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MacBook Pro vs. MacBook Air: how I made the choice

Rob Griffiths | April 16, 2014
Lately, I've been struggling with what's clearly a first-world problem: I have too many computers.

Lately, I've been struggling with what's clearly a first-world problem: I have too many computers.

There was my main iMac, which I love. Then there was my "power" laptop, a mid-2010 15-inch MacBook Pro (with the 1680-by-1050 display and a recently installed 750GB SSD), which I love. And there was my "light" laptop, a mid-2012 11-inch MacBook Air, which I love (and which replaced an older 11-inch Air). So what was the problem?

The problem was that I don't travel often enough to justify owning two laptops. And even if I did, I'd still be stuck answering the "Which one should I take on this trip?" question. Generally, I take the big heavy MacBook Pro beast when I need the extra screen-space and the more powerful (or so I thought) CPU; when I don't need those two things, I take the Air. And then I also have to deal with the issue of which machine has the files I need for each trip. In short, it was a horrid setup, and it needed fixing.

My proposed solution: Sell both of the old laptops, and replace them with one that provides a large pixel count, light weight, and powerful CPU, yet is still small enough to fit in most any bag I want to take on a trip. And this being the real world, I needed to keep the total cost under $2,000.

The contenders

In my search for a replacement laptop, I considered both the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro lines.

Given that I'd already tried an 11-inch Air and found its screen-size wanting for some tasks, that model was quickly ruled out.

The 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro was tempting, but I hit a few deal-breakers. First, the weight: At 4.5 pounds, it's a pound lighter than its 2010 predecessor, but fully three pounds heavier than the 11-inch Air. That's a huge difference. Second, the size: You can only make a package so small if it's got to hold a 15-inch display. Third, the cost: With my $2,000 budget limit, I'd only be able to afford the entry-level Pro, and I wasn't sure its 256GB of drive space would be sufficient for my needs.

So that left only two models to consider: the 13-inch MacBook Air and the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro. I went back and forth between these two models quite a bit; one day, I spent enough time at my local Apple Store that I think I spoke to every single employee there. The Air was tempting for its light weight (just under three pounds, versus about three-and-a-half for the Pro), the Pro for its faster graphics and more powerful CPU. Back and forth I went, like some overly anxious father-to-be pacing the delivery room.


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