|I was sick of moving between computers, sick of the power outages in our building knocking me off my machine, and sick of having to Remote Desktop from home to my office machine to be productive. I'd setup various machines that would allow me to do the basics when I had to use them (eg for travel) but it's never the same. Like sleeping in someone's spare room - no matter how comfortable it's never quite the same.
I figured that laptops these days were pretty damn powerful and after road testing[^] a couple of Ultrabooks I decided that anything Core i7 with 8GB RAM would be more than enough for me. All I needed was something that would let me install Windows 7, something that was light, and something that had a big, fast SSD.
Enter the mid-2013 Macbook Air. Core i7, 8GB RAM, and the fastest 256GB SSD around.
To cut to the chase: it's an excellent dev machine and is faster than my 4 year old quad i7 desktop. I'm seriously impressed. I'm now able to work on a single machine anywhere in the world without having to compromise by switching to a slower machine for travelling, and I have the added bonus that I no longer need a desktop for the office and a laptop for travel. A single unit does the trick.
The annoying bits
It's a Mac. Apple did not go out of their way to make the Bootcamp experience exceptional. The trackpad sucks in Windows, yet it's by far my favourite trackpad when in MacOS. It's brilliant. Trackpad++ sort of fixes this, though.
I tried using parallels to create a VM from my Bootcamp partition in order to run VS while in the Mac environment. This was great, and you get the proper trackpad experience, but the big glaring issue was that I needed to use a USB DisplayLink adapater to hookup to an external monitor and installing DispalyLink drivers in bootcamp and then running it under Parallels causes the Windows VM to bluescreen. Parallels is aware of the issue and had no plans at the time to do anything about it.
So I stick to Bootcamp or MacOs and never the twain shall meet.
Docking stations became a big issue because I need a lot of screen real estate. I hate cable spaghetti, though, and tried a number of options before settling on an option that gives me almost everyhing for the (ironically) cheapest price: A thunderbolt display.
Thunderbolt displays are expensive. However, they come with a split thunderbolt / power adapter that plugs into the thunderbolt port on one side and provide a power cable to the laptop on the other side. Within the thunderbolt display are a pair of excellent speakers, a webcam, USB 3.0 ports, and gigabit ethernet. It's essentially a fully self-contained docking station built into one of the nicest monitors I've ever used, and with the 27" running 2560 x 1440, it allows me to run VS on one half and SQL MS or Chrome or anything else on the other half in the same manner that I'd previously been using two separate screens.
So factor in the cost of two 19" screens, a docking station ($250 - $300) plus speakers / external webcam + cables and you'll find that a refurbished 27" thunderbolt display is way cheaper, far more convenient and (for me at least) a much nicer experience.
The drawback is that Windows doesn't play well with thunderbolt and you may have to physically shut down your machine before unplugging the monitor if you have the monitor set as your primary display. Further, you need to plug the monitor in before you boot up a windows box because Windows only scans for thunderbolt on bootup. This is really, really annoying.
The only other annoying bit is fan noise. I hammer that poor little laptop and in a quiet room at 2AM when you're building code and running a zillion unit tests then thing really winds up and gets a bit rowdy. I'm still waiting to see what Apple does with the 13" Macbook Pro since a quad core Haswell unit could have a little more headroom before it starts to get hot and bothered - or at the very least it'll be done with it's tasks sooner meaning noise for a shorter time. A retina display would be nice, but totally not needed, but the added weight is a real issue. Touchscreen - while soemthing I've grown to love with the Ultrabooks - is a complete waste for me. The laptop sits by my monitor, closed, while I work. I have no desire to put finger prints all over my big display, and after my experiences with the Perceptual Computing Challenge I know how tired arms get after spending even short periods trying to navigate with your arms up.
Overall a 7/10.
- single machine whereever I am in the world
- excellent setup with the external thunderbolt display
- built in UPS. Love it.
- Totally fast enough.
- Windows issues with thunderbolt connections
- Noisy when hot and bothered
- Did I rally say a computer was "fast enough"? I lied. No such thing.
The Code Project | Co-founder
Microsoft C++ MVP