rMBP vs. MBA (13") for Masters

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by AJP123, Aug 12, 2013.

  1. AJP123 macrumors newbie

    Dec 8, 2011
    Hi MacRumors users,

    I've been successful in my application a Master of Philosophy in Mathematical Sciences, and my current laptop (a Windows machine) needs replacing. I want to get a Mac laptop since everyone in the School of Mathematical Sciences at the university uses Macs (as their desktop machine, at least), and, in particular, my supervisor is a genius technologically, so it will be easier for him to teach me about all the programming, coding, software etc. that I will need to use if I have a Mac.

    I'm currently tossing up between a 13" MacBook Air (Haswell) and a 13" Retina MacBook Pro (Haswell), which I'll obviously have to wait for, not having been released yet. With both machines I'll definitely have a 256GB+ SSD, 8GB RAM, and an i5 or i7 processor.

    I'll be using my new Mac for my project and assignment work, which will involve programming and coding in software such as LaTeX, R, etc. I'll also be using it for web processing, office software (Word, Excel, etc). I'll probably end up using Windows with a dual-boot or virtual machine set-up, since I'm new to Mac and want to make the transition as smooth as possible.

    When I spoke to one of my supervisors about how much processing power I'll need, he said that a MacBook Air will have enough processing power for everything I'll need it for, and that I can use the university's server should I need more processing grunt. However, since I'm considering dual-booting or virtual-machining, I'm still considering the yet-to-be-released 13" Haswell rMBP, as the extra grunt may come in useful. Also, it has an extra thunderbolt port and an HDMI port, which will be very useful as I'll be connecting an external (HDMI) monitor to the laptop.

    A few questions that will be helpful:
    • How much faster is an i7 processor than an i5 processor for the type of work that I have mentioned? (In both "full" and ULV processors)
    • How much better is the battery life for an i5 processor compared to an i7 processor? (In both "full" and ULV processors)
    • How much faster is a "full" i5/7 processor on the rMBP compared to the ULV i5/7 processor on the MBA?
    • Correct me if I'm wrong, but given that the stated battery life of the MBA jumped from 7 to 12 hours when it was update with Haswell, can we expect the same for the rMBP?

    Let me know which way you think I should go.

    God bless,
  2. mcbrided, Aug 12, 2013
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2013

    mcbrided macrumors newbie

    Aug 22, 2009
    If you plan to run windows based virtual machines, you can stop here and just wait for the Pro model you desire. It's definitely possible on the Airs, but with only 2 cores, I'd imagine it might get a big sluggish. If it is strictly math related VMs, typically they are linux based and should run perfectly fine.

    If your supervisor is a technological genius, it probably wont matter what platform you choose. The math packages are essentially identical from platform to platform. There may be a slight difference in setting up environment variables and whatnot, but the applications themselves are typically opensource and and will be syntactically identical.

    Processing wise, this shouldn't be a huge factor. I've used most of the big math packages - bottom line: if your code is sloppy, it's going to be super slow on an i5 and i7. Infact, some of the up and coming math packages (for example, Sage) are intended to be hosted on very capable servers.

    If it matters, my Masters in Computer Science program definitely didn't need a hotrod. I will say though that at times, it was very nice being able to comfortable work on tex with papers open concurrently.

    As for your questions:
    * you can find benchmarks online...what you want are real-world math benchmarks though and I suspect there will be no discernible difference for what you plan to do with it.
    * negligent difference...read some of the reviews for the full detail, but on a dull load, the i7 might get an hour less, on a light load, 30 minutes or more. YMMV.
    * no, you should not expect the same ~5 hours battery increase to transfer to the retina MBP. The jump was due to both the Haswell platform, AND the non-retina display. You may see a small increase though.

    Ofcourse this is all speculation at the moment.

    I might ask you...what are your screen size, weight, and battery life preferences? There are obvious trade-offs.

    If it matters, I doubt you'd regret either decision - both systems are great for different reasons and far more capable than is necessary for current math libraries.

    Good luck!
  3. Art~ macrumors newbie

    Jul 17, 2013
    Hi! Since you're a computer science student, if I may ask, are you using a MBP or MBA? Do you think MBA 13" Haswell works well for programming?

    Thank you in advance!

    SORRY OP, I should have PM-ed him instead. was blur and didn't occur to me that it's not my thread when I was posting this ... and I can't find a delete button for the post. Apologies :/
  4. AJP123, Aug 17, 2013
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2013

    AJP123 thread starter macrumors newbie

    Dec 8, 2011
    Thanks for your wisdom :).

    Edit: Checking the Apple website, however, it appears that even the 13" rMBP can only be equipped with a dual-core i7 processor, not the quad-core i7 processor. Can anyone verify this for me? If that is the case, then any 13" machine that I buy would only have a dual-core processor. To run VMs smoothly, what's the most significant property of a processor? The number of cores or the clock speed?

    To summarise what each machine is better at:

    Retina Macbook Pro
    • Will run VMs smoothly, with the above caveat.
    • Higher resolution screen
    • HDMI and 2 Thunderbolt ports
    • General speed

    Macbook Air
    • Higher battery life
    • Lighter

    So I need to determine which combination of functions I'd prefer. Random thoughts:
    • The ability to run VMs would be excellent.
    • Extra HDMI and Thunderbolt would be useful, but I could also buy a docking station for extra ports.
    • The MBA is lighter than the rMBP, although at 1.35kg compared to 1.62kg, it's only 270g difference. Also, since I'll have an office with a desktop in it, I won't need to carry it to uni every day, and I won't need to carry lots of books to uni every day, like when I was an undergrad.
    • Extra battery life would be very useful.

    Then I need to decide whether or not the bump from i5 to i7 is worth the drop in battery life for the given machine. I'll look for the benchmarks.

    All good :).

    If anyone else has any wisdom they'd like to share, that'd be excellent :)
  5. AXs macrumors 6502a


    Sep 7, 2009
    People have been getting Masters and Doctor's before any macbook ever came out.

    As long as you're doing extensive engineering or something extensively graphics related, You'll be fine even with my shelved 5 year old laptop for your requirements. Just get what makes you happy.
  6. AJP123 thread starter macrumors newbie

    Dec 8, 2011
    Interesting, although as processing power increases, software is being made (albeit slowly) that starts utilising the new-found processing power. In any case, I wouldn't want to use a 5-year old laptop for the stuff I mentioned in my original post... :p

    Any other comments or opinions?
  7. AXs macrumors 6502a


    Sep 7, 2009
    "want" is an entirely different variable.

    I was under the impression we were talking about "need".

    As I said, you should buy what you 'want'. And, the i5/4 will be enough for what you 'need'. Though I'd recommend upgrading RAM, and in case of doubt get i7. But the base will do.;)

    There's a hefty amount of Reviews on youtube covering different tasks- gaming options, and henceforth. I recommend you take a look first-hand because that's really the only way to reassure a buy.

    Good luck.

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