA if you're running statistical packages. (FWIW, I've had no problems with processor speed/RAM when running R, although the size of your data set has a huge influence on how RAM-intensive R runs.)

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