Advice for uni student: iMac+MacBook Air or MacBook Pro?

iSamurai

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Nov 9, 2007
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Hello, I've been thinking for a long time and I still can't decide which option I should go for. I'm a uni engineering student and currently I've got an old-shape white MacBook.

Now I can buy a new 27" iMac i5 with alongside a refurb Macbook Air (1.6 or 1.86 GHz?). Another option, which is slightly less expensive, is a new 17" Macbook Pro.

Let me know which one you'd go for and why. Thanks in advance :)
 

Hellhammer

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Dec 10, 2008
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Having two computers is a bit hassle but carrying 17" MBP in uni isn't nice either. How much power do you need? Would 13"/15" MBP + external monitor suit for you?
 

Transporteur

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Nov 30, 2008
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I always recommend two or more computers.
Simply imagine you've got to write a serious dissertation and your single MacBook breaks. What then? Waiting till Apple fixes it?

I rather deal with synchronisation (there are several very good tools out there, I use my own though), than having no backup machine in case that one device fails.

That's why I would definitely go for iMac + MacBook in your case.
 

SteveMobs

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Dec 10, 2008
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Are you living on campus or commuting?

If the former, you'll rarely take your computer out of your dorm, so carrying an Air to class will likely never be necessary.

If you are a commuter, then you will always take the computer to and from school, whether it be for killing time in between classes or taking care of homework, you'll bring it.

So, I think it's a big question of whether or not you're commuting or living on campus. If you live on campus, I'd go with the 17" mbp. Live at home and the air/imac combo might be nice for the lightness.
 

iSamurai

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Having two computers is a bit hassle but carrying 17" MBP in uni isn't nice either. How much power do you need? Would 13"/15" MBP + external monitor suit for you?
I've owned a 24" iMac and sold it before the new ones came out, and I feel that my 13" MacBook's screen is really tiny and requires a bit of fiddling and I think it's heavy to carry it everywhere so I dunno how I'll manage with a 17" weighing at 3kg but eliminates the hassles of 2 computers.

I don't think power is the main concern, but rather HD space... also I don't like external HDs as it's literally a brick to carry half my files around when travelling (e.g. flying).
 

iSamurai

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Are you living on campus or commuting?

If the former, you'll rarely take your computer out of your dorm, so carrying an Air to class will likely never be necessary.

If you are a commuter, then you will always take the computer to and from school, whether it be for killing time in between classes or taking care of homework, you'll bring it.

So, I think it's a big question of whether or not you're commuting or living on campus. If you live on campus, I'd go with the 17" mbp. Live at home and the air/imac combo might be nice for the lightness.
Thanks for your advice; I've never thought of that. I'm currently living on campus but planning to move out next semester -- to somewhere close to uni where it's a 5min bus trip or 10 by cycling. I know that I'll be using computers a lot this semester for all those group projects and individual assignments as well as CAD... A big screen would help a lot but carrying a 17" everywhere is a bit of a problem.
 

Hellhammer

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Dec 10, 2008
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Right. You've got a backup of your data then. And which machine will you use to access this data whilst your machine is at Apple to get fixed?
OP has a MacBook already... And spending +1000$, only for something that would be used IF something breaks, is waste of money.
 

SteveMobs

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Dec 10, 2008
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Thanks for your advice; I've never thought of that. I'm currently living on campus but planning to move out next semester -- to somewhere close to uni where it's a 5min bus trip or 10 by cycling. I know that I'll be using computers a lot this semester for all those group projects and individual assignments as well as CAD... A big screen would help a lot but carrying a 17" everywhere is a bit of a problem.
You can buy a big monitor for less than the price of a 27" iMac. For what it's worth, I'm taking a CAD class now, and I do all of my "at-home" CAD work on my 2.4 uMB (late 2008). It runs pretty well, and I get my work done, so the 17" should have no problems.
 

iSamurai

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I always recommend two or more computers.
Simply imagine you've got to write a serious dissertation and your single MacBook breaks. What then? Waiting till Apple fixes it?

I rather deal with synchronisation (there are several very good tools out there, I use my own though), than having no backup machine in case that one device fails.

That's why I would definitely go for iMac + MacBook in your case.
Right. You've got a backup of your data then. And which machine will you use to access this data whilst your machine is at Apple to get fixed?
I take that as TM data can only be accessed by one computer... but I think Apple computers are reliable as my MacBook (2.5 years now) has never been broken before.

Yes, thanks, I'll have a look into synchronising the 2 computers as that reduces the hassles like web browser settings and files that needs to be transferred by USB disks...
 

student_trap

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Mar 14, 2005
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I use a mac pro and a macbook and I would highly recommend it. However I use them for very different things:

Mac Pro: Photo work and chillout stuff like movies etc. Sometime I work on it, but quite rarely

Macbook: take to and from the library every day. Is used as a work machine and nothing else.

I back up my work files from the macbook to the mac pro very regularly, but they are NOT synchronised with each other.
 

iSamurai

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OP has a MacBook already... And spending +1000$, only for something that would be used IF something breaks, is waste of money.
good point... I have an external HD currently to store most of my files for my MacBook so maybe I can use that as a backup HD.

Why not buy an iMac and a refurbish mbp 13"? Covers both IMHO :]
yes, I think this is a good idea but a MBP 13" is just as heavy as my white MB, which I thought was heavy with notes and books in my bag to carry around. a 17" is 1 extra kilogram but that eliminates a 2nd computer completely (thought I think the combo option is more practical).

I use a mac pro and a macbook and I would highly recommend it. However I use them for very different things:

Mac Pro: Photo work and chillout stuff like movies etc. Sometime I work on it, but quite rarely

Macbook: take to and from the library every day. Is used as a work machine and nothing else.

I back up my work files from the macbook to the mac pro very regularly, but they are NOT synchronised with each other.
I'm an avid photographer too so that's also one of the reason for a big screen besides uni work... and ya, I'd be looking at the laptop as a "work machine" and for travelling from now on.

How do you back up your files? Do you use wireless with a common shared folder?
 

Luba

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Apr 22, 2009
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iMac and Air, well Mac Pro and Air is better but more expensive and doesn't seem you need a Mac Pro. Air is light and you can use the iMac's SuperDrive. Back up via your WiFi network, perhaps by using Time Capsule or an External hooked up to your Airport Extreme. Sync'ing is easy with Dropbox or MobileMe. If you have an iPhone, I would highly recommend MobileMe. Less expensive would be a 13" or 15" MacBook Pro or an Air with External SuperDrive AND a 24" or 30" display. I like the iMac and Air combo . . . iMac will be more powerful than Air, and as another poster said you're getting two machines and if something happens you have another machine. Also, I would like with sync you would have most or your most important data on the other machine and also backed up via Time Machine.
 

opera57

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Feb 15, 2009
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I have a 24" iMac along with a Macbook Air and find it excellent at uni. You can enjoy having a larger screen with more power when you are in your room and you have a much more lightweight machine which you can carry to and from uni without even realising you have it in your bag. A 17" MBP can be a bit on the large/heavy side to carry to and from uni.
 

dolphin842

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Jul 14, 2004
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Here are a few simple questions that could help resolve this dilemma:

1) How much on-campus computing work do you foresee?
2) What type of on-campus computing work do you foresee?
3) Do you have wifi in classrooms?

If you need serious horsepower in class (i.e. editing video or whatnot), a big MBP may be useful. However, if you will be just doing basic notetaking, checking e-mail, etc... you could consider running something like LogMeIn on your desktop and using either a) any random lab computer, or b) any random/cheap netbook or laptop to remote control your desktop. I used this approach for quite some time and was happy with the results: the LogMeIn browser plugin supports full screen mode and resolution scaling, so you can fit a higher-res screen onto a smaller one (although YMMV with the huge 27" iMac screen). Of course, you need to have internet access where you want to use your computer, hence question #3. If you're looking to save some money, it's definitely worth considering.
 

wordoflife

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Jul 6, 2009
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iMac (anyone)
a 13 inch laptop. (Macbook or Macbook Pro, your call)

That's what I'd do.
Or reinstall OS X on your old Macbook so it's new.

Reason I say 13'' Macbook [or Pro] over air is because its more powerful, it uses a 64-bit kernel, more ram, hdd space, you can actually play youtube videos.
 

Balty

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Jun 12, 2008
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Canberra, Australia
A 15" MacBook Pro would do you fine for almost anything. My two year old MacBook Pro runs Photoshop, Final Cut, Aperture and practically anything else I throw at it speedily.

In my opinion the 15" MacBook Pro is the perfect blend of power (17") and portability (13"). Hook it up to an external monitor when at "home", and you've got screen real-estate. And you won't need to worry about syncing anything, as that can be quite a hassle (especially with music, movies, school work, photos, etc).

:)
 

student_trap

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Mar 14, 2005
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'Ol Smokey, UK
I'm an avid photographer too so that's also one of the reason for a big screen besides uni work... and ya, I'd be looking at the laptop as a "work machine" and for travelling from now on.

How do you back up your files? Do you use wireless with a common shared folder?
I actually dont use anything in particular, just a good old fashioned 8GB thumb drive where all my uni work files are backed up to, which I drag anything new onto the mac pro every couple of days.

Reading this thread though, I may set up mobile me... hmm...

Reason why I suggested MBP 13" over the MBA is because of the dvd drive. Yes it's light, but the inconvenience later may be a drag.
...Reason I say 13'' Macbook [or Pro] over air is because its more powerful, it uses a 64-bit kernel, more ram, hdd space, you can actually play youtube videos.
I don't think that you guys quite get it. If you have to carry around a laptop all day it can actually get very annoying: especially if this this idea of carrying it around is literal.

1. It's annoying when getting some food in (carrying heavy laptops round busy supermarkets after a days work is not my idea of fun)
2. It's annoying when you get that call to go out to the pub thats a 20 minute walk away, and you can't drop your lappy off at home beforehand
3. any situation where you have to walk for more than 15 minutes with the laptop AND a number of textbooks.

I would be very happy for my macbook to be half as powerful if it was half as light. Nothing is more of a 'drag' than a computer that has to go with you always, so making it as light as possible is very important.
 

BlizzardBomb

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Jun 15, 2005
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England
15" MBP with an external display would be a great idea I think. Dual-displays would be a big bonus and you wouldn't have to worry about constant syncing between two machines. Just hope the new 15" MBP gets a resolution boost next revision.
 

chrono1081

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Jan 26, 2008
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Isla Nublar
+1 for having two or more computers.

I think the iMac + Air would be a great combination. The air is quite portable, much more so then a MBP and you could easily carry it anywhere.

When you get back to your dorm and need to do some hardcore work then your iMac and its larger screen are there for you to use.

If your like me and need a computer most of the day all day then two computers is a no-brainer.
 

Cizzion

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Feb 28, 2010
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Brisvegas
Same boat

iSamurai, it sounds like you and I are in the same boat. You have a lot of people here giving you some very valid advice so I might tell you about myself and see if that gives you a fresh perspective.

I'm a uni student studying Business with a primary major in Marketing and a secondary major in Management thereby my workload is quite strenuous at times. My day includes a great deal of traveling, regardless of whether or not I am living on campus (have given it a shot) as no matter how you look at it, you will be wanting your laptop for group work at the very least.

As you said, the small 13" screen is inadequate for writing entire assignments but it is nice to have the portability.

My solution was to buy the 27" Quad core iMac for my room allowing me ample power, screen real estate (I also have a 23" Philips monitor plugged into the iMac) and hdd space for all my uni and personal needs. I then bought the base model MacBook to take to class. Granted, its no MacBook Air however it is easy to carry (as apposed to the 17" MacBook Pro) and perfect for in and out of class.

My advice would be to do something similar. Im not sure, but if you can go without using CAD during the day until you can use the more powerful machine, then the base line MacBook would save you some $$$ and should serve as an acceptable option?

I'll attach a photo below to give you an idea of my set up.

Hope this helps and feel free to contact me if I can answer any questions.
 

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duky

macrumors 6502
Jun 25, 2007
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North Carolina
Have you thought about getting a 15" MBP, external monitor and a refurb Air? It's what I'm going for and even though it's pricey I think it's the best of both worlds (once the MBP catches up to the iMac specwise again). You get a large display, fast computer, a portable fast computer if you need it and your everyday portable computer--the Air. I had an iMac and Air and I don't think you'll go wrong but I want to try the MBP + Air setup and see how it works. I feel I'll like it more and plus the MBP is easier to upgrade (hard drive) than the iMac which I appreciate (primarily to put in an SSD)