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Saturday, 20 July 2013


I am a technical writer. I work for Apple.

I chose a MacBook Air 13" as my current primary work machine on the last round of new equipment. Mine is a late 2011 machine with 4G RAM and 128 G storage. *All* of my technical writing work is done on it, it runs all our software and interfaces perfectly with all out systems. I also have LR 5 on it and do some occasional image processing with it when traveling, if I have it along. When at home or in the office, it is connected to the Thunderbolt 27" display and thence to FW800 and USB2 mass storage systems for access to my entire LR photo library and Time Machine backup system. While it's plenty powerful for the photo work casual photo work I do with it, if it were my personal machine I'd want the latest with faster processor, 8G and larger storage built in.

The rMBP is wonderful and a step up in processing speed and display quality. And you can configure it more expansively. If I were to choose a new machine today, I would likely go with one of those.

(My home system for image processing is a current series Mac mini stuffed with i7 Quad-core 2.26Ghz processor, 16G RAM, and 1T hard drive. It's much more efficient for image processing due to the quad core processor and huge RAM.)

Couple notes:

Like others have said, max out the RAM, it's not upgradeable on either option and is the most likely aspect to need upgrading. Storage is upgradable on the Air's, I'm not sure about the rMBP's though. If you keep all your archive data on external drives you shouldn't need more than 256GB and 128GB can be quite adequate.

If you choose the MBP, wait for the Haswell refresh, it will improve the battery life by 20-25%.

For dual monitors, ShadZee, remember that if you have a Thunderbolt Cinema Display, it has a second Thunderbolt port that can be used to daisy chain a second thunderbolt display OR a standard display with a Mini Displayport cable/dongle. Functionally a Thunderbolt display is a hub as well (it has 3 USB 3.0 ports, a Firewire 800 port and a Gigabit Ethernet port in addition to the extra Thunderbolt port). The only cables that should be connecting to the MacBook should be your Thundrbolt cable and your power cable when you are docked at home. If you need more ports, a Thunderbolt hub can be placed in the Thunderbolt daisychain at some point.

NEVER use HDMI to connect a PC display if it can be avoided. Generally PC makers skimp on the HDMI conversion circuitry and you get a lower quality image, comparable to the VGA input rather than DVI or DisplayPort. This can be very noticable on displays like LG's inexpensive IPS panels (which are great values, ~$200 for a 24bit gamut IPS display). Use DVI or DisplayPort connectors in preference. With Macs and 3rd party monitors I'd recommend using a DVI adaptor (Mini DisplayPort to DVI) and a DVI cable or an HDMI to DVI cable (for the HDMI port on a Mac Mini)

Try the One Breath Method: Close your eyes, ask your self: " Air or Pro?" Then take a deep breath. The first thing that pops into your head is the answer. Don't re-do it or analyze it anymore.
This saves hours headaches.
(Aka: Use the Force, Luke!) :)

I was an I.T. guy in a mission critical function for a bit over 15 years, and a consultant/program designer before. Strangely the basics haven't changed much in all those years, and apply to Mac, PC, and any other serious users. By the way this is brand and operating system independent - relevant for Mac, PC, etc.

1- ASSUME the computer is your livelihood. Why would you depend on one? This is the cost of doing business - it's tax deductible, and the last place to scrimp. In your position (and I have been a number of times) have a combination of desktop and laptop, two means of getting to the net, and all office power cables leading back to good UPS/surge protector sources. When the power is out, laptops keep you working.

2- KEEP the IMAC (see above). Whether you can or can't get AppleCare for it, it has scads of non- critical uses. There's a ton of "auto synch" and other useful and affordable "helper" software out there, and a working computer with a previous operating system is a real asset.

3- Whether dating or computing, buy PROTECTION. Always run up to date anti-virus, anti-malware software, and buy Apple Care or it's equal in the PC world. Good factory support is literally priceless - i've been seeking it for a long time. Constant BACKUP of all machines. That means at least two (on and off premises). Three or more is better. This can be done with almost zero involvement on your part after the initial setup. Cheap insurance. The "cloud" can be a lot of B.S. - it's just an internet connection. Wired or wireless this is NOT assured access.

4- GET the largest and most eye comfortable screen you can logically afford - why in heaven's name would you squint at an 11" or 13" screen? You spend more time in front of it than most people - it's (repeat after me) "the cost of doing business". This is also not the place to scrimp - the wrong keyboard in the wrong place and that "compromise" screen will cause physical discomfort, lower output quality, and even physical harm.

5- BUY as much RAM as the machines will take. No brainer. Get a couple of FAST external FAST 1 or 2Tb FAST harddisks, FAST whether SSD or not. Did I mention FAST? Besides the obvious uses, they're scratch disks to speed Photoshop, extra buffer boosters to speed general operations, and handy to have around. Be aware of your fastest ports - and use all ports appropriately - some functions can't or won't use all that speed, and Thunderbolt is not going away.

6- WAIT as long as you can before  "upgrading" operating systems. Apple, Microsoft, General Amalgamated Widgets, they're all guilty of forcing users to be beta testers for their flawed upgrades. It's getting worse as it gets more frequent. Took me quite a while to get all my apps working with both Windows 1875 and O.S. Winter Princess - I GUARANTEE that the next iteration will blow some of your programs, peripherals, faxes, scanners, etc. into obsolescence. Let everyone else debug first - you just want the damn thing to work. I'm generally (happily) at least one, and usually two, "non-operating  systems" behind, both on Macs and PCs.

7- FIND a young (but not too young) professional geek with nothing to sell you but his/her experience, understanding and brain. Then listen.


Mike, I have an older 13" Air, but I'm sure my comments are still applicable. The Air does not have a Kensington security lock notch. Also, unlike the MBP, there is no optical digital out (via the headphone port) if you're interested in using your notebook to serve music to your favorite DAC.

I would wait till the update later this year to the Macbook Pro's. A Macbook Pro as an only Mac would the way to go I feel. The Macbook Air is a great computer, but it's mostly seen as a second device for most people.

You really can't go wrong.


I hear that there is to be a more down to earth version of the Mac Air.

People are already calling it the Lapland : ]

One thing to keep in mind - 8 Gb RAM is max. Only the 15" is configurable to 16 Gb, and the memory is not user-upgradeable after (damn Apple!). Not sure how it would work switching your eyes back and forth from a tiny 13" display to a 27" display. I think I personally would find this troublesome. You might find you don't even use the laptop display on your desktop. One thing I'm trying to figure out is whether dedicated video RAM is a big advantage over built-in HD graphics 4000. And how much video RAM is optimal for Lightroom / Photoshop. Maybe Ctein could do an article on that.

What Gabe said.

(I've been doing the same work he's been doing for just as long.)


I use a 15 in retina mac pro and for a while I had a non retina air, To me there was a huge difference in the quality of the two screens. I sold my non retina air and will buy another when/if the retina air is produced.

Serious photographer and want to post process images on the go? Retina is the only correct display out there. It's IPS, it matches 27" colour rendition. There is no real question for me.

Like you, I've always used Macs ..like starting with the first BW Mac 128K ram floppy drive model. The Mac Air is my 15th Mac and it's the best I've ever had.

I simply love its almost instant On nature, usable battery life, light weight and power to get things done. It's been with me on all my travels and has held my work without fail. I'm so fond of this digital workhorse ..that it even has a name... Rocinante

Just a tip.. order a maxed out model..13", go full 8GB memory, i7 processor and 512MB solid state hard drive.. it will hurt when you pull the trigger but you can depend on it when working on serious raw images on photoshop :-)

If you are going to be doing any serious graphics or photo work integrated video is a joke because it takes a portion of the operating system ram to drive video output. Certainly having enough RAM to do the business is critical , no such thing as too much, but... You really reap the benefits from a dedicated GPU (you do know PS 6 will use that memory ?), quad core processor, external drive for scratch disk. You have read the white paper by Adobe on optimizing Photoshop performance, correct?
Oh yeah and if you're gonna be driving an external monitor do you really think integrated graphics is the way to go? I have an 2012 Air which is great but I don't expect it too do the heavy lifting of my high end graphics and photo editing work. An MGB is light and fun but it won't hold a candle to a McLaren MP4-12C.
At the very least get the 15"MBP. Just my 2 cents...

Here's the answer to your question:


But short answer is that if you want to do any sort of photo editing, the screen on the Pro is massively better than the screen on the Air as far as getting the right colors.

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