2012 MBA as a development machine?

Discussion in 'MacBook Air' started by kthomp, Jun 26, 2012.

  1. kthomp macrumors newbie

    Jun 26, 2012
    Hello All,

    I'm a Windows developer looking to make the jump to iOS/MacOS development, and I'm looking for some opinions on the viability of the following as a development machine: 13" 2012 MBA with 2.0 GHz CPU, 8 GB RAM, 256 GB SSD.

    Essentially, I would like to use the following software stack on my machine, with all software up at the same time:

    - Xcode, iOS simulator, image editing software (GIMP and the like), browser, console, text editor, other miscellaneous lightweight programs.
    - Parallels/VMWare running Windows 7/8 with Visual Studio 2010/2012, SQL Server, SQL Server Management Studio, IIS, browser, text editor, console, other miscellaneous lightweight programs.
    - Ideally, it would be nice to have Eclipse and the Android emulator also running at the same time (running in MacOS, not Windows under the VM), but that is not strictly necessary.

    Do you think the MBA above would run this stack with good performance, and without any major slowdowns or hickups? Naturally, you will ask "why not use a MBP?" and the main reasons are:

    - Cost: I want to minimize cost (note that 256 GB+ SSD is a must have).
    - Weight: I want this as light as possible. I will output to my 27" monitor when working at home, but the lightweight MBA can easily go portable and I can continue to work on it seemlessly, which is awesome.

    Finally, no gaming, video editing, or other sorts of intensive work will be necessary.

    Many thanks for your opinions.
  2. hemagoku macrumors member

    Apr 19, 2012
    i am kind of in the same situation as you xD, anyway i think it should handle them well except for the VM, that i am not sure about, for me i think i ll probaly go with boot camp instead.
  3. MR.BUTTON macrumors member

    Apr 2, 2012
    Vancouver,Canada and Shanghai,China
    I mainly use my white MacBook for development. It doesn't differ too much from my RMBP. So MacBook air is enough, but I suggests that you should choose 512gb of flash, due to your huge library of media and apps
  4. NATO macrumors 68000


    Feb 14, 2005
    Northern Ireland
    I have very similar requirements to yourself. I'm using the previous revision (mid 2011) with a Parallels VM with Windows 7 to develop using Visual Studio 2010, SQL Server 2008 R2 etc.

    I have no problems whatsoever with performance with this setup, everything works perfectly and it's nice to be able to slide back and forth between a Windows desktop and a Mac OS X desktop. Very fast, very slick.

    I would say that if you're planning to buy a new machine, it may be worth speccing it out with 8GB RAM as you'll be able to dedicate more RAM to the VM (I haven't any issues with 4GB but obviously 8GB gives you more headroom). The Core i7 wouldn't hurt also but I would say the 8GB RAM is a must given it can't be upgraded at a later date.
  5. smithy1185 macrumors member


    Jul 16, 2008
    San Diego, CA
    I'm looking at an Air for the same reasons as the OP, but I really want to keep the cost down so I'm looking at a base 13" with the 8GB of ram. Ideally I'd upgrade to the 256GB ssd but I'm debating whether I can get by with the 128GB. I haven't used VMs before for Windows so how much space do you think it'd use for W7 and VS2010?
  6. lzh24 macrumors newbie

    Jun 23, 2012
    It will handle the VM with window 7, VS2010 and SQL Server installed. I did on my MBA 2012 with 8g ram, the perfomance was very good, no delay at all, couldn't feel I was working on the VM. However, I returned it caused by the defective battery problem, still waiting on the replacement.
  7. lzh24 macrumors newbie

    Jun 23, 2012
    Newly installed Parallel and VS2010 will occupy around 40G. My one is also the base with 8G ram, still enough disk space to use for now, may upgrade in the future with 3rd party after they come available.
  8. tigres macrumors 68040


    Aug 31, 2007
    Land of the Free-Waiting for Term Limits
    I did all what the OP intends with my 2010 MBA along with Xcode. Do the same with the new 2012. Got the 512ssd as the development size folders as we know are huge.
  9. tomwilson macrumors newbie

    Jun 27, 2012
    I do iOS dev full time - and the MBA is more than enough to get started.

    If you find yourself doing iOS dev full time, you will probably want to get something much faster though eventually. I have an iMac i7 3.4GHz right now and that thing destroys build times compared to what i've had previously. That said I just bought Myself an 11"/i5/128gb/8gb Air that I will probably do dev on sometimes :)

    Do yourself a favour and get the 8gb ram though - by the time you open up Xcode and Photoshop and a few app design mockups, you won't have much left of the 4gb.
  10. kthomp, Jun 27, 2012
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2012

    kthomp thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jun 26, 2012
    Thanks to all who replied - especially those who have successfully run with a similar stack with older MBA models.

    It sounds like the 2012 13",i7,8,256 model should meet my needs. Now I just need to order it, and start playing with my new toy ;)

    Once again, thanks for the replies.
  11. jsolares macrumors 6502a

    Aug 8, 2011
    Land of eternal Spring
    Not sure why you need to run it all at the same time, i've only run vmware with windows 2008 r2 server with visual studio 2012, and i'm close to hitting the 4GB of ram on the 2011 Air, with 8GB of ram i can see it all running at the same time just fine.
  12. bizack macrumors 6502a

    Apr 21, 2009
    I use a 2012 11" MBA 2.0GHz, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD as my primary dev machine (iPhone and iPad development, along with some design work). It's more than capable (compile times are obviously bound by project size, but it slices through a ~14MB binary in less than a minute).
  13. tomwilson macrumors newbie

    Jun 27, 2012
    Yeah but "less than a minute" is probably considerably more than something beefier, like say an i7 iMac.

    E.g. I have an app that takes ~170 seconds to do a full compile on a 2.4ghz macbook pro, but takes just 6 seconds on an i7 3.4GHz iMac.

    If you are doing iOS dev for a full time gig you really should be using something faster than a laptop. Sure you don't *need* it, but it will save you time!
  14. Barna Biro macrumors 6502a

    Barna Biro

    Sep 25, 2011
    Zug, Switzerland
    Sorry, but that's just hard to believe... A 2.4 Ghz Pro can not be 28 times slower than a 3.4 Ghz iMac ... you must be having messed up configurations on the Pro. Of course the iMac should be a bit faster, but not 28 times faster... that is just not right and I will not believe that no matter what.
  15. kellemar macrumors newbie

    Sep 12, 2010
    You'll be fine. I have Parallels (Win7), Photoshop and Xcode 4.3.3 running at the same time, along with Chrome, Mail, Transmit FTP and Microsoft Word.

    THis is on a MBA 2011 13 baseline.
  16. hvgotcodes macrumors member

    Feb 2, 2011
    I also am considering this. I'd be going from a 17" MBP to the Air, so I'm losing real estate.

    Im not too worried about when Im at my desk, since you can drive 2 cinema displays; Im worried about only haveing 1440x900 pixels to work with on the road. Im at my desk 99% of the time.

    How do developers put things next to each other with such limited resolution?
  17. Barna Biro macrumors 6502a

    Barna Biro

    Sep 25, 2011
    Zug, Switzerland
    By the way, I am also considering buying a Macbook Air 13" 2012 maxed out model. I mainly do ActionScript 3.0 ( Flex / Air ) and Java development but of course, if other technologies / languages need to be used, then I use those too... I have a 15" Macbook Pro and although it's a great machine, I sometimes feel that having something lighter on my lap would be a bit better ( I dislike working at desks... prefer laying in bed or on a sofa most of the time ).

    I've originally got the MBP mainly because of the dedicated GPU ( I do play games from time to time ), but I'm switching to MBA exactly to get rid of some of the gaming temptation ( of course the HD 4000 can run games on low-medium settings relatively decently, but I just won't play them on low-medium cause I hate the way they look and even sometimes move ).

    The CPU might indeed not be extremely fast, but lightning fast compile times aren't always everything... as long as the computer doesn't freeze on you and you can continue doing other tasks while the build is happening, then having a not super-fast build isn't that horrible. Not saying this will always be the case, but let's not make a huge fuss about the speed ( like that totally inaccurate - IMO at least - iMac and MBP speed comparison by tomwilson ).

    The MBA is definitely a nice machine and it will surely get things done just that sometimes, you might need to be a bit more careful with your resource usage than you'd be on a full-brown desktop PC with 16-32 GB of memory and some overclocked 4.5-4.8 GHz quad- or hexa-core. It's a small machine in the end and it of course has certain limitations and disadvantages but also some nice advantages ( especially regarding size, weight, portability, build quality, etc. )... if you are really more keen about speed, then you might want to reconsider buying a portable notebook in the first place ( you'd then be better off with at least a 15" notebook that has a more powerful CPU and possibly more RAM than the MBA ).
  18. Barna Biro, Jun 28, 2012
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2012

    Barna Biro macrumors 6502a

    Barna Biro

    Sep 25, 2011
    Zug, Switzerland
    I've been using a PC forever, only switched to Mac approx 6 months ago ( I might still build a gaming PC eventually, so it's not as if I never want to hear about PC again )... Before I was using a really old Toshiba notebook that had a resolution of 1280x800 px and all I can say is that working on it wasn't bad at all. Of course, the CPU was the most troubling cause it was really, really old ( bought the notebook 6+ years back - Satellite M70 ), but it was still handing stuff I threw at it quite decently... On a daily basis, I develop enterprise level applications for the finance sector and was doing some freelancing too in the past ( in my spare time ). Again, the old notebook handled everything I threw at it quite decently ( I was of course not using any virtual machines cause there was simply no need for something like that )... build times sometimes took a while, but there were always plenty of other things to take care of meanwhile.

    On that resolution, you can imagine that putting things side by side is not really an option... and I never really did that or felt the need to do it. Although at the office I use 2 screens, honestly, I would manage just as fine with one screen ( each screen has a resolution of 1280x1024 px so it's nothing mind-blowing... not even close ). ALT+TAB-ing is my second nature so I have absolutely no problem pressing those keys multiple times a day... To be honest, comparing stuff doesn't happen often since I get the requirements, I read them, and I start coding... only rarely I have to switch to the requirements doc to double-check something for safety.

    Don't get me wrong... I'm not saying that 2 monitors ( or more ) or a higher resolution is bad or not worth having, I'm just saying it's not really a deal breaker having only one screen and a decent resolution ( not too small, but not huge either )... On my MBP, I have a resolution of 1680x1050 px and although I have some nice additional screen space to fill with tabs and stuff, it doesn't really help me with proper coding... I find the font a tad bit too small in Eclipse / Flash Builder for a 15" screen running at a 1680x1050 resolution. After you bump to font size a bit, you'll kinda end up seeing the same amount of lines of code as if you were using a smaller screen.

    I think this problem is totally subjective... 1440x900 is surely usable and even though you might have to use ALT+TAB a tad bit more often and build times take a tad bit longer, it is far from being a deal breaker. As long as you don't rely on a lot of copy-pasting ( from tutorials or whatever - something you shouldn't normally be doing too much anyway ) and you actually focus on programming, everything will be fine... you're a programmer in the end and not a Xerox. I do understand that having enough space or 2+ monitors when doing research on a certain problem can come in handy, again, it's something you can do with 1 single screen and a decent resolution too.

    Then again, you can always get the MBA and get an additional monitor if you are worried about having to ALT+TAB too much... since you're 99% of the time at your desk anyway ( your words ), then spending 1% of the time on 1440x900 px resolution shouldn't really be that harmful :) ( I've spent years and years on lower resolutions with only 1 monitor and on a lot crappier PCs... although I'm just turning 25 this year, I've had a computer since I was around 5 - my father being a programmer too - and I've seen quite a lot since + I also have more than 10 years of professional / industry experience under my belt )
  19. seewor macrumors newbie

    Jun 12, 2012
    Seems powerful
    I ask a question but no one wants to reply me :(
    Under such usage would the fans kick in ?
    Am planning on getting the 2012 air for web browsing,twitter and skype at once
    -and for visual studio 2010 via bootcamp under such usage would the fans kick in
    And would the air get hot ?
  20. Barna Biro macrumors 6502a

    Barna Biro

    Sep 25, 2011
    Zug, Switzerland
    Fans would most likely kick in... As for hotness, I can't say for sure, but it would most likely not be dead cold. It also depends on what exactly will you be doing in those apps... just opening and not touching them would most likely not heat things up, but heavy compiling and such will surely heat it up a bit and fans kicking in is IMO inevitable.
  21. bizack macrumors 6502a

    Apr 21, 2009
    That's impossible. Also, compile time hardware-wise is heavily impacted by disk IO. The SSD on my MacBook Air helps, but unless you have a source and destination disk, your numbers are way, way off.
  22. tfannon macrumors newbie

    Apr 23, 2012
    i am a C# developer by trade and an iOS developer by hobby

    My 2011 Mac Air was my entry into Mac development. I fell in love with the machine (specifically the gestures to move between full screen windows), etc.

    The Mac Air is MORE than fast enough to do app development. App typically do not use huge files and link tons of libraries while compiling (of course there are exceptions).

    I also run Parallels and use Visual Studio and Sql Server on it. I found that the 4gb really limited things and there was a lot of swapping, but my C# project is huge.

    So, I just got an 8gb Air, and I can tell you that the experience is much more pleasant. I still do my main development on a desktop w/a 30" screen, but can easily work portably and comfortably on my new Air.

    The biggest bottleneck under a VM environment in my experience is I/O. Synthetic CPU and memory benchmarks don't show much difference, but large compiles under parallels take about 40% more time than on boot camp.

    If you get an SSD that is big enough you can try parallels and bootcamp!

    Good luck.
  23. tomwilson macrumors newbie

    Jun 27, 2012
    You'd be wrong, compile times are almost entirely CPU grunt. And my numbers were correct, i ran them many times. Who are you to tell me how fast my old macbook pro was? :)

    Regardless, I have my new i5 2012 Air here right now so I can do a more appropriate comparison for this thread. My test is to do a clean and then build + run in the simulator, on two different reasonably complicated apps.

    App 1 - 109 source files, tons of images:
    2011 i7 iMac 3.4 Ghz - build from clean + launch simulator: ~7 seconds
    2012 i5 11" Air - ~23 seconds

    App 2 - 236 source files, less images:
    2011 i7 iMac 3.4 Ghz - ~7.5 seconds
    2012 i5 11" Air - ~14.5 seconds

    Much better than my old MBP, but I still think the Air leaves a bit to be desired for a dev machine.
  24. Barna Biro, Jul 5, 2012
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2012

    Barna Biro macrumors 6502a

    Barna Biro

    Sep 25, 2011
    Zug, Switzerland
    @tomwilson: I don't even want to argue again about how wrong / off your previous ~170 vs ~6 seconds comparison was and most likely how messed up your App 1 and App 2 project configurations are in this new test. Even so, the numbers you have juts posted are no where near the ~170 vs ~6 seconds difference...

    Simple just admit that you have no idea what you're actually doing or talking about and we'll call it a day... You are not the first and surely not the last programmer I run into who "thinks he knows what he's doing".

    The MBA is of course not an extremely fast notebook compared to other heavier / larger models, but it's mainly due to the fact that it was never intended to be a desktop replacement or something that could blow a MBP out of the water ( still it does a decent job at almost everything you throw at it )... but saying that the MBA compiles the same project 28 times slower ( the whole ~170 vs ~6 thing ) than your "GODLIKE iMac" is just dumb and it only proves ( yet again ) that you have no idea what you're talking about.

    BOTTOM LINE: @OP: The MBA is a really nice little machine that will surely handle the things you throw at it in a decent ( sometimes more than just decent ) manner. While it's of course not as fast as a desktop or a lot higher clocked quad core CPU ( as found in larger / heavier notebooks ), it will serve you well. ;)
  25. dmelgar macrumors 68000

    Apr 29, 2005
    I think people too easily succumb to labels. Label something a "Pro" machine vs. something that has an inexpensive base configuration and people label that an "entry level" machine. Actual performance is considered after the labels.

    For my development, in many real world usage tests (not benchmarks), disk speed trumps CPU speed. An ultimate 2012 MBA will smoke a machine using a traditional hard drive. My new Mini gets 30-40MB/sec best case reading from disk. Whereas the 2012 11" MBA is getting 450MB/sec. Thats 10x the speed. Makes a huge difference. Compile time is certainly affected by CPU speed, but available RAM is more important to cache headers etc., and a fast SSD. And what about ancillary time that ends up being where more time is spent, such as starting the simulator, starting the app, starting tools such as Instruments.

    I do extensive development on a 2010 11" Ultimate. I did many speed comparisons when I bought it compared to my 2009 MBP. The MBP had a much faster CPU, >2x. In some scenarios, strictly compile time was faster. But build and run time was faster on the MBA despite having a very slow CPU. It was able to launch the simulator and kick off the app so much faster that it caught up and passed the MBP for build & run time.

    I've been debating upgrading to a 2012 11 Ultimate. It runs 2-3x faster for all tasks than my 2010, but resale value on the 2010 is in the gutter. Folks on eBay don't seem to know the difference between the 2010 base $999 machine and ultimate $1399 machine sometimes paying more for the base than ultimate. For now, my plan is to stick w the 2010. And even it performs ok for most development. I should mention though that I plug into a 28" monitor when at home.

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