This is the third and final (for now!) update on my experiment of using my 11″ MacBook Air as my main production machine, in place of my 2008 Mac Pro.
Since taking delivery of the 27″ Thunderbolt display, the MacBook Air has been performing admirably as my main machine, and the experience has been surprisingly positive!
27″ Thunderbolt Display
The display is a joy to use. Pinsharp with glorious colour.
The ability to connect all my desktop peripherals to my MacBook Air with a single cable is fantastic. I do feel Apple have been a bit stingy with the number of ports. Ideally, I’d have like more than three USB ports and just the single Thunderbolt port seems an oversight, two would be better!
Beware of the glossy screen, it really is very reflective, but I’m used to it now and hardly notice.
Mounting the Display
I have a custom built “Triple Boa” stand made by Monitors in Motion. This allows me to have three monitors, all hanging off an articulated cross member, raised off the desk by a single post. The 19″ screen on the left is connected to a Mac mini running Mountain Lion, the central monitor is the 27″ Thunderbolt display connected to the MacBook Air via the Thunderbolt connection, and the right 19″ monitor is connected to the Mac Pro.
The “Triple Boa” utilises standard VESA mounts, so in order to attach the 27″ Thunderbolt, I had to purchase an optional VESA adapter from Apple. To fit the VESA adapter to the Thunderbolt display, you have to remove the original one piece stand using the kit supplied with the Apple VESA mount. A fairly simple process, once I’d tracked down a YouTube video showing me how to do it. The VESA mount went on just fine, and I had no installation issues.
I decided initially to just temporarily install the cabling so it was all a bit of a mess. Now I’m happy that my experiment will work out, I’ll dismantle all the monitors over the next week or so, and re-cable for neatness plus remove any unnecessary cables. Will post some photos when it’s all nice and tidy.
Screencast Recording & Editing Configuration
With the 27″ Thunderbolt connected to the MacBook Air, I have the perfect screencast recording configuration – recording the screen capture off the MacBook Air display, and having ScreenFlow running full screen on the main display. This way, I can record a segment, then immediately edit in ScreenFlow. The video capture files get saved straight to the LaCie so I’ve no worries about running out of disk space, or filling up my SSD.
I use a couple of peripherals when editing, namely a Contour Shuttle Pro and Wacom Intuos 5. The Contour Shuttle Pro is an editing jog wheel with programmable buttons, and the Wacom is a pen tablet, useful for precision editing. Both are USB, so can connect to the Thunderbolt display, or to the USB ports on the MacBook Air.
Interestingly, when I used a standalone keyboard previously for the Mac Pro, I used the Wacom as my mouse replacement. Now with the MacBook Air, I find I’m hardly using it, and relying on my MacBook Air trackpad more.
Storage and File Transfers
The performance of the LaCie is great, allowing me to boot easily from multiple builds, use as a separate RAID 0 partition for saving my project video capture files, and acting as a file store for encoding jobs when encoding on the MacBook Air. With the Gigabit ethernet permanently connected, if I need to transfer the large video files or Screenflow project files to the Mac Pro, file transfers are very speedy.
The only extra step I need to do when disconnecting the MacBook Air is to make sure I eject all the partitions on the LaCie first. I found a neat little script/application called “Undock” that allows me to do that with just a couple of keystrokes in “Alfred”.
As an added benefit, with the MacBook Air, the LaCie and the Intensity Extreme, I very nearly have the ideal portable screencasting studio (once I get a solution for high quality audio recording on the go). The only downside is the size of the 11″ screen. It’s extremely portable, but perhaps a little on the small size for video editing, especially in vertical height. Perhaps an excuse to buy a new 13″ or 15″ new generation MacBook Pro if they follow the styling of the MacBook Air when released.
It’s certainly a workable desktop solution in conjunction with the 27″ Thunderbolt display, and one I’ll continue to use instead of my existing Mac Pro.
New Mac Pro?
It’s pretty much a given that Apple will release revised laptops soon, most likely restyled to match the MacBook Air. But what about the new Mac Pro?
The jury is out on whether Apple will produce a new Mac Pro at all.
The previous reasons for the existence of the Mac Pro included performance and expandability. The advent of Thunderbolt and the eventual release of more and more affordable Thunderbolt enabled peripherals may well remove the “expandability” justification.
Leaving performance as a justification for the new Mac Pro.
For pro video and graphics users, there will still be the requirement for a high power machine with lots of memory and many processors. The issue is, with the power and potential expandability of the latest consumer machines, the target audience for these monster machines must surely be shrinking.
Whether it’s feasible for Apple to create a new Mac Pro to service this possibly shrinking market, it’s difficult to say. If they do, it’s most likely going to be hugely expensive and very much a niche product. My gut feeling is that we probably will see a new Mac Pro this year, probably in early summer.
Will I get one?
Probably not, but never say never!
For my purposes, I feel it would be more cost effective for me to stick with a high performance, Thunderbolt enabled laptop moving forward. The experience of moving to just one primary machine has been very refreshing. I’ll be very interested to see how Apple update the MacBook Pro range in line with the current rumours of adopting some of the design principles of the MacBook Air.
I may be tempted to upgrade to a MacBook Pro/Air with a 256GB SSD, 8 or 16GB RAM, new Ivy Bridge processor and a 13″ or 15″ HiDPI Retina Display.
That would do nicely!