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Sunday, October 24, 2010

3 things I like about the new MacBook Air

MacBook Air
This week, Steve Jobs introduced a refresh of the MacBook Air laptop computers from Apple. These new portables are now the lightest computers that Apple offers across its venerable Mac line.

I already own the previous version of the MacBook Air. I had bought it in March, so that I could not only bring it on my holiday then, but also use it for a few presentations at work and BarCamp Singapore. What led me to buy this MacBook Air, which I named "Aironaut, was its light weight. From personal experience, I know that even portable computers can be backbreaking, once you add in the weight of the power adapter.

The new MacBook Air is just as light as the previous versions, weighing in at just about 40 grammes less for the 13-inch version. But there are a few other things that I like about this new version, namely:
  1. Two USB ports
  2. Flash-based internal disk
  3. Thumb drive-based software reinstall disk
1. Two USB ports
When it came to connecting devices, I believe that the MacBook Air had a "wireless" principle. That meant wireless networking (it requires an adapter to connect an Ethernet cable) and wireless accessories, like a wireless mouse. So one USB port has generally been sufficient for me when connecting an external disk.

Having said that, "one USB port good, two USB ports better". When backing up some disks recently, I found out just how limiting one USB port can be. In the end, I had to obtain a USB hub, so that I could back up everything easily.

I still think that there is a wireless principle for the MacBook Air, especially as more peripherals have wireless capabilities, e.g. printers, hard disks, etc. But for the short-term, the new MacBook Air's two USB ports definitely makes connecting peripherals so much more convenient.

2. Flash-based internal disk
When I was buying Aironaut, I was very tempted to get the version with its solid state drive (SSD), i.e. a flash disk. The traditional hard disk still has its uses and sturdiness, but a flash disk is so much sexier, quieter, and less prone to mechanical failure, especially when moving the computer while the disk is busy.

Unfortunately, the cost of the MacBook Air with the SSD exceeded my budget, and so I had to settle for the one with the usual hard disk. The new MacBook Airs don't give you that choice. Instead, you choose whether you want a lot of disk space, or even lots more disk space, and all in flash disk goodness.

Naysayers might say that a flash disk is not "persisitent". What this means is that, due to the nature of flash disks, if there's no power for a very long time, the flash disk could essentially be wiped clean. Besides not really knowing for sure what "a very long time" actually means, the other thing is that, as a computer, it should have power quite consistently. At most, it may not be used for a few days, but that shouldn't be "a very long time". So in my opinion, this argument is moot.

Besides the display, the internal disk is the other big consumer of power. A flash disk uses less power than a mechanical hard disk, so I'm sure that's one reason why Apple can boast a 30-day standby time on a full battery charge.

And yes, I was wowed when Steve Jobs boasted about the 30-day standby time. That's unheard of in the computer industry for laptops.

3. Thumb drive-based software reinstall disk
This is huge. I've always known that the computer industry would eventually have to move away from optical disks (CDs, DVDs) for software installation to thumb drives. As the cost of thumb drives plummeted while their storage space increased, it was only a question of time as to when the switch would occur.

And now, Apple has led the way with the MacBook Air. Again, this medium makes sense for the MacBook Air due to its lack of an optical disk drive. My Aironaut's software reinstall comes on DVDs. I had never needed to use them until one day, when I needed to get QuickTime 7 out of them. I had to make use of the "Remote Disc" feature, where the MacBook Air can use the optical disk drive of another computer, but it was just not an ideal setup.

A thumb drive makes so much more sense, not only in terms of not needing to hunt down an optical disc-equipped computer, but also the amount of software that can be stored in it. My Aironaut needs two DVDs, but the new MacBook Air only has one thumb drive. No more swapping of discs, no more needless wondering about which disc contains the software I want.

Computer users who are used to swapping discs when installing software are going to appreciate this convenience, once all of the other software publishers move to thumb drives or other flash memory-based storage, like SD cards (oh look, the MacBook Air has a built-in SD card reader!).

So those are my three reasons for why I like the new MacBook Air:
  1. One extra USB port
  2. Flash-based internal disk
  3. Thumb drive to reinstall Apple software
But since I had bought Aironaut only about half a year ago, I'm not going to upgrade just yet. Maybe I'll wait for another MacBook Air refresh.



Parag said...

11.6" isn't that small, just about one and a half inch smaller than the 13.3" MacBook Pro, at half the weight. Second, this thing is at least twice as fast as an Atom-powered Netbook. Probably even faster.
Apple introduces new MacBook Airs

Anonymous said...

I Really like this. I am honestly thinking about buying the top of the line air over the pro. Apple has officially created the best ultraportable notebook I've ever seen.

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