Macbook Pro 13" vs Macbook air 13" for web developer

fraser1980

macrumors member
Original poster
Nov 5, 2008
33
0
I work as a web developer. My current work horse is a late 2008 13" unibody macbook with 2ghz, 4gb ram 140GB hd which has served me well for the last almost 4 years, however in the last few months has started showing problems (since upgrading to Lion). It takes 3-4 restarts every morning to pick up the wifi hardware, when I wake it up from sleep it loses the wifi hardware, the screen sometimes gets lines through it, making it unusable, which can only be fixed by wiggling and twisting the lid back and forth and will occasionally just freeze on me randomly, forcing me to power off and restart (3-4 times so it can pick up the wifi adapter).

With the updated machines (rumoured to be) only a few days away I've decided to upgrade. Obviously we don't know for definite what is coming on Monday so based on current specs... would an air (I'm looking at the current 13" 256GB machine) be a good buy for me?

Aside from the issues mentioned above, my current machine runs fine. Only causing me slowdown issues when I have photoshop running a larger file or firefox has a large number of tabs open. It will also struggle with xcode and Final Cut Pro X.

I will routinely have Coda, MAMP pro, Photoshop, Mail, Chrome, Firefox, Quicksilver, Terminal, Console, Sequel Pro, Cyberduck and Spotify open at the same time.

I like the idea of an air vs a pro as I travel quite a lot and I find them aesthetically pleasing but would like something that will see me well for the next 3 years. Would an Air be able to cope with my needs? Obviously it will be much more capable than my current machine.

I hear the solid state drives make a huge difference with photoshop?
 

w00t951

macrumors 68000
Jan 6, 2009
1,831
6
Pittsburgh, PA
The current Air and 13" Pro models have very little difference in regards to performance. I would say jump for the (new) Air, but that's just me. The 13" Pro strikes me as a slightly redundant machine - not as thin as a MacBook Air, but not as powerful as a larger Pro. It's truly up to you, but I would pick the Air.
 

fraser1980

macrumors member
Original poster
Nov 5, 2008
33
0
Pretty unanimous towards the air then by the sounds of things. I'll see what emerges on Monday but looks like that's the way I'll be going.
 

KohPhiPhi

macrumors 6502a
Feb 9, 2011
763
194
I'm a web developer myself too, and I went through the same dilemma last year: MBA 13" vs. MBP 13".

I chose MBA 13" and I don't regret it. Trust me, the MBA 13" with 4gb RAM is plenty powerful for anything a web developer might throw at it.

Why did I chose the MBA 13"? because of higher screen resolution (crucial to have more apps running on-screen) and SSD (crucial to open and close apps faster). Lighter weight was a plus too.

I will wait for the new models to come out in order to upgrade. If performance is still pretty much similar (as it was with the 2011 models), I will choose MBA again for extra portability.
 

corvus32

macrumors 6502a
Sep 4, 2009
761
0
USA
I work as a web developer. My current work horse is a late 2008 13" unibody macbook with 2ghz, 4gb ram 140GB hd which has served me well for the last almost 4 years, however in the last few months has started showing problems (since upgrading to Lion). It takes 3-4 restarts every morning to pick up the wifi hardware, when I wake it up from sleep it loses the wifi hardware, the screen sometimes gets lines through it, making it unusable, which can only be fixed by wiggling and twisting the lid back and forth and will occasionally just freeze on me randomly, forcing me to power off and restart (3-4 times so it can pick up the wifi adapter).

With the updated machines (rumoured to be) only a few days away I've decided to upgrade. Obviously we don't know for definite what is coming on Monday so based on current specs... would an air (I'm looking at the current 13" 256GB machine) be a good buy for me?

Aside from the issues mentioned above, my current machine runs fine. Only causing me slowdown issues when I have photoshop running a larger file or firefox has a large number of tabs open. It will also struggle with xcode and Final Cut Pro X.

I will routinely have Coda, MAMP pro, Photoshop, Mail, Chrome, Firefox, Quicksilver, Terminal, Console, Sequel Pro, Cyberduck and Spotify open at the same time.

I like the idea of an air vs a pro as I travel quite a lot and I find them aesthetically pleasing but would like something that will see me well for the next 3 years. Would an Air be able to cope with my needs? Obviously it will be much more capable than my current machine.

I hear the solid state drives make a huge difference with photoshop?
Not with a maximum of 4GB of RAM it won't. That's the same amount you have now.

With so many apps running at once, most of the slow down you're experiencing probably has to do with your macbook using its hard drive as virtual memory because it ran out of the plain stuff.

Buy a MBA with 4GB of RAM, and you're still in the same boat. The speed of an SSD helps cheat the situation, but it's still a lot slower than system RAM - not to mention all the unnecessary wear dealt to its NAND chips.

If it's been a while since you last rebooted, an easy way to tell is to open Terminal and enter the command:

Code:
ls -l /var/vm/
In the results, look for swapfile0, swapfile1, swapfile2, swapfile3, etc.
These are the files OS X creates and uses for virtual memory.
Each one is 64MB in size, and removed from the drive on restart.

Swapfile0 is always there, but if you see any other swapfile(s) listed, your computer ran out of memory and used the hard drive as a spillover. If you see them often, then its time to get more RAM or a machine that can hold more of it.
 

jcpb

macrumors 6502a
Jun 5, 2012
860
0
Not with a maximum of 4GB of RAM it won't. That's the same amount you have now.

With so many apps running at once, most of the slow down you're experiencing probably has to do with your macbook using its hard drive as virtual memory because it ran out of the plain stuff.

Buy a MBA with 4GB of RAM, and you're still in the same boat. The speed of an SSD helps cheat the situation, but it's still a lot slower than system RAM - not to mention all the unnecessary wear dealt to its NAND chips.

If it's been a while since you last rebooted, an easy way to tell is to open Terminal and enter the command:

Code:
ls -l /var/vm/
In the results, look for swapfile0, swapfile1, swapfile2, swapfile3, etc.
These are the files OS X creates and uses for virtual memory.
Each one is 64MB in size, and removed from the drive on restart.

Swapfile0 is always there, but if you see any other swapfile(s) listed, your computer ran out of memory and used the hard drive as a spillover. If you see them often, then its time to get more RAM or a machine that can hold more of it.
The problem is that the current 13" MBP is very much a sidegrade over the MBA. While the former can run two drives and up to 16GB RAM, it is also heavier and has a smaller screen. Both are limited to dual-core CPUs.

"all the unnecessary wear dealt to its NAND chips"
SSDs are meant to be used, why is this a negative? Hard drives can fail too. Also, if the SSD inside the MBA starts to fail, there's always the OWC option.

Until the 13" MBP gets a quad-core option this year - and this is all a speculation for another 72 hours - there isn't anything the MBP can do that the MBA can't.

tl;dr = get the Air.
 

iamthedudeman

macrumors 65816
Jul 7, 2007
1,196
84
there isn't anything the MBP can do that the MBA can't.

I have to disagree here. I own both machines. And swapping the virtual memory even with a SSD will downgrade performance.

That 4GB is the bottleneck. The 13MBP has the same size screen, but the resolution is less. Actually that is a good thing, as the size of the font is hard to read sometimes. To each their own, but it has a downside.

The 13 MBP can handle 32GB of ram. Not just 16GB. Two 16GB sticks. The processor avail is faster too. The i5 in the base 13 is still faster than the i7 in the high spec air.

The i7 in the 13 pro is as fast as the 15 quad i7 in single and dual threaded tasks. Can turbo as fast in single and dual core threads.

If you want power in portability for this gen Mac laptops, the 13 MBP is the way to go.

The Air is 3lbs, the MBP 13 is 4.5 lbs. That is a 1.5 lbs difference. Hardly noticeable. I own both and don't use the Air that much because it cannot handle what I need it to do because of the Ram.

Now the 2012 Air will change that hopefully. The 13 MBP will still be faster for 2012. ULV processors are not as fast as their M counterparts yet.

Yes the Air is faster because of the SSD in overall computing tasks. Add a SSD to the 13 MBP and forget it. No comparison. Add 16GB of Ram and the comparison gets even worse. If the 13 Air had the performance of the 13 MBP the 13 MBP would not be around as having both models are redundant.

For the 2012 model year, that still isn't the case apparrently as the 13 model will still be around in the same form factor. When the 13 Air form factor allows the same amount of performance under the same thermall conditions as the 13 MBP, that is when you will see the 13 MBP go away. No need for two 13 laptops with the same performance in different form factors or the same thin form factor.

That has not happened yet. Even Apple thinks it did not.
 
Last edited:

jcpb

macrumors 6502a
Jun 5, 2012
860
0
there isn't anything the MBP can do that the MBA can't.

I have to disagree here. I own both machines. And swapping the virtual memory even with a SSD will downgrade performance.

That 4GB is the bottleneck. The 13MBP has the same size screen, but the resolution is less. Actually that is a good thing, as the size of the font is hard to read sometimes. To each their own, but it has a downside.

The 13 MBP can handle 32GB of ram. Not just 16GB. Two 16GB sticks. The processor avail is faster too. The i5 in the base 13 is still faster than the i7 in the high spec air.

The i7 in the 13 pro is as fast as the 15 quad i7 in single and dual threaded tasks. Can turbo as fast in single and dual core threads.

If you want power in portability for this gen Mac laptops, the 13 MBP is the way to go.

The Air is 3lbs, the MBP 13 is 4.5 lbs. That is a 1.5 lbs difference. Hardly noticeable. I own both and don't use the Air that much because it cannot handle what I need it to do because of the Ram.

Now the 2012 Air will change that hopefully. The 13 MBP will still be faster for 2012. ULV processors are not as fast as their M counterparts yet.

Yes the Air is faster because of the SSD in overall computing tasks. Add a SSD to the 13 MBP and forget it. No comparison. Add 16GB of Ram and the comparison gets even worse. If the 13 Air had the performance of the 13 MBP the 13 MBP would not be around as having both models are redundant.

For the 2012 model year, that still isn't the case apparrently as the 13 model will still be around in the same form factor. When the 13 Air form factor allows the same amount of performance under the same thermall conditions as the 13 MBP, that is when you will see the 13 MBP go away. No need for two 13 laptops with the same performance in different form factors or the same thin form factor.

That has not happened yet. Even Apple thinks it did not.
The 13" MBP has a 1280x800 screen. The 13" MBA has 1440x900. The same size but more pixels on the latter, which is very useful for the things OP is doing.

Care to show us where you can get 16GBx1 DDR3 notebook memory modules? I call BS on the MBP with 32GB RAM claim.

OP travels frequently. The Air, while being less powerful, is a better fit for him than the MBP is.
 

corvus32

macrumors 6502a
Sep 4, 2009
761
0
USA
"all the unnecessary wear dealt to its NAND chips"
SSDs are meant to be used, why is this a negative? Hard drives can fail too. Also, if the SSD inside the MBA starts to fail, there's always the OWC option.
Because every flash cell can only perform a finite number of state changes across its lifetime, each write is ultimately a destructive operation. You want to limit the number of writes so that the drive can live longer. Link

OP travels frequently. The Air, while being less powerful, is a better fit for him than the MBP is.
Right now I have Safari, Mail, Terminal, iTunes, and Activity Monitor open. Nothing else. Out of the 4GB of memory I have installed, I have just 1.4GB free. It's not to hard to imagine, if I were to also open Photoshop, Coda, Chrome, Cyberduck, etc., I would quickly run out of physical memory and start using virtual memory on my hard drive.

The OP stated:
I will routinely have Coda, MAMP pro, Photoshop, Mail, Chrome, Firefox, Quicksilver, Terminal, Console, Sequel Pro, Cyberduck and Spotify open at the same time.
 

iamthedudeman

macrumors 65816
Jul 7, 2007
1,196
84
The 13" MBP has a 1280x800 screen. The 13" MBA has 1440x900. The same size but more pixels on the latter, which is very useful for the things OP is doing.

Care to show us where you can get 16GBx1 DDR3 notebook memory modules? I call BS on the MBP with 32GB RAM claim.

OP travels frequently. The Air, while being less powerful, is a better fit for him than the MBP is.
You new people need to be a little more cordial. Was BS really necessary? Are you a kid? Teen?

The 13 MBP can handle 32GB of ram. Not just 16GB.

Never said they were available, just said it can take that much ram. Sandybridge can handle 32Gb of ram or supports 32gb of ram. I may be wrong on how much each module can actually handle. Maybe only 16Gb or 8gb a slot. And 16Gb modules for laptops are not available yet, but what about three or two years from now?

With the Air you're stuck with 4gb, no matter what. I already said the screen of the Air is better, did you miss that part?

Power is more important for what the OP is doing, because I do the more than he does on a daily basis. How about when you hook up your laptop to a external, what is more important power or the screen of the laptop? I owned both laptops a i7 Air and gave it too my wife, so I know the limitations of both. Do you?

Is 1.5 lbs a big difference. Really?
 

Jiten

macrumors 6502a
Jul 16, 2008
581
0
there isn't anything the MBP can do that the MBA can't.

The 13 MBP can handle 32GB of ram. Not just 16GB. Two 16GB sticks. The processor avail is faster too. The i5 in the base 13 is still faster than the i7 in the high spec air.
Interesting, I thought that 16 GB RAM was the hard limit for the 2011 (early and late) Macbook Pros. Are single 16 GB RAM modules available already?
 

jcpb

macrumors 6502a
Jun 5, 2012
860
0
Because every flash cell can only perform a finite number of state changes across its lifetime, each write is ultimately a destructive operation. You want to limit the number of writes so that the drive can live longer. Link
http://www.anandtech.com/show/5734/kingston-hyperx-3k-240gb-ssd-review
Assuming you write 10GB to your drive every day (on the high end for most client workloads), and your workload is such that the controller sees an effective write amplification of 10x (due to wear leveling/garbage collection the controller has to write 10x the amount of data to NAND that you write to host), you'll blow through one p/e cycle per day. For 25nm 3K p/e cycle NAND that works out to be 8.219 years, at which point your data will remain intact (but presumably read-only) for 12 months. Heavier workloads come with higher write amplification factors, but for client use this math works out quite well...

The loss of endurance [from 5k p/e to 3k p/e] shouldn't matter for most client workloads as I mentioned above, but if you're deploying these drives in a write heavy enterprise environment I'd look elsewhere.
Limit the number of writes? That's laughable, you might as well go back to platter storage instead, accompanied by a big hit in overall system responsiveness.
 

Liquinn

Suspended
Apr 10, 2011
3,016
57
Interesting, I thought that 16 GB RAM was the hard limit for the 2011 (early and late) Macbook Pros. Are single 16 GB RAM modules available already?
I'm really trying to justify buying an Air if the Pros can take 32GB of RAM.
 

corvus32

macrumors 6502a
Sep 4, 2009
761
0
USA
http://www.anandtech.com/show/5734/kingston-hyperx-3k-240gb-ssd-review

Limit the number of writes? That's laughable, you might as well go back to platter storage instead, accompanied by a big hit in overall system responsiveness.
So, we agree writes are a destructive operation; however, your article's math is flawed. It assumes a constant write amplification, which is incorrect. Write amplification is always changing, and can range from 2x to 10,000,000x or more depending on the drive's characteristics and a host of other variables.

But we digress...

Based on the OP's stated workload, the 4GB of RAM in a current MBA isn't enough to prevent running out of physical memory and resorting to swapfiles. Whether that will shorten the life of the computer's SSD over the long term is debatable, but writing to all those swapfiles to begin with is unnecessary if you avoid the 4GB limitation and buy something else.
 

iamthedudeman

macrumors 65816
Jul 7, 2007
1,196
84
Again: Link to such 16GB DDR3 notebook memory modules?


When you move around a lot, it is.

Really? Seriously. Here I will paste what i said a few posts above. :confused:

Never said they were available, just said it can take that much ram. Sandybridge can handle 32Gb of ram or supports 32gb of ram. I may be wrong on how much each module can actually handle. Maybe only 16Gb or 8gb a slot. And 16Gb modules for laptops are not available yet, but what about three or two years from now?

Again, like I said the point is moot as the Air can only take 4GB currently. It might get bumped up to 8 in the refresh and than we can talk about the 13 Mbp and the Air then as providing similar performance. Until than you're stuck with 4GB or ram on the Air.

How would you know, do you own both. I don't think so. Well I do.

And you cannot tell the difference. At all. I had to look to see which one I had in my business case. Actually my wife grabbed my business case thinking the Air was in there and was surprised by the Pro being in there.

No it's not. If I put both laptops in a laptop bag or backback or business case you cannot tell the difference.
 

KohPhiPhi

macrumors 6502a
Feb 9, 2011
763
194
I, as a web developer with a MBA 13" 4gb RAM, run DreamWeaver, Email, Firefox with 10 tabs open, Photoshop, FTP, Skype and Spotify all simultaneously ALL DAY LONG and it runs flawlessly.

OP, don't let naysayers without first-hand experience bring you down. The MBA 13" with 4gb RAM will run beautifully for you as a web developer. I know from first-hand experience.
 

phyrexia

macrumors 6502a
Sep 3, 2010
611
0
I hate hate hate the 13" MBP display. I was surprised and disappointed when the 2011 13" didn't have the MBA screen.
 

declandio

macrumors 6502
Apr 3, 2009
451
1
London, UK
Some of you make it sound like travelling with a 13" MBP is like travelling with blocks of concrete in your bag. Just because a MBA is lighter & thinner, doesn't mean that the MBP is a pain to travel with. I travel every day (mon-fri) with a 15" and it's perfectly portable, no problem at all whether it be on a train, a plane, a bus, on foot, by car, whatever....

If you can't handle traveling with a 13" MBP then blame your parents for not feeding you enough spinach, or wait till puberty is over and you might be have a little more strength & stamina. MBA is just an expensive toy good for light useage; if you want something more flexible that will serve you better for longer, you'd have to go for a MBP.
 

oskin

macrumors newbie
Jun 13, 2011
22
0
I work as a web developer. My current work horse is a late 2008 13" unibody macbook with 2ghz, 4gb ram 140GB hd which has served me well for the last almost 4 years, however in the last few months has started showing problems (since upgrading to Lion). It takes 3-4 restarts every morning to pick up the wifi hardware, when I wake it up from sleep it loses the wifi hardware, the screen sometimes gets lines through it, making it unusable, which can only be fixed by wiggling and twisting the lid back and forth and will occasionally just freeze on me randomly, forcing me to power off and restart (3-4 times so it can pick up the wifi adapter).

With the updated machines (rumoured to be) only a few days away I've decided to upgrade. Obviously we don't know for definite what is coming on Monday so based on current specs... would an air (I'm looking at the current 13" 256GB machine) be a good buy for me?

Aside from the issues mentioned above, my current machine runs fine. Only causing me slowdown issues when I have photoshop running a larger file or firefox has a large number of tabs open. It will also struggle with xcode and Final Cut Pro X.

I will routinely have Coda, MAMP pro, Photoshop, Mail, Chrome, Firefox, Quicksilver, Terminal, Console, Sequel Pro, Cyberduck and Spotify open at the same time.

I like the idea of an air vs a pro as I travel quite a lot and I find them aesthetically pleasing but would like something that will see me well for the next 3 years. Would an Air be able to cope with my needs? Obviously it will be much more capable than my current machine.

I hear the solid state drives make a huge difference with photoshop?

Get a Macbook pro and slap a ssd in it. You will appreciate the multi ports support on the PRO. I will only get Air for personal use.
 

KohPhiPhi

macrumors 6502a
Feb 9, 2011
763
194
If you can't handle traveling with a 13" MBP then blame your parents for not feeding you enough spinach, or wait till puberty is over and you might be have a little more strength & stamina.
What a non-sense comment, really.

We *ALL* can handle carrying around a 17" MBP if we wanted. It's not a matter of "capacity", it's a matter of convenience. And whether you like or not, the MBP is a 40% lighter, and thus more convenient to carry around in your bag.
 

Liquinn

Suspended
Apr 10, 2011
3,016
57
I'd get the MBP since you can always upgrade it a few years down the road; something you cannot do with an Air.
 
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