Why the new MacBook Air isn't for pros

Why the new MacBook Air isn't for pros

Summary: Apple today announced an update to its MacBook Air sub-notebook. The problem is that it isn't powerful enough for pro users.

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Apple today announced an update to its MacBook Air sub-notebook which, as I previously noted, hadn't been updated in almost 500 days — an eternity for Apple hardware. The problem is that it isn't powerful enough for professional users.

One thing that I feared about the new MacBook Air rumors was that it would be ship with a Core 2 Duo processor -- a processor (circa Q3 2008) that is bigger, slower and hotter than the current generation Core i3-530.

My nightmare came true today.

Apple indeed shipped two new MacBook Airs (13.3 and a new 11.6-inch model) with a two-year-old Core 2 Duo processor, instead of the more modern Intel i3 processor that just about every other PC OEM ships in its notebooks.

The new MacBook Air simply isn't powerful enough to be used as a primary computer for professional users. The Core 2 Duo processor, 2GB of RAM, and 64GB SSD won't adequately run applications with large resource requirements like VMWare, Final Cut Pro or Photoshop. Luckily, the RAM can be bumped to 4GB (+$100) and the SSD can be bumped to 128GB (+$200) -- which helps -- but even then the new MBA won't be useable as a primary computer for power users.

Interestingly, Apple didn't include an onboard 3G chipset, meaning that road warriors will have to use either WiFi or connect an external mobile broadband device to get Internet access on the road.

I'm not sure exactly why Apple chose a older chip instead of the newer Core i3 (the keynote's only been over for 30 minutes), but I'm sure that there's got to be a reason.

The cynical side of me thinks that it's planned obsolescence at its finest. In other words, Apple fully plans to upgrade the Air to the Core i3, but they want to sell a bunch of Core 2 Duos first, then make everyone buy it again, when it ships with the i3 -- say, next summer. Maybe Apple had a bunch of old C2D chips sitting in a warehouse somewhere that they needed to use up?

Apple did the same exact thing with the iPad, releasing the WiFi version first, then the 3G version shortly after. A good case can be made that Apple did the same thing with the new Mac mini and MacBook (non-pro) which both still ship with the Core 2 Duo.

Next up: why the new MacBook Air is the ultimate blogging machine...

What's your take on why Apple snubbed the Core i3 in the new MacBook Air?

More Apple "Back to Mac" coverage:

Topics: Apple, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility

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119 comments
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  • Depends on what kind of pro you are.

    If you just work with email, docs, spreadsheets and admin a network, it's just fine. For someone like me, I'm not going to be compiling apps on it; I just want to be able to type up documents, watch videos and play MMO games, and do remote sysadmin work from home. I don't need anything super beefy for that.
    Scott Raymond
    • But... but... but... why not get an iPad then?

      @Scott Raymond
      Or even better, a Samsung Galaxy Tab?
      NonZealot
      • RE: Why the new MacBook Air isn't for pros

        @NonZealot I'm getting one of those, too. Portability is a critical selling point for me. I can do work on a Galaxy Tab, but I can't run certain apps or play PC-based games. It'll be perfect for commuting and travel, partnered with a folding bluetooth keyboard.

        For working from home, I prefer the 11.6" subnotebook size. The keyboard fits me just right without being too small. The capabilities of the new AIR meet my minimum needs. And I can guarantee that the Intel CPU will run a lot cooler than the AMD Turion Neo dual core in my Thinkpad X100e.
        Scott Raymond
      • Portability for working at home?

        [i]The capabilities of the new AIR meet my minimum needs.[/i]

        I can truly understand the importance of thinness when you are putting something into a bag but you've just admitted that this is for the home. While the MBA might meet your minimum needs, it truly does seem like you are paying a LOT for a feature that you truly don't need: thinness.

        For $500, you can buy something that is maybe a bit thicker but would have all the specs you need in a laptop for the home.

        But, it is your money and it is your desire to look "cool". :) Personally, I think it is an incredible waste of an MBA to buy one and plan to only ever use it around the house.
        NonZealot
      • RE: Why the new MacBook Air isn't for pros

        @NonZealot And that's your opinion, and no one really cares about it anymore.
        cyberslammer
      • RE: Why the new MacBook Air isn't for pros

        @NonZealot

        Sure thing. You want Google monitoring everything you do on the internet. Time to crawl back in your hole.
        jorjitop
      • RE: Why the new MacBook Air isn't for pros

        @NonZealot
        My friend .. there's no need to stutter when comparing the iPad to the Galaxy Tab. The iPad system is clearly superior .. with the quality of iPad apps factored into the iPad system.
        kenosha77a
      • RE: Why the new MacBook Air isn't for pros

        @Scott Raymond
        Shop around...
        I have an UL that does all I need, plays games at 13" and has 10+ hours battery (ASUS)...
        You need long life and portable and better than netbook power.. it's there.
        and well under a $1000 too.
        rhonin
    • Why buy it, then?

      @Scott Raymond

      You can buy a nice HP laptop for the price of this weak, hobbled, sad little toy.
      trickytom3
      • RE: Why the new MacBook Air isn't for pros

        @trickytom3 I'm going to get one..you know why?

        BECAUSE I CAN.

        DEAL WITH IT FAKE BOY.
        cyberslammer
      • "A fool and his money are soon parted"

        @cyberslammer

        When anyone asks the question "who are they going to market this towards?"...thank you for admitting you are that idiot.
        SonofaSailor
      • RE: Why the new MacBook Air isn't for pros

        @sonofadeckswabber And that's your opinion...so if I have the money and the means and I purchase one, that makes me an idiot...wow, that logic would apply to everyone who makes any kind of purchase if you don't agree with them.

        Most of your posts are just jealousy posts anyway, another reason ZDNet should get an ignore button.
        cyberslammer
      • RE: Why the new MacBook Air isn't for pros

        @trickytom3

        And that's why all of the people I know with PCs are struggling to get them to perform well enough to send emails.

        Admittedly once I get to their PC laptops they get a lot faster, but never up to the speed of a 1GHz PPC iBook.

        A PPC iBook will kill a PC for performance, so imagine what these MacBooks will do.

        'Weak, hobbled, sad' - what planet are you from?
        richardw66
    • RE: Why the new MacBook Air isn't for pros

      @Scott Raymond LOL did you fail to mention you want to run Windows 7 on it instead of OS X?
      jperlow
      • LOL

        @jperlow

        I noticed that comment too during the live event, and wondered if it was our boy NonZ...

        however, after reading your posts about the hardware specs, I thought to myself, "you almost would [i]have[/i] to put Win7 on it rather than run SL"
        SonofaSailor
    • Or it depends and what kind of "road warrior" you are, too.

      @Scott Raymond

      Interesting choice in your hardware preferences. Just curious ... if you go ahead and purchase the "baby MBA", will you convert it to run a flavor of Linux ? (perhaps the latest Ubuntu distro.)

      I only say that because if you go ahead and purchase the Galaxy Tab and I assume you own an Android based smartphone, going to a Linux distro on the MBA could unite all three hardware items under a single underlining OS platform. (You could run Linux in a virtual machine as another option)

      Personally, if I where to go this route, I would stick with Apple's ecosystem and choose the "baby MBA", an iPhone and, of course, the iPad. Throw in a small portable printer and the Apple TV gen 2 (for assisting in an AirPlay streamed presentation to a HDTV) and all these items could very easily be stored in a briefcase or knapsack even with their power chargers and cables. (Road Warrior, indeed.)
      kenosha77a
    • price doesn't cut it...

      I have the HP dm1z 11" and other than the SSD hard drive, this hardware for $999 doesn't cut it.

      just check the specs. and the dm1z build quality isn?t bad either.

      This price just keeps the luxurious nature of Apple products and the sense of "social status" that these devices give to it's owner, or just because most users don't care about specifications in their hardware, just want it to work and look nice (that explains the price not for everyone).

      At least Apple came to the netbooks/sub 12" notebooks segment, that is a great news for their customers. If you like it buy it, plain and simple.
      Pandorum
      • RE: Why the new MacBook Air isn't for pros

        @Pandorum

        The difference is that most likely these will have a useful life of 8 years, perform better than a Windows laptop, no matter what speed, not get a virus, enable their users to get more work done and to produce a better result.

        They won't waste 30% of the CPU time on nothing useful.

        They won't need de-fragging regularly to maintain acceptable response.

        They won't need the regular re-install of the OS to stay functional.

        The user will in short not be the slave of the computer's needs.

        I think computers are there to help the user. I do not think the user is there to maintain the computer - maybe that's just me?

        As for the iPad - the battery life is fantastic - the ease of use is wonderful and the portability is great, blurring the lines between the laptop and the iPad to bring some of the iPad's advantages to the laptop is a great idea.

        What this does do though is strangely enough mean that the advantage of the iPad over a laptop is reduced as this laptop gets some of those advantages.

        The advantages of the iPad now are price, wireless access, simplicity and no keyboard to unfold.

        The Air brings some advantages such as keyboard and a greater range of functionality.

        As for Pro users - well yes, this is not a top of the range for CPU speed, but then it is still more than enough for almost all users.

        I remember when Pro Photoshop use was a 200MHz PPC with 256MB RAM. Now apparently 1.4GHz and 2GB RAM is somehow not enough for the same job, what happened?

        Quite frankly this is more than enough for most pro use!

        You could build Apps on this, no problems. You could do quite a lot of Photoshop work no problems, you could edit HD video reasonably well, so what do you mean not up to Pro use?
        richardw66
    • RE: Why the new MacBook Air isn't for pros

      @Scott Raymond

      When I purchase a new computer I expect to get the latest new components not 2 year old hardware. The lack of a Core i3 processor is a deal breaker for me.

      I was extremely disappointed when I heard that the new macbook air was using a 1.4Ghz Core 2 Duo. I'm not sure what Apple was thinking but that decision cost them my business. I have no real incentive to upgrade from current MacBook Air.
      Masari.Jones
  • RE: Why the new MacBook Air isn't for pros

    Yes, a lot of PC notebook use the I3 - and they're twice to three times the thickness of the Air with over twice the weight, and more importantly are stuck with the integrated video.

    While the integrated video in the i3 is indeed better than Intel's previous sad efforts, the Nvidia 320 blows it away. That, combined with SSD standard while most I3 PC notebooks are shipping with regular HD's, will actually put the end user experience in Apple's favour.

    If Apple meant this for professional users, then they would have meant it to replace the Macbook Pro, which it doesn't.
    Nitz_Walsh