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Computer advice: MBA vs MBP?

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    Computer advice: MBA vs MBP?

    Hi everyone-

    I have a non-bag question, although it definitely has a strong travel component. I know a lot of you are also Apple computer fans--well I need to get a new computer and am curious to hear your thoughts and advice.

    I am pretty sure that I want to get either the 13" MacBook Pro (MBP) or the 13" MacBook Air (MBA). The MBA is clearly the better travel computer from the perspective of weight and space. It doesn't have an Ethernet cable connector though, and I sometimes see hotels overseas that don't have wi-fi in the room, only Ethernet. However, I could get a $30 adaptor for this type of occasion. I travel internationally for work around 7-8 weeks a year, so portability, adaptability and weight are definitely important considerations.

    When I'm not traveling, this would not only be my main home computer, but is likely to also be my main work computer. If all goes to plan, I will be relocating to Ecuador this Fall, where I will continue to work for my current employer, but in a largely virtual and also regional capacity, overseeing projects in other parts of Latin America. In practice this will mainly mean working from a home office. Im wondering if the MBP might be a better "every day computer" than the MBA? Bigger hard drive, more ports, etc. In terms of usage, I'm mainly doing the basics--internet, email, spreadsheets, word processing. Not interested in gaming, nor do I do much in the way of video or photos. I will need to do virtual office type stuff though-- VOIP calling, video chat, Citrix/VPN.

    Beyond the MBA vs MBP question, I'm a little nervous about whether working every day on a 13" screen will be difficult. The logical answer might be to just get an external screen but there is no way I can see myself dropping an additional $1000 on this. Has anyone tried connecting a Mac up to a cheaper generic external screen? Or do you regularly work on this size laptop and find it works just fine for you?

    One final query: do any of you have experience traveling in the developing world with a computer that obviously looks expensive? Am a bit paranoid about this...

    Would love to hear any thoughts or advice you may have.


    Hi there:
    I have both the MBP and MBA. The MBA does come with an ethernet adapter if you do not have access to Wi-Fi. It also does not have a CD drive; you can get an external one if you like that plugs into the USB. The MBA also does not have a SD card slot--which may or may not matter to you. It does have 2 USB ports.
    13inches MBP is rugged and fine. I don't have too much difficulty working with it for most things. You can hook it up to a generic larger screen without any problem whatsoever using a DVI to HDMI output or anything else. It works really well. Overall, I would say get the MBP if you are not going to be toting it around all the time. And get an IPAD (refurbished is relatively inexpensive) for stuff on the run---that would be a better combo! And the IPad with the apps can do a lot including hooking up to do PPT presentations!
    As for Eucador: I don't know. I do travel to some places, and the only challenge I have had is tech support. Many places are very PC friendly--so if your Mac crashes, or the hard drive dies, it might be tough. I don't know about Eucador specifically but worth checking.


      jea, have to agree with Shiva across the board. I had a MBA 13 that I ended up trading up to a MBP13. Drive size was part of this but general capabilities were an issue too. I needed more than just USB interfacing. Of course, Thunderbolt is on its way to addressing that.

      On general usage (email, web, word processing) I didn't notice big differences but as you push the edges (multiple apps, photo processing etc) the MBP starts to show its muscle.

      If I knew it was going to be my only computer I would definitely choose the MBP, but I love Shiva's MBP/iPad idea. Kind of gives you the perfect traveling piece.


        I also have and use both but mine are a 13" MBP and a 11" MBA.
        The Air is truly much more portable but I would not be able to live with it alone as my main machine.

        Just like the iPad it does not have enough screen for me to use as my main machine and neither does the 13".

        It really does depend on your specific needs and the age of your eyes?

        There are monitors available now that connect via a single USB connection and work fine with the Mac and that is what I use when needed on the road.

        This one is incredibly light weight but also would add bulk but it is a much nicer monitor than I expected for the price!

        I went the other way though too and now have a 17" MBP and really like it because I can see the screen and fit a lot more on it at all times.
        It is funny that the 17" weighs in at 6 lbs which a few years ago was considered light weight for a 13" machine but now is a "Boat Anchor" to some,it is not hard to carry around considering the utility it provides to me.

        I also have to say that I LOVE my 11" Air and have no plans to stop traveling with it for sure.
        It is just another tool to get the job done.
        I am out next week and do not need to do design work so I will just take the Air and it will be perfect for what I need there is very little performance penalty with an Air for many uses.

        As for the insides all Macs and PCs have the same basic internal components and if they can be worked on in the first place in the field there is not a lot of difference in the parts really. If you are asking I have to assume you would not be inside the machine anyway working on it if needed and if thats the case then I see little difference with a technicialn working on any of them really.

        Hope this helps.

        Last edited by AVService; 07-05-2012, 03:04 AM. Reason: Added Link


          I have the same issue - I got an 11in MBA and am considering making it my primary machine. My observations:

          1. Performance doesn't seem to be an problem on the MBA. It is very speedy.

          2. Screen size is a problem for me, however. The 11in MBA has the equivalent resolution of a 13in MBP. I find either very limiting when I have multiple windows open. The 13in MBA actually has a higher resolution than either. One consideration if you are working with large Excel spreadsheets, etc. A result of the higher resolution on the MBA vs. MBP is that screen elements, types, etc. are slightly smaller. This all boils down to a personal choice of what you prefer.

          3. If you work at a desk and not a couch I'd definitely go with an external monitor for either machine. Perhaps you could get the adaptors in the U.S. and buy the monitor in Ecuador. I don't know the prices there but mine cost less than $200 in the U.S.

          4. Screen quality differs between the MBA and MBP lines. I'd go visit an Apple store and see if them in person to decide.

          5. You didn't mention your specific hard drive size needs, but obviously the MBA with the SSD drive has less space than the MBP with the traditional hard drive.

          6. The MBA has no port for a lock. On the other hand it's so much lighter I tend to carry it wherever I go rather than leaving it.
          Last edited by bchaplin; 07-05-2012, 03:32 AM.
          All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.
          Edmund Burke


            I have used a MB Air for the past 2 years and have never had a concern about breakdowns. SSD's are more reliable in general than hard disk drives. As an Apple fan, I have used Apple computers for several years (desktop machines, ibook, MacBook, MB Pro, MBAir) and only once have I had an equipment failure - the motherboard on my ibook died. Apple sent a box to the hotel I was in at the time and sent the repaired machine back to me at the next hotel I was in 2 days later.

            I have recently sold my MB Air 11 and replaced it with a MBAir 13 because my aging eyes need a screen that is a bit larger. The latest generation of the MBAir 13 allows for 8GB RAM and a SSD up to 1/2 TB. It also has an SD slot. It's processor is powerful enough for most of what people do on a regular basis. If you are a serious gamer or use graphics intensively, then the machine is probably not for you. I do not miss the optical drive nor do I need more than 256 GB storage on the SSD. My media lives at home on a large hard drive and in the cloud so I can easily access it when I want as well as take along what I want on a given trip.

            In general I would have no hesitation about using a MB Air. Bringing along a dongle for the ethernet or VGA adaptor has never been a problem in all the time I have used the MBAirs I have owned.
            Last edited by rabergnc; 07-05-2012, 07:45 AM. Reason: typos - if I wer scored on typing accuracy, I would be an abject failure.


              Before you choose, check the latest specs. We just bought a new 13" MBA for my wife. Upgraded the processor & maxed out the RAM at 8Gb. Got the 256Gb SSD drive (same as our '08-vintage MBP, old one was only 45% full so this should work fine... but a 500Gb SSD is also available). The 13 inch has 2 x USB3, 1 x Thunderbolt, and 1 x SD slot. You just have to buy an external optical drive (not needed much anymore but we got one anyway). AND it's over 1.5 pounds lighter than MBP.
              Black/Iberian Aeronaut, Steel/Wasabi Synapse25, Black/UV Synapse19, Black/Steel Western Flyer, Black Checkpoint Flyer, Steel/Wasabi Side Effect, Packing Cube Shoulder Bag, Travel Tray, numerous packing cubes, organizer pouches


                hi jea,

                i've used the 13" macbook pro, the 11" macbook air, the 15" macbook pro, the 17" powerbook (way back when) and am currently using the 13" macbook air.

                in terms of performance, i am very happy with the 13" macbook air. mine has the 1.8ghz core i7 processor (quad core), 4gb ram, and 256gb storage. the solid state storage makes it feel very responsive.

                storage capacity was an adjustment for me when i went from the 15" macbook pro (with ~500gb storage) to the 11" macbook air (with ~128gb storage). i had to offload my photo library (had many years of photos, so it was silly huge). my video library was already stored on external storage. my macbook air has 256gb storage, so it feels quite comfortable. if you're not working with video or huge amounts of photos, or other huge amounts of data, and it doesn't sound like you are, the macbook air should be fine in terms of storage.

                the 13" is great in terms of portability. it wasn't a big adjustment to go from the 11" macbook air to the 13" macbook air. it's slightly larger and slightly more weight, but not significantly more. and you get more screen real estate, the sd card slot, and increased storage.

                i haven't missed the optical drive. i actually bought an external superdrive, but have yet to remove the shrink wrap.

                i connect the usb ethernet adapter when i need it, but it isn't often.

                another option if you prefer to stay wireless at your destination with wired only network connectivity is to invest in an airport express.

                i'm on the fence about the new 15" macbook pro with retina display. the new display is gorgeous, but it feels a bit heavier and bigger than i've gotten used to.


                  Many thanks to each of you for your sage advice! I really appreciate your insights, particularly given your first hand experience with these models, and the rest of the Mac lineup. I'm still thinking this through, and my next stop will be the Apple store to investigate a few of the options in person. Thanks once again!


                    Originally posted by Shiva View Post
                    Hi there:
                    The MBA also does not have a SD card slot--which may or may not matter to you.
                    Just a minor correction, here...

                    The 11-inch MacBook Air has no SD card slot. The 13-inch MacBook Air does have the card slot, though.

                    There are pros and cons in choosing either the MacBook Air or the MacBook Pro.

                    If you like using a built-in CD/DVD drive for installing software, playing video movies, or exchanging large amounts of information, the MacBook Pro's built-in SuperDrive can't be beat. You could buy an external Apple SuperDrive for a MacBook Air, but that would negate the weight and size advantage of the Air during travel.

                    One huge advantage to the MacBook Air is the fact that all Airs are built around solid-state memory chips; there are no hard drives, therefore, no moving parts to break down. SSDs are an extra-cost option on the new (non-Retina) MacBook Pro line.

                    IIRC from the recent unveiling done at Apple's WWDC confab, all new Apple laptops are now equipped with USB 2+3 and Thunderbolt connections. (If I'm not mistaken, each USB port has its own bus, BTW) If you are reliant on legacy technologies such as CDs, DVDs, FireWire, or Express34, you may have to take those into consideration.

                    If you have doubts about making a 13-inch laptop (either "Pro" or "Air") into your primary work machine, you should visit either your favorite Apple reseller or Apple store and spend some time trying one out. If you haven't made a purchase decision yet, and video display real estate turns out to be a paramount issue for you, it's not too late to consider a 15-inch MacBook Pro, either.
                    Owner of: Brain Bag backpack (Black), Field Journal Notebook (Blue), Snake Charmer (Small, Orange), Super Ego briefcase (Black / Indigo / Steel) with Reflective Strip, Brain Cell (Steel), Horizontal Freudian Slip, various Organizer Pouches and Key Straps, and a Side Effect (Black / Wassabi) worn as a belt-style hip-pack.


                      I went to the apple store yesterday and was able to really check out the two models in person. Although I had been leaning towards the 13" MBP prior to my visit, I walked away thinking more about the 13" MBA again. For me there were a few key elements that I just really liked better about the MBA. One was that the weight difference felt very significant to me, even though it's just 1.5 pounds. The MBP was noticeably chunkier and heavier. On those occasions when I would want to travel with the computer, the weight felt like enough to really make a difference. Another was the non-glare coating on the MBA screen, which I found easier on the eyes, as well as its higher resolution. The higher resolution allowed me to see two columns more in Excel on the MBA than the MBP, with the program in full screen and zoom at 100%. I also felt like the SSD was noticeably zippier than the HDD that comes standard on the MBP. The two main limitations, from my perspective, are the higher price for the MBA (given my sense that 256 is the minimum hard drive size I can work with), and the fact that you can't make any changes or upgrades post purchase, since almost all of the internal parts are soldered together. This also seems like it will make repairs more complex, because a problem with one element will likely mean replacing the whole internal structure. Things to keep thinking about. Between the computer, apple care, Microsoft Office, case and small adaptors, etc. I'm looking at a close to 2k purchase, so I definitely want to get this right.... The only thing not in doubt is that I'll be getting a new TB cache to keep it in my Synapse!
                      Last edited by jea; 07-15-2012, 08:16 AM.


                        Make sure you look at the Apple Refurb Store before deciding too.
                        The inventory is constantly changing and updated many times a day as they sell through items but I have never seen an item from there that looks anything but brand new.

                        If they have what you want it can save you some money and it also may compel you to consider a different configuration based on what they do have in stock?

                        I rarely get a new full priced one anymore for myself or a client when the refurbs are always perfect.



                          I don't own either but your last comment on price is something worth considering. I think you are correct about the repair-ability of the MBA. Seems like I read about that in a site called something like I-fix-it. This can relate to cost in that you should also factor in something for backup and restore purposes. Apple has TimeMachine but I also think they offer cloud service as well for a fee. If you end up needing an entirely new machine then you have to get a backup to get you back working.

                          Since you are looking at 13" for both then the external monitor only factors when it comes to a cost difference. I think you will want one for home/office if possible. But since you have brought up weight a few times I think limiting yourself to a 13" screen might be wise. It sounds like weight is a big factor for you.

                          I am not sure I agree that 256 gb is the minimum you need. I don't know how much bloatware Apple puts on their machines but if you really aren't going to be using this for personal pictures or movies then I can't see you using that much space. On my home DESKTOP machine I have tons of games and pictures and videos and I am around 300gb. For office document work only you really won't use that much. A 128 gb MBA would probably be fine.

                          The SSD drive should be very fast compared to the traditional hard drive. It is also much more reliable which is good for travel.

                          You might want to pay attention to the retina display on the MBP. You can't get it on the MBA and it does make a difference. Worth the extra price and weight? Hard to say since the screens used to be pretty good before we ever heard of a retina display.

                          Without any experience with either, had you said you would be doing any kind of heavy work with the unit I would say MBP. I'd also say MBP if you felt you needed 15" screen. But if 13" is good enough and unless you have some kind of resource intensive computing needs, then MBA is probably going to be fine. This assumes the cost is reasonable after you get all the accessories you need (dongles and such to make up for the lack of ports).
                          Owner of : Imago, Aeronaut, Brain Bag, Smart Alec, Synapse, Co-Pilot



                            Sounds like good advice but the Retina Display is so far only available in the 15" model.

                            The Air is indeed a screamer in any model compared to the MBP without an SSD and even the C2D2 models feel very quick thanks to the integrated SSD in the Air.

                            I have both an 11" air and a 13" MBP as I have said and I stuck an SSD in the MBP before I even turned it on the first time.
                            I put the SSD in a carrier in place of the optical drive which I took out and then I put a fast 750g drive in place of the stock spinning drive.
                            This way I get the speed of the SSD which I boot the machine from and the storage of the spinner too.
                            I also partitioned the spinner and use CCC to backup the SSD to the partition every day so I have a bootable backup daily of the SSD.

                            SSD drives are much faster and likely more reliable than spinning drives but they also can fail without warning leaving no chance to make a quick backup either. I am not willing to take that chance for the weight advantage of the Air in my main machine and now I can feel confident that I am covered whatever may happen?

                            Just another way to look at it all.


                              I don't have the details in front of me but I think AVService brings up a decent point on expand-ability or options. I have a friend with semi-old MBP and he swapped out the optical for a big regular HDD so he can dual boot and have tons of storage. He uses the MBP for work and play in OSx and Win7. There isn't a thing he can't do with his MBP and it does it all pretty fast. It's one reason why I considered the MBP to replace my main desktop rig. But it does come with the extra weight and from what I've read from the OP I don't see a ton of need for extra hard drives or more video or cpu power.
                              Owner of : Imago, Aeronaut, Brain Bag, Smart Alec, Synapse, Co-Pilot