MacBook vs MacBook Pro vs MacBook Air

Many schools in the past three years have implemented 1:1 Laptop programs with the goal of achieving an environment that allows students to be more than just a passenger on their learning journey but an active participant. I want highlight some of the questions and considerations that schools should be taking into account when planning for their 2012 1:1 rollout.

In 2012 many schools have several options for which Hardware they are going to provide students in their 1:1 programs. This year has seen the amount of choice go from one achievable device to more that five, based on specifications and choice. To figure out the right solution the following questions should be asked. I guess it is also important to acknowledge that many schools run their programs very differently. Just in Perth we have schools that buy all the laptops and then directly lease it to the students, we have schools that organise a product and accessories and then parents decide to purchase outright or from a vendor and then we have the more traditional master lease system. I personally believe that Master Leasing leverages the greatest value for parents and the school in general.

1. Is the option affordable for parents?

Critical to a parent funded programs is the affordability. In private schools it is a general misconception that many of the parents can afford to purchase additional resources for their son/daughters. It amazes me the disparity in price per month I see in various schools laptop programes when in essence they are all very very similar. When rolling out these programs for the school communities we need to ensure that all families can participate in the selected program so there still needs to be a large emphasis on the price per month.

2. What is the current laptops usage? (supported by data)

The question when making the decisions on the hardware needs to relate to how the devices are being used. This relates to issues of, hard drive capacity, the use of the optical drive, the battery life etc. In the statistics it would seem that on average many of the laptops are not using their CD/DVD optical drives, nor are they using the full capacity of their hard drives, averaging only about 40%. Battery life also is an interesting statics as it seems that it is not just the life of the battery during a day that needs to be considered but the nature of attrition. According to Apple, current batteries in devices lose about 20% of their capacity after 1000 cycles, I will explain this further later in this article.

3. Where do we see devices in three years time?

This is perhaps the most important question. There is an argument to be made that the choice in hardware should be the best decision for the students in 2012. In contrast, the other side is making the best choice knowing what the environment will be in the third year of the device. Both are very relevant but for schools thinking strategically it is critical that, in my opinion, the third year of the program needs to consider the environment that students will interact with as well. What I mean by this is, many of the devices we are seeing in 2011 are utilising new technologies with thinner profiles that result is a lighter more efficient product. This trend will continue so preparing students for technologies like this in the future is not something to be discounted lightly.

So with this in mind, this is my justification for the three devices – I also think it is important to understand the price points for each (Apple Special Pricing for Education Revolution(NSSCF)).

MacBook  two models  

MacBook 13″ 2.4GHz/ 2GB Memory (2x1GB)/ 250GB SATA Hard Drive $899.00 ex

MacBook 13″ 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo/ 250GB SATA Hard Drive/ 4GB DDR3 Memory $999.00 ex

These devices represented the current 2011 general ‘go to’ device for a vast majority of 1:1 laptop programs. From a reflective perspective the white MacBooks have been an excellent tool providing the appropriate amount of battery life and all the features required for use in the curriculum. So why would you not continue with this device for the 2012 considering the pricing is good and offers upgraded hardware in the form RAM in the second option.

The reason not to chose this device is based on a number of reasons. Firstly, this device is no longer available for purchase at a retail shop. In my opinion this leads me to question the life of the product, that is, how long will Apple continue to produce and sell these devices for programs into the future. This is an important consideration because it can cause issues with replacements and insurance claims in the second and third years of the program.

The second reason why I would not use this device relates to the failure rate of the Hard Drives that I have seen. This relates directly to the robustness of the drives when they are in student hands. While we as adults use devices in certain ways, students utilise them totally different and often in ways we don’t think of.

Lastly, the weight of the device has continually been a point where parents have raised concerns. The weight of 2.4Kg verses weights of other devices is something that we now have the option to look at.

So overall, these devices would continue to be an effective 1:1 Laptop program in 2012 but not offering students access to the last technologies. The big selling points of laptop programs has always be access to the lastest technologies, I would argue that this device does not meet that point.

MacBook Pro – recently updated pricing

MacBook Pro 13″ 2.3GHz Dual-Core Intel Core i5 320GB Hard Drive, SD Card Slot, Intel HD Graphics 3000 processor, 4GB Memory  $1099.00 ex

This device with its new pricing is a significant option for many schools. The device offers all the benefits of the existing MacBooks but with a better hardware profile. I have struggled to justify why I would not use this in my 1:1 Laptop program and the short answer is that I can only feel that it does not represent current technologies.

My philosophy on this relates to the school effectively providing the most up to date technology that will allow students to succeed in their future chosen careers. I don’t believe that simply substituting an aged technology with updated specification follow the trends of the future, nor does it train our students in the management of data size, lack of optical drives and manufacturing advances in profiles we are seeing in the mobile iPad and iPhone devices.

MacBook Air – (Two Models with various configurations of hard drive size)

MacBook Air 11″ 1.6GHz i5/ 4GB RAM/ 128GB SSD – $1149.00 ex

MacBook Air 13″ 1.7GHz i5/ 4GB RAM/ 128GB SSD – $1299.00 ex

Since the MacBook Air was released in 2008 many saw it as perhaps the most advanced hardware profile change to affect laptops since laptop screen sizes were produced in 17in sizes. The reason why these were never considered, until now, was very simple – PRICE. However, the price of these laptops as you can see above has dropped dramatically and now represent an affordable option for many schools to consider in their 1:1 programs. What is more important is the hardware advances in the current model and how they change the nature of the interaction between the student and the technology.

The most radical change in the MacBook Air is its form factor. The device is less than an inch thick and is built using the same technology as the current unibody laptops. Coupled with a sturdy aluminum chassis this results in a laptop that is durable enough for the rigors of every day and noticeably easier to manage for students. The 11in MacBook Air weighs in at 1.08kg and the 13in at 1.35kg respectively. This is a significant reduction in weight and is an attractive feature for our younger students when considering the books that they are carrying. The MacBook of the past were on average 2.4kg and this will alleviate some of the concern about the weight that the device adds to the school bags.

All Flash Storage – Unlike the traditional MacBook the MacBook Air provides “flash” storage as the media for saving and accessing work from the local device. The benefits of this type of storage media are as follows:

Reliability – Traditionally all laptops have used a magnetic storage profile to save documents. This type of storage while reliable is somewhat prone to damage because the device has moving parts that if slightly damaged will result in total loss of data. Since flash storage has no moving parts to read/write the laptop can be moved and transported with a much lower risk of data loss and internal parts damage. Much in the same way that old CD Walkman’s would bounce and skip compared to the smooth running of modern day MP3 players.

Speed – A significant feature is the speed at which the computer reads/writes data to the flash media. This results in a very fast load time for applications, opening documents and load times from both power off and standby modes. Less time waiting = more time working.

Efficiency – Linked with the two advantages above the media allows students to be more efficient. That is with no moving parts and very fast read/write times, students spend less time waiting for the device to load while at the same time allowing the battery life to be significantly improved.

Technical Benefits – The technical benefits of flash storage are significant. Firstly, there is a much lower rate of failure with this type of media storage. As a result the overhead time of transferring data and backing up data is significantly lower.

Curriculum Benefits – Overwhelmingly the most noticeable effect will be the time saved in the classroom for loading times in applications.  This translates directly to more teaching time in the classroom and less time ‘hanging’ (the laptop freezing reading large files). This aspect of the laptop, as outlined above, provides significant improvement over existing technologies. Devices such as iPods, iPads and iPhones in the past have used this technology with time-tested results.


The final recommended School device for 2012 1:1 Laptop programs is the 13in MacBook Air 128GB simply based on price and a final consideration of battery life.The importance of the battery during the school day is a critical factor in selecting the 13” MacBook Air over the 11”. The battery life in the third year of the program is what needs to be taken into consideration when selecting the correct device. With the 11” MacBook Air only having a maximum use time of 5 hours in the first year this poses a significant concern during the second and third years of the program. With a conservative loss of 3% per year, in the third year, the total useable time from a full charge would be reduce to only 4.5 hours of use.

Alternatively the 13” MacBook Air would offer a total use time of 6.3 hours of time from a charge in the third year as it has a first year battery life of 7 hours of use. This information is only provided as an estimate using the following knowledge base article.

Apple Portables: Tips for maximizing your battery charge
Apple Portables: Determining Battery Cycle Count

3 Responses to “MacBook vs MacBook Pro vs MacBook Air”

  1. Peter Spicer-Wensley 11 October 2011 2:17 pm

    I think the critical things for education users are:
    1) Mass
    2) Battery life
    3) Flash

    This is why I haven’t recommended iPad as the only device as too many really useful sites (MangaHigh comes to mind) are not iPad friendly. I use and love the iPad but Flash remains an issue.

    I would recommend the MBA 11″ where funds are limited and MBA 13″ where they aren’t.


  2. blitto 13 October 2011 12:32 pm

    a thoughtful analysis mate!


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