Freshman Engineer choosing between Macbook Pro/Air

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by andresa24, Feb 24, 2014.

  1. andresa24, Feb 24, 2014
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2014

    andresa24 macrumors newbie

    Feb 24, 2014
    Hi all,

    (thanks to those who actually read all of this)

    First off, I am currently a freshman at Texas A&M University studying chemical engineering, and have 100% decided I am going to purchase my first macbook ever. From this computer, I need it to have good performance, battery life that lasts through a full school day, and have decent portability.

    I am already leaning towards the 4GB RAM 256GB storage Air as my purchase. My other option is the 13" Pro w/ retina 4GB RAM 128GB storage.

    Before I ask my questions, here are some things you need to know:

    1. I am familiar enough with the Mac OS, and own multiple iOS devices.
    2. This needs to last me minimum 2.5 - 3 years.
    3. I am already aware that some programs I want to run are windows-specific. I will be installing windows in the future. I have a decent windows laptop at home at my disposal that is on its last legs; but still peforms fine somehow.
    4. This machine will be my personal, primary machine for at least a year or two - I am saving for a full desktop workstation already. Note that when I use it, I don't tend to keep a bunch of programs open, have 10+ tabs open in chrome, etc. I am a power-user that likes to keep things tidy (if that makes any sense).
    5. The types of things I plan to do with the computer:
    - Heavy use: Web browsing, word docs, external apps (i.e. skype, spotify, dropbox, google drive, etc)
    - Medium use: Photoshop/lightroom, excel spreadsheets, coding (i.e. c++ using xcode), virtual machine(s) through the school
    - Light use (might not necessarily use these if ever): 3d-modeling software such as CAD , ocassional video editing (DSLR type), light games
    6. Screen resolution is NOT an issue for me. I use my 1080p monitor at home when I am doing heavy work.
    7. This laptop will be taken everywhere - I bring my computer to school every day for lectures, schoolwork, and projects. In addition, I also do a fair bit of domestic/international travel for various reasons.

    With that in mind, here are my main questions.

    Is the 128GB space enough? I currently have my own-installed 128GB ssd and it is sufficient - I don't install many programs/keep all big files on my external. Keep in mind I want to install Windows later.

    Since I am aware that the retina has a full mobile i5 processor, is there any difference in real-life performance between the two computers - especially when I am looking at heavy work such as photoshop, CAD, or multiple desktops/programs open?

    Are the Intel Iris graphics a much better option (compared to the HD 5000) suited for my needs where it should be a selling point for me to consider the retina?

    What battery life have you guys achieved through actual, normal use throughout the day with each of the laptops?

    Is having more than 4GB RAM that important to where I should really consider it?

    Any feedback is appreciated for any of the questions. Thanks for your time.

    - Andres
  2. glenthompson macrumors 68000


    Apr 27, 2011
    I don't have an Air so I can't comment on battery life, etc. However, running a virtual machine with Windows is going to need more than 4gb. I had page out issues with 8gb running XP with Visual Studio. That went away when I upgraded to 16.

    How do you plan to run Windows? VM or Bootcamp? If bootcamp, you will need to dedicate enough space for the Windows partition. If VM it can still take a bit of space. My Win 7 VM is 21gb and my XP is 87gb. Start adding up the space needed by all your Mac and Windows apps and I think you will find 128gb to be way too small.

    You say you keep the large files on an external. Do you want to lug that around with you all the time? I much prefer to have the the space internally as opposed to keeping it on an external.
  3. andresa24, Feb 24, 2014
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2014

    andresa24 thread starter macrumors newbie

    Feb 24, 2014
    Thanks for the reply. So what mac do you have then? What has your experience been with it so far?

    As for the virtual machines, I should have put that more under as light use (at least for now). And when I'm using those, speedy performance isn't as much as a concern for me, since I don't like using them very much anyway. But who knows, I might be forced into that environment within the next couple years.

    In terms of windows, I will most likely be using bootcamp. I don't plan honestly on using it much (or installing too many apps for that matter) unless if I really need to (in which that case, I will resort to my windows laptop or lab computers). But 21GB is quite a bit, so I will definitely have to reconsider for higher storage options. But speaking of storage, my current laptop has a 128GB hdd I installed myself, and I've got all the major programs I need on it while still having around 68GB left. That's why I had a hunch maybe I could get by with a 128 for the macbook.

    As for the external HDD, I mainly just keep my personal stuff on there, e.g. photography projects, HD video, etc. I rarely bring my external around; though I always have a 16GB usb drive on hand that mainly just contains documents, coding files, and really the most important things.
  4. brentsg macrumors 68040

    Oct 15, 2008
    I'd get the Air but I couldn't imagine getting by with 128GB.

    That being said I think the PC I had in college had a 60MB hard drive. :D Of course times change.
  5. andresa24, Feb 24, 2014
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2014

    andresa24 thread starter macrumors newbie

    Feb 24, 2014
    Thanks for the input.

    Do you think you could elaborate on why you think the air is the better choice?

    Haha, of course man. When my dad went to college to study compsci in the late 80's he bought the first mac. I'm sure that was a lot of fun.
  6. brentsg macrumors 68040

    Oct 15, 2008
    I prefer the portability. My Air goes everywhere with me in case of on-call type work issues.

    I've had 12" PowerBooks, 15 and 13" MBPs, etc Unless you need a quad core, I'd go with the portability.
  7. And macrumors 6502


    Feb 23, 2009
    92 ft above sea level, UK
    Look into how you expand RAM later with both options. I *think* the answer is that the air can not be user upgraded later (please check). You need to get 8GB when you buy. 4GB is really a minimum these days and if you do anything intensive you'll need the RAM. Future-proofing is a sensible thing to consider with such a significant purchase.
  8. theluggage macrumors 68040

    Jul 29, 2011
    Unless you're playing games or using high-end creative apps under Windows, I'd go for Parallels or VMWare rather than BootCamp (If you're on a budget and really want very basic Windows then VirtualBox will do the job, with a bit less gloss and performance, for free).

    1. You can create a 'dynamically expanding' virtual drive that only consumes real space as it fills up, and can be re-compressed if you free up space. Bootcamp needs a fixed-size partition - resizing is possible, but a pain.

    2. It's easy to dump a VM off onto an external drive and back again if you need to free up space.

    3. With Bootcamp, you need extra software to read the OS X part of your disc from Windows or to have full read/write access to the NTFS parts from OS X. Again, leads to duplication of files and waste of space. Parallels even defaults to using your OS X home directory as your Windows home directory.

    The base model 4G/128G Airs are great if you really just want WP and Internet, but you clearly need a bit more than that. Windows is the dealbreaker - Bootcamp will leave you short of disc space and VMs will leave you short of RAM.

    By the time you've upgraded the Air to 8G/256G, the 2nd-model-up MB Pro starts to look like better value.
  9. ToomeyND macrumors 6502

    Sep 14, 2011
    I'm between a couple of computers right now, and if you aren't hellbent on the retina screen, there is an 11" air with i7/8/256 for 1249 on the refurb store and a 13" pro with i5/8/256 for 1299. The 11" air is actually the faster machine in every benchmark because of the i7. So for me, I'm weighing how badly I want the retina screen vs. the extreme portability of the air. Other than that, the air is the better machine in every way (except missing some ports).
  10. Scepticalscribe Contributor


    Jul 29, 2008
    The Far Horizon

    Get the MBA for both battery power (it is amazing; my 13" 2013 MBA easily gives me around 10 hours a day) and for the sheer wonderful portability. The screen is also very good for an ultra portable.

    On top of that, I'd recommend a minimum of 256SSD - 128 is not enough these days; I had 128 SSD on my old 2010 MBA, and I found that it was not really enough, especially if you plan on using Windows as well.

    Finally, re RAM: The advice tendered by everyone is to get as much as you can easily afford. I'd recommend 8 GB RAM over 4, although 4 will probably be more than adequate for your needs. However, for future proofing, and for ease of use for the best part of three years, I think 8 is a better option.

    As it happens, I went from 2 GB (on the 2010 MBA) to 8 GB and couldn't believe the difference in sheer speed, and responsiveness (and ease in keeping multiple tabs open simultaneously).
  11. NT1440 macrumors G4


    May 18, 2008
    If the OP is going to use a virtual machine to run windows, he's going to need 8 GB of RAM.

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