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MacBook Buyers Guide 2011

by: Karl Johnson | Apr 13, 2011
Categories: MacBook, Products, Review

 The Powerbook 100 series were the first laptops that Apple produced and they had 9-inch screens. For the next 10 years, the computer industry kept developing larger and larger screens for laptop computers. In 2003, 12 years after the first PowerBook, Apple introduced the 17-inch PowerBook. While the 17-inch may have been popular in the graphics and desktop replacement sections of the market, the majority of the users found them to be too big. Users soon found that the 13-15-inch displays worked the best for most users.

Last year, Apple released a major update to the MacBook Air line. They have become a huge success by taking 25 percent of the total Macs sold the the following quarter. The MacBook Air is neither the fastest MacBook, the cheapest MacBook, nor the biggest. So why has the MacBook Air become a major success?

This New MacBook Air has become a success for three reasons:

  1. Speed: The processor power of today's computer has surpassed the needs of the software it runs. The areas that need more performance continue to get smaller and smaller. The vast majority of users today can still comfortably use a computer 3-5 years old. So, the reduced processor power of the MacBook Air is not an issue. The one big advantage of the MacBook Air is the solid state drive (SSD). The drive does not improve CPU intensive tasks like video rendering, but it does greatly improve the speed of day to day tasks. Many will feel like the MacBook Air is faster than a more powerful computer due to the SSD. While you can buy SSDs on other computers, they are much more expensive and only sold as options.
  2. Weight: Users have found weight to be just as big of a feature as screen size. While the 17-inch MacBook Pro has the biggest screen, it is also the heaviest MacBook. The MacBook Air 13-inch weights 2.9 pounds, which is less than* half as much as the MacBook Pro 17-inch which at 6.6 pounds. This is a significant amount, as more users are carrying their computers around. Whether carrying a MacBook on an airplane or just carrying from it room to room, weight does matter.
  3. Price: The first MacBook Air was small and light, but it was also expensive and slow. With this new MacBook Air, Apple addressed both of these issues. They solved the overheating issue which caused it to run slow and Apple brought down the price. The MacBook Air 11-inch is now tied for the cheapest Mac that comes with a display. The most expensive version of the MacBook Air $1799 is the same price as the base model of the previous generation.

The MacBook Air has become a success because it is light, relatively inexpensive for a Mac, and is fast enough for most day-to-day tasks. This has not stopped the rest of the MacBook line-up from continued success as well. Apple is expected to sell around 3.5 million MacBooks this quarter. That will be over 75% percent of all Macs sold. Clearly, laptops are replacing desktops for the vast majority of users. MacBook users fit into the follow four groups:

  1. MacBook Pro 15-inch and 17-inch Users: These users either need the extra screen space or the extra processing power. The high end 15-inch MacBook is twice as fast as the high end 13-inch. This is mainly due to the quad-core processor in the MacBook Pro 15-inch and 17-inch. That computing power comes at a $700 increase in price. If one is not sure if the extra power is needed, then it probably isn't.
  2. MacBook Air 11-inch Users: These users looking for ultimate portability and are willing to sacrifice performance for it. While the 11-inch MacBook Air still has plenty of power for day-to-day tasks, it still lags behind it's other siblings. The 11-inch screen may also be too small for some users. For those who travel a lot and don't push their computers, this MacBook is a great option.
  3. MacBook Users: Plastic MacBooks are for those budget minded consumers. These users need either a larger screen or a bigger hard drive than the 11-inch MacBook Air and they can't afford the MacBook Pro or MacBook Air 13-inch. While they may not be a big chunk of their market, Apple will continue to sell these MacBooks while there are enough consumers who want to buy them.
  4. MacBook Pro 13-inch and MacBook Air 13-inch Users: The last group represents the majority of MacBooks users. For most users, the 13-inch is a near perfect combination of size and weight. Mac OS 10.7, codenamed lion, and its new full screen options will help maximize this screen space. The MacBook Pro is easy to hold with one hand to take anywhere, unlike the 15-inch model. Both machines have plenty of power for day-to-day tasks including photo editing with Aperture and Photoshop. Each one has its strengths and weaknesses. The MacBook Air has a higher resolution screen and is 1.5 pounds lighter. The MacBook Pro has both a Firewire and Thunderbolt port for high speed data transfer, a processor that is twice as fast, and an optical drive. Both of these machines offer a great feature set for the majority of users.

By adding an inexpensive external display like the ViewSonic VP2365WB 23-Inch IPS LCD Monitor, a user can add the benefits of an iMac while still keeping the portability of the MacBook. One of the best future upgrade options for these MacBooks would be to add an SSD. While the MacBook Air's SSDs are built in, the rest have to be added as an option. This option, which can be purchased after-market will greatly improve the speed of day-to-day tasks. Watch for future articles here on T-GAAP as we look deeper into each of these groups.

Update: Read my latest article on the performance improvements of the new MacBook Airs. 

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