Using a MacBook Air as an iMac Replacement

I hate having two Macs. I always have, but the MacBook Air was such a cheap and perfect little Mac, it fit my workflow beautifully. I had to buy it and now I have two Macs. I’m writing about my experience to help those searching around for someone else who has done it.

I decided to see if I could live and work comfortably using my MacBook Air as my only and primary machine. I’m a web designer by trade and I’m continually using heavy apps like Fireworks, Photoshop and sometimes editing video in Final Cut Express. My workflow does not lend itself to the Air from a processor-perspective.

My current iMac is a 27” Core i5 with 16GB of RAM and a 1TB hard drive. My current MacBook Air is the base model 11” with 2GB of RAM and 64GB of hard drive space.

I’m making good use of an Apple Cinema Display and a 2TB external hard drive. The current Cinema Display I have is not Thunderbolt-capable, however. I’m trying this display out and if I like this kind of setup, I will upgrade to the Thunderbolt-enabled one. My current Air is thunderbolt-ready.

So far I’ve worked on the “new PC setup” stuff. Trying to copy my files and obscure codecs, preference files, licenses, etc. to the Air has been laborious to say the least. Trying to keep some things on the Air and some things on the external HD is cumbersome and requires me to shift my thinking to how I save and manage files.

At this point, the Air is humming along wonderfully. The RAM is almost always continually full, as I leave a lot of apps open at once (hey, I need ‘em, ok?). However, the Air’s SSD effectively gives this thing 30GB of RAM through the virtual page file (I have about 30GB of free space left). It’s just as fast as the RAM in a lot of ways. RAM is not the issue I’m coming up against.

So far, my issue is with hard drive space and speed. The external HD I have is USB-3 capable and does ok, but like external drives do, it shuts itself off after a while of inactivity and the process of spinning it back up often comes when I try to save a file or some other inopportune time. It takes a moment and brings the OS to a screeching halt until it can read whatever it’s trying to read on the disk.

This is where I’m assuming a Thunderbolt-enabled hard drive would work great, except none exist. So until I can get my hands on one, this appears to be the biggest slow-down of this setup.
My plan at this point is to get my hands on a Thunderbolt Cinema Display, a Thunderbolt hard drive, and probably try to upgrade the Air. A 13” with a 128 GB hard drive seems like the best option at this point. Although, the 64GB version would work great for anyone who does light computing work.

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Justin has been around the Internet long enough to remember when people started saying “content is king”.

He has worked for some of Indiana’s largest companies, state government, taught college-level courses, and about 1.1M people see his work every year.

You’ll probably see him around Indianapolis on a bicycle.

2 thoughts on “Using a MacBook Air as an iMac Replacement”

  1. Hi Justin! I use my late 2010 MacBook Air 13″ with 4 GB and 256 GB SSD. It is a wonderful machine. As you know I have to do things in Windows that I can’t avoid (.NET developer). Using Boot Camp with Parallels works great for that. Anyway, I would highly recommend paying the extra money and getting the “ultimate” – especially if you are going to be trying to replace your iMac. I use this both at work and home (iPhone development too). I couldn’t imagine having less than what this has. I wish I had the new model for the speed improvement processor wise, but this is sufficient for what I am doing. I use this quite a bit, but I can’t pull myself away from my powerhouse desktop. That said, if I DIDN’T have my desktop, it could be my primary “business” machine at home if I had the extra display and storage. I do play games so while I can play them, the experience isn’t the same.

    I love my Air but I don’t think I could live by it alone.

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