Apple MacBook Air and Adobe CS5My wife has been in need of a new laptop for a while now. Typically she’s delighted to get my old hand-me-downs when I upgrade. But this time around, she wanted something a little newer.

My one year old 13″ MacBook Pro was churning along just fine, so I wasn’t really thinking about upgrades for myself when she finally had enough and told me to get my butt to the Apple Store. She doesn’t need a powerful laptop, just plenty of storage for her music, photos and videos. I had a tough decision to make, because I’ve already been eye-balling a new 27″ iMac to replace my six year old MacPro sitting beneath my desk. I didn’t want to spend too much, but I do need a capable laptop for working on the go.

Enough of the background, what did I buy?

After reading a few forum discussions, playing with the demo units at the Apple Store, and three days of inner termoil, I decided to toss caution to the wind. I went with the 13″ MacBook Air, with the 1.7 GHz Core i5 processor, stock 4 GB of RAM, and the 128 GB SSD storage drive. My only question remaining to be answered was how would the Adobe Creative Suite perform on this lower-spec laptop?

It was a big step for me giving up a faster processor, more RAM and an optical drive. But after thinking about it, I realized that I really haven’t used the optical drive at all. In fact, the only disc-based use I’ve had in the last few years is installing Adobe Creative Suite and Microsoft Office. I’ve since switched to Apple iWork for heavy-duty office work, and I’ve ripped the CS5 install DVDs to disc images and stored them on an external HD. You can now purchase Adobe CS online, so not having an optical drive shouldn’t be a problem moving forward. I then took a look at what I really use my laptop for, and decided that I really didn’t need all the power and extra RAM that a MacBook Pro could offer. Finally, I considered the weight of the 13″ MacBook Pro vs. the 13″ MacBook Air. I hated the weight of the MB Pro, so my decision to purchase the Air was made.

It’s the little things

It’s amazing how much difference the lighter MacBook Air makes when carrying it around in a laptop bag. Even sitting on the table or desk, it seems smaller than it really is. It still feels sturdy, but at the same time it’s elegant in appearance. One of the things that kept me from considering past Air models was the lack of backlit keys. This is no longer an issue with the latest models.

I would be not at all surprised if Apple doesn’t begin phasing out the 13″ and 15″ MB Pros in favor of the MacBook Air

Boot-up, wake from sleep, shut down, and app launching are all wicked-fast. And this machine was definitely built with Apple’s OS X Lion in mind, because it runs spectacularly. Because I have the MacPro at home serving as my main machine, the relatively small 128 GB SSD isn’t an issue for storage, and I must say that when I do get that iMac later this year, I’m definitely getting the model with the SSD hard drive! I also love the fact that the Air has a USB port on both sides. The SSD card slot is handy. Even though my previous MacBook Pro had one, I never used it. Now I’ve actually come to love having it.

How does it perform?

I’ve been working on the MacBook Air exclusively for two weeks now, and I’m delighted to report that it has performed beyond my wildest expectations. No, really! I had prepared myself for slower speeds due to having less RAM than my previous MacBook Pro – but not only have I not suffered any slow-downs, I’ve found it to be quite a bit faster. This is most likely due to the ultra-fast SSD hard drive. In fact, in every-day tasks, the Air easily out-performs my dual-Xeon processor Mac Pro with 11 GB of RAM and 7200 RPM hard drive.

Adobe Creative Suite on a MacBook Air

How does Adobe Creative Suite 5 running on a MacBook Air perform?

Photoshop boots near instantly, and working on 200MB files is no problem at all for the Air. Screen re-draw is smooth, file saving is rocket fast, and filters run at acceptable speeds.

Illustrator actually seems usable for me now. Even on my MacPro, Illustrator is easily the biggest slug I’ve ever used – but on the Air it’s a pleasure to work in.

InDesign runs just awesome. Normally, it’s the slowest CS app to launch, but on the Air it takes only three or four seconds after a fresh boot-up, and under two seconds to launch if it was previously run. Shocking!

The same can be said of Dreamweaver, Acrobat and Bridge, they just run better than they do on my MacPro and MacBook Pro.

Would I recommend it for any designer?

This of course is a loaded question. The Air is perfect for my needs, which includes blogging, writing, web and email, and light-to-moderate Adobe Creative Suite duty. But I believe it probably could serve as my only Mac if I had the extra storage and larger monitor to plug it into while working at home. Unfortunately, I can’t plug my 30″ LCD screen in to the Thunderbolt port on the Air to see how it performs.

With the Air, you must have a wireless network in place because there is no Ethernet port built-in; although you could order a USB-to-Ethernet adapter. I chose not to, and haven’t missed it yet. Nor have I missed the optical drive.

If you’re in the market for a second Mac to take on the road, the Air is by far the best option, in my opinion. In fact, I would be not at all surprised if Apple doesn’t begin phasing out the 13″ and 15″ MB Pros in favor of the MacBook Air; keeping only the 17″ MB Pro at the top end.

The only down-side to running Adobe CS5 on the MacBook Air is the lack of support for Lion’s new features like Full Screen and Resume – but those will no doubt come with the next CS upgrade.