Which Macbook for college[Air or Retina Pro]

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lilcorey10

macrumors member
Original poster
Jan 5, 2012
39
0
I will start college this fall and go for a CS degree. I have been waiting quite a while for the macbook refresh... and now it's finally here. I have a $2000 budget but would prefer not to spend it all. Below are the configurations I have built on the apple store.

Macbook Air "13
  • 256GB Flash
  • 8GB RAM
  • 1440 x 900 Resolution
  • ~$1600

Retina Pro "15
  • 256GB Flash
  • 8GB RAM
  • 2880 x 1800 Resolution
  • ~$2000

Air pluses: Lighter, thinner, cheaper
Retina pro pluses: Nvidia 650M, higher resolution, quad core processor

With the upgrades to the Air I can get similar specs as far as Storage and RAM go. So now the difference between the computers is basically just the screen resolution and size. Should I get the Retina Pro? Is the screen worth the $400 increase?

The reason I was waiting for the new release was to get a Macbook Pro "13 that didn't have a low resolution. Since the resolution didn't increase I started looking elsewhere to the Air and Retina Pro. My plan was to buy RAM and SSD on my own and upgrade the Pro but there's no way to upgrade the screen so i forgot about the Pro. My configuration for the "13 Pro was a 256GB SSD with 8GB RAM + the stock 500GB HDD. That would make it a contender with the above configs.

Should I still consider the Pro or pick from one of the above configurations?
 

EthanMiller

macrumors member
Aug 15, 2011
73
3
I'm a CS student with one of the old Airs (2011), so the new Air is 1.4x faster already. It's a perfectly capable computer; it ended up replacing my desktop. The 4 GB of RAM should be plenty TBH; the things that would tend to need more also tend to need the graphics (at least gaming).

Both computers will completely fill your needs. The new display, having not seen it, I can't really comment on, but the one on the Air is one of the best in a laptop short of it that I've used. Even with the resolution, you don't really get the size benefits because everything is pixel-doubled to fit if it's not written for it natively.

Its going to be sort of like the new iPad vs. iPad 2 debate there - is the display worthwhile? I'm going to recommend saving the $400 and using it elsewhere - college comes with plenty of expenses, and the Air is plenty of machine.
 

henry72

macrumors 65816
Jun 18, 2009
1,111
96
New Zealand
I'd definitely of with the new MacBook Pro with Retina Display! It's totally worth the money if you don't mind a little bit heavier :D

I just love it ;)
 

idencustom

macrumors member
Jun 12, 2012
50
0
Can I just say... I might be dating myself... but in my day, when I was in college.. you were lucky if your parents bought you a $299 emachine. Today's students got it good.

BTW... back in my day = 2006.
 

Logos327

macrumors 6502
Sep 15, 2008
359
0
Even though the difference is just a couple of pounds, I am quite looking forward to not having to carry my MBP around. It isn't that heavy, but it, plus the power brick, an iPad, and books adds up.

While the screen on the Retina MBP will no doubt be amazing, the apps you will be using for CS won't necessarily be optimized for it. Surely they won't look bad, but it is something to consider. I think the the real question comes down to screen size because those 2.4 extra inches are noticeable.

My biggest recommendation to anyone buying a laptop is to pick up a $130-$150 1080p 21.5" monitor (or larger if your budget allows though I find 27" is about the max to go at 1080p as things start to look a little too big) for when you are in your dorm. They are relatively cheap and can have a really positive effect on your workflow especially if you need multiple programs/windows up on the same desktop. In this case, the positives of the retina screen are negated while in the dorm where you could very well be doing the majority of your "serious" work because of the advantage of that larger external monitor.

If you go with the air on the other hand, you have the best of portability, and you aren't sacrificing features you paid for when you are using the monitor.

Best of luck, and I should say that I think you will be happy with whichever route you go. I don't think there is a "wrong" decision here; maybe one is "better" than the other, but I doubt you will regret either one.
 

JohnRocks

macrumors member
Dec 2, 2010
37
0
The Retina doesn’t even boost the price at all what so ever. It's cheaper than the standard pro with the same features and lacks Retina.
 

Beau10

macrumors 6502a
Apr 6, 2008
728
102
Downtown San Diego
Can I just say... I might be dating myself... but in my day, when I was in college.. you were lucky if your parents bought you a $299 emachine. Today's students got it good.

BTW... back in my day = 2006.
Hah... back in my day ('94) my grandfather bought me a Duo 280c for $3600... that was with the student discount. Add in monitor, dock, keyboard, mouse, etc, and it was a $5k setup. Back then laptops were crazy expensive... Compaq/IBM laptops could cost $8k+, and I believe a maxxed out Blackbird 540c was not too far off.

I only got away with this stuff as he was an engineer who liked to code and was happy that I went to college for computer science.

In any case, my recommendation is to get the Air. Books are heavy, desks are small, etc.
 
Last edited:

schlitter22

macrumors newbie
Jun 12, 2012
18
0
I vote the air. Use the extra money for beer. Trust me, I'm already broke and the term hasn't even ended.
 

Smallville

macrumors regular
Nov 1, 2004
147
0
I'm about to buy a new laptop for college as well. Best Buy has the last model of Airs and Pros on sale. They may not be the latest upgrade, but they're still brand new computers. The 13-inch Pro is $200 off. The 11-inch base Air is under $850. Sounds like a bargain to me.
 

KylePowers

macrumors 68000
Mar 5, 2011
1,688
197
Don't be misled. The 13in Air and the 15in RMBP have the same 'usable' resolution... they're both a 1440x900 workspace, it's just the retina one would be clearer and crisper.

Granted, you can apparently alter that resolution and make it higher, which is nice... but so far I've read about associated lag issues in doing so. Not sure.

Nonetheless, I'd definitely recommend the 13in MBA. Programming isn't very computationally intensive (at least at the collegiate level), so you'll be fine. It's a sweet notebook and I have one myself (EE major, but have taken 4 or 5 CS courses).
 

Logos327

macrumors 6502
Sep 15, 2008
359
0
It looks like I was wrong about 3rd party apps. According to Engadget's review, they currently look "terrible". This doesn't seem like it would be as big of a problem if you were in Bootcamp though.
 

dkersten

macrumors 6502a
Nov 5, 2010
589
2
Unless your going to college for free, get the Air. Besides, your not going to take full advantage of that screen in CS. Maybe if you were in Graphic Design/Photography/Video Editing it would be worth it.
 

JesseW6889

macrumors 6502
Dec 12, 2010
317
0
What you're really asking is... real world vs. trying-to-justify-your-elaborate-laptop-thats-built-for-professionals world.

In the real world, the Air wins hands down, all day long. Not even considering price, I'm just talking about size, weight and portability, which as a college student are HUGE concerns... after a month, you'll want something you can pull out and put away quickly.
 

soulniz

macrumors member
Apr 15, 2012
64
0
How does the new MBA do on games? I know it's not meant for gaming, but every once in a while I like to play some games like WoW, D3 etc. I already have a gaming rig, so I'm not looking for a new one.
I was originally going to buy the MBP 13", but now with the new Retina MBP, it just looks fat and bulky + it didn't get a higher screen resolution, so.
So now I'm thinking of getting either a MBA 13" 256 GB, 8 GB or the MBPR 256 GB, 8 GB - I just can't decide.
 

junkster

macrumors regular
Nov 6, 2006
126
0
If I were in your situation I'd go with either a 13" Air or 13" Pro, because it's going to be more portable and because the Retina Pro is just too flashy a toy to be dragging around college. I'd want something that blends in more, not a theft target.

Also, I'd stick with the base CPU option. Longer battery life and less heat far outweigh unnoticeable performance differences.
 

mtreys

macrumors member
May 22, 2012
94
0
College Station, TX
Having had a 2010 MBP 15" and a 2011 13" MBA over the last year of college I can promise you that the MBA will be better. You might think 2" isn't that much of a difference, but I can promise you that the desks are small and barely provide much room after you have a 13" notebook on it. As others have said, your CS won't be that intensive on your processor so the MBA is absolutely perfect for you. Do get an external monitor and keyboard for long hours of programming once you get further along in your studies though.
 

Belgrano

macrumors member
Jun 23, 2011
45
0
As someone waiting to receive my JD while job searching, I can only offer college students this bit of advice: DON'T SPEND MORE THAN YOU NEED.

My god, the economy is bad. B.A.D. You have to appreciate that every extra dollar you spend now is actually $1.07 with interest, or worse.

RMBP is a tech experiment/ luxury item for employed people with extra $. It's not going to help you get through a BA/BS any better than an Air.
 

idiiamots

macrumors member
Feb 15, 2010
43
2
Seattle, WA
Air + an inexpensive monitor once you figure out how much real estate you like for coding. 256GB SSD might be an overkill unless you're loading the thing with music and movies, but then you're not really getting it for CS work.

I haven't seen Retina Pro in person yet, but 2880x1800 in a 15" screen seems to be too tiny for text. Secondly I am not sure how many, if any at all, IDEs and text editors are currently built for retina. Chances are high you're going to run that machine at lower resolutions scaled up to retina, so you're not gaining anything.

Max out RAM as you're likely to keep around Linux VMs for development. The CPU in Air is plenty fast for compiling, you don't need a quad-core. At least not for the size of projects in CS degrees.

In fact, if I really had $2k to blow on CS setup for college I'd get 13" Air 8GB/128GB and a Thunderbolt/LED Cinema display for dorm room.
 
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