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I am an indie game developer. I am in love with the Mackbook Air [13 inch], and want to buy it. I was wondering:

  • Will I miss the DVD drive, and upgradability if I am choosing a Macbook Air over Macbook Pro or a Thinkpad Machine?

  • Is the form factor and battery backup time worth the choice?

  • Is it good for iPhone/Android Development?

  • Will I be able to run my favorite open-source tools from Ubuntu, like GIMP/Blender etc.? If not, will I be able to dual boot Ubuntu? (I know I can do Windows)

[PS: Please don't suggest me the new Macbook Pro Retina, as it is quite an investment to afford. And, I am very new to the Mac world. :-) ]

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Thanks Guys! Its my first question on Ask Different, and I already got the reputation to vote up! :-) Love Apple and the Community! Cheers!! –  Hari Krishna Ganji Jun 21 '12 at 9:35
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Just a note - generally this sort of question is closed as not constructive. There is some good information here - so try to keep it objective and narrow and focused on explaining why so the community will be inclined to keep it around. –  bmike Jun 21 '12 at 15:07
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Get the new macbook air WITH 8GB RAM... the rest is not that important. –  unmircea Jun 21 '12 at 18:04
    
@bmike: Sorry, I understand that the question above is a little subjective. But, I am sure this is a genuine dilemma for many developers, and it may benefit people like me to make a choice. I now know exactly what device I will choose and why. I thank the community for giving me the answers I really needed. Cheers! –  Hari Krishna Ganji Jun 22 '12 at 5:01
    
I think, rather than just the difference in Hardware and Size (That's all above), there is also difference in the comfortability. The most noticeable one is back pain ;) –  Dark Cloud Jun 22 '12 at 6:47
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closed as off topic by bmike May 3 '13 at 17:56

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7 Answers

up vote 16 down vote accepted

You'll do just fine with a MacBook Air, at least, that's what I'd go for (and I'm in love with the Air as well :))

I will miss the DVD drive, and upgrade ability if I am choosing a Macbook Air over Macbook Pro or a Thinkpad Machine?

Who uses a drive more then 2 times a year these days? I don't and I think most of the Mac users don't. And if you really need one, you can try Apple's USB Superdrive or if you don't want to pay, you can try the DVD and CD sharing within Mac OS X.

Is the form factor and backup time, worth the choice?

It's the smallest notebook of the two (MacBook Air vs. MacBook Pro), so form factor will do just fine. About the back-up time, I'm not sure what you mean, but as it's all Flash storage inside, reading and writing to the hard drive will go extremely fast.

Is it good for iPhone/Android Development?

Yep. It's full size keyboard and gorgeous screen will allow you to do everything you can on a MacBook Pro, but you'll have a lighter and smaller notebook.

Will I be able to run my favorite Open Source tools from Ubuntu, like GIMP/Blender etc.,? If not will I be able to dual boot Ubuntu? (I know I can do Windows)

You'll be able to dual boot Ubuntu without any hassle. Here is a good tutorial how to install it using a Flash drive

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SuperDrive is beautiful but you can have another Drive for half price (samsung, lg…). A lot of Linux Guru uses Mac hardware. Gimp, Blender and more are available for Mac OS X ! –  benoît Jun 21 '12 at 7:13
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Sure you can, but since he's this much in love with the Air, I thought I would like to keep the same design over his products :) –  Michiel Jun 21 '12 at 7:16
    
Yes but a inspired design like « Samsung Ultra-Slim External DVD Writer SE-S084D/TSWS » is not so bad. –  benoît Jun 21 '12 at 7:33
    
Thanks a lot @Michiel! I think you have answered everything I needed to know! About the backup-time, I meant Battery Backup in hrs. I think I will go ahead and buy the 13 inch Air. I wish I could Vote Up your answer, not enough privilages. :-) Cheers! –  Hari Krishna Ganji Jun 21 '12 at 7:42
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Now you have ;-) The new 13" Air is an excellent choise :-) I hope you'll it as much as I do :) if you have any further questions, please don't hesitate to ask them! Enjoy your Air! –  Michiel Jun 21 '12 at 9:49
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I was looking at going the rMBP 15, but by time I had done the ideal tweaks it was getting expensive. I then looked at the MBA 13 with i7, 8gb RAM and the Thunderbolt 27 display, all up about $3k, still cheaper than a rMBA. This also means if I do upgrade in the future I still have the lovely display on hand. I highly recommend this method as you have great real estate when you are in desk mode and the terrific flexibility of mobility. The 13 MBA has tolerable real estate for VS2010 projects. I do hear the rMBA is on the cards but the text will likely be far to small.

Developing on the MBA is good, and I feel it is pretty bad to make comparisons to my Xeon Workstation at work as this is really the ducks nuts, but the MBA keeps up. I found that booting into windows rather than using the virtual environment is best all round, especially if there's nothing in osx you don't need - as is my case. Please be gentle, but I develope mostly in the fledging Silverlight enviroment and the current project is huge (deal with 14 svc's and 6 separate DB instances in one project). The MBA doesn't handle the SQL DBS due to disk size limits, so deploying a DB to a server rather than local host is a must,for me. Typically I'll only do less intensive development on more serious projects and clean/tweak designs and GUIs. VS plugins slow things down a fraction too, but the 8gb memory makes the difference. When in debug mode the process can typically consume 2gb and saturate the processor (Fourier algorithms for medical image processing is the culprit) but I find it doesn't heat up at all, perhaps flash is to blame?! I also have another SL5 project that is small-medium in size that runs just as it was a work station, and easily suitable in VMWare with 4gb assigned.

XCode is fine. I attempted to do a mobile interface for some aspects of the same project and was suitably impressed.

There are two pricks for me, 1, is the SSD space and cost and 2, adjusting to the keyboard was the thorn as this was my first foray into Mac, but using something constructed so well, that feels so nice was the rose. Being flexible and adapting to how you work a little will make something likes this a great buy!

Good Luck

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Why choose the Macbook Air?

  1. Fast flash memory. (short boot time, support for Power Nap1,...)
  2. Slightly higher pixel density: 127 ppi vs2 113 ppi
  3. Less weight, smaller dimensions.

Why not?

  1. Better color space coverage3 of the Macbook Pro display panel (78%-100% vs 56%-79%).

    I personally made the switch from a 15" MBP (2011) to a 13" MBA (2012) and I find the difference quite significant. Overall the colors on the Air are more whitish which I could not 'fix' using a custom color profile. The black on the MBP is darker. Both of my MBP and my MBA have (had) a LG display panel.

  2. Setting up install USBs for Linux distros is still troublesome on Macs.

    In fact, I've experienced that the official Ubuntu guidelines4 don't work for most people. The optical drive will avoid much pain when setting up Linux distros.

  3. More disk space, which is also user serviceable.

  4. Weaker CPU.

  5. Weaker graphics.

    Yes, both the 13" MBA and 13" MBP run on Intel HD 4000 graphics, but in the MBP these run at higher clocks: 350-1150 MHz on a 1440x900 display vs 650-1250 MHz on a 1280x800 display.

  6. Less RAM for the same price.

    The high-end option of the MBP provides 8GB of RAM at the same price. You can even upgrade the RAM to more than 8GB which MBA can't.

  7. Ports and other things...

    Ethernet port, Audio with subwoofer, Kensington lock slot, SDXC card slot, Firewire
    (I know, most people don't need all of these...)

A personal suggestion...

In case you are willing to spend $1,499, you could get the $1,199 Macbook Pro 13" and upgrade to a SSD with the money that you got left - you can get one that's faster than the Macbook Air OEM SSD.

Such a solution could be just as costly as similar configured the 13" Macbook Air, but you get a faster CPU to take advantage of the SSD and more powerful graphics.

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I had a 13" MBP at work and it was not comparable to the MBA. The difference in screen resolution isn't huge but on the MBP is makes using multiple views in Xcode a painful experience while on the MBA it remains decent. This alone is enough to skip the 13" MBP and go straight for the 15" MBP or the 13" MBA (which has the 15" MBP's resolution). –  Coyote Jun 22 '12 at 7:20
    
@Coyote The only reason why we keep having this discussion is that the MBA has a SSD as a default configuration an is therefore perceived as faster. If you disregard the skinnier body, the MBP is superior in every other aspect. It would be much more attractive to Pro customers, if Apple offered higher screen resolutions to the 13" MBP. 1280x800 for a $1499 pro just seems unreasonable to me. If I really need the 1440x900 real screen estate, I'd take the 15" MBP instead because the 13" notebooks are not as comfortable to work with for me. You keep moving your head downward and crank your back. –  gentmatt Jun 22 '12 at 7:25
    
Additionally the comfort of having a much lighter computer and much... much less glare on the MBA than on the 13" MBP is another factor which would make me simply recommend against the 13" MBP. It's a bad compromise between the 13" MBA and the 15" MBP with few advantages (processor, replaceable RAM and HDD) but nearly all the downsides (no discrete graphics, heavier, low res screen, screen glare, runs hotter, noisier...) –  Coyote Jun 22 '12 at 7:31
    
@Coyote That's interesting! I've read mixed review about the screen glare. The MBA really has a lower screen quality - especially regarding color representation, which matters for photographers. However, I've also read that the screen glare is worse in the MBA - not the other way around. Because of the inconsistent reviews, I left that aspect out of my answer. –  gentmatt Jun 22 '12 at 7:37
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@Coyote Believe it or not, but I just made the switch from a 15" MBP (2011) to a 13" MBA (2012). The screen on the Macbook Air is less reflective due to the lack of a glass panel. However, the color representation on the MBP was significantly better if I may say so. Colors on the MBP were more vibrant and the black was more black. The Macbook Air's display was in general a bit more whitish which I could not fix using a custom color profile. Both of the display panels were made by LG. –  gentmatt Dec 6 '12 at 18:07
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Many iPhone developers have developed many apps on MacBook Airs, even MBA 11s. There were tons of MBA's seen in use at last weeks WWDC conference. It would not surprise me if tons of MBAs were seen at next weeks GoogleIO developer conference. So in the normal case, you will likely miss nothing (unless your vision requires a larger display or your apps require a massive amount of video content and editing, etc.). You can borrow a desktop system to copy data from DVD's to an MBA. I upgraded the SSD on my earlier model MBA, no problem. Get the max RAM you can afford, as that is non-upgradable.

Unless you like being stuck at a desk, an MBA is a great choice. Perfect for coding on the train or short flights.

But having a large external monitor when at ones office desk helps greatly with proper ergonometrics.

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Michiel's answer is quite complete but I think I can contribute a bit more as I'm in a situation similar to yours. I come from series of DELL and Compaq workstations, I switched to the Mac about 10 years ago for work and at home. Now I work on both, a 2010 MBA and old (circa 2008) MBP.

Here is my experience relative to your questions:

  • Will I miss the DVD drive, and upgrade ability if I am choosing a Macbook Air over Macbook Pro or a Thinkpad Machine?

Concerning the DVD drive probably not. I haven't used one in 2 years (the one on my MBP broke in 2010). I mostly use the MBA on the go... with the usual dev tools you won't need the drive. With my git repo and redmine for task management I have no problem with sharing data and projects between the computers. When it comes to quick backups I have a stack of USB keys and a NAS for Time Machine. When it comes to DVDs and CDs, rip them and you don't have to deal with the plastic relics anymore.

Concerning the upgrades, yes you will probably "miss" them. You can only upgrade the flash storage on the MBA... The 2010 MBA I use is just enough for Xcode, iPhone simulator, Eclipse, Android emulator and LAMP. If you buy a new one take the 8GB of RAM upgrade as the RAM is soldered to the motherboard. The 4GB will be your first and most limiting bottleneck.

But missing the upgrade ability is not the same as really needing it. So it's up to you.

  • Is the form factor and battery backup time, worth the choice?

Yes & yes. It's genuinely the best thing. Not having to cary an entire desk with you (computer, power supply, cables and stuff) when you have to leave the home/office for a few hours is a relief. Carrying the MBA is equivalent to carrying a magazine (that you can't roll). Put it in a bag or a briefcase and you don't even notice it's there. Also not the least important factor, when you use it outside of the usual desk setup (on the couch, in the train, on the plane, waiting for the boarding...) it's extremely comfortable and light.

  • Is it good for iPhone/Android Development?

As good as any equivalent computer. The mid 2012 MBA is really good. Mind that you can't do native iPhone dev on a non Apple computer, well... You can go the hackintosh way, but boy, it can be a pain in the %$$ when an update breaks the compatibility with your hardware.

  • Will I be able to run my favorite open-source tools from Ubuntu, like GIMP/Blender etc.,? If not will I be able to dual boot Ubuntu? (I know I can do Windows)

Yes, most of the tools (when not distributed as apps) compile on OS X. Also have a look at the multiple open source distributions systems: MacPort, fink, homebrew, rudix. Check each of your tools as there is no general rule.

If you can't run your tools natively you can always use a VM: VirtualBox, VMWare Fusion, Parallels Desktop or dual boot to any OS you like.


Concerning other aspects of the MBA the screen is very good. I was worried it would be too small, but when my MBP failed I switched to my wife's MBA and got used to it in a mater of days.

The flash storage is great, hard drive intensive tasks are improved, boot time is very short (but that's tertiary as I reboot only once per a month at most).

Grab an external Ethernet adapter. For initial/full backups over LAN and in other situations it will be very useful.

You don't need a mouse. Contrarily to all the laptop PCs I owned, the mac has a truly unrivaled trackpad. It's so good I never cary a mouse with me. It seems like a secondary feature but wait until you get used to it and all the gestures...


My MBP is fixed now, and my wife reclaimed her MBA otherwise I would still be using it instead of my MBP.

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Thanks for all the detailed insight @Coyete. I am even more confident now that I wont regret my decision on buying a Macbook Air. And thanks for the additional tips! Gave you a vote up, already. Cheers! –  Hari Krishna Ganji Jun 21 '12 at 13:04
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Note that you can upgrade the flash storage on the Air, but it'll void your warranty. –  CajunLuke Jun 21 '12 at 13:57
    
@HariKrishnaGanji : How was you experience with the MBA? Satisfied? Moved to something else? –  Coyote Dec 4 '13 at 23:15
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That depends all on you, what is your answer to:

  • Can I live with the smaller screen?
  • Can I live with the slower hardware?
  • Do I need the degree of portability

If you can answer yes to all these then go for an MBA else if you can't answer yes to both of the first go for an MBP

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Okay, so... let me start from the bottom. - Do I need the degree of portability? - YES - Can I live with the slower hardware? - [I know I am okay with the hardware its got] - Can I live with the smaller screen? - What!! hold on.. Do you mean the Mackbook air doesn't have a a good screen resolution? [I am referring to the 13 inch air vs 13 inch pro!] Thanks! –  Hari Krishna Ganji Jun 21 '12 at 7:57
    
Nope, the new 13" Air has a better resolution (1440x900) then the new 13" MacBook Pro (1280x800) –  Michiel Jun 21 '12 at 8:34
    
Phew... Thanks! –  Hari Krishna Ganji Jun 21 '12 at 9:36
    
Sorry I was a split second to fast did not see that refered to the 13" MBP –  Lars Nielsen Jun 21 '12 at 10:17
    
@LarsNielsen : Well, I added it after you post your answer! :-D –  Hari Krishna Ganji Jun 21 '12 at 10:31
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It's a good question. I preffer to work on MBP, because it's bigger(display) and faster, and MBA is better for surfing, reading or watching a movie in a train/airplain. The display of MBA is too small for development.
Both of the macbooks have the same OS, that means when you can run a program on MBP, you can also do it on MBA.
If you will miss the DVD - only you can say it. Since 2 years I'm having MBP and I have used the DVD-drive only once :)
My advice : if you want to work with the macbook, you need the MBP

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Thanks @Dirty-flow. I understand the benefits of choosing a Macbook Pro. My major requirement was the form factor. I usually carry my bag full with a DSLR, and a set of 3 bulky lenses. So, I thought the Air will be perfect to carry around. I was just not sure what I will miss. :-) And thanks for that points about DVD, which I totally agree! –  Hari Krishna Ganji Jun 21 '12 at 7:49
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