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Is the MacBook Air Good for Programming? (The Truth) | 2021

Is the MacBook Air Good for Programming? (The Truth) | 2021

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Is the Macbook Pro good for programming? While many expert programmers can agree that the Macbook Air is good for programming, the question still remains: exactly how good?

Should you choose a MacBook Pro over the air for programming and if so, why?

Keep in mind, while a MacBook Air is adequate enough for most programming tasks, the Macbook pro is of course preferred if you’re looking to program as a professional or just want an extremely quick machine without problems for years to come.

Compared to a Macbook Air, the Macbook Pro (Amazon) will allow you to handle multiple external monitors much easier and efficiently without straining the laptop. This is because the Mac Pro has an improved Gpu and overall enhanced performance on the tech spec side when compared to other models.

Related: Is a MacBook Air Good for Video Editing (The Truth

In this post we’re going to cover why a Macbook Air is good for programming, what makes it ideal for programming, and why it might be a the ideal choice if you’re on a budget.

Why is the MacBook Air good for programming

Why is the MacBook Air good for programming

While there are several laptops out there that will qualify as “good” for programming work, a Mac is right up there among the best, if not the best. 

If there is one reason programmers should go for a MacBook Pro, it is the intuitive design and ability to handle java, linux, and display versatility as well as the ability to adequately compile code.

With a Mac, you can code in Windows, macOS, or even Linux since it has this capability of accessing other operating systems.

To run Windows, you just need to install an application like Bootcamp or a virtual machine like Parallels on another partition of your drive and you are good to go. On the other hand, you cannot run macOS on Windows. 

A Mac becomes even more important if you are thinking of developing apps for the App Store. You will definitely need to run macOS using Xcode, the primary tool for macOS and iOS development.

Even apps developed on laptops other than a Mac will need to be compiled on a Mac before it can be uploaded to the App Store. Membership in the Apple Developer Program is also a must if you want to sell apps on the App Store. This membership gives you access to beta software, extensive beta testing tools, and advanced app features including app statistics. 

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MacBook Air: Required specs vs recommended for programming

MacBook Air_ Required specs vs recommended for programming

You may come across programming specifications that are either “required” specs or “recommended” specs. Right off, ignore “required” specs; these specs list the barest minimum hardware needed for a program to run smoothly with nothing else turned on. It will not be sufficient once other features like graphics are enabled. Instead, begin with “recommended” specifications and upgrade from there.

RAM: Is a Macbook Air fast enough for programming?

RAM_ Is a Macbook Air fast enough for programming_

While the Macbook Air is good enough for programming, the MacBook Pro poses some added benefits. A MacBook Air adequately handle programming in Ruby, working on web development as well as utilizing javascript, a macbook pro will still perform better.

This is especially true for android and iOS development since these tasks require stronger tech specs.

The RAM you will need depends on how you work and what you are working on. If you are writing gaming-related code, compiling onsite, or working on projects with graphics, the amount of available RAM at any time will matter. But if you work largely on the cloud (e.g., cloud storage, cloud computing, cloud compiling), you can make do with less, and cheaper, RAM.

Xcode (the primary tool used for macOS and iOS development) is a memory hog. The latest version of Xcode may still run on 4GB RAM but barely; 8GB should be the absolute minimum but more is always better. RAM becomes critical when running Xcode with an application like Adobe Photoshop or a graphics-heavy program. Many universities offering programming courses are already recommending 16GB RAM.

In general, my advice is to buy the best specs that you can afford. Apple has been soldering its parts for years as part of decisions on size and weight of its laptops. Upgrades will be close to impossible after purchase. If you can push it, go for a build-to-order 16GB RAM Macbook Air to cushion you against increasing resource demands on memory. 

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There is also a strong case for the mid-range 13-inch Macbook Pro which comes with 16GB RAM by default and upgradeable to 32GB. Its 16-inch model likewise comes with 16GB RAM, upgradeable to 64GB. 

Processor: Is a Macbook Air strong enough for programming?  

Processor_ Is a Macbook Air strong enough for programming_

The Macbook Air comes with an M1 chip and is now strong enough for programming, but if you’d like something even more powerful, the macbook pro is very nice to have, especially if you use your laptop often.

In the previous models, you had the option of either an Intel Core i3 or i5 processor or the new 13-inch Macbook Pro. Now you have the option of an Apple M1 chip

Many universities previously recommended the older i5 processor as a minimum for its programming courses. This is a strong indication that the Macbook Air’s i3 processor is just not powerful enough for programming, or at least not ideal as far as the experts advise. So, let’s take that version of Macbook Air model off our list.

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Offhand, the Macbook Air with the old i5 (or similar) processor would be adequate for most programming requirements now and for a good number of years more.

The M1 chip is now ideal if you are considering between an old mac model for cheaper or a new one at retail price.

However, where the 13-inch Macbook Pro breaks away from the Macbook Air in terms of processor performance is here — it clocks in at 2.0 GHz and in previous models used an quad-core i5 processor compared to the Macbook Air’s 1.1 GHz dual-core, i5 processor in previous models. 

The Macbooks have evolved and have an M1 chip, which has proven to work very quickly on the new macs.

This means more cores running at a higher GHz, which spells faster clock speed and computational power. Combine that with Macbook Pro’s default 16GB RAM and you can see why the Macbook Pro would be superior in performance.

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Another level up is the 16-inch Macbook Pro, running a 6-core i7 processor with a minimum of 16GB RAM. Ultra heavy programming work will be easily handled by this one. Compiling on this beast will be a breeze.  The flipside? The price jumps significantly.

Storage

Storage

Since code should not really take up that much space, 256GB SSD would be an acceptable baseline for programmers. However, we are looking at the Macbook Air i5 processor as our floor specs and that comes with 512GB SSD storage. 

512GB should be more than enough to accommodate all the programs you are running, downloaded Netflix movies, favorite music playlists and podcasts, video games, and memorable photos. (For more on music and Macbooks… Best MacBooks for Music Production)

While RAM capacity and type of processor are more crucial factors in your purchase decision, you can afford to go for the lowest SSD capacity in your Mac’s category. If internal storage is not sufficient later on, you can always complement this with an external drive. 

Screen size: Will I need a bigger screen for programming?

Screen size_ Will I need a bigger screen for programming_

Programmers always need bigger screens. It is not unusual to have one to two browsers and multiple tabs open, with a text editor, Xcode, and a few other applications running simultaneously.

If you are working at a desk, you can readily set up extra monitors large enough for what you require. But when you are mobile and need to code, a laptop with a large screen is practically a must.

The 16-inch screen of the Macbook Pro is your best bet as it gives the widest screen estate. The Macbook Air and Macbook Pro models all have retina display. It’s not just beautiful to look at but it is better for your eyes if you have to stare at the screen all day; it also allows scaled resolutions so you can see more code in Xcode.

Moving to a 16-inch screen size the Macbook Pro provides has benefited me massively professionally

Michael – MediaPeanut

In July 2019, True Tone, which was already in the Macbook Pro, was added to the Macbook Air line. True Tone automatically adjusts the brightness of your screen to the lighting conditions where you are. If you tend to work in the dark, this will reduce eyestrain.

Keyboard

Keyboard

I know many people who held off buying new Macs or upgrading from their old ones because they were not happy with the butterfly keyboard that was put in Macs since 2015. 

The butterfly keyboard had all sorts of issues. Some found it too light to the touch and prone to failure. There were complaints about dirt under keys causing them not to work properly.  Even the new form factor for its arrow keys made some people unhappy.

That is a thing of the past because the newer Macs come with a backlit Magic Keyboard. The refined scissor switch mechanism that long-time Mac users love is back and better. The inverted-T arrow keys are back too. 

Programmers may initially underestimate the importance of a good keyboard but the Magic Keyboard actually makes typing faster, smoother, and more reliable.

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The inverted-T arrow keys will make navigation through lines of code, spreadsheet rows and columns, or game environments a breeze. A Touch ID sensor for authentication is available on all 2020 Macs and the Macbook Pro comes with a shorter form of the Touch Bar found in older models.

Battery life 

Battery life

Programmers using Xcode have complained about it draining battery life considerably. Good battery life becomes even more critical when you need to code while mobile.

If the maximum battery life is important to your purchasing decision, the Macbook Air can last up to 12 hours on a full charge compared to the 13-inch Macbook Pro’s 10 hours on a full charge and the 16-inch Macbook Pro’s 11 hours. Apple is said to be working on Apple Silicon processors, which will reportedly offer much longer battery life on those laptops, so you will need to decide if you can wait or go for what is currently available..

See our full post on the How Long Does a MacBook Pro Battery Last? | Updated 2021

If you plan on using the Apple Pencil, you’ll need an iPad rather than a MacBook, but you can still draw and write if you’re a student programmer taking notes by utilizing a stylus. See our post: Is the Apple Pencil 2 Worth it? (The Truth)

Ports

Ports

Do the number of ports matter to you? If you plug in an external monitor, external drive, a mouse, and maybe even a wired keyboard, it probably does. 

Macs are notoriously lacking in ports. This was a result of Apple’s attempt to produce as thin a Mac as possible. Skimping did not always work out. Apple eventually discontinued one Macbook line that had only one USB-C port.

The new Macs now come with Thunderbolt 3 ports and they are compatible with USB-C ports. You can plug USB-C cables and accessories into a Thunderbolt 3 port and they will work; it is not true the other way around though. Not all USB-C ports are also Thunderbolt 3 ports.

This is not a major problem. Readily available USB-C hubs expand the number of ports to four or even eight. 

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The Macbook Air comes with two Thunderbolt (USB-C) ports while all models of the Macbook Pro have four Thunderbolt (USB-C) ports.

Should I get a MacBook Air or Pro for programming?

The new Macbook Air has come a long way in terms of power and storage from its older versions.

Programmers with a limited budget will still get many years out of the 13-inch Macbook Air, M1 chip, 16GB RAM. If you are doing basic to mid-level programming, this Macbook Air can readily handle these tasks. I know programmers who are still comfortable with their i5 processor laptop.

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However, hard-core and complex programming can be a challenge. In order to future-proof your purchase so that it remains sufficient for future programming demands on computer resources, our strong recommendation is to go with the 16-inch Macbook Pro.]

It has the largest screen in the line of Macbooks, a powerful i7 processor, six cores for computing power, 16 GB RAM, and up to 1TB SSD storage. The improvement in speed and performance is going to be apparent when programming on the 16-inch Macbook Pro versus the Macbook Air.

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Is the Macbook Air good enough for programing, machine learning?

Yes, Macbook Airs with an M1 will be good enough for programming, machine learning and development that data scientists may use. However, machine learning particularly uses a lot of resources and needs a high performing laptop

Related: How Long Does a MacBook Air Last (The Truth)

Hackintosh or Macbook for Programmers?

The Macbook has become powerful enough and cost effective enough to the point that many tech experts consider building a hackintosh to not be worth it anymore. 

Also, Apple is transitioning certain features regarding the blueprint of the Macbooks design as their technology advances and this could cause the hackintosh to become extinct, though we’ll need more time to tell and confirm this. People who want to save money yet play games, and program massive tasks may still benefit from a hackintosh, but the effort may not be worth the price anymore.

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While it’s up to the programmers, the machook air is of course better for programming when budget isn’t an issue.

Is the base version M1 Macbook Air good for programming?

Programmers will find the based model of the Macbook Air without any upgrades to work very well for programming. The new M1 chip is fast enough for programming tasks. In fact, it’s known by many experts as one of the best laptops for programming (next to the macbook pro, of course).

On top of the Macbook being strong enough, having a good processor, 8gb Ram, comfortable keyboard, and clear retina display, it also has a batter ylife of over 10 hours out of the box) and 7 hours on average according to many users. Either way, anything over 6 hour battery life per session after months of use will please the majority of programmers and the macbook excels for this reason.

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Is the MacBook Air good enough for programming: Android dev, iOS, and Python application development?

Yes, the Macbook air can handle Programming, Android, iOs, and Python, however some of the smartphone OS can require a lot of the available resources the Macbook air allows during a session. 

While the Macbook Air can adequately handle Python, Ruby, web development and javascript, it lacks a bit when development on Android or iOS. I found that it worked adequately, but testing it next to a macbook Pro showed that the Pro was noticeably better for programming regarding speed, lack of stuttering and delays when multi-tasking.

If you’re in search of a microSD card, then you’ll need an adapter when using the MacBook Pro. You can find the Largest MicroSD Cards available in 2021: Cameras, Android, and more here.

FAQ

How long will a Macbook Air last for programming?

Macs in general have long lives. With care, they can last about seven years, on average. If you plan to get a Macbook Air, running on an i5 processor, with upgraded RAM and/or storage, you will likely be able to handle even growing demand for computer resources from newer Xcode and other applications during the lifetime of your Mac.

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Conclusion

Overall, the Macbook Air is good enough for programming, but the MacBook Pro is reccomended for those using Python, Ruby, java, web development, machine learning and many other programming related tasks.

This is because the Pro has improved tech specs compared to the MacBook Air and can handle more cpu-intensive tasks that programmers require.

The MacBook Air works well for programming, but the MacBook Pro display is larger and it’s able to handle several monitors at one time at high resolution without any issues; this is something the MacBook Air will have more trouble with. Programmers desire these types of added benefits and features of faster, lag and stutter free experience when programming,