Too many apples on the tree to choose from!
November 1, 2010 1:03 PM   Subscribe

Yet another what-laptop-should-I-buy question. More details inside.

So, I'm thinking of getting a Mac, specifically a laptop.

I already have a Windows laptop that stays on my desk, but it's too big to carry around and I want something more portable for mobile computing.

I'm pretty well-versed with Windows machines, and I'm not looking for recommendations for one here. I'm interested in Macs for the purposes of this question.

The nature of the work that I will be doing on the Mac would primarily be web surfing, and using Excel and Word. No heavy data crunching, video editing, photo editing, etc. So, I think the horsepower requirements are relatively small.

So, some questions:

1) How much RAM would I need
2) What processor would I need
3) What sized hard drive should I get?

The way I see it, it's a tossup between a Mac book Air (lightweight and relatively powerful) and a Mac book pro (more powerful but heavier yet still portable).

I'm not interested in running Windows or Linux on this machine. Just the latest Apple OS plus web browsers with a couple of dozen tabs open, and the occasional Word and/or Excel document.

Thanks for your thoughts
posted by dfriedman to Computers & Internet (13 answers total)
I would get the Air, max out RAM, and then just get the 64GB and 1.4Ghz options. From the sounds of things you don't need a huge amount of power or space, but it's always good to have tons of RAM to make things snappy.
posted by djgh at 1:09 PM on November 1, 2010

The Macbook Pro would be overkill. Get the Air. It's powerful and ultra portable.
posted by alligatorman at 1:28 PM on November 1, 2010

Seconding djgh. The MacBook Air is small, lightweight. Get 4GB RAM, which is the max, 64GB hard drive, 1.4GHz processor. If the hard drive seems too small, consider getting an external hard drive as a secondary. The SSD drive that is in the MacBook is going to make the machine run fairly fast.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 1:40 PM on November 1, 2010

If your primary concerns are portability, a MacBook Air is the best choice. I'd go check them out in person and see if you prefer the 11" or 13" model. Neither the RAM nor the hard drive are user replaceable, so it behooves you to get the most possible of each that you can afford. (The RAM is more important--definitely upgrade to 4 GB.) The difference in processor speeds between models is pretty meaningless as far as your use is concerned.
posted by cosmic osmo at 1:59 PM on November 1, 2010

Have you considered the a refurb or used previous gen air? You can get the 13" 1.86/2GB for $850 refurb and even less used.
posted by wongcorgi at 2:13 PM on November 1, 2010

[few comments removed - answer the question or send MeMail with derailing fight starters, thanks.]
posted by jessamyn at 2:24 PM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just one comment regarding using excel/word on a mac - they are quite different when compared to the windows version, and in my opinion, not as good. One of the reasons I have a windows virtual machine on my mac is for excel.

Regarding the hard-drives, it's cheaper to replace the macbook pro hard-drive using a non-apple source (not sure about the air).
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 3:55 PM on November 1, 2010

I have a 15" Macbook Pro with 4GB memory and it is generally enough memory to do everything you describe and more. Not so much Photoshop or Illustrator or things where data files are multi-megabyte though. So I would say that whatever model you decide on, 4GB RAM is probably enough.
posted by GuyZero at 4:08 PM on November 1, 2010

Have you considered the a refurb or used previous gen air?

I had an old Air and just got a new one. The new ones have much more stable hinges and two USB ports, one on each side. They also have different DVI ports. If money isn't a terrible concern, I'd get whichever size new air you want, max out the RAM to 4GB and get AppleCare since if something does go wrong you really can't fix it yourself.
posted by jessamyn at 5:49 PM on November 1, 2010

I would recommend the 13.3 Air with the RAM and hard drive maxed out. The upgraded specs improve performance. If you're not doing media work, the MBP models are overkill. Hope this helps.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:55 PM on November 1, 2010

get AppleCare since if something does go wrong you really can't fix it yourself

IFixit.com may help improve this situation; some are already upgrading the innards with success. But AppleCare is a really good idea in general, and will be cheaper for the Air.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:58 PM on November 1, 2010

I am extremely happy with my MacBook Pro 13" with 4gb of RAM. I think you could get by with a MacBook Air given what you describe, but I would recommend going for 4gb of RAM. Apparently on the MacBook Air its now something you can't upgrade aftermarket if you decide to later, and it does a lot to make the computer feel snappier.
The Air is VERY portable. However, if you want to save a little money, want a faster machine, and don't mind carrying around an extra 2 lbs or so, you should consider the MacBook Pro 13". It's a great little machine, and I've used it from everything from basic web surfing and mobile work all the way up to playing Left 4 Dead 2 on Steam.
Disclosure: I work for Apple.
posted by raygan at 7:09 PM on November 1, 2010

One advantage the 13" Air has over the 13" Pro is a higher resolution screen (the 13" Air has the same resolution as the 15" Pro). This makes everything a little sharper and crisper, albeit smaller. Yeah, the higher resolution screen will probably make it to the 13" Pro at some point but it's not an option today.

The other advantage the Air has is the standard solid state drive (a $350+ option in the Pro). For disk bound tasks the SSD far outperforms the older tech spinning platter HDs. This is why the Air boots quickly, launches applications quickly, sleeps/wakes fast, and why even the 11" Air with the slow 1.4GHz processor has adequate performance on benchmark tests.

I think the Air makes more sense, especially since you already have a laptop you find too big to carry around. The choice between the 11" and 13" models is somewhat subjective. Personally, the smaller footprint of the 11" is more desirable to me, and is the model I'd buy today if I were replacing my own MB. The 13" has the same footprint as the 13" Pro, even if it is thin and light, and some of the same limitations (like being difficult to use in an economy class seat when the guy in front of you has leaned his seat back). I'd happily trade off the lower performance of the 11" for the overall reduction in size but, as always, YMMV.

Nthing the recommendation for 4GB RAM if you go with the Air.
posted by 6550 at 9:04 PM on November 1, 2010

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