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Customer Review

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great + some things you might need to know, August 28, 2008
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This review is from: Apple MacBook Air MB003LL/A 13.3 Inch Laptop (1.6 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Processor, 2 GB RAM, 80 GB Hard Drive) (Personal Computers)
I have been the informal tech guy for two Airs. One for 8 months, one for 6 months. I have also traveled with them. They are generally wonderful, especially if the weight is a big factor. All other laptops seem heavy and inelegant. But ...

(1) If you ever want to use an ethernet connection to the internet (as opposed to wireless), then you have to bring the dongle that converts the one USB port to ethernet. For example, to check your office email at a Kinko's. Definitely buy it. You will want to travel with this and an ethernet cable, in case your hotel room has an ethernet connection and no (or poor) wireless reception.

(2) To do a quick full restore from Time Machine, you need BOTH an OSX disc (either Disc 1 that comes with the Air or an off-the-shelf OSX disc) and the back-up hard drive. But you only have one USB port and no firewire ports. The SuperDrive will not share that port on a USB hub (nor will it work on any computer but an Air). It is easy to back up with Time Machine to a small external drive. (We used a Western Digital Passport.) But consider using a Time Capsule or an external hard drive that has its own power supply. The powered external drive is not elegant, but if you ever need to do a full restore (and you might because your Air will lead a hard life, especially if it is a student's life), it will save you a couple of hours if you use a powered external hard drive. The SuperDrive that you can buy for the Air (and you should buy it, it is small and light) does not work from a USB hub. A powered DVD drive from another manufacturer (ours is from Toshiba) works on a powered USB hub. The WD Passport would not connect to the Air via a powered USB hub (at least through the hub I used, and that hub has had problems). But a powered WD MyBook external hard drive did connect to the Air via the powered hub. So use a powered external hard drive for your Time Machine backups, and if you need to do a full restore, get a powered USB hub and a powered external DVD drive with a USB output. The Apple Genius Bar might not have these. Note: See (11) and (12) below for alternate methods for a full restore, in one of which the WD Passport worked fine.

(3) The Genius Bar geniuses know a lot more about the MacBook than the Air because the Air is still relatively new.

(4) If you ever do a full "restore and erase" from the two discs that come with the Air, you need to know this: At the end of first disc, about 1.5 hours into the process, it flashes "Get ready to insert Disc 2." Then it reboots and eventually says "Installing. Calculating time remaining" and ejects the disc. It does NOT say "Insert Disc 2". If maybe you were not watching it for the entire first 1.5 hours, you would not have seen the message at the end of Disc 1 before the reboot. What it wants when it ejects Disc 1 is for you to insert Disc 2. Not very brilliant programming. Every two-disc Windows program and game says "Insert Disc 2 and press Enter." Not these install discs. I found out when I went to the Genius bar and the Genius restarted the install process. He went to lunch and I watched the computer for two hours (this is what I want you to avoid), so I happened to see the message at the end of disc one. It was a special moment in my life.

(5) Be careful where you put the Air and the SuperDrive. I heard of someone throwing out their Air with the Sunday paper. Might be an urban legend, but we lost a SuperDrive, possibly the same way.

(6) Backups to Time Machine are more likely to happen if you use a Time Capsule as a wireless router + external hard drive. You can also print through Time Capsule, instead of plugging the printer into the Air when you need to print. Be sure to have the printer plugged into the Time Capsule and turned on before you install the Time Capsule. Otherwise, you will probably need to call Apple Care to walk you through the re-install with the printer. Don't get off the phone until the printer works and Time Machine works, not just the wireless internet. For a student whose life is on the Air, I would definitely consider the Time Capsule an essential accessory to the Air. For someone who uses the Air as an occasional computer for travel and has her life on an iMac with an ethernet connection to the internet, the Time Capsule is nice but not necessary.

(7) Get a neoprene sleeve for the Air. Then when it is thrown into a backpack or briefcase, it will be safer. Also, in its sleeve on a desk it is less of an object of desire for thieves (in my humble opinion). After all these months, the Air is still eye candy (as you well know if you got this far in this review). Consider a color other than black, which is harder to see and find.

(8) I understand that the wireless antenna is in the hinge that attaches the screen to the body of the Air. So it is somewhat directional. Try sliding it around to get better reception. You can check the packet flow in the Activity Monitor in Utilities to see what works best.

(9) Wireless reception does not seem to be a strength of the two Airs that I use. The 4 MacBooks that preceded the two Airs in our lives seemed to get more consistently good wireless reception. This is a shame, because the Air depends more on its wireless than the MacBooks, which have real ports. In future generations of the Air I hope that Apple finds a way to get the best possible wireless reception for the Air.

(10) The 80 GB hard drive in the Air is not big enough for a student's life if the student likes to store music and videos on it. An outboard hard drive is a distant second-best solution. (I liked the WD Passport for this, since it does not need external power and it is small, reliable and travels well. Consider wrapping it in bubble wrap in your backpack or briefcase. USB power is enough for this drive since you will not be doing a full Time Machine restore from this drive. To backup the stuff on this drive, you will need another solution, which might be Time Machine on the Time Capsule. Update: I attach the WD Passport and the printer to the USB port on the Time Capsule with a USB mini hub (not a powered hub), store videos on the Passport and back up the Air and Passport with Time Machine to the Time Capsule's hard drive. I wish the backup was not in the same room as the backed-up drives, but it is a lot better than no backup.)

(11) It is easy to connect the Air to another computer to use the other computer's CD or DVD drive. You need a good wireless connection for both computers. The Air asks the other computer for permission each time, and the other computer has to give permission each time. I connected to another Air and could use the SuperDrive on the second Air. I have heard of people using this as a way to access the OSX DVD when they do a quick full restore from Time Machine to the Air. I tried, could connect, but could not do a quick restore this way. The problem was that the both the OSX disc and the original Disc 1 that comes with the Air cause a reboot. After the reboot, the Air could not see the DVD drive in the other computer. End of quick restore process.

(12) Update: To do a full restore from Time Machine to the Air: Do an Erase and Restore with the start up disc or an OSX disc. Two hours later, when this is DONE and you have a fresh computer, it asks if you want to restore from a hard drive using Time Machine. THEN you start the restore. (At that point the restore process is finished with the DVD and you can unplug the SuperDrive and plug in your external hard drive, whether powered or not. The WD Passport worked fine to restore at this point in the process.) The whole process (including the restore from Time Machine) takes many hours, but it works great and you do NOT need a powered external DVD drive; the SuperDrive works fine for this. This waste of two hours (for the erase and restore) is the cost of a small, light computer, I guess. Now you know, too. I hope this saves you from the frustration that
I experienced.

Given all that, every Air owner I know would buy another one if they lost theirs. None would go back to a MacBook. (I do know people for whom the weight is not a big issue and who want more horsepower and ports and sometimes screen size, especially for games. They are happy with their MacBooks as their main computers.) Except for the wireless reception, the problems of the Air are problems for the tech person, not so much for the day-to-day user. Which is a good design choice.

(Note: Four months later: We now have two students using 80GB Airs and they both love them. Both use external drives, too. (WD Passports.) My wife had her Air stolen out of an unlocked car. Don't ask why it was unlocked. It was in a backpack with the superdrive, ethernet dongle, external hard drive, wireless mouse, etc. and they took the backpack. We had Lojack for Laptops on it and the LAPD got it back for us. Just the computer, but we did not complain. It took four weeks. I recommend Lojack for Laptops. The only hard part is remembering that you have Lojack on there. The sooner you remember and file a police report, the sooner you will get your laptop back.)
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Sep 3, 2008 1:39:49 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 3, 2008 1:45:17 AM PDT
This information is a mix of fact and fiction. Misconceptions include the claim the SuperDrive will not work with a hub and that portable drives do not have optional power supplies. The SuperDrive will work with a powered hub and some portable HDs, including the WD Passport, have optional power supplies that make them usable with the MacBook Air. (I got a power supply from WD ages ago because the Passport would rarely run from the power of my MacBook Pro, though it did fine with Wintel laptops.)

I see you have fixed the misinformation about restoring from Time Machine yourself. I've never had to do that, but knew what you initially stated did not make sense.

I agree that the MacBook Air is reliable enough that most users will prefer it to their larger laptops.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 1, 2008 9:50:18 AM PST
M. Ratcheson says:
This is the first post I've read saying the SuperDrive will work with a powered hub. Everything I've read has said it won't, something about it requiring more power than can be available from a hub port. I'd really like to get one, but I don't want to get a drive that won't work on a hub. I've been looking for reports from people who have used any USB DVD drive, powered or otherwise on any hub, powered or otherwise with a MacBook Air, but so far I haven't had any luck. I have had luck with my old Sony USB DVD drive plugged directly in the USB port, but not through a hub.

Have you actually used the MBA SuperDrive on a powered hub with success? If so, which hub? Thanks.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 21, 2009 9:46:27 PM PST
Bill Staley says:
M. Ratcheson - I could not run the SuperDrive from a powered hub. So I assume you are directing your question to Voracious Reader. The powered DVD drive for a Toshiba Portege M205 worked on the hub, as noted in item (2) in my review.

Voracious - I have used many WD Passports on many computers and laptops, MAC and Windows, and never had any need for external power for the drives. I do not say you can't do it, I just have never needed it. Needing external power would be a shame, because it would compromise the wonderful portability of these great external hard drives. (They are about the size and weight of an old classic iPod.) I had one dead out of the box, but also about a dozen others that have worked great in hard service. None of the others have died or needed reformatting. One I reformat often (from MAC journaled to Fat32 and back, depending on where the data is going next) but not because of data loss.
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