Six Months On The Haswell MacBook Air – The ‘Book Mystique

It’s hard to imagine that the 13-inch mid-2013 “Haswell” MacBook Air I ordered in Apple’s Black Friday sale last November has been here for six months already. The Air is my first new Mac in four and a half years — the longest I’ve ever gone between system upgrades since I started using Macs in the early ’90s.

I can attribute the lengthy interval on mainly two factors: 1) the extreme goodness of the Apple Certified Refurbished late-2008 model aluminum unibody MacBook I bought in March 2009, and 2)buying an iPad 2 in June, 2011.

The MacBook Air has a really tough act to follow in that superb old MacBook, which has been a flawless and completely reliable performer, never missing a beat and requiring nothing in terms of attention aside from periodic OS X version upgrades and an occasional restart to freshen up the memory heap. It’s currently running either OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard or OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, which are installed on separate hard drive partitions.

My hope for the iPad was that it would get used for some of the things I had been doing on the MacBook, and stretch the latter’ service life. And so indeed it did, although not always how I had imagined at the outset. The two machines have complimented each other quite well, and while I don’t anticipate the day arriving any time soon that I would switch entirely to using tablets, I also now find it hard to imagine getting along without a tablet computer.

But this column is about my MacBook Air.

I still think of my MacBook Air as the “new” computer, and indeed I’ve been so time-slammed over the past half-year that I’m only now getting it fully configured with the array of apps, add-ons, and customizations I use for production. The MacBook Air has finally become my go-to for doing stuff I can’t do on the iPad, but the unibody MacBook remains in service as my number two Mac, and one of my now 14-year-old G4 Pismo PowerBooks also still gets some production activity, while the other Pismo has become my wife’s daily driver until I get a new iPad and hand the iPad 2 off to her.

I had been on the fence (or fences) over whether to go with an 11.6-inch or 13-inch MacBook Air, a 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display, or even a last of the hard drive Mohicans 13-inch non-Retina MacBook Pro.

I’m still satisfied with my decision after six months, and I still think the 13-inch Haswell MacBook Air represents the best all-round value Apple has ever offered in a laptop computer (especially with the recent $100 price cut in the U.S.), although pending the qualifier that we’ll see how it holds up over the next four years or so.

I also seem to have lucked-out this time in the newer/faster/cheaper/cooler subsequent model dynamic that’s always a part of choosing where to make a hardware upgrade purchase. For example, Apple released the 13-inch MacBook Pro barely a month after I bought the MacBook in 2009, although ultimately that machine worked out splendidly for me. This time, I went ahead with the Haswell MacBook Air fully cognizant of rumors that new Airs with Retina displays were imminent. Turns out they weren’t,and while Apple did update its MacBook Air offerings a couple of weeks ago with slightly faster processors and a $100 price cut across the board,the 100 GHz increase in clock speed is hardly cause for buyer remorse, and the price cut doesn’t apply in Canada where I live, so no regrets there.

One aspect that’s surprised me is that the speed improvement over the 2.0 GHz Core 2 Duo MacBook with its Nvidia GeForce 9400M IGPU, 4 GB ofRAM, and 4,200 RPM hard disk drive, while noticeable, has not been dramatically so, at least for the stuff I do with computers. I’m not a gamer, and don’t really do much with video or high end graphics, so I actually find the old MacBook more than satisfactorily adequate for most of my requirements, although more speed is always welcome. I may end up kicking myself for not ordering an 8 GB upgrade from the standard 4 GB of RAM, but I’m optimistic that it won’t be a major issue, and it hasn’t been so far anyway.

The MacBook Air’s chiclet keyboard is very similar to the one in the MacBook, only backlit, and neither is quite up to the comfort standard of the superb keyboards in my old Pismo PowerBooks, but it’s not bad, I like the size of the large, glass, multitouch buttonless trackpad, but even after five years using them I remain unconvinced that buttonless is a good idea.

Something I do like is the MacBook Air’s dead silence, although the MacBook gave me little to complain about in that department. You can hear the whisper of its hard drive if you’re in a low background noise environment, but has been by far the quietest computer I’d owned since I used to run my old PowerBook 5300 off a RAM disk with the hard drive spun down. Of course the MacBook Air with its solid state storage drive is completely quiet save for the clicking of the keys. Hopefully the 256 GB flash memory module will hold up as well as the HDD in the MacBook has.

The MacBook has run pretty cool most of the time, and even when the internal cooling fan occasionally cuts in on hotter days under heavy processor load, it’s much less offensive and lower-volume than the hideously cacophonous fans older Mac laptops. So far the fan in the MacBook Air has yet to kick in even once (it’s been an extraordinarily cold winter and spring here in Nova Scotia), so I can’t yet speak to how
intense a sound it will make.

The late-2008 MacBook is currently ranked my “best ever” Mac so far, having been everything I had dared hope for and more. Thus far, the MacBook Air has matched that precedent, but we‘ll see how things go. I’m not enchanted by the lack of RAM and storage drive upgradability, so much will depend on how those limitations play out in real world use.

Most of my negative criticisms related to the MacBook Air, however are associated with OS X 10.9 Mavericks. I don’t hate Mavericks, but I still prefer version 10.6 Snow Leopard, and I’d be happier if iOS features remained exclusive to the iOS. That foot-dragging is presumably a lost cause, so,I’ll have to learn to live with the iOSsification of OS X.

Aesthetically, the MacBook Air’s svelte profile is seductive, and the light weight makes lugging it about not much more of a chore than the iPad, although the iPad retains an advantage of one-piece simplicity and self-contained ruggedness on the go. My iPad has been dropped eight times over the past three years, sustaining only a couple of superficial scratches all told. I doubt that the MacBook Air would be nearly so forgiving of such treatment.

That said, there’s still a role for laptop computers, and I thoroughly enjoy using my now six-month-old MacBook Air. If I was rationed only one Apple device, it would be a MacBook of some sort, and this one would do very nicely.

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