The MacBook Air has no clothes

The MacBook Air has no clothes

Summary: There. I said it.After using the MacBook Air intensely since it arrived in February, I am beginning to feel the limitations of its pokey 1.

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The MacBook Air has no clothes

There. I said it.

After using the MacBook Air intensely since it arrived in February, I am beginning to feel the limitations of its pokey 1.6GHz processor and 2GB of RAM. I knew what I was getting into going in, but I was convinced that I could make it work. Initially the tradeoff of less CPU and RAM was worth shaving two pounds off my daily notebook heft but as I use the MBA more and more I'm increasingly frustrated by its molasses-like performance.

(I'm not complaining about the 80GB hard drive, either. With some careful data gymnastics I've found it pretty easy to live within 80GB, with the exception of Parallels disk images. Those, my friend, are a bear. To hell with music and photo libraries damnit! I need Windows XP!)

Take my morning routine, for example. Every weekday I launch Flock and open a bookmark of 14 sites in tabs, then I launch NetNewsWire, then Adium, then Mail. This process easily pegs both processors and sometimes make Flock totally unresponsive for several minutes. I sometimes have to force quit and re-launch Flock to get it working again and have to wait a few minutes for everything to refresh.

Granted, it's a tall order.

Loading multiple Web pages, RSS feeds and IMAP accounts is undoubtedly resource intensive, but it's not video effects rendering or high-end Photoshop plug-in work for Pete's sake! It's mostly network access. I wouldn't expect it to completely hobble an Intel Core 2 Duo running on an 802.11g (sometimes n) network. But maybe I'm pushing the limits?

When I add the dismal performance of Excel 2008 and Parallels (hello beachball!) to the mix, the MBA performance is starting to become a liability that I never had before with my MacBook Pro.

Perhaps it's the applications? Maybe Flock is a resource hog. Maybe I need to purge the gunk from all my IMAP folders. Maybe I need to repair permissions. Re-install everything from scratch? Nuke and pave?

As I re-read what I just typed I can't help but think that I have a mild case of battered MBA-owner syndrome. "No officer, I don't want to press charges against the MacBook Air. I fell down the stairs. Honest."

I stand behind my diary posts about the MacBook Air though. It's a great machine for light-duty users, frequent fliers and Mac-daddy executives, but for resource intensive users I recommend a top-end MacBook Pro with 4GB of RAM.

Is the paltry 2GB of RAM, 1.6GHz processor and 80GB hard drive inside the MacBook Air planned obsolescence? I can't help but think so.

(Sad Mac logo courtesy of Wired.)

Topics: Apple, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility

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199 comments
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  • Good honest article.

    Prepare for the attacks from the Apple faithfull.
    ShadeTree
    • Not so much

      Personally I looked at the MBA, my first thought? I'm not
      going to get one. Why you ask? It's simple, really, just like
      the iPhone and the iPod Touch, there's not enough in there
      for the money. You may bookmark this, I actually said I
      didn't like a few products put out by Apple.
      Rick_K
    • Make a fair comparison

      I disagree with your assessment, the Air is diesigned as a Road Warrior's machine for mobility, not as a powerhouse. Rate it for what it is. If you want 4 gig of RAM and a faster processor get a MacBook Pro, or if you want cheaper you can dress up a MacBook fairly well and still put in 4 gig. The article is like trying to say the sporty two-seater 4 cyclinder doesn't carry the load and have the power my 8 cycliner SUV does. You want a fair comparison compare the Air to another Ultralight not to a heavier and more powerful desktop replacement. No, I don't have Air. I don't need the portability, but I would consider it. Compare the Air to Lenovo that is in the press lately, I don't recall it's name as the PC maker's tend to give their laptop's number and not easy to remember names; still it would be a fairer comparison.
      geoff.schardein@...
      • Ummm ...

        Dude! What do "road warriors" do? They open a browser, check RSS feeds, and do IMAP. How is a 2GB, dual-CPU machine NOT a powerhouse? Wow!
        daengbo
    • Good honest article.

      "Apple faithfull."
      Ahh I don't think soo. But anyone stupid enough to open that much poop deserves what they get. Excuse me but you can only read one page at a time.
      aussieblnd@...
  • MacBook Air is not for you

    OK, thanks for telling us all that.

    Now, you should sell it and get a MBP. I'm sure you'll get a
    good price for it $1,400-$1,500?

    Meanwhile, I hear that MBA is selling well to women and the
    upwardly mobile--Martha Stewart has one and even blogged
    about it!
    Len Rooney
    • If you are cutting and pasting ....

      ... from another source try fixing the word wrap, please.
      ShadeTree
      • Message has been deleted.

        bjbrock
    • Steve says, you're not helping...

      You've just killed the market for male executives.

      Martha Stewart indeed.
      rtk
  • RE: The MacBook Air has no clothes

    I ahve to say, much as I'm impressed by the technology of the MBA, it's always struck me as not being so much a practical, every-day machine (inasmuch as the corporate types whom I know that use laptops are concerned) as more of a technology showcase, a "look-what-we-can-do" for the future. I mean, I can easily see it as a student notebook or wifi cafe' machine, but in the end it's not the most practical of things, and I don't think it's meant to be.

    I think the job of the MBA is more to up the ante as far as what we expect from a portable. A few years from now, when we all have solid-state drives and multitouch machines, it will be in part because of this li'l device here. But anyway, that's just my opinion. Personally, if I had the bread, I'd go with the Pro.
    Just Kelly
    • Agreed

      [i]it's always struck me as not being so much a practical, every-day machine (inasmuch as the corporate types whom I know that use laptops are concerned) as more of a technology showcase, a "look-what-we-can-do" for the future.[/i]

      i dont own a Mac anything (just iPod classic), prob. will never own Mac anything....the only thing i can vouch for is their design (high end, beautiful, thoughtful, etc...)and I agree about the future...Apple did raise the bar as far as where we should be headed with hardware, full blown functionality is not intent, I imagine on this device

      somewhere between portable and power is the goal

      i think the best decision was toast the CD/DVD, while it seems like heresy, i think how many times i actually use the cd drive ( besides initial install of OS), alternatives are there to make this a defacto standard on laptops i think ( USB boot, etc)
      rkostynu@...
      • Dis-Agreed

        I'm not really sure how the MBN is a "technology showcase". You have an Intel CPU on an Intel Motherboard etc, etc etc. All the same components are available to all the other manufacturers as well. Remember that once Apple switched to Intel processors, their hardware became commodity stuff and with the exception of the box they build it in, just as much available to everyone else as it is to them. I have no doubt whatsoever that Sony or Fujitsu or Lenovo or even Dell could crank out somthing like this if they really wanted to. The difference is that the others fully recognize that this sort of thing is a small niche market and they simply decided it was too small to be worth their while (and were not interested in bragging rights).
        cornpie
  • RE: The MacBook Air has no clothes

    Reading this was an almost surreal deja vu like experience. This is exactly where I am; 48 hours ago I finally went back to my MBP from the 1.8GHz SSD MBA.

    It feels like leaving an eye candy vacuous mistress to go back to the constant, fulfilling wife....
    admin@...
    • Are you the Governor of New York?

      You may want to consider using a Ford truck vs a Lamborghini as a better analogy :-)
      John-D
  • RE: The MacBook Air has no clothes

    Apple has a history of making compromises for the sake of design. Some are great (iMac), and some, not so great (G4 Cube). Some would be great, if the price point were lower (G4 Cube again, and perhaps the MBA). If Apple believes in this form factor, then I suspect the next gen MBA to have a faster processor, and address all of these issues.
    NealC5
  • i have to disagree

    i'm in the opposite camp - i switched from a 17"
    MBP a week ago, and couldn't be happier with the
    performance of the Air. granted, i don't startup my
    browser with 14 tabs, but i do consider myself a
    sophisticated mac user who demands a lot from
    my system. the super-sharp screen, snappy
    performance, and lightweight form-factor have
    transformed the way i compute.
    richlin71
    • What I find strange is,

      I routinely open 30 or more tabs on firefox, running on a vista box with lower stats than the Air.
      rtk
      • Mmmm...

        Mmmm, sir, maybe you should consider that each tab loads a web page, and time, memory and cpu consume are in a direct function of what is the page you are loading/using.
        I can even open 2000 tabs with a 386 if I make them load an empty page, so your comparison has no fundations unless you state that you open the same 14 pages of the journalist + 16 other.
        massimo.nanni@...
        • Is there anything else you'd like to blame?

          cologne, air quality, earth's rotational spin?

          The pages were a collection of tech related websites, not blank pages.
          rtk
          • Coriolis is a B

            It totally screws up the hard drive if you don't orient your MBA correctly. Freaking Earth, why won't it stop spinning?

            Of course, that's why they offer the solid state "hard drive" for a gold ingot.
            tikigawd