11″ MacBook Air Thoughts: It’s FAST with 2GB of RAM

Six years ago, I bought my favourite new computer. It was a 12″ PowerBook G4 running at 1.5GHz, with 768MB of RAM, and a 100GB HD. Since then, I have owned a first-generation MacBook, a 15″ MacBook Pro, a 13″ unibody MacBook Pro, and a late-model 13″ MacBook. Along with this, I have had a slew of netbooks, laptops, and even a trio of tablets.

My second favourite computer has been an HP Compaq 2710p, later to be renamed to an EliteBook. This machine is a 12″ tablet with a perfect keyboard, a ThinkPad light, and my first decent solid-state drive.

Today I purchased what will likely become my third favourite computer: The 11″ MacBook Air.

My new 11" MacBook Air

What distinguishes these three machines above all of the others that I have owned and used is that they all do what they are designed for perfectly. They are small, light, have a great screen and keyboard, and excellent battery life for their class. The second two are silent, or are nearly so, the first was the quietest machine I had owned to that point.

I’ve only had the 11″ MacBook Air for a day, but I’m already certain that I made the right choice in this machine. It is simple and elegant in a way that only Apple and Palm seem to be able to do it. The machine is lovely.

I decided to buy a MacBook Air a few weeks ago but struggled with which model to buy. I was bracing myself to plunk down almost $2000 for the 13″ with a 256GB SSD, 4GB RAM, and the upgraded CPU. My thinking at the time was that it would replace a few laptops for me. I had been planning to dual or tripple-boot the machine and make use of the 1440×900 display. Before committing to such a large purchase, I went to Future Shop to try one out. There, I briefly tested the 256GB SSD model with 2GB of RAM. From my very limited testing, the machine seemed very nice and undoubtably thin, but it was also quite a bit bigger than I had envisioned. There’s just no getting around this with a 13″ screen.

The next day, I borrowed a base-model 11″ Air from the Campus Computer Store. I installed my common apps, Firefox, Coda, Acorn, and a few others, and tried to actually work with it for an hour or so. Then I bought it.

I was blown away with how usable it is. In fact, for my use, it feels faster than my 2.2GHz 15″ MBP at work.

With this in mind, I changed my plans entirely and opted for the base-model. 1.4GHz CPU, 2GB RAM and a 64GB drive.

At the time of writing, I have about 25GB free with a selection of music, a few movies, Microsoft Office, Adobe Creative Suite CS5, and the Apple Developer Tools all installed.

At first I didn’t realize why the machine seemed so fast with only 2GB of RAM. Then it occurred to me: We max out RAM to avoid swapping from fast RAM to comparatively slow hard drives. With this machine, the SSD is so much faster than a traditional hard drive, that swapping is far less expensive than it is with a traditional hard drive, thereby rendering the RAM upgrade less critical.

Perhaps if you’re running HUGE programs that require gobs of RAM, it is worth the upgrade. For me, running fairly complex programs, often many at a time, the base $999 MacBook Air is more than up to the task.

As far as I am concerned, the 11″ MacBook Air is the best laptop that Apple has released.  For anyone that is interested in quality over brute-force, I recommend that you to at least consider when you’re buying your next laptop.

I was going to write a review of the Air, but there are already several excellent ones out there.  Here are a few that mostly capture my opinions of the machine as well:

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