I’ve long recommended the MacBook Air to friends who want something a little more capable than an iPad but don’t need their machine to do any heavy lifting. But recent experience has now led me to go rather further …

I’ve written at length about why I’m doggedly sticking to my four-year-old 17-inch MacBook Pro as my main machine. The tl;dr version is that I really like working on a large screen, and I also like having all my files on board when travelling – something I can do because I upgraded it to 2 x 1TB SSDs.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that it fell victim to the GPU problem that has afflicted a number of 2011-2013 MacBook Pros. The first symptoms were everything slowing to a crawl when connected to my 27-inch Thunderbolt display, followed by random crashes and then the characteristic graphics distortion that confirmed the logic board as the culprit.

The good news was that Apple would fix it free of charge under its Repair Extension Program. The bad news was that it would take a week, during which time my second Mac – a Mid 2013 11-inch MacBook Air usually used exclusively as a mobile writing device – would have to take over all its duties. I wondered how well it would cope … 

I’m of course comparing a Late 2011 machine with a Mid 2013 one, but even so, the specs of the two are some way apart.


In the office, I use a dual-display setup, apps split across both the MacBook’s own display and my 27-inch Apple Thunderbolt Display. That was, of course, immediate reason to be grateful I’d stuck to the Air rather than replacing it with the 12-inch MacBook, which has no ability to drive a Thunderbolt display. Given the number of apps I need open at once, the single MacBook display would have made it a complete non-starter.

The apps I typically have open include three different browsers (helps to keep things organized), Lightroom, Photoshop, Tweetdeck, Postbox, iTunes, HipChat and a number of smaller apps. Not everything was installed on the Air, so I did have to take care of that first, but soon had an acceptable mirror of my MacBook Pro dock.

Admittedly much of my work is relatively undemanding of processing power, but it does include both photo and video editing. The work can also be fast-paced, so I need a machine which doesn’t break sweat when it’s being asked to work quickly.

The MacBook Air performed absolutely perfectly. Virtually the only difference I noticed was that it was very slightly slower performing a few Photoshop tasks – but even there the difference was tiny. Had it not been for the small screen sitting to the left of my main monitor, I honestly think I might not have noticed the difference.

I’d long considered the MacBook Air to be Apple’s best-value product, offering an excellent balance of price and performance (especially when discounted). But based on this experience, I’d now go even further. I’d say that unless you need the larger screen or storage capacity of the Pro – or really want the Retina display – the Air is the only MacBook most people will ever need.

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About the Author

Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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