MBA Late 2008 model - opinions on the best performing version of OSX for it?

Discussion in 'MacBook Air' started by br0adband, Oct 5, 2015.

  1. br0adband macrumors 6502a


    Aug 29, 2006
    Hi there,

    Lucky old me just acquired a functional but not in the best shape MacBook Air Late 2008 model (A1304) with two minor issues (at least to me they're minor):

    - the battery is having the swelling issue, in fact after only a few hours of being on the charger (included, thankfully) it actually began to swell noticeably to the point where the bottom panel wouldn't fit properly. By the time I had removed the battery it had swollen to just a tad more than about 3/4" thick so I'm glad I discovered this while I was awake and working on it and not have it just explode or leak on me while I might be sleeping

    - the factory 128GB Samsung SSD is toast, it is so dead that with it attached to the logic board the MBA won't even boot regardless of whatever keyboard commands I attempted, it will just hang forever with no activity but as soon as it's disconnected then voila, it'll boot to a USB stick or USB drive without issues

    So the MBA works, save for those two issues - battery and SSD are now removed.

    I'm currently using an external USB hard drive (7200 rpm older model) with a fresh clean installation of Mavericks on it updated fully to 10.9.5 so it's current. Now I know the MBA has a paltry Core 2 Duo 1.86 GHz CPU in it (w/6MB of L2 so that's actually beneficial), and I know it's capped at 2GB of RAM and that right now using the USB interface will obviously be slow performing compared to even the original SSD (wihch is very slow compared to today's SSD speeds) would probably outperform it in many respects (very slow by today's SSD speeds) but I'm cool with that since I got the MBA practically for no cost at all.

    Having said all that, and knowing that I have Mavericks ready to go and already installed, and knowing that Yosemite and El Capitan are very resource hungry compared to previous versions of OSX I'm interested in hearing people's opinions on what might be the best performing version of OSX for this older MBA - I'm even considering Linux as well so if you have suggestions about that I'd be interested in hearing them.

    I intend to get a replacement battery ASAP - I can't afford an actual Apple OEM replacement which is like $160+ so that's not going to happen, I'll most likely get a workable replacement from an eBay reseller with an excellent rep for a modest price. Even if it goes bad in a short period of time I'd just end up buying another one I suppose.

    As for the storage, while I'd love to get a very fast SSD in it I'll most likely just grab a 120GB 1.8" LIF hard drive to go in it, and yes I know I'd be crippling the performance from the gitgo with such a physical hard drive but, I want to make the machine functional in all the respects that matter including being totally portable again and not having to rely on the power cord being attached so, to be honest I'm trying to eek out the best performance overall by spending the least amount of cash out of pocket.

    That makes sense, right? :D

    Anyway, thanks for any responses, the info is welcome and appreciated.

    Have fun, always...
  2. AppleFanatic10 macrumors 68030


    Nov 2, 2010
    Hawthorne, CA
    Have you tried Snow Leopard (10.6)? That may work best on the 2008 MBA.
  3. br0adband thread starter macrumors 6502a


    Aug 29, 2006
    I've tried everything the past few days from SL to El Capitan which runs fairly well actually considering the situation - running it from a USB stick or the attached USB hard drive. I suppose I'll eventually just use El Capitan because it's working, obviously when I do get a replacement internal drive of some kind things will improve even more - the USB stick I have is supposed to be a better one and does show read speeds of about 33MB/s under Windows, not sure what it might be providing with OSX but of course it's the write speed that cripples performance. OSX tends to write a lot of very small files so the 4K speed hit on Flash drives is when things just slow down to the crawl you expect to happen because of that 4K problem (meaning 4K sector size and random write performance on Flash drives).

    Picking up a used 120GB SATA drive today to use exclusively for the MBA until I can order a proper internal one so I'll make do with it as required. I've found some internal ones (1.8" LIF connector) drives on eBay for about $38 so I may just get one of those. Obviously I'd love to have another SSD in it, perhaps one of those OWC Mercury SSDs with fantastic read/write performance but I just can't afford such an extravagance at this time, having the MBA working with a drive of any kind + a functional battery is the goal right now.

    Snow Leopard did perform very well but considering the resource requirements that wasn't really a surprise. Yosemite was terrible in terms of responsiveness and El Capitan vastly improved that so again, it looks like I'll just use El Capitan and be done with it.

    Thanks for the response...
  4. Retromac2008 macrumors regular


    Oct 9, 2015
    I am a proud user of your machine

    Late 2008 Macbook Air

    Core 2 Duo 1.86 GHz
    nvidia 9400m
    2GB Ram
    120 gb SSD

    It s perfect with OSX 10.11 El Capitan.

    The Pata ZIF Drive connection is slow and can be a bottleneck with a good 1.8" ssd, so you did a good choice with a cheap hd if the goal is save money. (But 1.8" 4200rpm hard disks are really slow :()
  5. br0adband thread starter macrumors 6502a


    Aug 29, 2006
    Cool, I'm using it with a 128GB Sandisk Ultra Fit USB drive currently, got one for just under $40 at BestBuy yesterday after having them pricematch it with Amazon (BestBuy originally wanted $159 for it which I'd never have paid - with that much I'd have gotten the OWC Mercury 120GB SSD for it). Anyway, the Ultra Fit appears to be working out well so far. No it's not nearly as snappy and responsive as a proper SSD would be but considering the cost, just $39, and the fact that it's so damned small I'll live with it for now.

    And yes I put El Capitan on it too, so far so good, no issues, everything works as expected. Still waiting on a battery choice, the sub-$20 ones on eBay I just don't trust but I can't afford the $160+ cost for an OEM Apple replacement either.

    Still a damned nice device overall even at 7 years.

    But I will say this: using Linux Mint on it (which I have set up in a dual boot on the Ultra Fit) runs circles, many many circles around El Capitan (and any other OSX version too) in terms of performance, it's just insane how snappy and responsive Linux Mint is on this "low end Core 2 Duo" CPU, I know the Nvidia 9400 helps. The downside, unfortunately, is I still can't get the damned Airport/Broadcom Wi-Fi card working in Linux at all so I use a USB hub for mouse/Ultra Fit and a TP-Link 11n USB Wi-Fi adapter which works great. Cumbersome, but I'm not mobile with the MBA right now anyway... if I could just find a workable solution for that Broadcom wireless issue with Linux I'd be quite content, it's nagging at me that I can't resolve it so far.
  6. Retromac2008 macrumors regular


    Oct 9, 2015
    Man, don t consider your Macbook air as a old crappy computer: you ve one of the best laptop ever made.
    Just a look at your screen and you ll find there are no better laptop around for light use.

    I can t see a difference between my 2008 model and the new model in my light use and i consider my laptop exactly the same as one brand new!

    ps : only when you try to run a game u ll find this as a horrible outdated computer, but it s not his field of use (for me)

    pps: sure, mint is always faster, but i won t compare it with osx :)

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5 October 5, 2015