13" MBA or 15" rMBP?

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by devilofspades, Jul 16, 2013.

  1. devilofspades macrumors member

    Jul 20, 2011
    let me start by saying i've done some searching and can't seem to find this same comparison, hence the post. most people are comparing 13" mba vs. 13" rmbp or cmbp.

    that being said, i am in the market for a new laptop and am in a bit of a quandary. i think the form factor of the macbook air is fantatic, and if there was such a thing as a 15" macbook air i would already be typing on it. my problem is i am used to a 15" mbp, and don't know if the smaller screen real estate of a 13" will be a burden? i have friends that own 13" macbook airs or 15" macbook pros, but nobody owns both. so getting a sense from someone who went from a 15" display to a 13" display is kinda tough. given that i like the form factor of the mba, and if i was to go with a mbp, the retina is a no brainer since it has a slimmer profile and a wonderful display.

    my core question is, has anyone had any regrets or adulations going from a 15" to a 13" display? i do mostly coding / development, and do quite a bit of music work with logic & various audio apps.

    i don't think the performance differences will be too much of a factor given that either will be a major upgrade from my '06 mbp. i’ve done quick side by side comparisons but nothing of considerable length of time. i’m not sure how regular long term use will fare on a 13” vs. my usual 15". if anyone could possibly give some personal pros & cons that would be great. any productive input would be greatly appreciated.
  2. cledet macrumors regular


    Mar 26, 2012
    San Francisco, CA
    I've owned a 13'' MacBook Air (but sold), 15'' rMBP (work machine), and 15'' cMBP (backup machine).

    Out of all of them, my favorite is the 13'' MacBook Air. I just love the small form factor. Although you can only max out the RAM to 8GB - it's powerful enough and was really awesome! You just can't beat its portability.

    I developed iOS and Ruby on Rails applications on my MacBook Air without any issues nor did I wish I was on a more powerful machine. It was great and I miss it.

    My only beef with the MBA (and with the rMBP also) is storage availability. I have a HUGE iTunes library collection and a fairly large iPhoto collection (kids ftw!). I didn't like having an external drive always connected to my computer. I had to switch to the Mac Pro.

    15'' cMBP is my next favorite. I swapped out the optical drive and installed another hard drive in place of it. Maxed out the RAM to 16GB and now I (almost) have a full Mac Pro replacement. My beef with it is that it's heavy.

    The rMBP screen is beautiful but I could live without it. 90% of the time it's connected to an external display anyway.

    Good luck!
  3. theluggage macrumors 68040

    Jul 29, 2011
    Where are you going to use it most?

    Are you going to be using it "on the road" - in trains and planes and in meetings? In that case, the portability of 13" (let alone the Air form factor) is a winner. Your shoulders will thank you after you've humped it through a few airports - but you may find the screen slightly constraining.

    Or are you mainly shuttling it from home to work in the trunk of your car? In that case, size/weight is less of an issue, and you'll appreciate the extra screen estate of a 15". If you've got reasonably good eyesight then you can fit a hell of a lot of stuff on the 15" in "scaled" 1920x1200 mode.

    Couple of alternatives if you want the best of both worlds:

    (1) Have a look at the 13" retina MBP - smaller and lighter than the 15" and if your eyesight is up to "scaled" mode, more screen real estate than the Air.

    (2) Get an Air and - for when you are at your desk - a decent sized external display. Unless you push the boat out and get an Apple TB Display you'll be able to get a nice 24" Dell Ultrasharp or something for the price difference between the Air and the rMBP.

    My preferred mode of operation is to have the laptop on an elevator stand, an external keyboard and mouse/magic trackpad, and the external display as the main display. The laptop acts as a second screen for parking reference materials, palletes etc. Then, when you do need to hit the road, just unplug and go.

    Currently, I have a Core2 Duo 13" MBP + 27" Cinema Display at work, and a 17" MBP + 24" Dell Ultrasharp at home. I do tend to take my home machine in to work when I have some serious work to do, but its the 13" I take when I'm travelling.
  4. Scepticalscribe Contributor


    Jul 29, 2008
    The Far Horizon
    My first Apple computer was a 15" MBP which I bought in April 2008, as a birthday present to myself. It was a terrific computer, but, as I travel a lot, and portability is an issue, I decided to buy a 13" MBA in 2010 and later, sold the MBP.

    Of the two, my personal preference was the MBA; before the advent of the retina technology, the MBA had the best screen an Apple laptop could offer.

    Secondly, it also had the SSD drive - which is a lot faster and more stable than the older HDD which the MBPs were equipped with, and which some still are equipped with; to be honest, having experienced the speed, and reliability of a SSD drive, I will never buy a computer again with anything else. In fact, I will pay the ludicrously high price for a high capacity SSD drive, rather than return to the chugging of the older HDD technology.

    And thirdly, there was of course, the wonderfully portable nature of the MBA. I have quite literally travelled the world with mine, and, because of its portability, it has not been a problem.

    No, to answer your question, I have no regrets going from a 15" MBP (even though I wear glasses and my eyesight is not great) to a 13" MBA. My next computer is also a MBA - actually my next two computers are both MBAs. This is because I have bought an 11" MBA (refurb) a lovely blazing fast model, as the CTO 13" I ordered while home was not ready before my departure.

    Indeed, firstly, until high capacity SSDs become the norm for MBPs, (ones which do not cost the proverbial arm and leg) and secondly, more importantly, until and unless I am travelling a lot less, and remaining in one place for an extended period of time, I have no plans to buy a MBP. For now, the MBA is my main computer and has been for three yard.

    Re MBP and MBA, you need to ask yourself whether you need the extra power, and screen size, as against the speed and portability offered by the MBA. Your needs will decide the answer.
  5. devilofspades thread starter macrumors member

    Jul 20, 2011
    thanks for all the great feedback.

    i think i have decided on the mba, all though i will still wait for the next mbp release to see if anything they do to it changes my mind. as i said performance is not a huge factor, but more performance doesn't hurt. i'll definitely take as much as i can get. i've never heard anyone say "my computer is way too fast!". i've maxed the memory and slapped an ssd in my current mbp so not much more i can do with it other than replace it to support the newer applications & os. one slight concern i have though is the 8gb memory cap on the mba. i had to consolidate some things and no longer have the luxury of using my mac pro, so this new laptop will be my only system outside my ipad. this is why it's crucial i make the right pick.

    i may be one of the few people left who uses their laptop on their lap. so that is sorta my primary focus for the mba. unless the new mbp has a pcie ssd and is even thinner, i think the mba will do just fine.
  6. throAU macrumors 601


    Feb 13, 2012
    Perth, Western Australia
    For the cost of a 15" rMBP you could have

    • a 13" MBA and a thunderbolt display OR
    • 2x 13" MBAs
    • a 13" MBA, a quad core Mini and a third party monitor. stick 16 GB in the mini to use for heavy duty stuff when at a desk.

    Unless you know you need more power than the MBA can provide, personally i'd buy the MBA, pocket the difference and save it to upgrade machine a year earlier or so.
  7. devilofspades thread starter macrumors member

    Jul 20, 2011
    that was exactly my same thought process. for the cost difference i could get a mini and load up the memory and slap an ssd and have a "server" for heavy workload tasks. not a bad way to go either. would still wait for the next mac mini release before going that route though.
  8. cramazing macrumors 6502

    Jun 17, 2012
    I have a 15"RMBP at home with TB Display, and I just sold my 4th gen iPad and I am using that fund towards a purchase of the new 13 MBA.

    The plan is to use the 15" at solely at home and the 13" MBA for work in the office and also when I travel.

    The iPad just didnt do it for me as it didnt meet me needs for a portable device.

    Overall to answer your question, i would say get the MBA if you are going to be using it on the road, and get the 15" if you are using it at home most of the time and sometimes on the road.

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