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What's the PC equivalent of the Macbook Air?
September 10, 2011 4:54 AM   Subscribe

What's the PC equivalent of a Macbook Air? I'm looking for a light and powerful computer.

I have an opportunity to purchase computers for a tutoring program that is run for youth living in economically disadvantaged areas and we go into community centers several times a week, so having a solution that is light, portable, and powerful is important as we would have to carry all the computers with us.

I am impressed by how light the Macbook Air is, can anyone recommend an equivalent for PCs for weight and power?
posted by perpetualstroll to Computers & Internet (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Is there a particular reason why you can't just buy Macbook Airs (eg requirement to use Windows-based software)? Do you have a budget per unit to work from? The Samsung 9 looks lovely, but it's also $350 more than the (roughly) equivalent Air.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:11 AM on September 10, 2011

You can run Windows exclusively on a Macbook Air, if desired. Wipe the system and install Windows through bootcamp. It'll run just like any PC laptop. You can even keep the OS X system and dual boot into Windows, or run Windows in a virtual machine within OS X through software.

There is currently no equivalent to the Macbook Air in size, weight, power and price.
posted by qwip at 5:22 AM on September 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

There isn't one. At least, there isn't one that is available for a comparable price. There was a good article last week at ars technica, looking at this and showing how tortuous buying a non-mac laptop can be. As John Gruber has said "How could Dell, for example, possibly copy Apple when they currently classify “Design & Performance” and “Thin & Powerful” as separate laptop categories?"
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 5:25 AM on September 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

There is none that is on par on all levels. The other guys just don't have the manufacturing capacity nor know-how, especially not the battery tech.

Asus EEE machines are small and light though.
posted by krilli at 5:38 AM on September 10, 2011

There's a bunch of so called 'ultrabooks' on the way, such as the Acer Aspire, Asus UX21, Lenovo IdeaPad and Toshiba Portege, which will be similar in specs and price to an Air. Such computers look attractive but are very expensive for their limited specs. Something less trendy but more robust, much cheaper and less liable to be pinched might be more useful in day to day use.
posted by joannemullen at 5:39 AM on September 10, 2011

So you want a MacBook Air, but don't want the MacBook Air? Can you please explain why? The MacBook Air is PC and not only runs Windows, but will run Mac OS X, Linux and a handful of other operating systems, should you, for some reason, be opposed to running the default Mac OS X.

That being said, if you want a MacBook Air, but don't want a MacBook Air because you shun Apple products and wonder why everyone else doesn't own a Zune, then (via daring fireball) I'd say you the MacBook Air clone recently announced by Lenovo, the U300s sounds like a perfectly reasonable imitation of a MacBook Air. It will run Windows, Linux and (if you don't mind breaking some EULAs) Mac OS X. Prices start at $1200.

(It might be helpful if you explain why you like a MacBook Air but what you don't like about it that's making you look for another computer. If you want a MacBook Air, buy a MacBook Air.)
posted by Brian Puccio at 5:45 AM on September 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've had my eye on the Asus UX21 (I'm a little partial to Asus products), especially since the original news was that it would be cheap. Unfortunately the last news I heard is that it is, in fact, going to be expensive when reasonably configured.

It also seems like Asus is moving away from user-serviceable parts (even for basic things like, oh, the battery), which may be an inevitable casualty of being that thin but really sucks. My huge love affair with Asus really started when they still sold a replacement heat sink for a motherboard that was over 7 years old and was encouraged when I was able to directly buy a reasonably priced replacement hinge for a laptop display and do the repair at home. "Can't do anything to it" is one of my major problems with most Apple products, so I'm not at all happy to see Asus jumping on the bandwagon.
posted by anaelith at 6:22 AM on September 10, 2011

There isn't one. And Intel is spending $300 million to try to fix that.
posted by valkyryn at 6:26 AM on September 10, 2011

This week's post on the blue about Macbook air equivalents (or lack thereof, or whatever it was about).
posted by Ahab at 7:04 AM on September 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

In response to some of the questions about why not the Macbook Air - cost is the main consideration. We have a budget of just a few thousand dollars and want to get as many as possible so more students can be online simultaneously.
posted by perpetualstroll at 7:41 AM on September 10, 2011

What kinds of tasks will your students be using the computers for?

If it's mostly surfing the web and word processing, you won't need anywhere near the power of an Air. Your budget will go a lot further buying lower-spec PC laptops (Dell, etc) or secondhand Mac ones.
posted by Georgina at 8:06 AM on September 10, 2011

If cost is the main consideration, then you will have to buy the Macbook Air as the non Apple alternatives are, for the moment, more expensive.
posted by xdvesper at 8:12 AM on September 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

Yeah, the Air is actually the cheapest option in this category. It defies the conventional wisdom, but there you go.
posted by mr_roboto at 9:35 AM on September 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

OK, there's light and then there's Light. Don't be fooled. The 13" Air ($1250 with educational discount) is 3 lbs., while the 13" MacBook Pro ($1100) is 4.5 lbs. You'll pay an enormous premium to save 1.5 lbs. Get some laptop cases, stick them in a rolling suitcase, and I doubt you'd even be able to tell the difference.

Even though the 11" Air is $950, the specs are puny. Half the memory (with no capacity for expansion), one fifth the storage, 40% slower processor. It's not a good value to save $150.

While it's true that the Mac laptops are uniquely well-designed, they're not that much more reliable. Consumer Reports says that Mac laptops require repair about 9% of the time (membership required), while the worst performers need to be fixed 12% of the time. The Mac is less likely to require repair, and easier to maintain for a novice, but I don't think that outweighs the high cost. They are luxury products, no doubt about it.

Especially if you'll be within range of power outlets, the ASUS Eee PC is a good choice and dirt cheap. Kids won't mind a 10" screen. It's only good for web surfing and other similarly low-demand tasks, but it should be plenty.

One suggestion, use external keyboards and mice. That will keep the banging on the laptop itself to a minimum. I would also suggest buying all the same model netbook, so you can regularly re-image. Going back to a known good state is a lot easier than trying to figure out what little Jimmy installed that's causing porn site popups.
posted by wnissen at 9:35 AM on September 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm partial to netbooks with Core processors (not Atom, it's too slow), available in the $300-400 range -- you won't notice a speed difference compared to a Macbook Air, but the build quality and battery life isn't great.

The Dell V131 is very Macbook Air like, and starts at $699. It does not have discrete graphics though.

The Ultrabooks coming out in a couple of months will be essentially identical to Macbook Airs, but also will be in roughly the same price range.

For kids, I'd go for the netbooks. I've been using an Acer 1410t for all my computing for two years now, it's held up beautifully to a hell of a lot of abuse (including getting soaked a couple of times). The battery needs replacement, but of course on a PC you can do it without opening the case (a pet peeve of mine).
posted by miyabo at 9:36 AM on September 10, 2011

Why use laptops if you want to get students online?

You could spec out some low-cost towers and have two or three of them with monitors, keyboards, and mice for the cost of a laptop. And they would be easier to secure since they wouldn't be as easy to walk off with. (Because people will walk off with your laptops.)
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:06 AM on September 10, 2011

You're budgeting in how you're going to store and transport these computers as you drag them from place to place on a daily basis, right? Like a big, expensive pelican case? Once you're throwing two dozen laptops into one of those, saving a pound or two on the weight of the laptop doesn't matter. I wouldn't even bother spending extra money on lighter computers.

Laptops: cheap, light, powerful: pick two.
posted by Brian Puccio at 10:36 AM on September 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thank you everyone for your thoughtful responses. The laptops would mainly be used for web surfing and word processing. The reason it has to be laptops is because we do not have storage space available in the community centers and the sites rotate each day so they have to be portable.

I appreciate the feedback on a getting a Pelican case (or something similar) to store everything.

As well, I should clarify my post - the reason I'm asking for a Macbook Air, but not a Macbook Air is mainly because of cost. I absolutely love how light the Air and how much power is contained within them. Our support workers arrive on the site with a suitcase full of books already and I am concerned that if we purchase 10 laptops that are "regular" weight that it will be way too heavy to carry everything. (In addition to power cords, power bars, etc.)
posted by perpetualstroll at 12:52 PM on September 10, 2011

If you are just doing word processing and web browsing get a netbook. Something like the Asus EEE 1001 like sugested upthread weighs under 3 pounds and will do what you need. They also only cost around 250 bucks. It also only has a 10" screen so it takes up no room. I have had a eee 901 for years and I use it for remote timelapes, art projects etc. Its taken a beating and still looks just fine.
posted by Pink Fuzzy Bunny at 4:20 PM on September 10, 2011

As far as I can tell from reading your question and follow ups, your goals are:

1 :: Get as many students online at once as possible.

2 :: Make it easy to move these machines around.

Where I think the confusion is arising from is that you also say you want something powerful. You don't need powerful for surfing the web and using a word processor. I'm doing that right now on a three-year-old MacBook Pro, and I have open eighty tabs, four other programmes, and am watching a video in the corner in VLC.

The Air is a beautiful piece of equipment, but it's sleek, not rugged. The screen is thin and I imagine it wouldn't hold up well to being tugged around by kids.

For the price of one Air, you can buy four Asus EEE 1001s, so for the price of three Airs, you could buy, say, eight netbooks, hard shell cases for each (the kind you don't take off even when you're using the machine; this will help them stay unbroken around the kids) and a rolly bag with a built-in handle. The 1001 weighs 1.1kg (2.4 pounds) so eight of them plus hard cases and adaptors still isn't going to weigh more than 10-12kg. That's not really much if you're wheeling it along.

Even if the Asus EEE 1001 isn't the machine for you, I would seriously look at the netbook market. Netbooks are light, cheap, and easy to replace. They may best meet your goals within the budget that you have.
posted by Georgina at 12:44 AM on September 11, 2011

What about something from Lenovo? Their laptops are designed to take spills into the keyboard; are their netbooks as sturdy?

Otherwise, this sounds like a non-profit, and I wonder if that qualifies for discounts from various manufacturers and stores.
posted by ZeusHumms at 1:28 AM on September 11, 2011

You have a design problem, and I think where things are breaking down for you is that you are trying to fit your problem around the solution, which you have defined as a Macbook Air.

I've seen 10 good resolutions for this in this post. I only chime in to add my nickel's worth to the process you chose.

On the surface, it looks simple enough, but you've started backwards, AND like many folks who want an invention made, you seem to have set out a pile of specs you want met basically now, for free. I can't count the times I have confronted this. Folks want something that uses X amount of energy, but want a portable solution that costs nothing, lasts forever, has no volume or mass, works perfectly, and fills all their specs to a T. No tradeoffs allowed.
There is only one word I ever found for that, and that word is "magic".

The solution to a self-imposed dilemma like this is more work on your problem definition. You've got to look at the implications of what you are asking for, and identify places where you are able to make tradeoffs, which is what engineering/design is about. The big one that ALWAYS comes up is cost versus features, leading to my conclusion (based on 35 years of doing this) that engineering is more about economics than physics. (Invention, OTOH, is more about physics than economics, IMO.)

In the end analysis, you will have to assess where you get the highest probability of achieving the greatest output, which is an optimization issue. In your case, there are many things influencing this assessment, but it's somewhat clear to me that you are in a low risk situation, and it's largely irrelevant. You have a lot of solution space, since there are no particularly limiting factors. Get familiar with tradeoff as a concept.

Last item, you may want to consider revisiting your constraints. For the level of effort you are going to put into finding a MBA replacement, it might be fruitful to just go get more money and get what you want. Instead of a few grand, you'll need more. Is it worth the cost difference to go chase more money? It affects your solution space when you revisit the constraints, you know.

You may also want to consider leasing MBAs for the period you need.

You may also want to consider buying them, using them, reselling them at the end of the project. They keep their value well; much better than netbooks.

You may also want to consider used MBAs.

(Incidentally, folks recommending Mac+Bootcamp+Windows did not appear to add in the cost of individual Windows licenses for each Mac. Copying is illegal and unethical. Cost of Windows is $100 a seat or so, and has to be added in to allow fair economic comparison.)

Good luck.
posted by FauxScot at 4:20 AM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Cost of Windows is $100 a seat or so
I thought non-profits got tons of super discounted things, including super discounted Windows licenses, but the last time I shopped for software for a non-profit was forever ago.
posted by Brian Puccio at 7:17 AM on September 11, 2011

We get a Volume License deal from Microsoft in my school district but our cost is still over $50 per machine (though I might be confusing Office with XP/Win7 on the cost side).
posted by fenriq at 12:10 PM on September 13, 2011

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