Mac Book Air: Is it Powerful Enough for Software Development?

After leaving my last job and therefore handing in my faithful old Mac Book Pro last year, I was once again in the market for a laptop for occasional evening and weekend development (and perhaps a touch of blogging). I am not a man with expensive taste or particularly deep pockets, so although I really fancied another Mac Book I wasn’t sure I could justify the cost.

A co-worker was using a Mac Book Air hooked up to a rather large Apple monitor as his main development machine. To be honest I had never really considered these netbook as a serious contented in the Software Development market – I was wrong!

A couple of week ago I order the 11″ Mac Book Air 1.7Ghz i5 with 4Gb Ram and 128Gb SSD. I felt the 64Gb model would be too small for my needs and indeed that has proven to be the case as I’ve already used about 50Gb. If you are using Virtual Box and/or Vagrant you’ll need the extra space. And if I needed a little extra space for say Movies I would get one of those mini USB sticks.

So far this machine has been awesome. My initial concerns about perhaps the keyboard being too small (its not – its just the same size as the 13″ Pro) and the screen being inadequate have all evapourated. I’ve just had to be a little more inventive with the screen and now auto-hide the dock – no big deal.

Depending on which model you get, the Geekbench results for the Air do come in about 10-15% below the entry level Mac Book Pro, but it doesn’t feel that way. The SSD makes the Air feel very snappy indeed.

Battery life is a little poorer than the Pro, but its still a respectable 5hrs, and when the lid is down it consumes almost nothing (just like the rest of the Apple range).

In summary, I’m very happy with the Mac Book Air as a development machine. Its small and light enough to take anywhere but powerful enough to run 2 VMs at the same time without grinding to a halt – not something that many larger laptops can boast.

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