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I don’t see a lot of these around the internet, but like cars and appliances, it’s nice to know what the longevity, etc. of an expensive piece of equipment is likely to be.

My then-girlfriend bought me my first MacBook Air in October 2010, four years ago, mostly because I had so loved my first iPad she thought I might appreciate the aesthetics of the device and the small size and weight — important at the time, as I pretty much went everywhere by motorcycle, and it would fit in my tank bag. Here’s the initial impressions of the computer.

So, four years on, how is it? The body is still solid, doesn’t creak, and still looks great — no scratches or blemishes to speak of. The display is still clear and bright, with no pixels burned out. I don’t have quite as much need for the size, as I either work at home, or when the kid’s in daycare, which means I’m in the “cage” (car), but it’s still the most comfortable computer to use that I’ve owned.

Once I got used to the Mac interface, I found it worked quite well, although they really need to work on their help references; when you run into issues, you often have to go online and hit the Apple support boards to find answers. The Air has had four or five friggin’ OS changes since I bought her, and I suspect Yosemite — the latest — is going to see the end of support for the pre-2012 machines. That’s perhaps the one issue with Apple — they don’t do backward compatibility for more than a five or six years, then you are on obsolete OS and tech (the original iPad that found it’s way to my little girl is now in that limbo — none of the app she has are upgradable, and it can handle the new iOS8.) However, I’ve met plenty of folks still pounding along on decade old MacBooks and happy to not have the latest and greatest.

To that end — with Mountain Lion, the Air started having issues with video and running up the fans on the computer. For the first few months I didn’t even know it had them; I never heard them. The video card just can’t handle the new Flash and H.265 streams without get seriously hot. Even web sites with Flash would also run the machine hot and drain the battery. Up until recently, I used Chrome for most of my web work, but recently found the newer version of Safari was faster and did a better job of keeping the various ads from killing battery life.

As they’ve moved out the various OS, I saw negligible improvement or reduction in performance, battery life, etc. I was lucky and had none of the bugs that hit some of the machines for wifi and other problems, so I can’t comment to those that did. Yosemite was a sharp improvement in the user experience: you can make and receive phone call without getting your lazy ass up to find your phone (if you have a newer iPhone on iOS8), do text messaging the same, and their productivity suite has mostly recovered from the gutting it got to make it talk to the iOS version better. All the iCloud stuff is nice, but I don’t use it because I’m too cheap to pay for space, and too security conscious to throw all my data out where people can get at it easily. (I still pull the SD card with my personal stuff when traveling. Screw you, TSA.)

The older CPU is more than ample to handle most of my daily chores — i can have as many as six docs open, a few tabs on Safari, iTunes playing something that is stored on the external drive and have nary a skip in performance, although when it comes, it’s inevitably iTunes that’s the culprit. Battery life at 300 cycles, four years in, is about 6-7 hours doing some writing, some web surfing, and the like. If I turn off the wifi, it jumps about 2 hours. The original 6700 mAh is now 6067mAh (90%)…that’s pretty friggin’ good for a four year old machine. None of my old laptops had a battery survive more than two years before they had to be replaced. With the curve these batteries have, I can anticipate another year to two before battery failure.

So if you are in the market for a MacBook Air and don’t want to pay premium prices for a new one, a used laptop looks to be a good buy; if you want a new one, you can expect to keep it for four to five years before it slides out of the support stream…and even them should be usable. That’s only rivaled by my original Compaq from the late ’90s, and the 10″ Dell Inspiron I knew was still running like a top at six years old when I saw it last. (Sold it.)

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