Comp Sci Student: MBA 13" upgrades - RAM & SSD

barca11

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Original poster
May 30, 2015
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I wanted to buy a new MBA for college as a CS major. I am definitely upgrading from 4GB to 8GB, without a doubt. However, is it worth upgrading from 128 to 256 GB? I really don't want to run out of memory in the future and I am not sure exactly how demanding CS is of storage. But I also don't want to waste money if it's an unnecessary upgrade.

Thanks in advance.
 

reflecti0nX

macrumors newbie
Mar 3, 2015
26
1
I wanted to buy a new MBA for college as a CS major. I am definitely upgrading from 4GB to 8GB, without a doubt. However, is it worth upgrading from 128 to 256 GB? I really don't want to run out of memory in the future and I am not sure exactly how demanding CS is of storage. But I also don't want to waste money if it's an unnecessary upgrade.

Thanks in advance.
Don't upgrade. Apple will charge you $200 to upgrade to 256GB.

In college, Computer Science stuff generally doesn't use a lot of storage space. Music, videos, and pictures will. Unless you plan on storing a lot of those on your laptop, you may not need more than 128GB.

If you end up needing more space in the future, you can easily remove the bottom of your laptop and replace the SSD yourself, and it will cost you less money.

If you sell your old SSD on eBay and buy a new one, this is a rough estimate of how much it would cost you today after shipping, seller fees for your SSD, and cost of buying a new SSD and 2 screwdrivers:
256GB $120
512GB $260

If you decide to upgrade in a year, it will likely cost you even less.

Of course, keep in mind transferring data and setting up OS X again will require a couple hours of your time.
 
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placidity44

macrumors 6502
May 20, 2015
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Get a refurb MBA 13" with 8GB of ram and 256gb ssd so you don't have to go through all the trouble. Refurbs are the only way to go. You'll save a good bit of coin as well. My MacBook Pro retina I ordered a 2.2GHz model with 256gb of flash storage and got a 2.6GHz i7 model with 512gb of flash storage. They are either old stock that is brand new or returns within the 14 day window in which Apple tests absolutely everything. My rMBP came with 3 charges on it's battery cycle. It was indistinguishable from a new machine other than the box. It comes with a 14 day return policy no questions asked and the same 1 year warranty as everything else. You can also get applecare for it. Or even better for the same amount of money you'd spend on a new air you could get a 13" macbook pro with retina display at 2.6GHz dual core i5 instead of a 1.6GHz dual core i5. You'd be getting 8GB ram with that and a 256GB SSD and a retina display. I'd personally do that since you're a comp sci major.
 

motrek

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Sep 14, 2012
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I wanted to buy a new MBA for college as a CS major. I am definitely upgrading from 4GB to 8GB, without a doubt. However, is it worth upgrading from 128 to 256 GB? I really don't want to run out of memory in the future and I am not sure exactly how demanding CS is of storage. But I also don't want to waste money if it's an unnecessary upgrade.

Thanks in advance.
Not really sure why you think it's so essential to have 8GB RAM but okay.

As for how much drive space you need, if you're going into computer science, I'm surprised you don't already have a good handle on what files you have, how big they are, and how big all the files/programs might be for your studies.

But, a general idea is that as a CS student, you will likely be installing a few different compilers and programming environments, which might amount to several gigabytes but probably not more than ~20GB.

Your projects will almost certainly all be very small, ranging from a few hundred KB to maybe a few megabytes, depending on programming environment overhead. You will be able to offload projects to an external drive if space is a concern, since you probably won't need to refer to old projects (from years ago) very often.

Of course you will have to budget drive space for whatever photos, music, videos, etc. you would like to keep locally on your laptop, just like anybody else.
 
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Meister

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I always recommend the base models.
If you are convinced you need more RAM or CPU, go straight to the pro line.
 

keysofanxiety

macrumors G3
Nov 23, 2011
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I wanted to buy a new MBA for college as a CS major. I am definitely upgrading from 4GB to 8GB, without a doubt. However, is it worth upgrading from 128 to 256 GB? I really don't want to run out of memory in the future and I am not sure exactly how demanding CS is of storage. But I also don't want to waste money if it's an unnecessary upgrade.

Thanks in advance.
The extra money you pay to upgrade the RAM may as well just be used towards buying a rMBP instead. Better display, better CPU, better GPU, more RAM, quicker RAM, quicker Flash. Especially for your usage (CS major) I'd say you get more bang for your buck with the 13" rMBP.
 
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motrek

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Sep 14, 2012
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The extra money you pay to upgrade the RAM may as well just be used towards buying a rMBP instead. Better display, better CPU, better GPU, more RAM, quicker RAM, quicker Flash. Especially for your usage (CS major) I'd say you get more bang for your buck with the 13" rMBP.
The idea that a computer science student needs a lot of computer power/storage is false.

Most of the projects you write/make in a CS program are only a few thousand lines of code and run in a matter of milliseconds.
 
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teagls

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May 16, 2013
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The idea that a computer science student needs a lot of computer power/storage is false.

Most of the projects you write/make in a CS program are only a few thousand lines of code and run in a matter of milliseconds.
As someone who as gone through both undergraduate and a master's program and now into a PhD computer science program. While the general cs course projects/assignments are very simple and probably don't require much. If you take any specialized class like computer graphics, game programming, computer vision, digital image processing, machine learning, etc. You might find yourself using other tools and existing packages like MatLab, Unity, Unreal engine, OpenCV, CGAL, etc.

Secondly, as a computer science student you should not just be doing the projects and assignments. You should find things that interest you and study them yourself too.
 

old-wiz

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Mar 26, 2008
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If you end up needing more space in the future, you can easily remove the bottom of your laptop and replace the SSD yourself, and it will cost you less money.
Not on an MBA.. The SSD uses an Apple specific interface. You can sometime find larger ones on eBay but it is not a trivial task to replace an SSD. And the RAM cannot be upgraded post-sale.
 

motrek

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Sep 14, 2012
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As someone who as gone through both undergraduate and a master's program and now into a PhD computer science program. While the general cs course projects/assignments are very simple and probably don't require much. If you take any specialized class like computer graphics, game programming, computer vision, digital image processing, machine learning, etc. You might find yourself using other tools and existing packages like MatLab, Unity, Unreal engine, OpenCV, CGAL, etc.

Secondly, as a computer science student you should not just be doing the projects and assignments. You should find things that interest you and study them yourself too.
I did all of this same stuff over 10 years ago and even back then, computer power and storage had outpaced the requirements of the degree program. You can do a LOT of computing (computer graphics, machine learning, etc.) with a 400MHz Pentium III, 256MB of RAM, and a 20GB hard drive. :)
 
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teagls

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May 16, 2013
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I did all of this same stuff over 10 years ago and even back then, computer power and storage had outpaced the requirements of the degree program. You can do a LOT of computing (computer graphics, machine learning, etc.) with a 400MHz Pentium III, 256MB of RAM, and a 20GB hard drive. :)
I beg to differ, the program I was in evolved with the times. 10 years ago computer graphics was completely different. GLSL was quite new. All of those areas I mentioned all greatly benefit from parallel computing and gpu computing (another class you might take), which was just getting to the consumer market.
 

NickVanHoeve

macrumors newbie
Feb 13, 2014
23
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As a computer science student, I didn't see any needs of 8GB RAM/256GB. I bought a 256GB rMBP, and didn't use any higher than 70GB (includes all compiler software, project files, etc.) I bought the 256GB option because I thought that my college would require me to run some "Windows only" software, so when needed, I just install Parallels that might take several GB and run the software through it. But it turns out that most compiler needed are available for Mac. Plus, I always stores "big-sized" games, movies in my external ssd. So if you want to save the cost, the base model would be enough.
 
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reflecti0nX

macrumors newbie
Mar 3, 2015
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Not on an MBA.. The SSD uses an Apple specific interface. You can sometime find larger ones on eBay but it is not a trivial task to replace an SSD. And the RAM cannot be upgraded post-sale.
On an MBA. I am talking about buying an Apple SSD off eBay. There are plenty of them available nowadays, in all sizes.

I'd say it is trivial to replace an SSD. I performed this upgrade a couple of times. Once you take off the bottom with a pentalobe screwdriver, you only need to remove 1 Torx screw to remove the SSD. Almost anyone could do it by following an iFixit guide.

The trickier part will be installing OS from Internet Recovery and transferring data. I'm confident that a CS student would be able to do it or have a friend who can help.
 
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iamMacPerson

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Jun 12, 2011
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Not really sure why you think it's so essential to have 8GB RAM but okay.
Yosemite may run with only 4GB of RAM in the computer, but it needs at least 8GB to make it sing especially if you plan to run any decently high end programs on it. My MBP had 4GB in it for the longest time because I didn't have the money to buy more RAM. Sure it worked well, but doing anything other then web browsing made the OS start swapping to the disk. I know it doesn't hurt the SSD that much swapping, but regardless the OS would use way more then 4GB of RAM. I popped in an additional 8GB for 10GB total and its been singing since then.

Anyway, OP, if your going to need to run multiple OSs on your computer then definitely get the bigger SSD. I only have 256GB in my Mac Pro and I find it constraining sometimes. Pulled SSDs on eBay will not carry any warranty at all and installing one in your machine will void your warranty if Apple find out. The SSD is not user replaceable in any MacBook Air. Like someone else said you best bet would be to get a refurbished MacBook Air from Apple with the better specs. They typically have very good pricing. Another place to look for great deals is from B&H Photo. They are official resellers of Apple products and do sell some customized SKUs on their site. I have ordered from them numerous times, from drives to AppleCare, and have never had a problem.
 

motrek

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Sep 14, 2012
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Yosemite may run with only 4GB of RAM in the computer, but it needs at least 8GB to make it sing especially if you plan to run any decently high end programs on it. My MBP had 4GB in it for the longest time because I didn't have the money to buy more RAM. Sure it worked well, but doing anything other then web browsing made the OS start swapping to the disk. I know it doesn't hurt the SSD that much swapping, but regardless the OS would use way more then 4GB of RAM. I popped in an additional 8GB for 10GB total and its been singing since then.
...
I don't know what "high end" programs you were using but I can run XCode and Photoshop at the same time on my 4GB Macs, along with all the other typical stuff (Chrome, Mail, iTunes, etc.), and not run into memory trouble.

Sure, Activity Monitor says I have some data swapped out. Who cares? The machine isn't under any memory pressure.
 
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iamMacPerson

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I don't know what "high end" programs you were using but I can run XCode and Photoshop at the same time on my 4GB Macs, along with all the other typical stuff (Chrome, Mail, iTunes, etc.), and not run into memory trouble.

Sure, Activity Monitor says I have some data swapped out. Who cares? The machine isn't under any memory pressure.
Yeah the system would be smart enough to swap to the disk to avoid too much memory pressure however 4GB is still choking the machine. I'm using FCPX with Safari and iTunes running in the background for mobile editing (when I am at home I use my nMP). Oh and don't even think you can run a Windows VM with only 4GB of RAM installed. I tried. The damn thing froze and forced a reboot. The machine sped itself up too and has been running a lot smoother since installing the upgraded memory.

Plus, with a computer like the MBA the RAM isn't upgradeable at all. So while it might be OK now, will it still be OK in 2-3 years with future OS upgrades? I think 4GB isn't enough for these laptops and Apple needs to increase the RAM in the baseline models.
 

motrek

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Sep 14, 2012
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Yeah the system would be smart enough to swap to the disk to avoid too much memory pressure however 4GB is still choking the machine. I'm using FCPX with Safari and iTunes running in the background for mobile editing (when I am at home I use my nMP). Oh and don't even think you can run a Windows VM with only 4GB of RAM installed. I tried. The damn thing froze and forced a reboot. The machine sped itself up too and has been running a lot smoother since installing the upgraded memory.

Plus, with a computer like the MBA the RAM isn't upgradeable at all. So while it might be OK now, will it still be OK in 2-3 years with future OS upgrades? I think 4GB isn't enough for these laptops and Apple needs to increase the RAM in the baseline models.
Yes, video editing and VMs are the two cases specifically where I would recommend that people get memory upgrades. But you can still do a lot of stuff with 4GB of RAM. The OS still officially only requires 2GB of RAM so I expect that it will be a long time before the OS even requires 4GB, much less before 4GB is too little to run the current OS.
 
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iamMacPerson

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Yes, video editing and VMs are the two cases specifically where I would recommend that people get memory upgrades. But you can still do a lot of stuff with 4GB of RAM. The OS still officially only requires 2GB of RAM so I expect that it will be a long time before the OS even requires 4GB, much less before 4GB is too little to run the current OS.
Yeah, I agree. 4GB of RAM though I am afraid would cut it too close in the future. That is why I always recommend on the Airs to at least get 8GB. If you can get by on 4GB that is great, but I'd rather pay the extra $100. :)
 

Meister

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Yeah the system would be smart enough to swap to the disk to avoid too much memory pressure however 4GB is still choking the machine. I'm using FCPX with Safari and iTunes running in the background for mobile editing (when I am at home I use my nMP). Oh and don't even think you can run a Windows VM with only 4GB of RAM installed. I tried. The damn thing froze and forced a reboot. The machine sped itself up too and has been running a lot smoother since installing the upgraded memory.

Plus, with a computer like the MBA the RAM isn't upgradeable at all. So while it might be OK now, will it still be OK in 2-3 years with future OS upgrades? I think 4GB isn't enough for these laptops and Apple needs to increase the RAM in the baseline models.
This discussion (4gb vs 8gb) has been going on here for years now. In the past two years cpu and memory requirements have pretty much stagnated.
For extensive video editing and VMs 8gb of RAM are obviously recommended.
 
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zhenya

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Jan 6, 2005
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I would suggest the Pro solely for the screen. As a college student, but especially as a CS student, you are going to be spending a huge amount of time looking at the screen. It should be as clear and sharp as possible.
 

c1phr

macrumors 6502
Jan 8, 2011
352
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I have a Retina Pro and an Air that I work on, and I would much prefer to stare at the Retina display for any extensive period of time over the Air, spec differences aside. That being said, I can get by on the slower Air (with only 4gb of ram), but I think the Retina Pro is the way to go. I have a few friends that upgraded from 13" Airs to 13" Retina Pros during their undergrad and said they would never look back.
 
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