A friend who recently got married asked for advice (below) on purchasing a MacBook Air, and I thought it might be useful to record my response here:

We are thinking of getting a MacBook Air as we liked the idea of a Mac Mini but with both of us still studying and as the new computer would replace both our laptops we thought something portable would be good. We don’t need the grunt from the MacBook Pro and so were thinking that an Air would work well for what you get for the price. Screen size doesn’t matter to us much, but we were just wondering in terms of processor, RAM and Hard drive space what you would recommend? And what is the most important if we could upgrade some and not others (because of cost) or if there have been any problems etc.

First of all, my Mac buying advice always starts with a visit to the MacRumours Buyer’s Guide. With Apple’s focused lineup and regular release cycle, when you buy matters as much as what you buy. Reading this today (26 Oct 2014) tells us the following:

  • Macbook Airs are mid-cycle (current models released 180 days ago)
  • Rumours of delays on new hardware put the next model available somewhere around mid-2015
  • The next model will likely include a (higher-priced) Retina screen

So I agree with you, for roughly the next 6 months, your best Apple “bang for buck” based on your requirements is the current Macbook Air 11” model, which starts at NZ$1249. The specs are as follows:

  • 1.4GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor
  • Turbo Boost up to 2.7GHz
  • Intel HD Graphics 5000
  • 4GB memory
  • 128GB PCIe-based flash storage

The two limiting factors above are the memory and flash storage. I wouldn’t be too concerned with CPU or graphics based on your intended use.

You can always add more external storage, but you can’t upgrade the memory after purchase, and with today’s apps 4GB is really inadequate. For this reason, I’d spend the extra NZ$160 to bump the RAM up to 8GB.

You could throw in another $150 to double the flash storage, but it really depends on how much you expect to store on the laptop itself. At this price point, I’d probably rather spend that $NZ150 on a 1TB USB3 small external hard drive.

Note: I have to say, depending on how much daily screen-time you expect, a Retina screen makes a big difference.

Edit: Updated to reflect the correct pricing for the Macbook Air 11” from the NZ Apple Store.

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