For the past three years, I have been using a 15 inch MacBook Pro as my main computer. And while I have used it on the occasional trip to a coffee shop, I prefer, and usually use my iPad 2 for web browsing when I’m on the go. As a result, my MacBook Pro has been used primarily at home. That is, until I started blogging.
While the MacBook Pro is not the heaviest 15-inch laptop on the market, at 5.6 pounds, it’s not light. My daily routine includes a trip to my local Starbucks, where I spend the morning working. I usually take a break around 12 noon and walk to a nearby park for lunch. I spend the rest of the day usually at another coffee shop, or head out to meetings or appointments.
I have also been doing some travelling over the past few months and I usually have my iPad 2 and my Canon DSLR (plus lenses) in my laptop bag. With all of these and an almost 6-pound laptop to carry around, weight became an issue, so I began to look at the 2011 MacBook Airs.
I began my research by reading reviews of the MacBook Air on Engadget, The Verge and Tech Crunch. I was interested in the battery performance, SSD (Solid-State Drive) read/ write speeds and the performance differences between the stock 1.7GHz Intel Core i5 and the optional 1.8GHz Intel Core i7. I also wanted to know how people were dealing with the paltry storage allotment.
I have looked at benchmark numbers for both processors, and while there are performance differences between the two processors, I am tempted to think that in everyday usage, the difference will be negligible, if noticeable at all. Another point regarding the optional 1.8GHz Intel Core i7 processor, Apple requires the selection of the 256 GB SSD before you can opt for the Core i7 processor. The bump from the stock 128 GB SSD to the 256 GB SSD is $300. And although the 1.8GHz Intel Core i7 is only $100 more, the requirement of the “optional” 256 GB SSD makes the i7 option $400.
I would prefer the extra power of the 1.8GHz Intel Core i7 processor, but I’m having a hard time justifying the $300 price for the additional 128 GB of SSD. The SSD pricing is not entirely Apple’s fault. Currently, SSD is more expensive than a traditional spinning hard drive. So while the 256 GB SSD option on the 13-inch MacBook Air commands an additional $300, it is $500 on the 15-inch MacBook Pro.
I am used to having a lot of space on my laptop. My MacBook Pro shipped with a 320 GB hard drive. I later swapped that out for a faster 500 GB hard drive. This was necessary, as I was running out of space. Final Cut Pro 7 alone took 50 GB of space. So having to downsize to a 128 GB drive is a scary thought. The bulk of my laptop’s hard drive is used for media. At my last tally, over 300 GB of disk space was being used by iTunes. Photos make up 20 GB, and OS X apps take over 70GB.
I could carry an external hard drive, but that would defeat the whole point and purpose of getting an ultra-light laptop. I could also offload some of these files to a thumb drive, but the biggest thumb drive I own is 32 GB. And at an average price of $200 for a 128 GB USB thumb drive, I would be better off paying the $300 to upgrade to the 256 GB SSD from Apple. It is a more elegant solution, and it cannot be lost or broken by accident. I could use an SD card, but the same rules from the thumb drive apply.
I also thought about keeping only the essential files on the laptop, and then keeping the rest of my files on my desktop computer, which has a 1 TB hard drive, or on my 20 TB server. Problem is, I tried this in the past with the original 320 GB hard drive in my MacBook Pro, and it did not work. Managing files on multiple computers is a nightmare. Remembering where what is stored is not fun. One time, I found myself stuck in an airport in San Francisco looking on my MacBook Pro for files that were on my Mac Mini. Not fun.
Another alternative is cloud storage. I could store my photos and documents in my Amazon cloud drive, on box.net, or in Dropbox. I also have 5 GB on iCloud. Cloud storage however, requires a ubiquitous Internet connection. Not only that, cloud storage poses so many syncing challenges. I signed up for iTunes Match, Apple’s iTunes-in-the-Cloud service. But like all the other cloud storage options, persistent Internet connection is required to access your data. And as of today, iTunes Match only works with music. Hopefully in the near-future, video support will be added.
I could supplement the movies and TV shows (all videos) with Netflix and a host of other streaming options, but here too, an Internet connection is required. In a major city like New York City, Wi-Fi is almost everywhere. But it’s not ubiquitous enough to make data retrieval seamless. Having local storage is preferred.
I may unfortunately have to go for the Core i5 processor, but I am hopeful that in the next few years, Intel’s Ivy Bridge, and potentially, Haswell processors will be used in future MacBook Airs. According to Intel, these processors will be faster than the Sandy Bridge processors we have today. They will also have better GPU, and offer better battery performance.
With the MacBook Air, the priorities were weight, thinness, portability and battery life. These priorities led to the elimination of USB, FireWire, Ethernet ports, and the disc drive. It also meant the use of SSD. However, the inclusion of the Thunderbolt port on the 2011 MacBook Air should alleviate the I/O issue.
It is obvious that I require more than 256 GB of space, the maximum disk space offered on a MacBook Air. So my choices are a MacBook Pro with a traditional hard drive, or the same MacBook Pro, but with a 512 GB SSD drive at a face-melting price of $1100 on top of the standard configuration.
I could also wait for the rumored 15-inch MacBook Pro that will look like the MacBook Air and have many of its attributes. This 15-inch MacBook Air will likely have a more powerful processor, a larger SSD drive, a FireWire port and maybe a USB 3.0 port. But as inevitable as this machine may be, no such MacBook Pro exists – not today. I therefore cannot make purchase decisions based on rumors.
Let me know what you think, or what you recommend I do.