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MacBook Air (late 2010) review

MacBook AirLet’s be honest, the original MacBook Air was beautifully flawed. Outwardly it was a desirable laptop, but under that pretty aluminum exterior all was not swell. Overheating, under performing and overpriced, the original MacBook Air failed to achieve mainstream success. With the new models, though, Apple has rewritten the playbook.  This 13″ 1.86GHz 2/128 model has superior specs to the previous version while putting itself on offer for hundreds of dollars less at $1,299.  Let’s see what it’s like…

First impressions of the MacBook Air

MacBook Air restore USB driveAs with all Apple products the Macbook Air comes in nicely designed packaging. There’s precious little in the box, just the Macbook Air, magsafe power adaptor with extension cable, start guide and a unique USB flash restore thumbdrive. The Macbook Air doesn’t have an optical drive so the inclusion of the USB thumbdrive is a cool idea and feels like the way forward for future laptops.

The original MacBook Air was svelte, but the new model raises the bar even further.  0.68 inches at its thickest, the new MacBook Air tapers to just 0.11 inches at the front.  It really is remarkable and made possible due to the all solid-state nature of the guts of the beast.  The hard drive of the old model has given way to an SSD on a bare circuit board, which saves precious millimeters of height.  The weight meanwhile has remained at 2.9lbs, presumably because any space and weight efficiencies have allowed for more battery cells.

MacBook Air logoIt’s difficult to describe just how stunning this new MacBook Air really is, so I suggest you feast your eyes on the photos in the gallery.  In my view this is the best looking laptop ever made, it’s definitely worth making a trip to a store just to fondle it if you have the opportunity.

Around the sides of the MacBook Air are two USB ports, an SD card slot (only on the 13″ model), a mini display port, headphone socket, microphone and charging port.  The keyboard is the standard MacBook chicklet affar, the trackpad is able to register four-fingered multi-touch gestures and the screen is LED-backlit like the previous MacBook Air.  There’s a webcam above the screen and the speakers are nowhere to be seen, but they’re in there somewhere.  The underside has four black feet and that’s it.

Using the MacBook Air

In many ways using the new MacBook Air is a similar experience to the old one, except pretty much everything that was problematic about the original has been resolved in the new model.  MacBook AirFirstly, the replacement of the unpleasantly slow 4200rpm hard drive with the new SSD has resulted in a 13.7 second boot time and 1.6 second shutdown time.  That speed bump carries over to application launch times, which are fast.  Most apps seem to launch with one or two seconds and the whole system feels extremely snappy even though the processor has remained the same.  It just goes to show how much of a bottleneck can be created by a slow hard drive.

The speediness of the new MacBook Air carries over to its graphics capabilities, as the new model has been stepped up to a GeForce 320M.  While no graphics powerhouse, the new model handles full screen video very capably, without any alarmingly heat buildup.  I was able to stream a 1080p YouTube video without any problems.  Sure the underside does become warm, but far less than other laptops I’ve used recently, and when the fan does kick-in, it’s whisper quiet.

Battery life was a big disappointment with the original MacBook Air; while the specs promised 5 hours, I never seemed to be able to get more than 2-3 in actual usage.  The new 13″ MacBook Air promises 7 hours and, although I haven’t done a full drain test, it feels pretty accurate.  Apple is definitely making strides in this department, as we saw earlier this year with the iPad which also delivered as promised on battery life.

The trackpad, keyboard and screen work just like a 13″ MacBook Pro, so I’ll hold off on going into specific detail here.  On the software side, the new MacBook Air ships with OSX 10.6 Snow Leopard and iLife ’11 as with the rest of the current MacBook range.

On the downside, there is no option to specify a backlit keyboard.  In my view this is a real omission, as using the MacBook Air in a dimly lit room or on a night flight for example becomes very problematic.  This can be partially remediated by using a USB gooseneck light, but it’s not a particularly elegant solution.

The 13″ MacBook Air’s 128GB of storage (upgradeable to 256GB) is potentially limiting if you have a large media collection.  Personally I think 128GB is enough storage for most users’ music and photo collections, plus a range of apps, on the basis that most video content is streamed from the likes of Netflix and Hulu these days.  There’s always the option to use a portable drive for the rest of your content.  I could easily cope with this amount of storage for my main computer, as long as I had a little 2.5″ 500GB USB drive in my bag for video edit footage and backups.

Is the new MacBook Air a good buy?

Many commentators have suggested that there is still a viable role for the base 13″ MacBook Pro alongside the 13″ MacBook Air.  I’m not so sure.  Even though the MacBook Pro has a faster processor and more storage space, I think this will make little difference to the average user.  The new MacBook Air boots-up faster, has great performance for everyday tasks and weighs far less than the Pro.  In my mind that leaves the MacBook Pro in the hands of niche users who really need more power and the MacBook Air in the hands of pretty much everyone else.  This is going to be a big seller.

Neil Berman

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Nov 6, 2010 Posted by | Apple, Computing, Hardware, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Does Apple finally mean business?

Yesterday’s research note from Needham suggests that Mac sales growth to businesses far exceeded that of PC makers. We’re not talking a few percentage points here and there; Needham estimates that even in large enterprises where Apple has traditionally struggled, Mac growth ran at 100% in Q2 compared to 20% for PC makers.

Why is this happening?

The easy money is on iPhone or, less likely, iPad adoption within businesses encouraging IT departments to move into the Mac space. While this may be happening in small companies, I doubt that this is a significant driver for adoption in large corporations.

I believe the answer lies with virtualization and the cloud. Increasingly enterprises are moving to virtualized desktop environments, where end user Windows environments are hosted on remote servers and accessible through a web browser. Therefore they can be client-side agnostic, meaning that just like when accessing a website, the user can happily tap away on a Mac or PC. Cloud services like Google Docs work the same way of course.

Large companies still prefer to manage end user computers using a limited number of vendors for ease of support, but Apple is now one of those vendor options for enterprises that have fully virtualized their end user computing platform. Issues regarding uncertainty about Apple’s Mac roadmap remain, but in a virtualized environment the end user hardware roadmap becomes less important since minimal horsepower is needed at the client side. Accessing a virtual desktop can work just fine on a netbook after all.

Neil Berman

theonbutton.com

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Aug 25, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Computing | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

MacBook Pro or a fully equipped entertainment apartment?

Mac vs PCWe all know that Macs are expensive, but just how much more expensive are they in real world terms?  This can be difficult to quantify.  In the Vista and XP days it was easier to justify a Mac purchase based upon the quality of its operating system.  That’s exactly what I did back in 2007.  With Windows 7 however the game has changed and while OSX wins on some aspects (prettiness, support, media apps), Windows clearly now leads on others (taskbar, multitouch, homegroup).  Overall it kind of feels like a tie at the moment.

So here’s the challenge: For the price of a decently spec’d MacBook Pro can a one bedroom apartment be kitted out with home entertainment tech including a similarly spec’d Windows 7 laptop?

First, the rules.  Pretty simple really, no refurbs, coupons or member-only offers.  We’ll also assume that in both scenarios we’ll buy the same wireless router.

The Mac option

MacBook ProLet’s start with the MacBook Pro.  We’ll take the 15″ with the standard Core i7 processor and 4GB RAM.  In fact the only upgrade we’d make is to dump the slow 5400RPM 500GB drive in favor of a faster 7200RPM unit, which we think should be standard on anything labelled “Pro”.  That’s a cheap $50 upgrade.

That gives us a grand total of $2,249 on Apple’s site.  Let’s see what we can get ourselves for that kind of money.

Our apartment has a bedroom and living room, so we’ll need to take care of both.  In the living room we’ll need a TV, surround sound audio system, something for gaming and of course Blu-ray.  In the bedroom a small TV would be nice along with a simple sound system.  And of course we need that Windows laptop too, so let’s start with that.

The one bedroom apartment

Keeping it simple we can pick up our laptop from the local Walmart.  They have the HP Pavilion DV6-2190US with almost identical HP Pavilion DV6specs to the MacBook Pro for $898.54.  There’s the Intel Core i7, 4GB RAM and 500GB 7200RPM hard drive, all being powered by Windows 7 Home Premium.  The DV6 packs a GeForce 230M in  place of the 330M on the MacBook Pro but in day-to-day tasks like surfing and typical comupting, Toshiba 40RV525R LCD TVmost people wouldn’t notice the difference.  The big 2010 performance leap comes from the Core i7.

We definitely need a nice big TV, so let’s go for a 40″ 1080p from Toshiba for $579.99.  It’s rated 4.6 out 5 from 91 reviews on Tiger Direct, so that’s a solid endorsement.

Xbox 360 ArcadeFor the games console we’d choose an Xbox 360 for $199.99, but a Wii would do just as well for the same money if you prefer it.

We definitely want to be watching that 1080p TV and playing our games in full surround sound, so how about adding a Sony Bravia surround system with speakers for $229.99 from Newegg.

We’ll pair that Bravia surround system with a Sony Blu-ray player for another $139.99 from Newegg.

Sony Bravia DAV-DZ170That gives us the kind of super duper living room setup that we’ll never want to leave, but that Mac Book Pro is so expensive that we still have $400 to burn!  So let’s go into the bedroom…

iPod TouchThe iPod Touch is a great device to have around as a flexible media player and second web device, so we’ll have one of those of Apple’s site for $199.99.

We need  to get some noises out of that so we need a dock.  Altec Lansing’s well regarded IM310 sounds good for $59 from J&R.

Finally we’ll complete the bedroom tech setup with a 15″ TV.  This one from Coby comes in at only $129.99 but still delivers 720p resolution.

That total home entertainment setup, all from major brands including a Core i7 laptop comes to $2237.49.  That’s still less than the MacBook Pro, but I think we’ve bought enough virtual stuff for one day.

So can you setup a whole apartment for the price of a MacBook Pro?

So one the one hand you could buy a HP Core i7 Windows 7 laptop, Toshiba 40″ HDTV, Sony BluRay deck and Bravia surround sound system, Xbox, iPod Touch, sound dock and a bedroom TV…or you could have a MacBook Pro.  The choice, as ever, is yours.

Prices accurate as of the time of writing, but as always in the tech world if you’re slow they’ll change!

Neil Berman

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Apr 16, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Computing, Gaming, Hardware, Home Theater, Photo & Video, Microsoft, Rants | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Teknica episode 6: “The Glory Days” – Palm, iPad secrecy and Mac vs PC security

The latest episode of Teknica delves into the secrecy surrounding iPads given to developers, the fall of Palm and Mac vs PC security.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Mar 21, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, News, Teknica, Video Features | , , , , , | Leave a comment

theONbutton’s Flash HD video test: Hardware acceleration Mac vs PC

Flash has gained huge amounts of column inches in 2010.  This is mostly because of Apple’s current stance of not including it on the iPad while claiming at the same time that the iPad will be the best way to experience the Web.  Many commentators have disagreed with this statement because Flash is integral to so much online multimedia content.  As we previously explained part of Apple’s contention is that Flash is too processor intensive, which we agree with, and the company is pushing for HTML5 to be more widely adopted as an alternative.  Meanwhile as we also previously explained, Adobe is taking steps to use graphics hardware to accelerate Flash HD video decoding, which promises to allow smooth playback of content on computers with supported graphics cards.  The problem for Apple users is that due to the ongoing sparring between Apple and Adobe …continue reading

Mar 11, 2010 Posted by | Reviews, Software, Video Features | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mac users finally get Netflix instant viewing, caught thanking Microsoft

Netflix is now offering instant viewing to Apple users…and the Mac version, unlike the Windows one, is powered by Microsoft Silverlight.  Today’s Apple experience is defined by the strength of its multimedia offerings and its increasingly bitter negative advertising campaign towards Microsoft.  So it is perhaps the ultimate irony for Mac users that to enjoy Netflix’s industry leading video player we have to rely on downloading Microsoft’s Silverlight first.

On a related note Xbox 360 owners who are Netflix subscribers are the first to get Netflix HD shows.  Since current 360s all have Dolby 5.1, 1080i/p HDMI and Media Center extensibility for live TV streaming that makes the now-oh-so-cheap Arcade version a $199 bargain imho.  And it plays games.  If you’re quick you can get the 20gb hard drive for very very little from Microsoft too.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Nov 3, 2008 Posted by | Apple, Microsoft | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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