.NET development on a MacBook Air with Windows 8

posted by Jeff | Monday, September 17, 2012, 9:00 PM | comments: 2

I've chronicled the issues I had with the Retina MacBook Pro that eventually led to returning it. That's a bummer, because it was fairly awesome to develop with (read that for general impressions about running Parallels for Windows 8 VM's). It was easily the most awesome computer I've ever used, if it weren't for the whole screen problem. My disappointment with Apple over the whole thing is pretty serious, but no amount of wishing was going to make Apple's quality problems go away.

I looked at the standard MacBook Pros, and by the time you put an SSD in them, they weren't very cost effective relative to the Retina model and the MacBook Airs. Even more surprising, when you get down to it, is that you're only giving up a few things from the Retina to the air: Dual-core instead of the quad-core, no discreet GPU, and of course, no Retina screen. Oh, and the Air, with the 8 gig RAM and faster i7 CPU options, was $500 (and a pound and a half) less than the Retina. The RAM and SSD is the same stuff, and the CPU is close in clock speed if not in cores. In other words, perhaps it wasn't the compromise I thought it might be.

So I took the same Windows 8 VM running under Parallels and ran the Windows Experience Index numbers. They're pretty much exactly what you'd expect, other than the CPU which I would have thought would be lower. The graphics are lower without the discreet GPU, and for the purpose of development, not a big deal.

  Retina MBP 13" Air (i7 2 GHz)
CPU 7.5 7.5
RAM 7.9 7.9
Graphics 6.9 5.3
3D Graphics 6.9 4.8
Hard disk 8.1 8.1

The VM on the MacBook Air is shockingly fantastic. I won't rehash the dev story with the Retina, but I will write about what's different.

With a smaller screen, I wasn't sure that I wanted to be staring at that all day at my desk, so I bought the 27" Thunderbolt Display. Yeah, it's not the cheapest 27", but with the Thunderbolt connector and power, it's essentially a convenient dock with USB3, ethernet, FireWire and Thunderbolt. As a three-year owner of a 27" iMac, the giant screen is familiar and awesome.

As for the built-in 13" screen, at 1400x900, it's higher resolution than a standard 13" MBP, the same as a stock 15", and the same as the "virtual" default resolution of the Retina machine. So essentially, there isn't much of a surprise here. It's more than adequate to use Visual Studio full-screen. Also, Parallels, when displaying the VM full-screen, is easy enough to Cmd-Tab in and out of. I have a dead pixel, but I've decided it's not a big enough deal to worry about it.

I've also made an interesting observation about productivity with a smaller screen. I think for as long as Windows has supported it, and employers have paid for it, I've used two monitors. That typically means spreading out Visual Studio, browsers, chat windows, and of course, Outlook. It seems like a good idea, but what I'm finding is that all of this stuff in your view is a distraction that really gets in the way of your focus. When I'm writing code with the laptop on my couch, VS full-screen, I've noticed that I get more done. It's something I'm going to pay more attention to.

As for the battery, while running the VM, I tend to get a little over six hours. With little or no VM use, I've had somewhere around eight hours. It's about the same was what I used to get with my 2009 17" MBP.

Heat issues haven't been a serious problem, though I've seen the CPU approach 200 degrees Fahrenheit. The bottom of the unit never cracked 100, however. The fan got pretty loud, but it was very temporary, and, not surprisingly, caused by something in Flash in the browser. A 1080p H.264 video running in the QuickTime Player uses about 20% CPU, and doesn't get too warm.

And did I mention how much lighter it is? I didn't realize it at the time, but while the Retina was smaller than my 17", it sure was heavy.

The bottom line is that the disappointment with the failure of the Retina machine is becoming a fading memory with the thin lightness.



September 20, 2012, 3:28 PM #

Hey Jeff,

Tx for writing about .net dev on the MBP and MBA!

It's helped calm my nerves about a switch to the MBA from a 1 ton HP
and ruled out the retina MBP.



September 26, 2012, 3:17 PM #

I went through the exact same sequence returning my rMPB and getting a Macbook Air. Nice write-up.

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