Experience with a MacBook Air

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I have to say, that since the introduction of the MacBook Air I have been intrigued by having a complete work-horse in such a small form factor. Thought, at the introduction the 4GB RAM and 64GB storage was not enough for me to switch. Only until recently when Apple finally upgraded the Air with the option of 8GB RAM and 512GB storage, the thought crossed my mind to look at the Air again.

My work environment

I’m a one-machine guy. I never could get used to having my data on different machines and then sync them up. Even with tools like Google Drive or SugarSync, it just “feels”awkward to have two machines. I also don’t use a external screen. While the real estate might be nice for some, it simply distracts me.

In the past, I’ve always got the most powerful laptop from Apple. The cycle was around every two hours. So, in 2010 I got myself a 15″ MacBook Pro with 8GB RAM and a 1680×1050 matte screen. At that time, SSD wasn’t really an option so I did a SSD upgrade from OWC some time ago. On that matter, if you are thinking if a SSD makes sense, then all I can say is that it was the best investment I’ve ever done. Obviously when Apple introduced the 15” Retina MacBook Pro it was my obvious choice – so I thought.

But before I got any further, I might have to explain what my work setup is and the applications I use, meaning they run in parallel most of the time. These application are what you would call “must have and couldn’t do without”. So, without further due, here we go;

  • Sublime Text 2
    This is my favorite coding editor ever. Nothing beats it. The web is full of people explaining it, so you just have to believe me.
  • Browsers
    I’m doing web development so the natural arsenal of known browsers are open concurrently a lot of time. Google Chrome and Safari for browsing and Firefox, because of the amazing Firebug extension.
  • SourceTree
    This is a GIT client that got recently purchased from Atlassian. Quite advanced and still available for free.
  • Mailplane
    If you are using Google mail you own it to your self to look at Mailplane. It is Goggle mail on steroids.
  • Sequel Pro
    Working with MySQL? Personally, the best MySQL editor there is on the Mac.
  • Terminal / TotalTerminal
    I use the terminal many many times during my day. SSH to other servers, writing and executing scripts and so forth. TotalTerminal gives you your terminal on a hot-key. Very convenient and cool looking 🙂
  • LaunchBar
    I wouldn’t even know how to start any application and get around my Mac without LaunchBar. LaunchBar is much more then just a launcher for application, but you have to give it a try to realize its power. I couldn’t do without it’s Clipboard History!
  • Text Expander
    Another time saving utility. Simply use a shortcut to expand email replies, signatures or any text snippet. Text Expander is a must have.
  • National Velocity
    The most powerful and simplest notes application ever. Best is the automatic encryption and the ability to sync with Simplenote.
  • iTunes
    Yes yes, I know some people don’t like iTunes at all. For me, iTunes has been working perfectly and runs trough my library of 160GB songs flawlessly.

Apart from those above I have a couple of service apps running;

  • LittleSnitch
    Apple has a firewall, but LittleSnitch not only detects incoming but also outgoing requests. In this day and age you never can’t be to secure.
  • Arq
    Yes, Apple has TimeMachine (I use it also), but I also additionally backup every hour to Amazon S3 with Arq. Set and forget.
  • Knox
    FileVault encrypts your whole drive and keeps it open while you work. With Knox you can create encrypt volumes and manage them easily.
  • Fantastical
    Amazing utility giving you fast access to your calendar. After adding an entry with Fantastical you will never do it the “old way”.
  • F.lux
    This nifty little utility dims your screen automatically. Not the same way like Apple does. You have to see it. First you will say “what is going on” but then you go “wow this is incredible”. Do something nice to your exes to day and install F.lux.
  • Memory Clean
    The Memory Clean app does not only monitor your RAM, but also gives you the option to automatically clean memory when it hits a configurable threshold. Actually, Memory Clean is one of the reasons why I can use the Air with 8GB Ram.
  • Skitch
    Still the best screen shot utility, even after they released Skitch 2 and removed many features.

As a developer I additionally run MySQL, MongoDB, Tomcat and the OpenBD/Railo application engine all the time. Given all the listed application and services, my memory usage was close to 7GB or more.

Choosing between the 15″ Retina and the 13* Air

As mentioned above, my obvious choice was to lean towards the 15″ Retina MacBook Pro. After all, it is the obvious upgrade right? 16GB Ram instead of the 8GB Ram, a bigger brighter screen and higher resolution. I mean you can’t beat the Retina display. Actually, apart from the Ram and screen I personally do not see much difference, since my usage is quite developer centric work and applications. Also, since installing “Memory Clean” the RAM usage dropped considerably.

So, I’ve done some thinking. Instead of upgrading, I was actually thinking of “downgrading” and looked how the Air could work out. I searched on the Net for other users and experiences. Most people shared very good experiences. My only concern was the downgrade of the 1680×1050 to the Air’s 1440×900 resolution

So, today after 12 days of using the 13″ MacBook Air as my main machine, it simply works out. I got it with a 2 Ghz i7 CPU, 8GB Ram and a 512GB SSD. All my “fears” of using a smaller screen with a lower resolution have been resolved. Yes, on paper you might think that a 13″ screen with a 1440×900 resolution can not work with your editor, panels and windows. But I have to say that the screen and the resolution is just right for coding.

Text/code in Sublime Text 2 looks brisk, the resolution makes it just right to read enough code at the exact width. The only thing that I have changed in my habit is that I tend to close the side bar now. Other then that, nothing has changed. The same applies to the browser. There is enough room for just about every website. Needless to say that the performance is enough for me. Even converting a large video (something that turns on the fan on most machines) is just smooth on the Air. Many people raved about the battery and all there is left to day that it is just… long lasting.

I have to say that I was sceptic if the 13″ Air will satisfy my work criteria and gave it 14 days (within this time frame I’m also able to return it and get another configuration). Now, I can say that the Air has proven itself and is definitely here to stay. The additional benefit of the Air is the weight. My previous 15″ came in at 2.4Kg, the Air ar 1.3Kg. Since I travel a lot (this year around 80’000 miles) the Air is a great travel companion as well.

The next time, you are in for a new MacBook take a look at the Air. If you are usure, go to an Apple store and play with it for some time. For me, the MacBook Air is definitely one of the best laptops I’ve ever owed.

(I did not get paid to write this blog post nor am I in any relation to any of the mentioned products or Apple. I simply wanted to share my experience)

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