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Should I buy a Mac Book Pro (non-Retina) or 13 inch Mac Book Air?

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ipooedmyself

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I'm debating between a non-Retina 13 Mac Book Pro or a 13 Mac Book Air.

I want a full laptop/desktop *replacement.* A Mac Book Air is not a supplementary device to me, I would use it as my only device.

What I want:
- Battery life.
My current Vaio is pretty good, but battery life is 4 hours or less. I hate having to plug in.

- Light.
My Vaio is 6 pounds. That's heavy to me. I usually work at home, but it's still a bit annoying dragging 6 pounds (plus power cable) around the house. It's heavy to use for hours in a lap, and I hate desks. It runs a bit hot, and it's really just heavy to use as a portable device. I have no muscles.

- Reasonable speed.
I want to at least be able to do light graphic design, web editing, e-mail, YouTube, some Word editing, while streaming Spotify or Netflix, without lagging. (Or running so hot it burns my leg.)
And I want to be able to do this for an entire 8 hour work day if I so choose on battery power alone.

- Quiet.
My Vaio eventually gets hot and the fan is loud... and that really annoys me.

- Apple TV. Fun perk to use my TV as a secondary display.

My current system is a ~2.5 GHz Vaio, 15 inch screen, 600 GB hard drive (that'll be hard to give up for a 128 GB MB Air), Windows 7 (yuck, give me XP anyday in comparison). My Vaio is nice, but runs rather hot (and the fan gets a little loud). The big issue is just that it's heavy (6 pounds) and battery life is a few hours if I'm working (3-4 hours or less). I hate plugging in, and want to be able to work 8 hours on a park bench if I wanted to.

How do you deal with the puny 128 GB hard drive of the Air?
How much of that 128 GB does the OS take up?

Can the Mac Book Air run normal "light" web design and streaming (Spotify/Netflix) apps on battery *quietly* and with 8+ hours of real-world battery life? All the tests and reviews I've read suggest that people get at least 10 hours in real life. Will it really doing what I want?
 
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kornchild2002

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You should get about 8 hours, maybe a little over, of real world usage with a 13" MacBook Air (MBA). It's rated for 10 hours but a good rule of thumb, with Apple notebooks anyways, is to subtract about 1-1.5 hours and that will give you real world conditions. Of course, that also means that the display brightness is set to 50% or below, Bluetooth is turned off, wi-fi is on, etc. Other manufacturers are worse. You normally have to either half their battery numbers or subtract 2-3 hours off of their battery estimates. So an HP notebook rated for 10 hours of use will actually get 5-7 hours of real world usage on a single charge.

As for a general comparison, the 13" MBA is much better than the 13" MacBook Pro (MBP). It is lighter, has a higher resolution display (which is important for web design), has more powerful Intel integrated graphics, is faster out of the box (due to the SSD), has longer battery life, and the CPU performs about the same. Just keep in mind that you can't do a GHz to GHz comparison between Macs or even with your current system. It's all about CPU efficiency and chip architecture. The Intel CPU inside of the MBA is very efficient, it not a full voltage CPU but it can still perform up there with full voltage chips. You won't have any issues running light to medium web design (even complex if you're just working in code or Flash animating), watching Netflix in HD, etc. on the 13" MBA. The only real downside to the MBA is that it can't be upgraded after you buy it. You have to configure the MBA as you want right out of the gate. The MBP can be upgraded with aftermarket parts. You can slap an SSD in it, a higher capacity hard drive (up to 1.5TB), 16GB of RAM, etc.

Still, the MBA is an all-around better machine in every single aspect except for its upgrade capabilities. A 128GB SSD in the MBA, with OS X and all the included apps installed, will give you 108GB of actual usable space. You should get used to working with external hard drive. Copying your iTunes library over to one can free up a lot of space and external hard drives, both portable and desktop models, are pretty inexpensive. However, upgrading to a 256GB SSD only costs $200 more and, when you're already willing to shell out $1000+ for a system, an extra $200 isn't that much and might be worth it since you can't upgrade the SSD down the line. It's either spending the $200 now or selling the unit and buying a whole new notebook later down the line.

You might also want to think about upgrading the RAM to 8GB. 4GB is fine for what you're doing now but it never hurts to have extra RAM. Back when I had my MBA, I was fine with 4GB of RAM but, if I had my MBA now, I would not be OK with 4GB of RAM. Then again, I'm running OS X along with a Windows 7 virtual machine with 3GB of RAM allocated to it, a Windows 8.1 virtual machine with 3GB of RAM, and a Windows XP virtual machine with 1GB of RAM. That's 7GB of RAM that I'm using running these virtual machines. I wasn't doing that type of work when I had my MBA but I am now so I had to upgrade to a 15" MacBook Pro.

It's just something to think about. You might be fine with a 128GB SSD and 4GB of RAM now but who knows 2-3 years from now. It might be worth spending the extra money now (or saving up for it) instead of having to make compromises later down the line.
 

rockmyplimsoul

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I'm a recent convert to a Mac and chose a 13" MBA. Very satisfied and glad I chose it over the MBP/Retina due to the extra battery life and super fast SSD (it boots extremely fast, like 10 seconds). Like kornchild says, my battery life is not as advertised, maybe 7-8 hours of use and only if I'm keeping the brightness down to 50%. From what I read, Mavericks cuts into battery life compared to Mountain Lion, though I don't know any different since I started with Mavericks. Still, my battery life is generally better than the MBP and other laptops, and battery life was a major factor for me. The new form factor of the MBP/Retina is nice, but not quite as slim and light as the MBA, and IMO a Retina display is overkill. I realize that you're considering the standard MBP, which is thicker, heavier, and slower than the Retina version.

As for storage, you can get 256 or even 512GB so you're not saddled to 128 if you can afford more. Plus, there is the auxiliary storage on the MBA where you can add an SD card in the side slot (13" only). I opted for this guy since it is low profile and can leave it installed all the time:

Amazon.com: PNY StorEDGE 128GB Flash Memory Expansion Module (P-MEMEXP128U1-EF): Computers & Accessories

Also, as kornchild mentions ... more RAM is always good, and do keep in mind that other than adding aux storage in the SD slot you cannot upgrade any components once you buy the MBA, so choose wisely Grasshopper.

For what you need, I think the Air will do fine if you opt for more storage if you can afford it, and upgrade the RAM to 8GB. Enjoy!
 

kornchild2002

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Mavericks has actually increased the battery life of MacBooks across the board. It's one of the ways Apple can squeeze out so much from the new 13" MBA. That, combined with Haswell (Intel's architecture for all 2013 MacBooks except the 13" MBP) is the main reason why the 13" MBA can get 8 hours of real world usage on a single charge.

My 2012 15" MBP, which was rated for 7 hours by Apple, went from 5.5 hours of real world usage to nearly 7 (it hovers around 6.5-6.8). The time coalescing, Safari plug-in management (I'm sure Chrome and FireFox offer something similar), app nap, and iTunes efficiency upgrades really do help. Safari automatically disables Flash for me when I'm not plugged in, iTunes now consumes less RAM and vastly less CPU power (it also fully compatible with Intel's IGPs so that they decode all video instead of the CPU), and the app nap feature is automatic and I've used it a lot (especially when my VMs aren't doing anything, they will go into a quasi-suspended state).
 

rockmyplimsoul

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That's good to know korn ... I know what Mavericks was supposed to do for battery life but I was seeing complaints that it actually hurt performance. But, as I've learned in the Apple world there are plenty of nay-sayers that arise out of ignorance and/or anti-Apple sentiments, so perhaps those reports are not so accurate. Bottom line though, I'm happy with the Air (and its battery life).
 

kornchild2002

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I know Lion hurt battery life for MacBooks as it required more resources to run and was actually kinda buggy. Many, including myself, equate that as being Apple's Windows Vista. Mountain Lion helped but really only with more modern systems. Mavericks actually requires less resources to operate smoothly compared to the last two OS X releases and it really excels on Sandy Bridge, Ivy Bridge, and Haswell architectures. The older Core i and Core 2 Duo systems see some battery life benefits but I'm guessing systems that old will be having battery issues not related to the OS but rather the hardware aging (since batteries can go through only so many charge cycles).

I did see complaints when Mavericks first came out but most of those issues could be solved by completely re-installing the OS instead of upgrading. Others were either complaining just to complain or were fake. Mavericks really is the best OS X since Snow Leopard came out and it really pairs nicely with the new Haswell architectures in the 2013 MBA (the 2013 MBP still runs older Ivy Bridge hardware).
 

aprilster

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I did see complaints when Mavericks first came out but most of those issues could be solved by completely re-installing the OS instead of upgrading. Others were either complaining just to complain or were fake. Mavericks really is the best OS X since Snow Leopard came out and it really pairs nicely with the new Haswell architectures in the 2013 MBA (the 2013 MBP still runs older Ivy Bridge hardware).
korn, that seems like a valuable tipp - my (2011) MBpro seems to act up here and there since I upgraded to Mavericks, how do you re-install instead of upgrade? Am I right to assume that this will require me to backup all my files?
 

kornchild2002

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Yes, backup your system with Time Machine and then boot to restoration. You can either boot off of the restoration partition or boot from an online install (go to Apple's OS X support website for directions), reformat the hard drive using the Disk Utility, install OS X. Then, once you've installed, restore your Time Machine backup on your external hard drive. The last step is done through Time Machine while the other steps are all through the recovery partition/online installation.
 

ipooedmyself

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Thanks for all of the info and comparisons. This was really helpful!

I ended up getting an MBP just because of the hard drive and upgrade options.

I kept trying to think of how I could make a 128 GB hard drive on a MBA work, and it just wouldn't. A few web sites I'm developing would take up that much space with dev files and graphic design source files--- let alone actual OS and apps.

I, too, want to run virtual Windows and Linux the more I thought about it, so I needed some space.

I didn't want to have to connect an external USB drive every time I wanted more storage space, or have to buy an SD card, or mess with that stuff.

I might eventually save up for a MBA for a portable system later on.

So far I like the MBP.

It seems a little faster than my Sony. It also runs more quietly which is nice. The MBP is a few pounds less than my Sony, but not as cool and light as the MBA would have been. I like the App Store and backlit keyboard of my MBP. The MBP was, what, 2 or 3 times the price of my Sony, which is crazy. But I almost like it enough to make it worth it. The software really is pretty slick.

I'm getting 5+ hours on the MBP with my "normal" use-- which is good enough for me right now. Sometimes 6+ hours. My Sony now gets maybe 2 hours tops now. I used to have an Acer that was rated for 8 hours. My MBP doesn't get a solid 8 hours, but has gotten about 6-7 hours I think. I can live with that. I at least can sit in the living room and not have to mess with taking the charger in there, or go to Starbucks for more than an hour without the battery going out on me. So, it's a big plus.

My MBP speakers are better than my Sony. My Sony screen is larger-- 15 inches-- while my MBP is just a 13.

I'm using my MBP 13 as a laptop and my Sony 15 as more of a desktop now. I remote desktop into the Sony a lot so I can use both Windows or OS X apps which is nice. The small keyboard on the 13 took some getting used to, and I miss the number keypad on the right side like on my Sony. But, the MBP is a little smaller and lighter with better battery life to make it more portable.

The MBP being able to AirPlay to my Apple TV is a fun plus too. :)
 

tristanpope

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The retina display is clutch for my photography so I went with it. That being said the Air is soooo easy to carry!
 

kareen21

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I suggest 13 Mac Book Air. Compact, lightweight. For processor or other "inside" things i don't worry.
 

Mellencamp

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I give my vote to 13-inch Mac Book Air as well, light weight, convenient to carry :)
 

ProPainter

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Short answer: Air. Nothing you've listed requires the power of the pro and the air is significantly more practical
 
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