MBA specs: can you pass the test?

Discussion in 'MacBook Air' started by diablo2112, Oct 26, 2010.

  1. diablo2112 macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Apr 16, 2010
    #1
    I've had an enjoyable time reading about the new MBAs in the last few days. I purchased an 11.6" model the day of release, and just last night picked up a 13" for my fiance. Anyway, in practical use, these machines are exceptionally quick. For everything I've had to do, this machine is by all useful measures at least as fast as my 15" MBP. Which brings me to a bit of a rant.

    A (large) number of folks are complaining about the "low-end" specs in the new MBAs, particularly the 1.4 GHz Core2Duo processor and "only" 2GB of RAM. In fact, a number of folks here have said they won't buy due to this fact. Which brings about my rant. In todays computing environment, the number of things which have to mesh to bring a rewarding computing experience together is astonishingly large.

    Of all the things that impact computer speed, I would argue that processor speed is far-down the list. Ditto RAM size above a certain point. Modern software has the ability to page in and out of RAM and vary processor speeds to optimize for a certain task. If you think about it, these are intermediate specs, anyway, which at the end of the day, mean nothing! The real "spec" is how well the computer performs for the tasks you want it to do. And here, the MBA just shines.

    IMHO, more important elements which impact real-world "feel" include efficiency of the software and drivers (this is far more important than anything else), graphics rendering and display frame rates, and storage read/write speeds. Here, the MBAs are simply stellar. The use of specs like processor speed or construction are frankly an artifact of decades ago, when this was a majority contributor to performance. [mini-rant here, too: newsflash, the Core2Duo and the i3 are for all intents and purposes the same chip. Mostly marketing hype separate them.]

    Honestly, I think its lazy to continue to use processor speed as a main spec today, though the market probably demands that such specs continue to be published for computers. Interestingly, marketing has evolved such that other devices (such as smart phones) seem to be judged on real-world performance and not processor type/speed/RAM/etc. Ditto the iPad. No-one questions the processor type or speed in the ipad, folks kinda don't care. They just look at performance of the device.

    So, the test is this: can you ignore the psychology of exclusively focussing on "specs" like processor core speed and instead rely on your own, direct experience? If you can, you'll find the MBA is a wonderful new standard in ultraportable computing. I'm not the only one to make this observation, of course. A good published review here makes the same observations.
     
  2. darngooddesign macrumors G3

    Joined:
    Jul 4, 2007
    Location:
    Atlanta, GA
    #2
    In keeping with the spirit of your post here is an analogy other than processors, the Core2Duo is a V6 engine and the i3 is that same V6 engine with a turbo. For all intents and purposes they are the same engine, but the i3 has extra things to make it more powerful than the non-turbo engine..

    You are correct that if your uses are very run of the mill, surfing, email, that kind of thing then processor speed should not be your main concern. However, if your needs are more demanding then yes, processor speed weighs more heavily in your purchasing decision.

    But what's most important is that you're happy with your purchases.
     
  3. MooneyFlyer macrumors 65816

    MooneyFlyer

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2007
    Location:
    Boston
    #3
    I pretty much agree but I would need a day or two with each to really figure it out. You took a leap of faith and it worked out for your use model. A few mins in the store just isn't enough to know it is going to work with all of your stuff on it.
     
  4. itommyboy macrumors 6502a

    itommyboy

    Joined:
    Feb 26, 2009
    Location:
    Titletown USA
    #4
    As usual, it's all relative to you and what you do with what you have. If you're going to be running heavy VM (Fusion, Parrallel's) you're going to want 4GB of RAM on these machines. Will they work with standard 2? Yes. Would you notice a difference if bumped to 4? Yes.
     
  5. HardLuckStories macrumors regular

    Joined:
    Oct 23, 2010
    Location:
    UK, Manchester
    #5
    Yea but dude my 11 1.6 4gb is still better than the one in the shop, hence I waited 7 days for delivery!

    If this wasn't the case, then why advance any tech or design new products?
     
  6. drbob20 macrumors member

    Joined:
    Jan 16, 2008
  7. diablo2112 thread starter macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Apr 16, 2010
    #7
    Advances are great and essential. My point is, the advances are occurring in areas which aren't easily reduced to some technical spec (for example, software efficiency). Jobs basically alluded to this in his presentation, making a key point of "instant on". This is a far-more integrated spec than something like bus speed or RAM size.

    And the statement that VM parallels will run better with 4GB compared to 2 seems intuitive, but is it? Has this *really* been put to the test? My older MBP with 4GB gets beach-balls and slows considerably when enough tabs are opened in Safari and other applications are running. When I (and others) have tried this on the new MBA, it just keeps jugging along, no beach balls! Perhaps 2GB of RAM is more than sufficient given the other advances on this laptop?

    We're so used to judging computers based on outdated specs, we don't even question the assumptions (4GB is faster than 2Gb). Is that really true? At least, enough of a difference to warrant the hassle and cost of the upgrade?
     
  8. HardLuckStories macrumors regular

    Joined:
    Oct 23, 2010
    Location:
    UK, Manchester
    #8
    The very fact your posting any comment on it at all leads me to believe you know the facts, and the facts are the models BTO currently in shipment are better equipped.

    When the 2gb beach balls and chokes, the 4gb has another 2gb left to go, simple really :D
     
  9. KPOM macrumors G5

    Joined:
    Oct 23, 2010
    #9
    It's $100. Given the choice between a 1.86GHz with 4GB or a 2.13GHz with 2GB (same price), I'd go with the 4GB.

    Remember, the whole point of switching to 64-bit was better memory management. If 2GB were the "sweet spot" then there would have been no good reason to switch to 64-bit. 2GB is fine for most tasks now, but 4GB better positions the machine for the future.
     
  10. bamf macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Feb 14, 2008
    #10
    I have a good number of Apple machines. I went today and tested the new MBAs at the Apple store near my office, and I have to say I was very impressed with them.

    I think this really has to do with the advances in Flash (or SSD if you prefer) technology over standard spinning media like hard drives. I've got an X-25M G2 in my 15" i5 MBP, and it flies. The new MBA's fly as well for non CPU intensive tasks, and even on those tasks they still appear to do OK if you read some benchmarks that have been published.

    The thing that makes a machine feel fast (or slow for that matter) to the majority of consumers is the I/O that the machine can push. If you put a nice modern flash or SSD based drive into a machine, it's going to feel very fast.

    That's what Apple did, and I think for the majority of users it's going to work very well.
     
  11. KPOM macrumors G5

    Joined:
    Oct 23, 2010
    #11
    Exactly. That's what Apple does best. Their machines rarely win "spec contests." Apple starts with a goal in mind and builds a machine that achieves that goal. The Air has evolved since 2008 from a hobby machine to a mainstream machine. I think that was the intent. Apple saw the future in SSDs and thinner machines, but saw in 2008 that it wasn't ready to become mainstream. However, it was ready for the market, and it did achieve a loyal following. Now that prices have come down (as they always do in this industry), Apple has developed a nicely-designed fully-equipped notebook that does what most users need it to, at a price they can afford.
     
  12. darksolusion macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Oct 24, 2010
    #12
    I agree with diablo with the ghz statement how people complain about the 1.4 c2d CPU isn't good enough. What exactly do you do with your laptop that requires a more powerful CPU? The MB air is a premium ultaportable. What does that mean? Business use (words multi spreadsheet pie chart portable). What people are expecting?? Superpowerful gaming portable. That's where people start complaining. Main point is business use, but people flame because it isn't powerful to game or takes too long for **** to compile eg movies or pdfs. Those are bonus. You can definitely game not with super nice quality but you can. You can edit movies and do photoshop np just not fast. The only thing that comes close to what people want is Sony z series which cost much more than a Mac.

    As for ram, the more the better. 2 gig is enough 4 is optimal. Why I say that is because when you have 4 large PDFs open along with multiple spreadsheet opening while surfing the web, things are smoother with 4.
    With 2gig under windows, 256 goes to graphics leaving you with 1.7 and from that 1.7 a quarter goes to windows leaving you with approximately 1.2gigs which isn't a lot to multitasking. As for osx I don't know.

    Find me a laptop that can last 4 hours under heavy use
    Under 3 lbs
    That can stream 1080p YouTube
    That can game 30fps cod.

    I bet you can't.
     
  13. darngooddesign macrumors G3

    Joined:
    Jul 4, 2007
    Location:
    Atlanta, GA
    #13
    No. OSX and an XP VM, for example, require 2 GB to run efficiently with no open apps in either. Once you run CS5 or even a browser watching Flash videos you are demanding significantly more resources than you have available and therefore you will experience slowdowns. Swapping RAM is slower than using free physical RAM.

    Anyone who runs resource intensive apps in a VM or a VM and resource intensive apps in OSX can tell you that going from 2 to 4 makes a world of difference.

    However, if your needs are modest you can easily get by doing light VM work on 2GB of RAM. Or you could just go the BootCamp route.

    Its only $100, a pittance when amortized over the life of the machine, just pony up for the extra RAM.

    Another good way to look at the processor situation is that the Atom processor which comes in netbooks, is adequate for run of the mill internet uses. The 1.6 C2D will fare far better.

    I bet Sony makes one.
    Admittedly it is thicker but it trumps the Airs specs and then some.
     
  14. darksolusion macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Oct 24, 2010
    #14
    Like I said Sony z series. But cost quite a bit more and fine it is 3 lbs but not under 3 pounds :p
    The z series is the **** but need such beast?? I always feel the bed way utilizing a machine is gamut which combines CPU and graphics. So in order to utilize that amount of power u need to game!!!! Which forges the question.. Would you buy a $2000 machine 13'3 to game?? Or an alienware for 1500?
     
  15. Ach111es macrumors regular

    Joined:
    Oct 23, 2010
    #15
    not to bash your rant..because I totally agree...but!

    your specs and my specs won't be the same. In todays computing, your needs are your needs. Clock speeds are huge, for certain tasks. You definitely feel way more zip when converting a file in an i7 than a 1.4 core 2 duo, or even if you need to run itunes while using imovie to make a high end slideshow/film. Just as its awesome to have an SSD for a 15 second boot and no delay when opening programs. Granted, these things go out of style every year and are replaced with lower prices or faster ones-the dilemma of computing.

    You can't really say that it "shines" because I am sure for many day to day stuff a poweruser or even a light gamer might have it won't. Benchmarks help when they benchmark what is being done. So a benchmark using perhaps FPS of a WoW game would be quite pertinent to the "specs" of a gamer. While 1080p streaming video/vid playback is appreciated by a mobile media fan.

    And i3 and core 2 duo really aren't the same thing (speed wise). Different die/framework and whatnot. Yes there are 2 processors in both, but an i3 is like a pretty speedbumped core2duo, just as an i7 is a core 2 duo ripped on roids and 5 hour energy.

    Also, people like specs for the comfort they have as far as long term use. My friend bought the high end MBP in 2007-8 with a 2.53 core 2 duo, and the thing still isn't obsolete in the PC world..while its still actually up to date in the Mac world (sadly enough).

     
  16. rickhorn macrumors member

    rickhorn

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2010
    #16
    I like what you have commented on the new MBA. Not super CPU and large ram but the users' experiences matter in this case. Thanks!
     
  17. Jobsian macrumors 6502a

    Jobsian

    Joined:
    Jul 30, 2009
    #17
    Refreshingly intelligent and well thought-out thread.
     
  18. Stingray454 macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Sep 22, 2009
    #18
    When I first saw the specs I almost laughed at them. Though I REALLY like the form factor, so thought I'd give the highest spec 13" a shot in the store (since the other ones had to be basically useless with that slow processor, I though).

    Came to the store, tried out an 11" 1.4 with 2Gb.. Ran like a dream. Swallowed anything I threw at it. And the design/feel/size was just wonderful. Ordered an 11" on the spot - I never thought I would if you had asked me a few days ago. So yes - after trying it out I realize it can handle anything I'll use it for and then some, even if the processor sounds very sub-par.

    On the same note, the 13" felt too similar to a 13" MBP. Just a bit thinner and lighter, not enough to motivate me to lose the speed and features of the MBP while paying more. It felt just about as bulky to carry around as the MBP. If you haven't had a chance to try them both out, do so before ordering. It changed my mind completely.
     
  19. MooneyFlyer macrumors 65816

    MooneyFlyer

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2007
    Location:
    Boston
    #19
    Do you think that the 1.4G/2G will get you through 2 years with the Lion upgrade looming (assuming it requires some additional resources)? I don't know that this really matters to me but I certainly think about it. If this were just $600, I'd buy it, toss it in a year if I needed to, and move on... but the reality is that it's a bit more than that and I'd like to get a couple of years from it.

    Also, once you've loaded it up with everything you want on it, have you noticed a change in the performance at all?

    thanks for the feedback.
     
  20. Stingray454 macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Sep 22, 2009
    #20
    Actually (I forgot to mention that), even though the 1.4 seemed capable of handling everything I'll use it for, I got no idea what Lion will bring, and I'd like to be sure that I can run a couple of "big" programs at once (say office, photoshop, flash and similar). That's why I went with the 1.6/4Gb version on my order.

    If the money is an issue, I'd get the 4Gb before the processor speed bump. This will future-proof the computer much more than the CPU increase imo. The CPU increase isn't that big (14% if my math is correct), and it only really shows up in CPU-intensive tasks anyway (so, applying a filter in Photoshop that takes 10 seconds on the 1.4 will "only" take 8.6 seconds on the 1.6). Will you notice that at all in day-to-day use? Probably only when rendering/compiling or gaming I'd say.

    So, to answer your question - no, I see no noticeable difference between 1.4/2gb and 1.6/4gb on daily use (surf, mail, movies etc). But I'd still go with at least 4Gb ram and preferably also the 1.6 if you plan to keep it more than a year. Just to be safe ;) Remember that none of these things can be upgraded later without buying a new computer.
     
  21. h00ligan macrumors 68030

    Joined:
    Apr 10, 2003
    Location:
    A hot desert
    #21
    Also, consider paging to ssd is so much faster, should one need it. I bought the low end model, arriving tomorrow, because I have a fast desktop that I should be doing my heavy lifting on, and I already changed most of my workflow to accommodate the low end iPad. I'm streaming everything anyway. I can't wait to be rid of the iPad typos.



    In the store the size and weight diff between then 11 and 13 seemed much more noticeable than on paper..the 11 reminded me of my fav Mac portable ever, 12" PowerBook. I can't remember what size drive was in that.
     
  22. ReallyBigFeet macrumors 68030

    ReallyBigFeet

    Joined:
    Apr 15, 2010
    #22
    Fine, but this works both ways.

    Claiming the 11" isn't a netbook simply because it doesn't have an Atom-class processor isn't valid either. When you focus on the usability of the machine, its clearly built to be a high-end netbook.
     
  23. PittAir macrumors regular

    Joined:
    Mar 13, 2008
    #23
    I've now had my Air (11, 4, 128, 1.6) for about 24 hours. I have a 2008 MBA and a 2009 MBA, which have gone down the food chain to my kids.

    So far, I love the computer. I downloaded Office 2011 last night and have been trying it out.

    I few minor beachballs during the first run of each of the Office programs, and a little delay when converting a ppt file to pptx (but not much, and better than my old MBA, and for some reason it's a lot quicker once the program runs for the first time).

    I'm at the age where bifocals are becoming a reality (I'm trying to resist) and the screen on the 11 is a bit smaller, but it's still easy to do everything.

    Summary: a great computer, that can do just about everything you throw at it. It's not a netbook, and the specs either with a 1.4 or a 1.6 are fine--I'd add RAM if given a choice.
     
  24. diablo2112 thread starter macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Apr 16, 2010
    #24
    I don't understand the whole Netbook vs. ultraportable thing. I don't care what you call it. I've referred to my 11.6" MBA as a netbook with my friends the last few days, and IMHO, that term isn't derisive at all.
     
  25. darngooddesign macrumors G3

    Joined:
    Jul 4, 2007
    Location:
    Atlanta, GA
    #25
    A netbook is a cheap, low-end ultraportable that is built to a price point and really only handles general tasks. Because of the cheap nature of netbooks they are considered bottom of the barrel laptops. Calling the Air a netbook not only marginalizes its extra capabilitits but appears insulting to owners because why would you spend a grand on an Apple Netbook when other netbooks can be had for less than half that. Or to use a different analogy, calling an Acura a Fit is derisive even thought hey are both Honda cars.
     

Share This Page