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I'm zeroing on buying the 2012 MacBook Air. My usage of the machine will be mostly for development work (MySQL, Eclipse, Xcode, Android, etc.). I will also be running Windows 7 with SQL Server in a virtual box or by using Boot Camp. My question is which upgrade will result in the most bang for the buck: more RAM or a faster processor? Does putting higher memory/processor make the machine run hotter?

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A faster processor does make it run hotter than a slower one, but I don't think it's a significant difference. –  Bart Arondson Jun 29 '12 at 15:28
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RAM - no question –  Jason Jun 29 '12 at 15:54
    
RAM will be missed more in the future than a few megahertz! Getting the most RAM and processor, in that order will make the machine last longer and be more future proof. –  Jarrod Roberson Jun 29 '12 at 15:56
    
I'd go with a fast CPU. When you require more RAM, you can cope with this simply by closing some processes or applications. Are you a multi-tasker? –  gentmatt Jun 29 '12 at 17:29

7 Answers 7

up vote 11 down vote accepted

With all that stuff you're running, you probably won't be happy with 4 GB of RAM. If it's truly an either/or decision, up the RAM unless you know that you won't be paging with only 4 GB.

The processor goes from a 1.8 GHz Core i5 to a 2.0 GHz Core i7. I'm not sure that's all that much of a noticeable increase.

As for temperature, Apple will put in a sufficiency of cooling regardless of the processor you choose. I don't really get why people get freaky about laptop heat output: any heat problem I've ever heard of is due to environmental factors that the user (not the manufacturer) has control over.

All that said, I got a 2012 MacBook Air with 8 GB RAM and the 2.0 GHz Core i7, and I'm super happy with it. It's noticeably faster than my previous, a 2011 Air with 4 GB RAM and the 1.8 GHz Core i7, but I suspect that's mostly the RAM and the better graphics between the 2011 and 2012 models.

tl;dr: probably the RAM, maybe the processor. It all depends on how you're going to use the machine.

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After reading all the comments I agree with your answer. Since upgrades are not possible with Air, i'll probably bump up the CPU as well as RAM, that's 100$ each. I hope that after upgrades the laptop will have enough juice to run for next 4-5 years or more. I don't have any plans to keep on upgrading every few years. –  prashant Jun 29 '12 at 18:34
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RAM > CPU on this disposable machine if you want to place to save money on... Lack of Memory is going to end of life it before lack of CPU power does. –  MrDaniel Jun 29 '12 at 19:25
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Maybe so but this machine is at a disadvantage, for user / developers that need to stay current with what Apple is doing, and in that senario its disposable, the dev user is going to be done with it at alarming speed, the laptop however will not be done with its useable life though... –  MrDaniel Jun 29 '12 at 20:25
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@gentmatt That and USB 3 and one of my coworkers was happy to buy my 2011 Air. Mostly, though, I got bitten by the RDF and had to get the new Air. –  CajunLuke Jul 5 '12 at 18:10
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@gentmatt Also probably placebo effect. It's still got the New Mac Smell, so it has to be faster than all the other Macs, right? –  CajunLuke Jul 5 '12 at 18:19

This is how I think you should consider it:

  • The extra .2 GHz (200,000,000) clock cycles that your CPU will perform every second are only actually useful if they are needed, otherwise they are running idle. You won't notice a difference until the 2 GHz processor starts cranking at about 90%, which would otherwise be the limit of the "slower" 1.8 GHz model.

Percentage wise, the CPU is only an 11% boost noticeable only at very high usages

  • The RAM upgrade, is an extra 4 GB, which will be useful most of the time, especially running VMs, which consume vast amounts of memory. This extra memory will be noticed much more, since it's effect kicks in beyond 50% usage, unlike the 90% CPU usage needed for the CPU upgrade to become advantageous,

Percentage wise, the RAM is a 100% boost noticeable at mid range usage and up.

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This might sound counter productive, but given the non-upgradable nature of the MacBook Air hardware, I would very strongly suggest you save up for a wicked machine that will be future proof. I hope you don't end up in a situation where you regret not spending the extra buck now, but suffer from lower specced hardware for the entire useful life of the MBA.

In my case, I saved 3 years (as a teen) to buy a >$2,000 MacBook, and I'm still using it today, 4 years later, with quite solid hardware.

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The way I look at it is I buy what I think I'll need for 12 months. Macs hold their resale value so well, I can always resell my Mac anywhere from 6 months to 20 months after buying it depending on how fast advances progress. Buying less expensive but more often seems to work very well for most people that don't mind finding a buyer and helping them get started. –  bmike Jun 30 '12 at 22:33
    
Solid idea, but still seems suboptimal, just for opening the box boom 10% value gone lol –  XAleXOwnZX Jun 30 '12 at 23:02

In my experience, I just have the new macbook pro with 8G memory. And I am very happy with it for the development. I am mainly using eclipse, database, listen music and safari for my work and lots of other text editor. And I sometimes checked the memory usage and it seldom has the pageout. So I think you should just upgrade your memory from 4GB to 8GB and that would make you happy.

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Yes, SSD is built in for Macbook AIR. –  Kyleinincubator Jun 30 '12 at 4:50

The following are some stats of my MacBook Pro (4GB RAM, 2.3 GHz i5) right now. I'm using it for similar things you plan to use your Air for. I have a VM with Windows XP open, some Terminal windows, iTunes playing, Xcode, X11 running, and some Finder windows.

The CPU is more or less idle: enter image description here

But check the RAM (yes, I have two 8GB sticks coming for an upgrade to 16GB :P): enter image description here

I think that you can see quite clearly where's the bottleneck.

You should definitely upgrade your RAM.

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Thank you for your answer. –  prashant Jun 29 '12 at 18:34
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Yes upgrade the Ram, the CPU upgrade will not really be worth it... –  MrDaniel Jun 29 '12 at 19:24
    
@prashant: FWIW, I recently got the RAM upgrade for my MacBook Pro, and the speedup was quite phenomenal. –  houbysoft Jul 5 '12 at 21:53

In general - the advice is to spend money on SSD first, then RAM, and lastly the CPU. Most consumers are not CPU bound running simulations or graphics rendering calculations.

The CPU is usually waiting for it's cache to be filled (from RAM) or the RAM to be filled (from storage) so it can idle down and not use the maximum clock speed and be hitting the max thermal generation/power use.

In practice, the CPU/RAM/SSD does not make a measurable difference unless you are running benchmarks that load the CPU/GPU perfectly. In actual use - having more RAM allows many programs to be in memory, so spending your money there might make more sense if you have many programs running at once or do Photoshop/Aperture photo editing of large images.

There are no bad choices in the current Air line - all are ridiculously fast compared to the Pro Macs from a generation back. Heck, my 2011 Air still is fast and responsive even next to the new retina MacBook Pro which has seriously more RAM and CPU/GPU. Yes the new IPS retina display is gorgeous even not considering the resolution, but the 11 inch Air's display is way better than most of remaining line up if you are looking for contrast or color fidelity and doing a lot of code work.

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I see no reason to buy RAM from Apple. After that, decide on the processor you need and get the right model. If you see you are getting many page outs get some memory from Amazon for few bucks.

I can't tell much about the memory temps. I would guess with more memory you get less/no page outs which would probably make it cooler as it will work less but doubt its going to affect overall temps.

CPU temps depends on model and use you got to look that up if its important.

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The OP's talking about the MacBook Air: you cannot upgrade anything, even the RAM, later. –  CajunLuke Jun 29 '12 at 15:53
    
Ah thats selfish lol 100$ for 8gb. anyway –  latusaki Jun 29 '12 at 16:01
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It's not "selfish" of Apple, it's what keeps the Air so thin. Also, last time I bought RAM, an 8 GB stick of laptop memory was ~$130, so this is actually a bargain, comparatively. –  CajunLuke Jun 29 '12 at 16:10
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This answer is misleading - you cannot change RAM on an Air without also exchanging the CPU/GPU/logic board. –  bmike Jun 29 '12 at 16:36
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No - Moderator wise, we try to be open to all points of view and depend on votes and comments to explain how one might disagree with the factual correctness or incorrectness. Luckly anyone can edit things if needed. I was tempted to edit out the second half about not knowing the answer that was asked so this borders on not an answer of the question asked, but I wanted to be moderate in getting rid of it entirely at this point. –  bmike Jun 29 '12 at 16:54

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