Fig. 5 No, this photo hasn’t been cropped; the screen is actually that thin.
The next-generation laptop makes the live performance cut
I hadn’t paid much attention to the MacBook Air. It looked like a glorified netbook, which certainly has its place . . . but wouldn’t you need a MacBook Pro if yowu were a performing laptop musician? Not any more, because it seems Apple injected an iPad with MacBook Pro steroids—and if you’re looking for a truly portable live performance computer experience, the MacBook Air is tough to beat.
WHAT IT IS
MacBook Air is the smallest, most portable computer in the MacBook line and offers models with 11" and 13" screens; this review covers the 13" model shown in Figure 5, which I’d strongly advise for stage use.
When the original MacBook Air was introduced, the lack of an optical drive was considered a serious limitation, but with the new model having dual USB 2.0 ports (one on each side—see Figure 6) and with so much software being downloadable (and no program in recent memory requiring periodic CD insertion as copy protection), the point is moot and the result is one less mechanical concern. MacBook Air has Apple’s famous industrial design, but it also benefits from aluminum unibody construction; it’s not just a pretty face, but a comparatively tough one that weighs in at 2.9 pounds.
Fig. 6 The body is really thin. How thin? This thin.
The processor is an Intel Core 2 Duo processor—same as the original MacBook Air—which is powerful enough for guitarists to run amp-sim software with sufficiently low latency (I had no problem running Guitar Rig), or keyboard players to load up a bunch of virtual instruments as well as MainStage 2 (which it can also run). If you have downtime in the hotel room, yes, you can run Logic 9 without hiccups and as expected, GarageBand comes pre-installed, although Logic Express can be pre-installed optionally at extra cost. Native resolution is 1,440 x 900 pixels (16:10), which is fine for most music programs.
Don’t like hard-drive whine? MacBook Air is built around Flash wmemory, so there are no moving parts and there’s no noise (other than when a fan kicks in under heavy use), making it tempting for studio as well as stage—and there’s no waiting for a hard disk to spin up, either. Solid-state memory is also far more rugged than a hard drive, which is important for mobile musicians; I’ve played gigs where the bass/sub was so loud that laptops literally bounced on the table, which does not make hard drives happy. And taking a page from the iPad, the trackpad is multitouch. That doesn’t mean your applications can take advantage of it yet, but the capability is there for when they do. The one bummer: no backlit keyboard—I guess you’ll need to dedicate a USB port to something like a Mighty Bright USB LED light.
As with most Macs, you can confi gure the MacBook Air within certain parameters—1.86 or 2.13GHz processor, 128 or 256GB of Flash RAM, 2 or 4GB of system RAM. For performing you’ll probably want 4GB of system RAM and if you can swing the bucks, 256GB of storage; this of course raises the price of entry. Still, I was quite surprised by the level of performance from this Lilliputian computer. They say small is beautiful, but in this case, it’s powerful enough (and the build quality inspires enough confi dence) for live performance and DJing—and those are pretty demanding tasks.
(13" DISPLAY, 1.86GHZ, 2GB RAM)
(128GB FLASH STORAGE)
(256GB FLASH STORAGE)
More powerful than the original MacBook Air. Light and compact. Resistant to vibration thanks to Flash memory and no optical or hard drive. Two USB 2.0 ports. Very readable display, and video port for driving external displays.
No backlit keyboard. No FireWire or Ethernet connector. Native vertical screen resolution limited to 900 pixels.
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