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Comparison: MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro

by: Karl Johnson | Apr 14, 2011
Categories: MacBook, Products, Review

The MacBook Pro 15-inch has a 16% larger screen and is 24% heavier than its smaller MacBook Pro 13-inch sibling. This extra weight makes it difficult to carry around by its palm rests while open, which is significant as a majority of users don't leave their computers on the desk anymore. While the 15-inch is twice as fast in Geekbench scores, most users will not notice the difference unless performing CPU intensive tasks.

The 13-inch is the perfect size for most users. It has just the right amount of screen real-estate while maintaining its true portable nature. Mac OS 10.7 full screen mode, which will be coming out this summer, will help maximize its screen. Apple offers three different 13-inch MacBooks for different customers: MacBook, MacBook Pro, and MacBook Air.

The Plastic MacBooks are for those customers who need more power and screen size than the MacBook Air 11-inch, but don't want to pay $200 more for a MacBook Pro. Apple will keep making them while the demand is still high. Yet, its days could be numbered as the 11-inch MacBook Air may fill the $999 price point in the near future when is improves it feature set.

There are two great options for those who can afford more than the MacBook. They include the MacBook Pro 13-inch and MacBook Air 13-inch and each has its strengths and weaknesses.

MacBook Air advantages include:

  • 36% lighter than the MacBook Pro 13-inch
  • High resolution 1440x900 screen
  • Standard Equipped Solid State Drive (SSD)

MacBook Pro advantages include:

  • Thunderbolt and Firewire ports for high-speed data transfer
  • Twice the performance as the MacBook Air
  • Support for 8GB of processor memory
  • Illuminated keyboard

Here is some more comparisons between current MacBooks and previous models

 

The base MacBook Air 13-inch is fast enough for all day-to-day tasks such as: web browsing, email, watching videos, photo editing with Aperture, music creation with Logic, iWork and iLife programs. The standard equipped SSD will greatly improve the speed of all these tasks. Upgrading the memory to 4GB is a must and should be part of the base model. Those with lots of videos and photos may want to upgrade their storage to 256GB for $300. The 2.1 GHz processor, which is only available with the 256GB SSD, has a 12% improvement over the 1.8 GHz base processor. A maxed out MacBook Air has almost the same speed as the MacBook Pro from last year. If weight is a big factor and iMovie is not heavily used, this is the best option in Apple's MacBook lineup. The next version, which should come sometime this fall, should have an Intel Sandy Bridge processor with twice the performance and a Thunderbolt port.

For those who need more power for video editing and other CPU intense applications, the MacBook Pro is a better option. The MacBook Pro comes with both Firewire and Thunderbolt ports for transferring media files and working with Final Cut Pro. While professional video editors and 3D graphic artists will need to upgrade to the higher end MacBook Pros, the rest will be comfortable with the performance of these new base models with a Sandy Bridge processor. These new 13-inch models are faster than last year's high-end 15-inch models. The i7 is 14% faster than the base i5 processor. Upgrading the hard drive to a SSD would be the first upgrade to make on the MacBook Pro model. Without the SSD, the MacBook Air might be a better option, as the solid state drive provides the most noticeable improvement on today's computers. The two biggest flaws for the 13-inch model is the lack of a good graphics card and a lower resolution display (when compared to the MacBook Air). Hopefully Apple will be upgrading the display in the next version. The smallest MacBook Pro will unlikely have a discreet graphics card in the future, so hopefully Intel can step up the graphics performance in the next version.

After lots of comparisons of the various MacBook models, the ultimate factor in decision-making for most people keeps coming back to the main fact that people get laptops because they don't leave their computers at the desk anymore. They are taking them with as they travel or move around the home and office. The 13-inch MacBooks represent the near perfect sized mobile computer. The MacBook Air is one of the best MacBook options for the vast majority of users today. It has enough power to perform day-to-day tasks and is the lightest version, which makes a big difference for mobile computing. If more power is needed, the MacBook Pro 13-inch with a SSD is the better option with more power than last year's high-end 15-inch models.

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

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14 Comments

  1. Viswakarma ~ April 14, 2011 10:02

    Please use a Star/Spider/Radar Chart that would make it easier to compare different products and their specifications/features. Here is the link to Wikipedia on this type of chart -- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radar_chart #
  2. Karl Johnson ~ April 15, 2011 13:59

    Thanks for reading! Do you have a recommendation of an application to creates these charts? #
  3. Joseph Morin ~ April 21, 2011 23:14

    Nice review and comparison. worth the reading. #
  4. Carl Froman ~ May 01, 2011 16:52

    Nice article. #
  5. Wally Stock ~ May 16, 2011 14:37

    How important is the lack of backlit keyboard to a college freshman with the Mac air?Should a PC laptop be considered because of cost? #
  6. Jessie ~ May 23, 2011 20:01

    Could you give an idea of the weight difference between a macbook pro 13 inch and the same laptop upgraded to an SSD? #
  7. Andreas Schuck ~ June 02, 2011 10:00

    Thx for the very interesting review. It helps me a lot for my decision... :) #
  8. halo reach multiplayer tips ~ June 07, 2011 04:55

    Thank you for this share. I am a student, and I am interested in doing virtual reality and 3D stuff. Which Mac would you recommend? #
  9. Johnmak ~ July 03, 2011 22:05

    Thank God you did not use a Spider/Radar/Star chart. If you had 99% of the planets population would not have a clue. Your charts were simple, very clear and meaningful. #
  10. Genna ~ July 14, 2011 13:20

    Very helpful article, thank you! #
  11. Renee' ~ August 09, 2011 13:04

    Very helpful, the charts were extremely useful is helping to clarify the differences between Pro and Air. Leaning towards the air, with the small price difference. #
  12. James ~ August 10, 2011 16:10

    "The 2.1 GHz processor, which is only available with the 256GB SSD, has a 12% improvement over the 1.8 GHz base processor. " Typo here I think, as I see no 2.1ghz processor option, this should read "The 1.8 GHz Core i7 processor, which is only available with the 256GB SSD, has a N% improvement over the 1.7 GHz Core i5 base processor. " I really wonder what that difference in performance is between the two and how that compares to the 2.3 ghz Core i5 in the Pro #
  13. cptcolo ~ August 16, 2011 14:49

    2011 13” MacBook Air vs. 2011 13” MacBook Pro Both are the base models, the Pro has the optional 128GB SSD to match the Air. Cost: MacBook Air - $1299 Macbook Pro - $1449 Winner = MacBook Air Screen: MacBook Air – 13.3” 16:10 1440x900 Macbook Pro - 13.3” 16:10 1280x800 Winner = MacBook Air CPU Performance: MacBook Air – i5-2557M Macbook Pro – i5-2410M, Single Thread 5.5% faster, Multithread 13.5% faster Winner = MacBook Pro GPU Performance: MacBook Air – 384MB Intel HD 3000 (Integrated Graphics) Macbook Pro - 384MB Intel HD 3000 (Integrated Graphics) Winner = Tie Size: MacBook Air – 0.68 in thick max, 45.2 in^2 Macbook Pro – 0.95 in thick max, 108.5in^2 Winner = MacBook Air Weight: MacBook Air – 2.96 lbs Macbook Pro – 4.5 lbs Winner = MacBook Air Battery Life: MacBook Air – 50WHr, 7 hours Macbook Pro – 63.5WHr, 7 hours Winner = Tie Winner: 13.3” MacBook Air by A LOT So you give up slight loss in single thread speed, for something that is much heavier, much larger, and has a worse screen. Basically you would be mad to pay more for a MacBook Pro. #
  14. Amanda Jean ~ July 01, 2012 16:38

    Should i get an Air or a Pro? #

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