2008-01-15

MacBook Air (early 2008): pros and cons

Update: Notes on the MacBook Air late 2010

It is quite an exciting machine. The good:
  • Light and compact
  • Full-size screen and keyboard
  • Battery lasts 5 hours
  • Built-in microphone, headphone jack and camera (nice for Skype...).
Acceptable compromises:
  • Built-in battery: Makes the MacBook Air much more compact. I don't have an external battery for my current MacBook, so I would not feel the need to swap batteries.
  • No optical disc drive: Leaving it out shaves off a lot of weight. Using another machine's drive via WLAN is a good alternative to plugging in a USB2 drive. I wonder how they handle installations where one needs to boot. Apple says this can be done on the website, but how can you choose a WLAN drive before booting?
  • Only one USB port. This is the least acceptable compromise, but a USB hub should work where this is an issue. Note that I consider this a different issue from there only being USB ("give us more USB ports" versus "give us Ethernet/Firewire etc.").
Problematic: USB limits the MacBook Air compared to other Apple Notebooks (even very old ones...).
  • Speed: Data transfer into and out of the machine is limited by USB2's maximum speed. Many kinds of adapters are going to be hampered by this. Already the Ethernet adapter is 10/100BASE-T, not Gigabit Ethernet. A good solution would be to have a Firewire800 port in addition to USB2. The former is almost twice as fast as the latter and could be used for adapters (such as the Ethernet adapter), freeing up the USB2 port for normal use. To put the speed into perspective (source: Wikipedia):
    • Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR: 3 Mbit/s
    • 802.11n (wireless LAN): 248 Mbit/s
    • Firewire400: 393.216 Mbit/s
    • USB2: 480 Mbit/s
    • Firewire800: 786.432 Mbit/s
  • Target disk mode: Target disk mode (using a notebook as an external drive) only works with Firewire, not with USB.
  • Networking: To do any kind of wired networking with USB, you will always need an adapter. Mac OS X and Windows XP (currently not Vista) directly support IP networking via Firewire, so there is no need for adapters.
Update: Another interesting alternative is Firewire S800T. It is a Gigabit Ethernet port that can also be used as a Firewire 800 port (with an adapter). Thus, using it for Ethernet is easy, while using it for Firewire is possible. So, choosing between S800T and 800 depends on whether one prefers Ethernet or Firewire.