Just Buy It for Her Already!
February 12, 2010 2:02 PM   Subscribe

Should I go ahead and buy my wife a MacBook Air?

We want to get rid of our old desktop (after I finish this year's taxes on it) and I want to replace it with a laptop for my wife (we currently also have an aluminum MacBook).

For better or worse, I want to have an all-Mac house, and since my wife only uses a computer for writing, emailing, and surfing, I figure that she would not miss the superdrive, and would like the lightness of the Air. She loves the illuminated keyboard on the MacBook as well, and that is another reason I would be going with the Air.

I would get a refurb one from Apple and get AppleCare.

For a "light" user, is there a downside to this plan? Also how to distinguish between "generations."
posted by Danf to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The MacRumors buyer's guide suggests waiting as there may be a new model coming out soon (exactly when, who knows).

The Air doesn't have much in the way of ports, and it doesn't have the fastest processor, but for the usage that you describe it really would be a perfect fit.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:06 PM on February 12, 2010

And in those rare cases where an optical drive is needed, a USB Superdrive is available.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:08 PM on February 12, 2010

Best answer: I have one, love it, love how light it is. The things that bother some people...

- no CD/DVD drive at all, meaning any CD-based software install needs to come from your laptop
- minimal ports - I have to carry a USB hub if I want to use ethernet and ... anything else USB at the same time
- small hard drives - me having a MBA basically meant I also needed another machine at home with a big drive to hold all my stuff
- non-expandable - I'd love to have more RAM, I don't.
- speakers are sort of quiet and sound overall seems quiet. I can't listen to anything on it on an airplane, for example.
- buying a whole new set of dongles

Things I'm happy with

- battery life
- lit keyboard
- big bright screen
- feels rugged-ish for me, I toss it in a backpack [in a sleeve] regularly and it's been fine

None of the downsides are huge deals for me, but if any of them is a specific thing your wife has issues with, it's worth checking with her. I think of the MBA as a nice laptop for travellers but too expensive for me personally [work bought it] if I were buying it myself. Can't answer the generations question one way or the other.
posted by jessamyn at 2:08 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: BP, yes. . I have been reading that on MacRumors, but I was going to get a refurb anyway and can't believe that, with DW's usage, it would matter much.
posted by Danf at 2:11 PM on February 12, 2010

When new models come out, the previous generation becomes available more cheaply. Something to think about as well, maybe.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:14 PM on February 12, 2010

I think the fixed 2GB RAM would be the biggest issue for me, and I'm surprised they don't have a 4GB build-to-order option yet. When I had 2GB in my MacBook I'd be paging out (writing memory to the HD which is SLOW). My mom, a very light user, would hit 2GB as well. We've both been happier upgrading to 3+GB. Even if 2GB is enough for her now it's conceivable that in a couple years she'd be wanting more RAM which, of course, will be impossible to upgrade. A distant second consideration is the relatively small HDs.

But the weight is sure appealing compared to the 13" MB/MBP. I guess she needs to look at that. Will she be taking the laptop lots of places? Get the Air. Will she only ever use it at home? Consider whether the tradeoffs and price increase is worth the weight (and thinness).
posted by 6550 at 2:26 PM on February 12, 2010

Best answer: Should I go ahead and buy my wife a MacBook Air?

Most posts here about the macbook air come down to the fact that if one compares a 13" 2.13GHz Macbook Air to a 13" 2.26GHz Macbook Pro, the Air weighs 45% less and costs 50% more.
posted by Mike1024 at 2:46 PM on February 12, 2010

I think the 13" MBP is almost indistinguishable from the Air and runs absolute circles around it. I have an SSD, but even the spinning-disk version would be OK, as would the non-Pro. My older 15" MBP feels like an anchor compared to it. Don't gimp yourself on a deadend product.
posted by kcm at 3:23 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: As you may have seen, I posted a similar question to the green back in September. We did end up getting a MBA for my dad in November, an new-old-stock (NOS) 1.6GHz model with a 64GB SSD, and that's been more than enough for the email and web surfing for which he uses it. It's reasonable fast, very quiet, and very light. There are various deals to be had, both on refurbs and NOS models, so it definitely pays to shop around. We found a good deal from ClubMac.com on a NOS MBA for $1150 (after a $200 rebate from Apple) that also included more free-after-rebate goodies like an all-in-one printer, Parallels 5, and a carrying case. It was literally a deal that was too good to pass up.

Dad uses it for web browsing and email, and it's been great for those tasks. The limited RAM would annoy the hell out of me, but my dad, God bless him, doesn't exactly grok that you can run more than one app at the same time, so whatever. He's been thrilled with it, which makes me thrilled with it. It's a damn sexy machine, too.

Bonus -- more trivia than you wanted to know about the external MBA SuperDrive: There are also deals to be found on refurbed MBA SuperDrives that will save you $30-$50, though it should be noted that the controller circuit board in the MBA SuperDrive identifies it as being a MBA SuperDrive, and the Mac OS has a .kext that only permits this drive to connect to the MBA and MacMini Server. If you get the MBA SuperDrive, it won't work with your other computers unless you do a hardware hack that includes a little soldering. If you do go this route, use this controller board, as it is small enough to use without relocating the timing crystal, making it ideal. OK, I'm through.
posted by mosk at 3:25 PM on February 12, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: If you're getting a refurb, I'd recommend avoiding 1st-generation Airs. I support a handful of Macbook Air users, and the 1st generation Airs tend to exhibit the following problems:

1) The 1st-gen hinges are fragile, and will break over time with nothing more than normal wear and tear.
2) The fan is quite loud, and is prone to come on much more often than in the Macbooks or Macbook Pros.
3) The 1st gen models with 80GB PATA drives are quite slow. The 1st gen 64GB SSD, on the other hand, doesn't offer much room.
4) The 1st and 2nd gen models use an awful little micro-DVI connector for connecting to an external monitor that nothing else seems to use.

The newer 128GB SSD units seem to avoid each of these issues.
posted by eschatfische at 3:53 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

2nding waiting for the new model if you don't need it today - even refurbs are cheaper when new models come out. my $1499 black MacBook was a $1099 refurb when I bought it a week after the aluminum MacBooks came out. you might come out ahead enough to go for the SSD model, which would make paging concerns not so bad (though, to be honest, my MacBook is a 2GB model I never got around to upgrading to 4 - still works great with Snow Leopard).
posted by mrg at 5:06 PM on February 12, 2010

FWIW, a stock low-end iMac + iPad is just $199 more than a MacBook Air. I know it's not what you asked, but I'm considering moving this way in our house under the idea that if you're just browsing the Web or reading email, the iPad might be better, and then you have a more powerful iMac with a nice big screen for doing more involved things.
posted by davextreme at 5:08 PM on February 12, 2010

Nthing getting a 13" MacBook Pro instead, once the new models come out. Absolutely don't get a refurbed Air slower than 2GHz.
posted by nicwolff at 5:16 PM on February 12, 2010

I'm not normally a big fan of small screen laptops - had a 17" 1920x1200 MBP, but the Air is by far my favorite laptop for general use (Have gone through several 15" MBPs and the Macbook as well as a bunch of PC notebooks).

I picked up a refurb 1.8 SSD 1st gen for $1300.

Plenty of speed for everyday use, I do some web dev on it and it is fine also. I would never substitute a Macbook Pro 13 for it. The difference in form factor and weight is well worth it.

I would definitely recommend getting at least the 2nd gen with the Nvidia 9400m. That said, I haven't had any issue with my 1st gen, other than the fan being noticable.
posted by wongcorgi at 7:02 PM on February 12, 2010

I'd suggest the 13" Macbook Pro instead, particularly because it has a real set of ports you can use with normal peripherals, and you can replace its DVDRW drive with a $40 caddy that will hold a second, large HDD or a SSD. The combination of an Intel X25-M 2nd generation 80GB or 160GB for boot/OS + 500GB data drive is unbeatable, and the battery life will still be 4:30.
posted by thewalrus at 3:22 AM on February 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

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