13'' MBA enough for EEE student? Or cMBP?

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by Art~, Jul 24, 2013.

  1. Art~, Jul 24, 2013
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2013

    Art~ macrumors newbie

    Jul 17, 2013
    Hi all, I seriously want to switch from PC to Mac, so I have been trying to make up my mind on which Macbook I should purchase for college/university (whichever term depending on whether you are using American or British English).

    Some people tell me that MBP is more powerful. But I can't afford Retina and don't think it's necessary for me either (and it seems like there are complaints about the glare??), so I am narrowing it down to either cMBP or MBA.

    I like how MBA is fast and has a long-lasting battery. And it seems like cMBP will not be updated (?) (or will it be updated this fall? I can wait until end of September) :confused: , so here are my questions:

    1) Between the existing 13'' cMBP and 13'' MBA, is the difference in power really significant? especially when executing programs as I'll be studying Electrical and Electronic Engineering?

    2) Is it worth it to add a little more to get the cMBP (instead of MBA) for this extra power? (of course, there's also this extra DVD drive in cMBP ...)

    :) appreciate any advice from you Mac users! Thanks
  2. aixporter macrumors member


    Feb 21, 2009
    Base specs are not that much different. Since the Air is non-upgradable, you'll be stuck with whatever you buy. Will you be using the cd drive at all? If so, you'll have to go with the cMBP or else buy another external drive.

    I think the real bottleneck to any engineering app is not having an SSD. In this case, the Air really performs great... until you upgrade the cMBP with a fast SSD like the samsung pro..

    IMO, the cMBP is already extremely portable, the Air is just even lighter. But the non-user serviceability really turns me off.

    Another point to consider is that the resolution of the Air is 1440 while the Pro is 1280. If you are going to be looking at text for long periods I definitely recommend the Pro. While 1440 at 13" is doable, I think it produces way too much eye strain... Now a retina display at 1280 scaled would be just perfect.
  3. talmy macrumors 601


    Oct 26, 2009
    Speaking as a practicing electrical engineer that also teaches digital EE courses part time, you will eventually (in your upper class years) appreciate a fast CPU for running various CAD programs. You will also need Parallels or Fusion plus Windows to run most of these tools (very few are available native on the Mac). I found I got a considerable performance improvement when I went from a 3 year old 13" MBP to a 15" cMBP last year with an i7 processor. Hybrid drive and 8GB of RAM (a must!) in both cases. Of course I'm in the position where I'm being *paid* but when I give demonstrations in class (which I do every week) I don't want to be waiting on the computer to finish calculations!

    Your first 2 years will be pretty much general studies and an MBA would be fine. It certainly has the advantage of light weight. You could buy one now with the plan to sell it in two years and buy what certainly will have more bang-for-the-buck at that time.
  4. mslide macrumors 6502a

    Sep 17, 2007
    Not counting the difference between a regular HD and an SSD, with what you'll be doing in school, you most likely won't notice the performance difference between a MBA and cMBP. Even if you were a working professional in that field, you most likely wouldn't notice a difference.

    Personally, I prefer the cMBP (and is what I use as my work computer) because of the extra ports, upgradeability, 16GB RAM support and the ability to hold 2, normal sized HDs. If you go with the cMBP, I'd definitely change out the HD with an SSD. It's easy to do yourself.

    You'll definitely want 8GB RAM since you'll most likely need to run a Windows VM. Keep in mind that you can put 16GB RAM in the cMBP whereas the MBA is limited to 8GB. Sometimes, all it takes to max out 8GB RAM is to run 2 VMs at once. Plus, 8GB RAM might not be that much at all by the time you're getting close to graduating.
  5. Art~ thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jul 17, 2013
    Thanks for all the input! :)
    Really appreciate the replies as it gave me some points to think about ...

    perhaps cMBP with (128GB?) SSD will be a great way to go about it

    I guess perhaps cMBP's price will drop a little when they announce the new rMBP Haswell and (perhaps) decide to end the cMBP line?
  6. KylePowers macrumors 68000


    Mar 5, 2011
    Recent EE graduate here.

    I'd go for the new MBA, and here's why:

    First and foremost, screen real estate:
    The MBA carries a screen resolution of 1440x900, where as the cMBP has a resolution of 1280x800. What does this mean? This means when you go with the MBA, you're getting an extra 100 pixels vertically and an extra 140 pixels horizontally. This is incredibly useful for having windows side-by-side (e.g. Safari + Word when writing a paper), being able to better view your digital textbooks/assignments, and seeing more of your circuit design layout (for example). You can always up specs in terms of CPU, RAM, SSD, blah blah blah, but you can't change your screen's resolution!

    Portability and battery life:
    If you live the college life I ended up living, you'll be bouncing between your apartment/dorm, libraries, classrooms, labs, friends/partner's homes, your home-home, and anywhere else on campus. The MBA is obviously much much thinner, which means it's also much much lighter! You may not be lugging textbooks to your classrooms (well, maybe), but you'll definitely be bringing them to libraries, study groups, and to classmates' apartments. Depending on your campus and means of transportation, a couple pounds can certainly make a difference. Plus, 12+ hours of battery is phenomenal. No need to lug your charger with you (trust me, you'll easily surpass the 7-hour battery in the MBP in almost everyday usage).

    The CPU in the cMBP (let's say the i7) scores at 4570/230 (score/rank respectively) on CPUBenchmark.net. The i7 in the current MBA scores at 4436/235. As you can see here, you'll see 0 difference between the both of them in terms of CPU performance. But let's look at GPU performance, shall we? cMBP scores at 465/295 (score/rank respectively) and the MBA scores at 604/238. Now these are probably averages and can vary (since these may not be ULV benchmarks), but I'm sure you've heard great things about the GPU performance in Haswell vs Ivy Bridge! Lastly, the MBA of course comes standard with a PCIe SSD, which has increased speeds compared to the SATA III SSD you'd get in a cMBP (though granted, SSDs in general are amazing compared to standard HDDs)

    For $1549 (MBA) vs $1799 (MBP) (i7, 8GB, 256GB), it's absolutely a no brainer. If you need an optical drive, grab a Blu-ray one on Amazon for $30 bucks. It'll be better than the Superdrive and you'll still come out on top a winner.

    Oh, and if you're concerned about software, don't be. Anything Windows-only (like LTSpice) is usually light enough that virtualizing is perfectly fine (I recommend VirtualBox because it's free!). I did perfectly swell on my 2011 MBA, never even had to bootcamp. Also used a slew of logic design programs (Logisim comes to mind) and software like MATLAB (which has an OSX version) without having to virtualize Windows. Software like Cadence, which I believe is strictly unix, was done through virtual PCs hosted on school servers that we simply VNC'd into (thus it didn't matter if you were using OSX or Windows).

    Hope this helps! :)
  7. SilverOath macrumors member

    Apr 25, 2013
    What this person above me said is ++++!

    chunkyMBPro does have some user serviceability... but those things won't really make the machine last longer.. as the core (CPU/GPU) will be your real bottle necks in the future.

    An external DVD & storage drives are easy and cheap. If you really need to carry them with you on the odd occasion they probably still weigh less and take up less space with a MBA than a cMBP... in addition it gives you a external backup drives so if anything ever goes wrong (stolen, lost, breaks)... you've got everything at home safe and secure.
  8. fanfaning macrumors newbie

    Jul 29, 2013
    right,I'd definitely change out the HD with an SSD. It's easy to do yourself.good job [​IMG]
  9. jav6454, Jul 29, 2013
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2013

    jav6454 macrumors P6


    Nov 14, 2007
    1 Geostationary Tower Plaza
    Being an EEE graduate myself I'll recommend either the 15" cMBP or the 15" rMBP.

    Which one will depend on your projected DVD drive usage (software, Windows, movies), dorm internet availability (Ethernet only or Wi-Fi) and personal preference.

    1. No... very wrong. 15" Carry a 1440x900 screen at minimum, it can be upgraded to a 1680x1050 screen if one desires.

    2. Rarely do EE's take laptops to class. That is business students. EEs usually write down notes and get lectured on harmonics and how cos and sin make square, triangle and other forms of waves. Not to mention how bandwidth actually works.

    3. Performance only matters if you deal with 3D designs which us EEs never do. That is for Mechanical Engineering students. MATLAB only requires a nice headroom of RAM to be happy. Not to mention you'll barely break 1GB of RAM usage for MATLAB in undergrad work.

    4. GPU matters if you game... seriosuly?! Going to school and gaming? EEs barely have time when the coursework piles (which it will)!

    5. You will need Windows with your Mac, trust me.
  10. Art~ thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jul 17, 2013

    Hi, thanks for the input.
    In your opinion, what features of the cMBP made it a more suitable laptop compared to MBA?
  11. jav6454 macrumors P6


    Nov 14, 2007
    1 Geostationary Tower Plaza
    Screen real estate. That comes in handy in several opportunities.

    The fact that the DVD drive is needed. As an EE, you will need to run Windows, this is for a fact. Why? I had to run MATLAB, Xilinx VHDL software, Macrss Assembler, MultiSIM, all of which don't have a Mac counterpart easily available. Furthermore, I was required by many professors to hand in homework which required the use of software included in the textbook (DVD).

    Now, in terms of using it for movies, I did use RedBox quite extensively since they have a nice sleection at a good cost (this was a year back).

    When you do get the opportunity (if course work is light at first), gaming is awesome. Bear in mind I bought many "old" games that are DVD only (Command and Conquer First Decade, AoE Non-HD and Crysis [yes I did]).

    The MBA can't simply compare to the power a cMBP has.
  12. SilverOath, Jul 29, 2013
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2013

    SilverOath macrumors member

    Apr 25, 2013
    To Clarify the MBP 13 vs MBA 13:

    The MBA has MORE screen real estate than the MBP 13.

    The current MBA is MORE powerful than the current MBP 13 (including for gaming that you mentioned).

    DVD can be added to an MBAir and still weigh less and be more portable than a cMBP 13.

    The MBP 15 will be superior in all aspects. I'd recommend the rMBP 15 for real estate and performance - with an external DVD. Right now if you're lucky Best Buy has the 2.3 / 8 / 256 rMBP 15 for 1260 if there are still any in clearance at your local store.
  13. KylePowers macrumors 68000


    Mar 5, 2011
    In his original post, he is asking between the 13in cMBP and 13in MBA. My initial point is still correct. The MBA's resolution is still superior.
    Way to generalize. I took my laptop to every class. Sure, there were courses where I took notes on my iPad due to heavy formulas, designs, etc... but there were still plenty of courses where a) you were doing some type of design work on a computer or b) it wasn't an engineering course (people do take electives dontchaknow)
    Regardless, why buy an outdated 13in cMBP for more money when you can get a higher performing 13in MBA for less? That just doesn't make sense. Besides, computers have much more use than simply school work - for all we know, OP could have all sorts of hobbies that require a good performing computer. Plus, it'll last longer in the long run.
    Plenty of software out there that takes advantage of the GPU, whether it's for school or his personal interest. I go back to the my aforementioned point - why buy an outdated 13in cMBP, when you can get a new 13in MBA that outperforms it and is cheaper? Besides, there are things called vacations where who knows what OP will want to do on his computer. Better safe than sorry.
    I agree with this.

    This is only true for the 15in (with an upgraded SSD, mind you), which OP was not asking about.
  14. Art~ thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jul 17, 2013

    :) Thanks !!
    I'm really excited about switching to Mac!
    Thanks guys!
  15. Art~ thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jul 17, 2013
    One last question... how about if I compare i5 versions of 13" MBA vs 13" cMBP (i5, 8GB, 256GB)? I did a search and it's MBA (3590, 337) vs MBP (3815, 297) (score/rank). It's still not such a big difference right?

    The Haswell processor, GPU, and battery power of MBA are really attractive ...

  16. NorCalLights macrumors 6502a

    Apr 24, 2006
    Just get the Air. It's a better computer all around. I can't say enough how much better the experience of using my MBA is than any other laptop I've ever used.

    You can worry about 1 point here or there on a useless benchmark, or you can just buy the computer that is better to use.

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