13″ is a charm

Well, I documented the craziness of my 11″ MacBook Air experience a few days ago. I tried a base model and the upgraded version. I had both units lock up, freeze, and flicker whenever connected to an external monitor (a 24″ Acer widescreen). I have no explanation. It would seem like a monitor cable issue, however, my MacBook Pro worked just wonderful with it, as did Emily’s MacBook.

I switched to a 13″ MacBook Air, the base model (I really can’t afford the upgraded 11 or an upgrade 13″ right now), and I’m happy to report: no monitor crashes!

So, could it have been the 11″ MacBook Airs were lemons? Maybe. On the other hand, I really suspect it’s a confluence of less shielding in the 11″ combined with possibly a bad adaptor? Or picking up interference in my office somehow? However the fact that they would hard freeze really made me suspect lemon.

Either way, the problem seems non-existent with the 13″ MacBook Air, so I’m now reinstalling all my programs and have moved all my data over, and I’m back to madly catching up on work I owe.

Impressions of the 13″ MacBook Air:

It’s slightly heavier, of course, but barely noticeable. What is noticeable is that although insanely thin, it feels on handling like it’s flat but larger, like holding a similarly thin and light envelope that’s one size up. I had to set it on top of the old MacBook Pro that’s been sold and is getting packed up to ship to its new owner to convince myself that it really was, in length, the same size as the MBP, because of the thinness it actually feels thinner but wider. It’s not. It’s just the 11″ to 13″ comparison kicking in.

One of my shocks was discovering that the 11″ had more pixels in the screen (1366 by 768 pixels) than my 13″ MacBook Pro. Rather than having less screen space to work with, I had more! The 13″ Air has 1440*900 pixels, which is, if I recall, what my wide screen external monitor two years ago was.

This makes the 13″ Air very usable for two page side-by-side editing. Something I normally hook up a laptop to an external monitor to do. It also makes some other work I usually prefer to do on a monitor doable on the laptop, which means I feel a bit more untethered than before.

Speaking of untethered, the 13″ Air has a 7 hour battery. Again, that untethered feeling has increased. The keyboard on the 13″ Air (something important to a writer) has a more solid feel than the 11″.

Oh, but the 11″ is so compact and tiny. It’s purse-sized. It’s a second thought to toss it in a bag, any bag, a briefcase. And go. That was the size factor that had my attention!

So, settling with the 13″ is a slight compromise. But it’s a good one because I think it lets me take more of my work on the go to more places than I felt I could before. And it works with my monitor.

Since my MacBook Pro was only a year and a half old, it sounds a bit crazy to upgrade (well, semi-sidegrade, the Air has a slower processor, less RAM, and so forth, and I can’t afford the faster and souped up Air), but Pro held its value well and sold for a good price. The cost for to upgrade was $299. Maybe less depending on what I can get for selling the flash hard drive that I had been using.

2 GB Ram is a bit low for me, considering the way I work and the tools I use, but on the SSD hard drive, virtual memory swapping is hard to even spot (I noticed it more thanks to iStat than because it really bugged me). For ultimate performance, I’d recommend the 4 GB. I think, if I were to have a blank checkbook, I’d recommend waiting on the 11″ if you are at all a demanding user until the processor speed and battery life get bumped, and settle with the 13″ maxed out. It’s truly an amazing machine.

MacBook Air updated

On Saturday you may have noticed the blog went quiet. Emily was nice enough to drive me down to Columbus so that I could return my MacBook Air with the display glitch and get a replacement.

After having used the base 11″ Air with 2 gigs RAM and the slower processor for a week, and because I know I should be getting some short story money soon, I also upgraded to the 4 gigs of RAM and slightly faster processor.

So far no display glitches of any sort after an hour of typing when connected to an external monitor. I’m hoping that holds, as I really love this little machine.

MacBook Air display issues

So, all is not entirely well in MacBook Air land. Every 5-10 minutes, my external monitor ‘fuzzes’ slightly, a glitch. I updated the OS which was supposed to take care of it, but it continues on.

The software update has taken care of previous screen glitches for people afflicted with that, so it looks like I either have 1) a bad DVI out cable (could be, it has been abused) or 2) there’s a problem with the video out and I need to hop in and replace this laptop under warranty, as very few people are reporting issues with it after the 10.6.5 system update.

It’s a small thing, but a big small thing as I work off my external monitor (1920*1200 pizels 24 inches) a fair amount when doing freelance work.

Every once in a while you do get a lemon.

MacBook Air

images.jpegI mentioned on twitter Friday that I’d gone down to Columbus, Ohio, to the Easton Mall to visit the Apple Store. My primary reason was to get a new battery for Emily’s laptop. The secondary reason was to take a look at the 11 inch MacBook Airs.

The first generation of MacBook Airs hadn’t really impressed me. Very slow, low battery life. Not really that much smaller than a MacBook Pro, although the weight savings was pretty nifty. I was sympathetic, though. My favorite laptop was the 12″ PowerBook, a laptop I had for two years until I passed it on to Emily. It was a great machine, and just the right size for me.

So the 11″ Air got my attention right away. I played with one at the Apple Store, and took one home with me. I’ll eBay my MacBook Pro tomorrow so that the sideways move doesn’t actually cost me anything.

My first impressions, while at the Apple Store, were physical: it’s small. It’s more rectangular than square, like the old 12″ inch. As a result, I was confident that while being compact, it wouldn’t slip through my lap, as the 12 was liable to do. It actually sits quite comfortably on my lap in a chair.

It’s also light. That’s obvious, but it’s still surprising to pick up. 2.3 pounds. And yet, there’s no flex. It feels solid in the hands. Nicely machined. That’s nice. Not enough to sell it to me nice, I thought while at the store. But it doesn’t feel toyish.

What impressed me right away was the crisp screen. And on the 11inch, the fact that it has 1366 by 768 pixels running, meaning I could fit all the same windows on it as the 13″ pro. I wouldn’t have to take a hit in productivity.

But could I lose horsepower? My MacBook Pro had 4 gigs of RAM and an Intel X25 solid state hard drive. It woke from sleep almost instantly and programs launched near instantly.

Could I go from a 2.4 GHz processor to a 1.6 or a 1.4?

I played around with the $999 MacBook Air with 2GB of RAM and a slower 1.4 GHz processor. I could deal, side by side, that my Pro had more horsepower. Particularly processing a video clip. But the Air was keeping up in window management, program launching, and general use.

Since I was mostly a word processor, email reader, and web browsing sort of dude, the hit was fairly minimal.

To be honest, I expected to come out of this needing the 13″ Air with the faster processor and all 4 GB of RAM (who downgrades their RAM?). But after half an hour of playing around, I became convinced I could swap out the lowest, cheapest Air for my MacBook Pro and proceed. Sure I’d notice a little bit of a performance hit, but not enough to stop me from doing it, particularly if I got the benefit of a smaller, even more portable laptop.

So I took one home. I even unboxed it on video for people on twitter who asked that I do that.

Since I’ve been home and loaded up all my apps, and plugged it into my 24″ widescreen monitor at home, my impression still stands. I’m running my usual suite of programs all at once, and it’s happy. Processing the occasional video clip for an upload is obviously slower, but that’s not my primary use. I can live.

As a writing and blogging machine, this is perfect.

The killer feature, the one that really sold me, is that it wakes from sleep so damn fast. Now, my MacBook Pro wakes from sleep really fast. It has a flash hard drive. But the Air is actually even faster than the Pro. How this is, I don’t know. But it is. It’s nearly instant on.

So what other impressions do I have? The speakers are tinnier than the Pro’s. The keyboard keys, something important to a writer, feel like they have slightly less travel before they click, which I like a little bit less than the MacBook Pros.

The fact that the Air’s body tapers down to a thin wedge by your wrists means that unlike most laptops, the top of the laptop facing you that your wrists settle on aren’t dug into. It’s far more comfortably to write on while in your lap.

The battery life is solid, and with click-to-flash running to disable flash unless I choose it as I browse and no flash churning away, seems to be offering me ~5 hours of battery life.

All in all, I suspect that this may edge slightly higher than the 12″ PowerBook in list of favorite laptops I’ve owned.