Now that I’ve taken delivery of the MacBook Air and have had a couple of days to play with it, I can honestly say that trading “down” from the 17″ MacBook Pro to the 13″ MacBook Air was one of the best decisions I’ve made. This mid-2012 13 inch Ivy Bridge MacBook Air is a fantastic machine.
Obviously the form factor is quite amazing – it’s thin. Very, very thin. I could use the tapered design to chop vegetables. The Air is the skinny jeans of the computing world (only more acceptable and proper fashionable). You can take this laptop anywhere. And it’s more practical than an iPad as you obviously have a keyboard, a trackpad and a bigger screen to contend with.
The screen itself is amazing – I thought I’d be uncomfortable trading with lower resolution and a smaller screen. Not so. The colours are perceptibly more distinct and the whole display feels sharper. I don’t care that the Air hasn’t got a Retina display – this is perfectly acceptable. The 1440×900 resolution is absolutely fine.
Performance-wise, the 256Gb SSD is a screamer. My initial tests had data transferring at nearly 400MB/s for writing and 425MB/s for reading. Given that the MBP had scores of around 75MB/s writing and a little over 100MB/s for reading – you can see what a difference this makes. Photoshop CS6 Extended opens from cold boot in less than 3 seconds. Booting the Mac from cold takes around 11 seconds. This is how all computers should work.
The 256Gb storage limit is a bit of a challenge (I wasn’t willing or able to pay Apple an extra £400 for 512Gb), but I managed to get all my iTunes, iPhoto and Spotify libraries to sit on it and have around 125Gb left. However, I started noticing anomalies in the disk space being reported by Finder, iStats Menus and even ‘df’ on the command line. All of them gave different results. I thought I should have had 125Gb free, but Finder was reporting 134Gb and iStats Menus and ‘df’ were reporting 99Gb.
Having dug around for answers, it turns out that as I have Time Machine backups enabled, Apple apparently keeps local snapshots of backups on the local storage medium and manages them so that those snapshots will eventually merge together and their disk space freed up after around a week. This only happens on Apple’s portable range.
This is bad. The problem with SSDs is that they have a finite amount of use in terms of data being written and then erased to any single section before it starts to wear out (that said, you can still expect years of use from them.) On a smallish SSD in which performance will eventually be affected if you start eating up too much disk space, storing local snapshots isn’t a great idea.
I disabled Time Machine local snapshots with this command:
sudo tmutil disablelocal
The figures reported by the various bits and bobs were now consistent.
If you need something vaguely approaching “local” snapshots while you’re on the move and won’t have access to Time Machine backups, I strongly suggest that you use an online backup service such as SquirrelSave that will back up to UK servers as and when documents you’ve chosen to back up change, subject to online connectivity (Wi-Fi, tethered 3G, etc.) It’s inexpensive, doesn’t use up any local storage and the backup storage space is unlimited.
I opted to go for 8Gb RAM and the 2.0Ghz Core i7 processor. This, in conjunction with the SSD, makes the machine sing. The HD 4000 integrated graphics plays back whatever I throw at it (I’ve not tried 4K which is meant to be one of the Ivy Bridge architecture’s crowning achievements) and I’m happy to report that Team Fortress 2 plays smoothly at native resolution without any stuttering or slow downs.
As the 2.0Ghz Core i7 features hyperthreading, I’ve noticed it’s used quite considerably. Certainly more so than the quad core Sandy Bridge processor I had in the MacBook Pro. It seems that dual core isn’t as awful as I thought it would be. Processing times for more tasks are barely indistinguishable from what I had in the MacBook Pro.
I have noticed that the CPU does tend to get a bit hot – up to 103 degrees C on very heavy tasks – but the unit itself isn’t too hot to handle. The fan (which like the new MacBook Pro Retina model) features asymmetrical blade layout which makes for a much quieter fan. This is very much the case. When playing Team Fortress 2, on the old MacBook Pro, the fans would really be noticeable. On the Air, barely noticeable. When you do notice them, it’s much much quieter than I expected.
Overall, the Air is an ultrabook with laptop performance. It doesn’t skimp on performance or features. The lack of a CD or DVD drive doesn’t bother me at all – it’s all about form factor and portability. The keyboard is a pleasure to type on. I can put the unit to sleep and use the Power Nap feature to keep Time Machine backups going.
I’m definitely sticking with the Air series for future laptops – Apple have done exceptionally well.