MBA vs Mac Mini - differences in using MBA as a primary desktop solution?

Discussion in 'MacBook Air' started by gummy3, Nov 27, 2011.

  1. gummy3, Nov 27, 2011
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2011

    gummy3 macrumors newbie

    Nov 17, 2011
    Hi all,

    I've been contemplating purchasing a 2011 i5 1.6Ghz 4GB Macbook Air 11"... as well as a Mac Mini (2011 i5 2.3Ghz RAM upgraded to 8GB). The MBA would be for my portability needs, and the Mac Mini would be hooked up to my external 23" monitor.

    However, I recently started thinking that perhaps the MBA could simply just substitute the desktop-usage of the Mac Mini. That is, I'm thinking of just using the MBA as my desktop as well, and plugging it in to my external monitor instead of having two separate computers for travel and home usage.

    Going over the specs, the only difference in the two computers would be:
    1) CPU processing speed (1.6ghz in the MBA vs 2.3ghz in the Mini)
    2) RAM (4GB limit in the MBA vs. 8GB in the Mini)
    **3) HDD (128GB in the MBA vs. 500GB in the Mini... this is not a big issue since I have a 2TB external HDD)

    Will I see significant/noticeable difference in these specs? I've never actually considered/thought of using the 11" MBA as a primary desktop computer... but I started reading articles/posts from people who apparently do so with theirs.

    It would be great if I didn't need to spend the extra money to purchase a separate Mac Mini just for my primary desktop set-up, and could just use my MBA as my primary desktop. I use my computer mostly for internet browsing, iTunes, movies, music, Skype, MS Office, light photoshop/movie editing work. I don't play games or do any programming. However, I would do a good bit of multitasking... i.e. have several browser windows open at one time, with iTunes, Skype, and Excel/Word open as well.

    Is there any point to me getting the Mac Mini on top of the MBA? Or would they mostly be redundant in my case?

    Also, as a secondary question, if I were to use my 11" MBA as my primary desktop computer source, would upgrading to the i7 processor be worth the extra $200?

    Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated - thanks!
  2. bill-p macrumors 68000

    Jul 23, 2011
    I have both a Mac Mini and a Macbook Air, though it's a 2010 Air. In terms of usability, I think that the Mac Mini is a better solution for desktop.

    Disregarding the inconvenience of having to plug and unplug every time you need to use a bigger screen, there is still the nuisance of typing on the Air's keyboard while looking at a bigger screen elsewhere. The screen of the Air would be quite distracting.

    You can opt for a bluetooth keyboard and mouse to solve that problem, but it just feels really redundant, in my opinions.

    Also, I do find that the 2011 Mac Mini is leagues ahead of the Macbook Air in terms of performance, and it can couple with the Air, or an iPad, or an iPhone to quickly view any content from any of your other Apple devices on a bigger screen. That alone is a killer feature to me. Granted, the Apple TV can do the same task, but it's not a full computer, so I can't just access any streaming video on a whim easily.

    My Mac Mini has replaced my XBox 360, my Blu-Ray player, and my home network server, along with the Apple TV that I decided to skip. It might be just me, but I'm sure that the Mac Mini is more useful than you are thinking it might be.
  3. Confuzzzed macrumors 68000


    Aug 7, 2011
    Liverpool, UK
    Sure you can. Notwithstanding the processing power (which only YOU know if you need it), you can use one of these things

    to park your MBA and put the machine in clam state to allow you to use when connecting to your screen. Add wireless keyboard and trackpad and you're away. In my experience, the 2011 MBA has plenty of oomph in processing power and it is now my main machine (even though we also have a 2007 MBP which is now mainly used as a desk top).
  4. drsox macrumors 65816


    Apr 29, 2011
    I have the same config as you are considering.
    I just bought a 13in MBA and am going to use it with a TBD. My needs maybe are different as I only use the MBA within my house as a sort of portable iMac. I'll also use the MBA with the TBD in clamshell mode with another Mouse/Kbd combo with other stuff (DVD, Scanner) connected to the TBD. Plus, when I have big files to move around (NAS to NAS) then I can use the GBLAN of the TBD.

    I replaced 2x Win7 PCs with this config.
  5. Internaut macrumors 6502a

    How do you power up the MacBook pro when its on one of these stands?
  6. Xikum macrumors 6502

    Oct 19, 2011
    If you ask me, a MBA+external screen+bluetooth keyboard/mouse would be enough computing power for the average user, especially with an external hard drive.

    I bought an iMac, only to have my old laptop I used for travelling with break down on me. I decided to buy a 2010 13" MacBook Air, but if I had known that I would need to buy another laptop, I would have purchased the following;

    -2011 i5/4GB RAM/128 GB 11" MBA
    -External 21-24" Monitor (Thunderbolt Display would have been too expensive)
    -Bluetooth keyboard/mouse

    If you ask me, unless your doing something REALLY processor intensive (or wan to game) then that is a perfect set up.
  7. Confuzzzed macrumors 68000


    Aug 7, 2011
    Liverpool, UK
    If you asking about the MacBook Air, which is what the stand is for, you power up before you put it in the stand, hook it up to your monitor, you then put in clamshell mode and voila. You're in desk top mode
  8. thekev macrumors 604


    Aug 5, 2010
    None of these are powerful cpus relative to others out there. In desktop cpus i5 vs i7 is distinguished by whether or not it has hyperthreading enabled. I don't think this is the case with laptop cpus. I can't find anything truly distinguishing in performance there (for the i7 upgrade). These are all considered ultra low voltage cpus, and it's unlikely that choosing one over the other would extend the usable life of the machine (I think you'd hit a wall on ram before cpu anyway). Having more programs open affects the ram more than cpu.
  9. Confuzzzed macrumors 68000


    Aug 7, 2011
    Liverpool, UK
    Yes. But as far as I know (and CP needs to check this) the retail mac minis also use ultra low voltage i5 or (upgraded) i7 CPUs? So why can't he use his MBA instead of doubling up on machines unnecessarily?
  10. gummy3 thread starter macrumors newbie

    Nov 17, 2011
    Thanks everyone for your replies!

    I guess maybe a good solution for me would be to play around with the MBA first as my 'desktop' and then see if it suits my needs... if not, I could always opt to purchase the Mac Mini afterwards for the bump in RAM/CPU. For my needs, I'm really starting to think the MBA as a primary desktop computer would work for me, especially given the specs of the computer I'm running at the moment (haha):

    I currently use my desktop as follows: I have a Lenovo 3000 PC laptop with closed lid, sitting on my desk plugged in to my external monitor, as well as an external Bluetooth Apple Keyboard and Magic Mouse. So transitioning over to an MBA desktop wouldn't be a problem.

    My current Lenovo's specs:
    Intel Pentium Dual-core T3400 @ 2.16Ghz 1M Cache
    2GB RAM
    150GB HDD

    Running Windows 7 on it has been a bit slow and laggy... am I safe to assume the new MBA will fly compared to this? (upgrades in specs at every level - CPU, RAM, and HDD (solid state in the MBA))

    Also, if using the BookArc stand, do I have to take the MBA out of the stand every time I want to power the MBA up? (i.e. take it out, open it, turn on, close it again, and put it back into the stand)
  11. drsox macrumors 65816


    Apr 29, 2011
    To get an idea of how much better you will be I suggest you google Geekbench and download/run their test suite.
    Then you can compare your current score with any of their listed Mac config scores.
  12. Abazigal, Nov 28, 2011
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2011

    Abazigal macrumors G3


    Jul 18, 2011

    Saw this MBA+external display the other day and now can't get it out of my head. Setup looks really seductive. :eek:

    In your case, you might want to first play around with your MBA. If you find that it can meet your desktop computing needs just fine, then skip the mini and just go for the display. :)
  13. robvas macrumors 68030

    Mar 29, 2009
    Don't forget that the i5 in the MBA will 'turbo-up' to 2.0-2.3GHz when you need it to.
  14. convergent macrumors 68030


    May 6, 2008
    The MBA will be way faster in use than the Mini because of the SSD. Go with the MBA and don't think twice. Rather than spend the money on the Mini, put it towards a Thunderbolt display.
  15. dylin macrumors 6502a


    Jun 10, 2010
    Well, depending on how often you do photoshop/movie editing, getting the MBA may be all you need. Now if you do it alot then i would say get the mini as well.
  16. DouchGod macrumors regular


    Aug 23, 2010
    I find partnering the Air with a thunderbolt display a really elegant solution to using my Air as a desktop.
  17. convergent macrumors 68030


    May 6, 2008
    Well said, and it performs very well. I consider myself a power user and its been a wonderful system.
  18. Xikum macrumors 6502

    Oct 19, 2011
    The Thunderbolt display is really nice, but OP should be aware that if he doesn't want to spend £999 on a monitor, you dont have to buy from Apple; other external monitors will work with the MBA.
    That said, the 27" TBD is a terrific external monitor if you can afford it.
  19. gummy3 thread starter macrumors newbie

    Nov 17, 2011
    Thanks everyone for the replies, keep 'em coming :)

    I already have a 23" LCD monitor (non-Apple), however the Thunderbolt Display does look really really nice (and functional). It might be something I consider in the future.

    For those of you who have an external monitor hooked up to their MBA, do you notice any issues or problems when it's in 'clamshell mode' (i.e. lid closed)?

    I've read some posts about people having wifi issues, and some having bluetooth/wifi (simultaneous use) issues. Anyone have any experiences, with both non-Apple external monitors as well as the Thunderbolt Display?
  20. GekkePrutser macrumors 6502a


    Aug 18, 2005
    I had a MacBook Air for a short while and now have a Mini.

    You're right, the mini is better for desktop use. I got the one with the discrete graphics, and decked it out fully. The 8GB ram is nice when using VMs. Unofficially it can even go up to 16. It even manages my portable use-case better. I often travel home and work from there for a week. I have a screen/keyboard set up there so I just bring the mini :) It works brilliantly and weighs slightly less than a 11" Air + Power adapter. And it has built-in ethernet which I need there.

    I do need to work on the go once in a blue moon but I use my old plastic MacBook for that, it works ok but I may go for a refurb Air if I find one very cheaply (unfortunately the base 2010 model has been out of stock in Ireland for ages). I would have bought an Air for that already but I didn't have the budget for both :)

    But as a desktop (even a portable one) I'm much happier with the mini, the Air cannot be beaten for actual portable work.
  21. newdeal macrumors 68020

    Oct 21, 2009

    the cpu difference won't be noticeable between the two. Both are super fast and if you aren't doing video encoding it really won't matter. Heck its hard for me to tell the difference between a 2.4ghz core 2 duo macbook pro and my core i3 iMac.
    8gb of ram isn't needed unless you do serious work with photoshop, video or virtual machines. 4gb ram is just fine for general usage including general virtual machine usage.
    Get a magic mouse and wireless keyboard if you do decide on the air...since the mini doesn't come with these either it would be a wash.
    The external drive somewhat counteracts the lack of internal space in the air, too bad you can't get it to work at a descent speed since you are currently limited to USB 2.0. If a dock is released using thunderbolt to give a higher speed way to attach an external hdd it would be better.
    I would save the cash and use the air
  22. convergent macrumors 68030


    May 6, 2008
    Building on what NewDeal said, mentioning virtual machines, photoshop, and video work, as reasons for needing 8G of RAM. I have the i7 Air with 4G of RAM and SSD (of course). I have a Win7 VM running almost constantly, and run a lot of big apps such as MS Office, Lotus Notes, DevonThink, Safari and Firefox, and a lot of other stuff. I do serious photography as a small biz and routinely have Lightroom open to do image work, and to a lesser extent use Photoshop and iMovie a bit. I've not had any problems with any of this stuff on the Air. Its very fast and I would imagine that unless you have an SSD in the 8G mini, its going to be faster. I have a mini, and the drive in it is not speedy at all.

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