Picking between two Macs - epitome of first world problems.
December 19, 2011 9:21 PM   Subscribe

Do I want an May 2010 MacBook Pro or a new MacBook Air?

I'm the luckiest! My mother and her partner, for Christmas, have given me two options. One is ownership of his "old" MacBook Pro which as far as I can tell is: 15' display, 500gig hard drive, immaculately cared for. Not using Lion, but that's easy to update if I want to. The other is a new MacBook Air (or any $1200ish Mac laptop).

I am currently using a 4.5 year old MacBook, that overheats, has a cracked rim, but is generally too faithful to die completely so I have been putting off getting a new one.

I am a grad student. I write, fairly regularly. I use the internet, quite a bit. I stream tv and music (netflix, 8tracks), use iTunes, torrent music. I keep my photos on my computer, Skype, and play a lot of Freecell. I have no idea which laptop would be better for me!! Would one be a more student-y computer? Is one far superior to the other?

Also, any tips on how to prepare to transfer my whole life to a new computer (itunes?) appreciated. I realize how lucky I am for such a nice Christmas present, I just want to make the most logical choice here :)
posted by hepta to Technology (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The transfer part is the easiest: Mac Migration Assistant.

Either machine would be fine, your use is not demanding, except for writing, which would tend to point toward a larger screen. The $1250 13" Air is only worth the premium over the much faster $1100 13" MacBook Pro if you're really concerned with portability or performing tasks that really stress the disk instead of the processor. If you have lots of photos, the new Macbook Pro is the way to go, and it comes with a 500GB drive instead of 128GB for the Air.

The only exception to this is if "old" for the used MacBook Pro means April 2010 or later because then it might be a pretty boss machine with up-to-date processors. Just for future proofing, I would strongly recommend avoiding anything with a Core 2 Duo processor in it, as support for those won't last nearly as long as the current generation of i3, i5, i7, etc. "Sandy Bridge" processors.
posted by wnissen at 9:33 PM on December 19, 2011

Get the Air, get icloud and itunes match set up first so you can keep all your stuff.

If you can set up time machine, do that, too...
posted by empath at 9:34 PM on December 19, 2011

MacBook Airs are the thing everyone loves, as long as they don't love DVDs or CDs.

Transferring from old to new is dead simple. Just use the Migration Assistant - it actually works. I was actually a little weirded out by how well and painlessly it worked.
posted by pmb at 9:34 PM on December 19, 2011

Get the Air and keep the Solid State Drive light (don't fill it) and I think you'll enjoy the perks of its lightweight design and form factor for your lifestyle. Were your requirements more processor intensive I'd ask more detail into the MacBook Pro, but the Air will do everything you want and then some.
posted by straight_razor at 9:34 PM on December 19, 2011

Air, Air, Air. For the added longevity, the added portability, and the (probably upgraded) processor.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:38 PM on December 19, 2011

I've got a macbook pro and an Air... go with the air... no doubt about it.
posted by tomswift at 9:40 PM on December 19, 2011

Get the Air. Much, much nicer to move around, nearly as fast, and way more student-y, as you put it. Damn near the ideal grad student machine. Data capacity could eventually be an issue, but probably won't be unless your music library is quite large.
posted by pts at 9:50 PM on December 19, 2011

Response by poster: Not to threadsit, but before I disappear for the evening: I have ~28 gigs of music, and a barely-filled 1-terabyte external hard drive, which seems excessive.

However, when I look at the data on my hard drive now it says I have used 287 gigs of hard drive, which also seems ridiculous. I am not the most conscientious or knowledgeable computer user, however.
posted by hepta at 9:56 PM on December 19, 2011

A caveat to remember with the Air: it's a fairly high-resolution fine pitch display (1440x900? for the 13"), and Apple still don't do resolution-independence properly (or, indeed, at all). End result: everything, particularly text, looks small on the screen, and there's no universally good way of increasing the size.

Not so much a problem with Word, etc. (where you can increase the page zoom), a real PITA for Excel (which already suffers from a ridiculously bad default font on the Mac - Calibri 12pt is borderline too small on a 13" 1280x800 MB), problematic for system fonts (which can be tweaked with varying success from the command-line or with 3rd-party tools), and a bastard when it comes to apps which ignore the system defaults (many 3rd-party apps, but IIRC also iTunes ignores at least the size, if not the typeface).

As much as I love the Air, that may be a dealbreaker for you, especially if you're eyesight is less than perfect. I'd seriously recommend checking one out in person, paying particular attention to the size of things on screen.
posted by Pinback at 10:05 PM on December 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

For me, the larger screen would tip the balance to the MBP. If the MBP has a i5/i7 chip rather than a Core 2 Duo, that would further tip the scales to a MBP However, it's hard to imagine going wrong with either.
posted by Betelgeuse at 10:17 PM on December 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Get the air.

You will need that external drive, though. Maybe a new "Thunderbolt" drive, too, if you're interested in accessing big files fast. Maybe an external DVD drive if necessary. Plus, if you long for comfort during long writing sessions, maybe a big external monitor? So I'm recommending the lightweight laptop plus a sort of "home base" setup. Maybe that suits you, maybe not. It seems ideal to me if I were in your shoes.

I would only recommend the Pro if you were a graphics/photo/video/music pro or a gamer.
posted by TangoCharlie at 10:49 PM on December 19, 2011

Take the old MBP, put its hard drive into a usb enclosure and put a solid state drive in the laptop itself. You'll have most of the Air in a 15" package, and it's an easy modification even if you don't know much about computers..
posted by rhizome at 10:50 PM on December 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I just got an Air and it's great for travelling and carrying around to libraries (excellent battery life as well), but I do miss not having a disc slot so you might need to get an external DVD drive if you don't have a desktop. But if you ever need a computer for teaching the Air is light enough not to weigh you down as you trek across campus.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 3:20 AM on December 20, 2011

If you were a "power user" I'd suggest the Pro, but the Air will suit your needs perfectly. Get the biggest hard drive you can, supplement with an external hard drive, and enjoy.

They're great computers.
posted by backwards guitar at 4:57 AM on December 20, 2011

Going against the grain here but screen size is something to consider. For my eyes, if you think you'll spend a lot of time in a situation where you're writing something in a window that takes up (about) half the screen and reading from another document that takes up the other half (say, a pdf of the research that you're writing about) it's worth having the wider screen so you're not squinting and scrolling a lot.

I have the 2010 15" MBP and it's not _super_ heavy to carry around. If you're thinking about running an external HD off of your laptop anyway, you're already going to sacrifice a bit of mobility from a practical standpoint.
posted by gauche at 5:56 AM on December 20, 2011

The difference in size and weight between the new 13" Air and a new 13" MacBook Pro is 1/2" inch in thickness and 1.5 lbs. The Air is beautiful, truly it is, but in a backpack you're not going to notice. Both would be very light and portable. With a 13" MacBook Pro you'd be able to keep everything on your drive without an external drive. Having to plug into an external drive to get to my iPhoto library sounds like a huge pain. If you're already using 287 GB, getting the Air with 128GB is going to mean doing without more than half your files if you're away from that external drive.
posted by wnissen at 6:58 AM on December 20, 2011

However, when I look at the data on my hard drive now it says I have used 287 gigs of hard drive, which also seems ridiculous. I am not the most conscientious or knowledgeable computer user, however.

If the external drive is set up as a Time Machine disk, this isn't surprising at all. Versioning backup systems are very nice, but they consume disk.

Thankfully, disk -- at least, slow disk -- is pretty cheap.
posted by eriko at 7:34 AM on December 20, 2011

Having just moved from a 15" Pro to a 13" Air, the weight difference is very noticeable. If you're carrying it around all the time and don't use DVDs/CDs (or Ethernet or Firewire drives or keep a lot of data on the computer) go with the Air. If you need to access all of your data or use optical discs or need to plug in an ethernet cable to access your network, the Pro might be a better choice, so you don't have to carry external drives and adapters to do all of those things. I wouldn't go back to a Pro at this point.
posted by andrewraff at 7:40 AM on December 20, 2011

If you have to ask, you almost certainly want the Air.

The Pro is better for people who run high-powered software (Photoshop, Premiere, etc.) but the Air is a great all-purpose device that's much more portable.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:35 PM on December 20, 2011

I always recommend people go with the Air unless they need heavy graphics support - like if you're using Photoshop, Illustrator, iMovie, etc. Web browsing, video playing (not editing), typing, even light photo editing - all more than capable by a Macbook Air.
posted by trubleu1212 at 8:59 AM on December 23, 2011

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