Seeking Mac Purchase Perspectives
September 4, 2022 8:25 AM   Subscribe

I've reached the limits of my knowledge for deciding on a new MacBook Air. I'm reading and listening to reviews and opinions, but a couple snowflake questions persist! Can Mac Mefites help me think this through?

Here's me, and what I'm considering purchasing...

I'll be moving from a 2015 11" MBA i7 with 8gb RAM, 256gb HD. My storage is nowhere near full, with 80gb free. Machine is definitely still running (Monterey 12.5.1) and mostly services my needs, but it really slows for some of my work tasks. MS Office suite can be brutally slow to open, and occasionally I need to run a virtual PC (brutally slow). Mostly it's those bloaty MS apps, but I am noticing more recently that even launching a new browser session sometimes beachballs. Though I do a fair bit of video when I'm teaching, I'm not running anything else notable. (I'm not crunching huge data sets; I'm not a podcaster or vlogger).

I am eligible for edu pricing, and there's a promo for a couple more weeks of ~$200 credit (I'm not in USD). Between the back to school promo, and Mac nerds saying the M2 Air is a great computer, now seems like a good time to make the purchase.

Financially, this is a big purchase for me. However, I'm leaning away from the base model and towards upping the cost of this purchase to A) be happy with it, and B) future proof it where I can. Where's the most buck-bang for happiness and future?

I'm feeling muddy on the chip, RAM, and storage (and this is where I'm most concerned):
- M2 chip options: I can't figure out what +2 GPU does for me, or if binned chips are to be avoided. The cost difference is not significant, but would I be throwing money away to up the chip?
- 512gb storage seems plenty to me. I have 256gb storage now, and 80gb is free. Is there something important I'm not considering by going bigger?
- 16gb RAM ...because it's the middle option and idk.

Bonus Q, anything else I should not be missing?
- Assume I'd do the 3yrs apple care.
- I'm idly considering the pro-apps edu bundle. I do videos for teaching and wonder if this would open up a world of better, fun-ner video creation? Right now, I'm just recording Zoom with slides + a video embed. I'm not inclined to spend money aspirationally, but wonder if this is an amazing deal/opportunity.

Tangential, but I was sad to find Apple would only give my $99 trade-in credit for my beloved 11" MBA! I guess those intel chips are just dead to them now...
posted by tamarack to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: MS Office suite can be brutally slow to open, and occasionally I need to run a virtual PC (brutally slow). Mostly it's those bloaty MS apps, but I am noticing more recently that even launching a new browser session sometimes beachballs

Get as much RAM as you can. RAM-hogging MS apps are only going to get worse as time goes on.

One thing to consider regarding the storage: if you're really getting into recording Zoom lectures, be aware that this is potentially going to start taking up considerable disk space (mine were averaging about 0.3 GB per 80 minutes of lecture). Maybe take a look at the total disk space taken up by your current collection of Zoom recordings and scale that to 5 years' worth to figure out how much additional disk space you're going to need if you keep making recordings at your current pace.

One other thing to potentially consider is an external hard drive for Time Machine backups, if you don't have one already. I'm using a 4TB LaCie disk for this.
posted by heatherlogan at 8:35 AM on September 4, 2022

Best answer: If you mainly use Office, web browsers, and video playback or normal-level editing, the binned chip with fewer GPU cores is totally fine, and 512/16 is a good sweet spot. For storage, keep in mind that SSD performance drops precipitously as the drive approaches full, so it's a good idea to have a decent amount more storage than you actually need. More RAM and more storage will definitely help with future proofing if you want to keep it for a very long time.

However, you mention Virtual PC. I'm not sure off-hand if Virtual PC will work on Apple Silicon. VMWare I believe is still in beta, and Parallels will work, but they'll be running the ARM version of Windows and there will be some limitations. What Windows software do you need to use, how demanding is it, and how critical is it to you?
posted by primethyme at 8:39 AM on September 4, 2022

I got went through this last Xmas and got the base base model. I used to procure hardware for my work and I used to always max out the RAM on macs, but the new macs are so efficient - it’s just not necessary. I spent that extra money on a backup system.

My regular work load- heaps of programs, many tabs open, like 50 a browser, VMware running, MS Office going, and it’s always quick.

I’ve restarted it maybe twice.
posted by zenon at 8:46 AM on September 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I dug up the review that convinced me to go for base ram and base storage - who was and I quote "actively reckless”. Hall's conclusion was that he couldn't "imagine that most people can push this laptop hard enough to even slow it down."
posted by zenon at 8:52 AM on September 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yeah, throw out what you know about RAM with the Apple silicon computers. I have an M1 MBA with 8GB of memory and I was a little worried about it but it’s literally never been an issue, even with Safari/Chrome/Discord/Slack/Pages/Music open all at once.

If you want to spring for more RAM, it’s not going to hurt, but I don’t think it’s necessary for the uses you describe.
posted by rhymedirective at 8:54 AM on September 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you get the 512 instead of the 256, the storage is very notably faster. It’s a good supplementary reason to go 512 as you’ve been thinking. If we’re talking stock models, you then get the extra 2 GPU cores — which I cannot imagine will have any real noticeable impact on your everyday work — bundled “for free”. I wouldn’t go lower than 512 as running out of non-expandable storage space is the easiest way to make an expensive computer useless before its time; it sounds like the right size for you though, frankly.

As others have said, RAM is not the obvious winner it once was. This machine is going to feel ludicrously, impossibly fast compared to your Intel one. Unless the extra money is a small investment, 8GB isn’t going to hold you back in any way, and keeping the money towards any future new Mac you might buy is likely going to be a much better investment than throwing it at marginal gains now.
posted by breakfast burrito at 9:04 AM on September 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: thank you so much to you kind folks who have already replied! great advice here :)
re, @primethyme's question above: there's one windows-only application that i teach about once per year. appreciate the note about vm in beta... i hadn't considered this. i can probably find a workaround for the windows app if i need to, since it's only the one.
posted by tamarack at 9:06 AM on September 4, 2022

Best answer: I just bought an M2 Air and it arrived on Thursday! I upgraded from a 2015 MBP, which like yours was getting pokey as it aged (and had a battery that lasted about thirty minutes, sigh).

- I got a 1TB hard drive. My old laptop had 256 gb and was bursting at the seams so I got used to having an array of external hard drives plugged in, but with the very limited port space on the new Air I decided I'd rather spring for more internal storage than have to dedicate a port to an external drive all the time. However if you're not using all the storage on your current laptop I bet 512 would be fine.

- I got 16gb RAM. Maybe that was a waste of money, but one thing I like about these computers is how long they last (my computer before the MBP was from 2006) and it felt like a bit of future-proofing? I also play games and do some video editing so it seemed reasonable.

- re: selling it back to Apple, you'd probably get more from it on Marketplace/Craigslist. I sold the aforementioned 2006 laptop just before the pandemic for $100 and sold a 9-year-old iMac for $400, so I've got to imagine you can do better than Apple's offer.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 9:50 AM on September 4, 2022

Sorry to muddy the water but there's very little difference in form factor between the 13” MacBook Pro and the Air, so I'd pay a bit extra and choose the Pro. I recently upgraded to the M2 Pro from a 2014 model Pro and the big difference is being able to keep several videos open and responsive while I'm doing my main work. For me, this has become important as recordings of tele-meetings now serve as my note-taking device. This might be worth considering as an element of “future proofing” because the Pro has fans and it seems that the Air can only throttle it's processor as a way of cooling down. On paper, the 2022 didn't seem like a gigantic upgrade from my 2014 laptop but I'm really happy so far.
posted by brachiopod at 10:12 AM on September 4, 2022

Apple's trade-in offers are more generous than you might think. At least get a quote. It's simpler than selling privately and you're avoiding the risk of scam.

Buy more hard drive space than you think you're going to need. SSDs use hard drive space as swap space and performance definitely slows when you get near full. Given your use case, I think that's the best form of future-proofing for you.
posted by praemunire at 10:22 AM on September 4, 2022

Best answer: Based on your description, I think the only upgrade from the base model you probably want is 512gb ssd. And apple care, for sure. You probably don’t need pro apps. If you did want to try fancier videos, you could start with iMovie for free. It is a lot easier to learn than Final Cut Pro, but also if you do get into it, the basics you have learned will help you learn to use fcp.
posted by snofoam at 10:39 AM on September 4, 2022

Best answer: I bought the 8GB/512GB MBA in late 2020 and honestly haven't regretted a bit of it. If I had to do it over again, I would spring for the additional 8GB RAM, but so far it hasn't been an issue for me. With code bloat, it could be in the future. I can't imagine living on less than 512GB of storage.

One of the biggest pluses of the MBA is the total lack of noise. Unlike the Pro, the Air doesn't even have (or need) a fan -- though to be fair, I hear MBP owners say their fans rarely come on. The battery life is amazing, especially for a laptop.

I solved the occasionally-need-Windows problem by not trying very hard to sell the Windows laptop I had before getting the MBA. It's important for me to have a Windows machine around to help provide support for the rest of my family and satisfy my need to throw Linux on something now and then (though I'm running Asahi Linux on the MBA as well as MacOS, it's in alpha and is barely usable right now).
posted by lhauser at 3:29 PM on September 4, 2022

Best answer: I'm going to concur with the general recommendations above. The M2 Air will be SO much faster and more responsive than your current system it will feel like magic. In this situation, 512/16 seems like it will give you plenty of headroom for years, and there's no need for general users to bump the processor.

I'm going to disagree with @brachiopod above, do NOT want the 13" Pro. It is an old design, worse screen, no MagSafe charging, and generally just not as nice a system as the Air. It's not a BAD laptop per se, but the Air is a much nicer machine overall. If you were really pushing things, I'd recommend moving all the way to the 14" pro, but that seems vast overkill for your situation.

Lastly: The Pro Apps Bundle for Education is an incredible software deal, but it's also one you can buy at any time ( Don't have to jump in with the hardware purchase, so that can wait if you want to try it out first. Final Cut Pro is MUCH more powerful than iMovie, but unless you're going to be producing video as the primary aspect of your job (or unless you're a video hobbiest and just want the freedom to play), it's prob not necessary for what you do. iMovie will do a fraction of the stuff, but it will do probably 80% of the most common stuff, so it works for most basic editing needs.
posted by griffey at 9:41 AM on September 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: i've marked a slew of answers as best, but honestly, thank you every mefite who took the time to respond here! i so appreciate this community :)

i think i've got the info i need to make a purchase in the next week or two: M2 with 512gb, and I think 8gb -- as @zenon's link may have convinced me.
posted by tamarack at 5:18 PM on September 5, 2022 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: update from six months post-purchase: i bought the specs above (512 storage + 8 ram), and i regret not getting the extra ram. the reports of lightning fast responsiveness are somewhat overblown imo, but the real issue is those darn microsoft apps. i hate ms teams, but need it for work and it is still slow to load and sometimes beachballs. (yes, the apps are up to date). adding this comment in case helpful to other shoppers, if you use the ms office suite, i would recommend upgrading the ram.
other than this, it’s a wonderful machine and lovely to use! i got used to the change in form factor and larger size (i was upgrading from an 11inch MBA). really enjoy working on it …other than those gnarly microsoft apps.
posted by tamarack at 12:50 PM on March 25 [1 favorite]

« Older Looking for perfect travel destination   |   Can you track down this book? Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments