iMac+Macbook Air vs Macbook Pro+Thunderbolt display

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by E McLord, Mar 10, 2012.

  1. E McLord macrumors newbie

    Mar 10, 2012

    I'm soon in the market for a new computer and have come up with two different solutions:

    1. Buy an iMac 27'' (2,7 Ghz) and a Macbook Air 13'' (128 Gb)
    2. Buy a Macbook Pro, 15'' (2,2 Ghz) or 13'' (2,8 Ghz), and an Apple Thunderbolt display

    Apart from the the usual Safari, Mail, iTunes and word processing, I use my computer for CAD (Solid Edge in Windows), Rhino 3d and some rendering (Keyshot and Bunkspeed Shot).

    After working on a 13'' Macbook Alu (2,4 Ghz-version from '08) I feel the need for a bigger screen but I don't want to give up the portability.

    Both solutions cost about the same and I'm not in a hurry to buy anything so I can wait for potential updates.

    Which of the two solutions would you go for?
  2. Dweez macrumors 65816


    Jun 13, 2011
    Down by the river
  3. rogan macrumors regular

    Sep 13, 2009
    Being someone who already had a 2009 macbook pro

    then bought a 2011 iMac

    to then sell iMac and macbook pro to buy a 13" 2011 air and TB display

    definately option 2
  4. E McLord thread starter macrumors newbie

    Mar 10, 2012
    Thanks for the replies, guys.

    Just out of curiosity, what makes you go for option 2?
    Is it the hassle of keeping two computers synchronized?

    That is whats's making me lean towards option 2...
  5. Dweez macrumors 65816


    Jun 13, 2011
    Down by the river
    I prefer the MBP over the MBA simply due to the fact that I need lots of disk space and 16 gig of ram (I run a lot of VMs for work/demos). And I very much like the Thunderbolt display, currently saving for one. Perfect combination in my not so humble opinion.
  6. mgipe macrumors demi-god


    Oct 6, 2009
    Skip the iMac and go Thunderbolt with either the air or the pro, whichever gives you the best balance between portability and speed for your intended uses.

    The thunderbolt dock gives you an easy way to add storage for the large CAD files. As one who balances life among several computers of both camps (Redmond and Cupertino), I can tell you it would simplify matters to have just one (extensible) machine. Saves a lot of dropboxing and emailing.

    If you can't find an acceptable compromise and still want to go with two computers, how about a mini for home and an 11" Air for travel, along with the Thunderbolt display?
  7. rosenblumr macrumors newbie

    Oct 7, 2011
    Well, just so it isn't too easy for you . . .

    I had a MB pro 15", of more or less the most current generation each time they came out (I have the luxury of "down cycling" to other employees).

    I attached it to a Dell 30" monitor on my desk, and then it was portable when I left the office (which is a home office, but neither here nor there).

    I REALLY wanted 2 30" screens on my MB pro, but there are some issues there. It is not that it wouldn't work, in theory it would but it starts to significantly use up my RAM (yes I had the dedicated GPU) via the Kernel Task application (do a quick google you will find numerous complains of same). At the time I had 8 gigs on the MBP which was the max.

    I finally caved and upgraded to the 27" iMac (16 gigs), and attach my 30 dell to it. I then moved away from the 15" MBP for travel and went to an Air.

    Drop Box syncs anything I need well enough, and most licensing now includes multiple computers. The one things that would not sync well over drop box was iTunes, well, now I can cloud sync, so that does not matter either.

    Also keep in mind, that despite the small screen the 2011 13" Air's have the SAME SCREEN RESOLUTION AS a 15" pro (IIRC).

    So the biggest downside to using the air when I travel is that it has EVEN LESS MEMORY than the MBP did (and obviously way less than the iMac). That said, it "memory swaps" (if that term is still used I may be dating myself to my windows days) with an SSD drive, so when it is low on memory, it runs much faster than a Pro when it is low on memory.

    So anyway, I couldn't be happier with my iMac AND Air combo--Oh, other than the fact that I have decided as soon as 32 gigs is below $400 I am upgrading again. (currently 460 at Otherworld, I may not wait).


    Oh, forgot one other thing.

    You COULD try (although I have not done so myself I can't see why it wouldn't work).

    Instead of buying the 27" TB display, go to the apple clearance site, (apple web page/Store, then near bottom left is a link for "clearance") and buy the cheapest 2011 27" iMac they have (MAKE SURE IT IS 2011 or you have have issues with target mode), when using with the macbook, just put it in target mode, otherwise, you at least have the OPTION, of a standalone desktop unit which can be useful for a lot of reasons (MB dies, drive failure, wanting 2 machines up at once, realizing you should have bought an iMac etc).

    Cheapest one costs $1419, so for about $400 more than just the display, you actually have a full fledged machine which you can upgrade, or do whatever with.

    I was going to do this and get rid of my 30" dell, the only reason I didn't was the Apple does not hold a privacy screen well, and I like to have it one one of my screens when dealing with financials.
  8. E McLord thread starter macrumors newbie

    Mar 10, 2012
    Thanks everyone for your advices and thoughts, especially rosenblumr.

    The majority seems to like option 2 the most, Macbook Pro+Thunderbolt display. This was the first solution I came up with. It was when I looked at the prices and I saw that i could get the iMac+Macbook Air combo for about the same cost I started to hesitate. I don't really need the power when I'm away from home. Decisions, decisions...

    I still don't know which setup I will go for but I think I'll wait until the summer and see how the products have been updated before I make a decision.
  9. Vantage Point macrumors 65816

    Mar 1, 2010
    New Jersey
    When I switched to Mac I bought a 2009 iMac and a 13" 2010 MBP. By the end of 2010 I sold both for a 15" 2010 MBP and a 26" high end external monitor (I am a photographer so a quality monitor is critical). Anyway, I love this combo and which I started out with that instead of wasting my money on a iMac + 13". Also, it is much easier to have everything I need on one computer instead of two. If I was starting from scratch today I would get the 15" and external without hesitation - but that is me and this is all personal preference.

    Replacing the stock drive (320gb, 5400 rpm) drive with a larger/faster 750gb/7200rpm was key since I keep over 500gb of photos on my computer (about 70% of my library). If my storage needs were modest then a SSD would be nice but I have no complaints at all
  10. thekev, Mar 11, 2012
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2012

    thekev macrumors 604


    Aug 5, 2010
    The majority probably doesn't even understand the software you're using. I'd like to point out to you that even on Macs, CAD software from any brand has never been certified on integrated gpu models. Given the computer you're using now, I have to think you must not be dealing with any super heavy models. Otherwise with preview quality settings turned up on a more complex model, that damn thing is going to lag. I've heard of keyshot. I'm mildly familiar with Rhino and they likely recommend a better gpu in their system requirements. I've never run into keyshot. All I know is that it's for setting up simple product renders. I wouldn't enjoy the ram limits and gpu on the Air if you're working with anything heavy.

    Basically I'd consider how much more power you require currently, because the Air may be faster, but in my own comparisons it's not that much faster in such applications, and I truly hate viewport lag with a passion.

    For photography I'd tend to agree with you. The requirements are a bit different from CAD. Given that you said a 26" high end monitor, I'm guessing you mean NEC? If you got a good unit, they could be quite good. The newest ones still look like a decent improvement over the 90s series, but I haven't had enough time with them to be sure. If you work with 16 or 32 bpc images frequently, even then modern quad cpus can be pretty great. I think the thing to load up on there is ram, but it depends on your needs. Sometimes I put together comps with 100+ layers (or clean up sloppy ones assembled by someone else to make them actually usable). Pretty much if you're working on a single file, ram tends to be the biggest factor of them all. Before photoshop went to 64 bit I used to turn off all thumbnails, disable spotlight on anything used for a scratch disk, keep history states super low, etc. It was really damn tight. Now if you're working on anything really big you can just max out ram on the machine, and it'll pretty much use it :)
  11. E McLord thread starter macrumors newbie

    Mar 10, 2012
    As you say the the CAD-models aren't exactly massive assemblies consisting of thousands of parts but I do notice lag when working with bigger assemblies with more complex features. The Rhino software doesn't feel that demanding (beta for Mac) but the rendering software is really CPU heavy (Keyshot only uses CPU while Bunkspeed shot can use both CPU and GPU). To be fair I don't do renderings that often so it's not a big issue.

    If I were to buy the Air it wasn't to be used for CAD/rendering but more as a surf/mail machine while I would use the iMac for the more demanding stuff (still not super heavy stuff...).

    The reason I'm not going for a Air+Thunderbolt combo is that I want the computer to be a bit more "future ready", so to speak.

    What would you recommend?
  12. Moccasin macrumors 6502a


    Mar 21, 2011
    Newcastle, UK
    As an owner of a 2010 11"MBA, my main question would be to ask how portable you need to be and what would you use it for? The MBA is superbly portable but lacks power. If you need portability, would an iPad suit your needs?

    I'm wondering about how to upgrade at the moment. Keep this MBA for a bit longer and buy an iMac (hoping that I don't end up with the grey blotches) or maybe sell this, buy a 13" 2012 MBA (or whatever 13" supersedes the MBA/MBP) and then get a Thunderbolt display. My other idea is to get a Mac Mini with a TB display. doing my head in at the moment!
  13. Vantage Point macrumors 65816

    Mar 1, 2010
    New Jersey
    Given that you said a 26" high end monitor, I'm guessing you mean NEC?

    That's the brand. Wide gamut, 12-bit color, non-glossy, calibrated with NEC software plus colorimeter sensor. Best monitor I ever had and the first one that gave me matching prints. But, as you mentioned, the OP is inquiring about CAD, not photography
  14. Moccasin macrumors 6502a


    Mar 21, 2011
    Newcastle, UK
    How about a phased approach?

    The MBA 13" and TB now and then add a Mac Mini later. That way you have enough power for the next year or so and a decent screen and you future proof by leaving a path for getting a Mac Mini when the MBA is insufficient. You then don't compromise on portability.

    It would cost a little bit more than iMac and 13" MBA overall but cheaper in the short term
  15. nickftw8686 macrumors regular

    Oct 6, 2011
    I vote for getting macbook pro and a external monitor. Best of both worlds. Mobile computing now has the power to do most tasks and be very portable so might a well take advantage of that. A good Macbook pro and external monitor will set you up nicely to not be stuck to sitting at ur desk at home to enjoy your new computer.

    Also remember you can always sell the pro if you decide you want to try something else down the road, these things hold value like crazy for computer tech that usually loses value very quickly.
  16. eric/ Guest


    Sep 19, 2011
    Ohio, United States
  17. peapody macrumors 68040


    Oct 7, 2007
    baltimore, md
    I'd personally do option one. I had the display/macbook pro combination for a long time - about 2-3 years, and now I am with an iMac/macbook air set up. I like this set up much more because the iMac serves as my media centric workhorse, while the mba serves as my travel companion. I never have to pull out my MBA plug everything in etc etc. I never have a mess on the desk with cables popping out every which way since I do not have to plug the MBA in. Syncing between the two computers hasn't been much of a problem since I utilize iCloud and harddrives that I use between the two computers. My iMac is way more powerful than what my notebook would be ever, so even though mbp and TB display is the best of both worlds, sometimes I felt a little hampered from my mbp.
  18. thekev macrumors 604


    Aug 5, 2010
    NEC and Eizo are the only brands I even look at these days if I need a new display. I don't know why anyone looks at Apple displays there. Color managed workflows don't seem like they influenced the TB display design at all, although I understand some of the design decisions.

    That's a good question:p. I'm not sure. If you're going with an imac, review some threads on them. Some people have issues. They're hit and miss. The 27" imac is one computer where i'd probably suggest applecare especially given long term "potential" display issues.

    By the way I don't know how large you're rendering or under what settings. I don't know much about keyshot at all. There are rendering engines out there that are extremely fast for stills even on a macbook air assuming adequate ram for the output resolution and level of render tessellation.
  19. Vantage Point macrumors 65816

    Mar 1, 2010
    New Jersey
    NEC and Eizo are the only brands I even look at these days if I need a new display.

    The other brand, LaCie, actually uses a NEC panel (at least that was still the case a year or two ago). So although LaCie is a great monitor as well, one pays a slight premium for that brand so best to go to the source, NEC.
  20. Santabean2000 macrumors 68000


    Nov 20, 2007
    If you don't need the power on the go, (and much file sync?), then why bother with the MBP?

    The iMac will smoke the MBP in pretty much all areas.

    I also vote for considering an iPad over MBA too.
  21. theluggage macrumors 68030

    Jul 29, 2011
    I use the combination of a 2010 13" MacBook Pro and 27" Cinema display at work, and it works well for me. I like the portability of the 13" - but the killer advantage is that you can pick up the laptop and know that you've got all your files and software with you (previously, I'd be up late the night before a trip desperately copying everything I thought I might need to my laptop). Obviously, you also want an external hard drive for backups and any files you actively don't want to take on the road.

    I normally have the laptop on a Griffin Elevator stand and use a separate keyboard (with number pad) and mouse (although the Magic Trackpad is growing on me for anything other than graphics work) so I can work "in front of" the main monitor with the laptop off to the side (the screen is still useful for parking reference material - for web development I usually have Eclipse full-screen on the external display and the browser sitting on the laptop).

    I could almost get by with an Air, which would be brilliant for portability - the main deal breaker is that the SSD isn't really big enough for me once you've thrown on some video files and a virtual machine - and while you could easily add external storage, you've lost the "all my stuff with me" advantage. I also like the MBP for the option of upgrading to 8GB RAM in the future, and the still officially user-upgradable hard drive.

    Beware however your 2008 MBP 13, like my 2010 one, has Nvidia graphics whereas the current 2011 13" MBP uses Intel integrated graphics (albeit the new, improved version) - so you might want to ask around on forums specific to your CAD software to find out whether that will be an issue (esp. on a 27" display). You'll have to go to a 15" MBP to get the discrete graphics - still pretty portable, but I appreciate the size/weight difference between the 15" and the 13" (plus, the 13" fits in hotel room safes!).

    If it wasn't for the fact that I have quite a lot of Flash-based material that I often need to demonstrate when travelling, I think I'd be able to use an iPad for many meetings and trips - since it can handle email, web, presentations and light word-processing and is a lot less intrusive in a meeting. However, I think I'd still choose a laptop as my main system - for shuttling between home and work and for those trips where I did need "all my stuff".

    Essentially, however, you need to analyze what you need to do on the desk, on the road and work out what the overlap is. Maybe in you're case they're easily seperable - in which case the iMac may be for you (and you could maybe see how much of your on-the-road work you could do with an iPad).

    Plus, all the rumours seem to be that a future generation of MacBook Pros will be more "Air-like" - so you might want to hang on for a few months.
  22. mac26 macrumors 6502

    Dec 27, 2011
    This is a really good idea as well, and since their is a quad core version and a version with a GPU you can choose which one best suits your needs, I would take the GPU one so CAD is easier.
  23. rosenblumr macrumors newbie

    Oct 7, 2011
    I did the 15" MBP with a 30" dell for about 4 years.

    No question I am happier with MBA and 27" IMac (note I now have a 30" and a 27" at one time).

    I wouldn't buy a 27 monitor when for $400 more you can get a base 27" iMac. You can always use it in target mode.

    Google Kernel task memory issues with a MBP driving an external monitor. It sucks it up--perhaps the newest won't.

    If you really have concerns about large document sync, just keep your "documents" folder on an external drive, and take it with you. (although unless your documents are all VERY big, drop box works very well).

    Good luck
  24. s!ke macrumors member

    Feb 28, 2012
    Honestly, I am going the total opposite direction of everyone else...

    I currently have a 15" MBP full loaded, and a 24" screen, but honestly, after 3 years. I hate it.

    I am currently waiting for the new iMac to come out and Im going to buy a 27" iMac and 13" MBA. I would use the mba for lying in bed, reading emails, showing projects to clients and do all of my work on the iMac. (I do graphic design).

    The MBP is too heavy to lug around all over the city (SF) all day every day to show clients, and although it is really nice to be able to do work on the go, it just does not have anywhere near the power of the iMac. Why do one thing 50% when I could have two things that do what I need 100%...
  25. thekev macrumors 604


    Aug 5, 2010
    I'm not sure what LaCie actually does. Most of their stuff seems to be just bundled and rebranded. The ones that used NEC panels were older ones. Last time I looked many of them were using PVA displays that didn't really correspond with anything from NEC's line, so I don't know if this is still the case. I think NEC used to do their assembly.

    Hmm... I am guessing this is a Core2duo MBP? The newest ones seem pretty fast relative to the imac. You mention graphic design. Are you dealing with motion graphics or something? The big advantage I see with the imac for such work is that if you're dealing with huge print files, the imac can hold more ram. The gpu hardware is similar, but I don't know if OpenGL performance differs heavily, so I won't comment there.

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