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Ask HN: Any good Macbook Air alternatives?
85 points by puredemo on Aug 28, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 134 comments



I actually switched from 2010 Air to X220 after the 2011 Airs came out.

Needed a Windows machine and did not like where Lion was going - with 2011 MBA I would have no choice but to run Lion and Windows with half baked support (AHCI, other minor annoyances)

The X220 fits the bill -

1) Display is good - it's IPS panel with good viewing angles and great brightness (Make sure you opt for Premium HD display)

2) Battery life is great - 6-7 hrs for regular use is no big deal at all with the normal battery. Go with 9 cell for little extra thickness and you are talking 9 hrs.

3) It is fast even with the 7200RPM HDD - resume from sleep is fastest I've seen for a Windows laptop with regular HDD and pre desktop fingerprint authentication saves you more time.

4) Legendary Thinkpad keyboard - love it!

5) Fast regular voltage i5/i7 CPUs - not undervolted ones.

6) Does not get noisy or hot even under full load - the i7 models throttle a bit more but are still great.

7) Can have 8GB RAM - big deal for me as I run VMs. Not an option with the Air.

The only issue really is the tiny trackpad. It gets the job done but is nowhere near the nice big glassy one on the Air. If you were into Linux X220 runs Ubuntu 11.04 great out of box - added benefit.


I did a search for X220 and found this:

http://www.laptopmag.com/review/laptops/lenovo-thinkpad-x220...

Are you serious? This doesn't look like anything that may compete with Macbook Air in my book. Not to seem too negative, but the overall design is reminiscent of old laptops from the year 2001. (Typical for PC laptop designers).


It's pig ugly, but it's not a bad design, just philosophically different to how Apple work.

Apple take their platonic ideal of design - a perfectly smooth pebble of metal and glass - and try and compromise it as little as possible in the process of making it a computer. They're amazingly good at that process, but inevitably face compromises.

Lenovo (and IBM before them) build purely for performance and let form follow function. If a bulge in the chassis means a better machine, they put the bulge in the chassis.

For example, you'll notice a VGA port on the side. Apple would consider it an unacceptably bulky legacy port. Lenovo fit it because their target market values being able to hook up to a projector without a fragile and easy to lose adapter. There are hundreds of really clever bits of design on a Lenovo, but they're all about Getting Stuff Done.

I've alternated between Mac laptops and Thinkpads for as long as I can remember, probably over a decade. They're both the best in their field by a very long way, but they're competing in very different markets based on very different design philosophies.


  > This doesn't look like anything that may compete
  > with Macbook Air in my book

  > design is reminiscent of old laptops from the year
  > 2001
1. The age of the design shouldn't necessarily say anything about how good it is. Would you claim that we should just get rid of art museums because everything in them is just 'too old?'

2. The ThinkPad was praised for it's industrial design back in it's day.

3. There are many people that prefer the ThinkPad design over the MBA unibody.

4. If the X220 surpasses the MBA in all aspected except looks, then does it really not compete in your book? Is the design of the laptop so important that you would be willing to pay more for less functionality just for your laptop to look nicer?

5. I don't quite understand how you can reply to someone saying that they went with a X220 due to features that it had that the MBA didn't (and which were important to the poster), with a "it's not even competitive because the design is not pleasing to my eyes." It comes off like this:

  poster1: I bought a NASCAR because I need to go fast for
           work.
  poster2: How could you even claim that a NASCAR is a replacement
           for a sedan?! The external looks are horrible!


The original question posed was, "any good Macbook Air alternatives?" To me, that implies lightweight, compact, and, yes, elegant. The Thinkpad doesn't appear to be any of those.


Elegant is subjective. It's better to talk about things like specs, issues, OS support, etc, and let people decide on the aesthetics themselves. Arguing over which design is more pleasing on the eye (or elegant) adds nothing to the discussion.

The original post suggesting the X220 listed a bunch of specs that it had (and that the poster needed) that the MacBook Air didn't. A response of, "Disregard that the design sucks cocks," adds nothing to the discussion even if that it your personal opinion. If someone thinks that the external looks of the laptop are important, they are not going to just blindly make the purchase based a comment on HN without personally checking it out.

The more important discussions are things like:

* X is billed as (or looks to be in the surface) a replacement for Y, but once you get it out of the showroom you'll notice issues A, B and C.

* X looks really cheap on the surface, but in my experience it's extremely durable.

* X looks really good, but doesn't run Operating System Y.

* X looks like it runs Operating System Y, until you need to use feature/hardware component Z.


Elegant is subjective.

I think you would be hard pressed to find someone who honestly believes a Thinkpad to be more elegant than a Macbook Air.

A response of, "Disregard that the design sucks cocks,"

Excuse me?


How much elegant is good enough or to what degree that is a concern is subjective. GP did not specify that elegance was the sole criteria which means he/she is probably ok with a fairly elegant machine within same ballpark of the Air - which the x220 is.

The x220 certainly ain't ugly - it is thin, lightweight and durable. Many prefer the Thinkpad design. So even if for you personally elegance may be the first/only priority without override - many people are not that obsessive when it comes to choosing a work laptop.

So the X220 is certainly a choice when you are thinking Macbook Air. The screen size falls nicely between the too small 11" and a bit too big 13.3", the CPUs are same gen, SSD is configurable etc.


So even if for you personally elegance may be the first/only priority without override

Okay, I'm genuinely curious here. What's with all the strange, reactionary posts in this thread, and mis-categorization of people? When did I say anything about elegance being my first priority? I was quite clear in my statement, yet you've skewed it in a bizarre manner.

many people are not that obsessive when it comes to choosing a work laptop

Obsessive? How about appreciative? In fact, how about any word which isn't loaded? Again, there is some strange, defensive stuff going on here.


Well nothing to be defensive about. I was responding to the question /why even bring up Think pad when it looks less elegant/. Only a somewhat obsessed person will completely ignore a laptop because it is not as good looking as the Air. Nothing wrong or loaded about that - just that it isn't what everyone will generally do. And so the response wasn't completely irrelevant, that's all.


Not defensive, but rather offended. Also, there is most certainly a lot of loaded text in your replies.


Indeed. I've been reading a lot of responses thinking the same thing.


  > > A response of, "Disregard that the design sucks cocks,"
  >
  > Excuse me?
Sorry, my (previous) 4chan roots showing through:

http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/disregard-that-i-suck-cocks#.T...

My point was that the responder at the top of the thread was saying (in so many words):

  ignore all of that so-called 'content' in the parent
  post, my (subjective) ideas about the design should
  trump all of that


I understand the 'meme' and don't see how it has any place here, whatsoever.

As for your summary, I find it to be amazingly slanted toward a particular view. The X220 is truly nothing at all like the Macbook Air. I used a consumer grade Toshiba, so I have no horse in this race, but I can plainly see (from specs as well as design) that the X220 is in a significantly different category from the Air.


That's not what I was responding to. The original suggestion about the X220 was responded to by saying that the X220 isn't 'elegant' and has a design that harkens back to 2001 (which is implied to be a bad thing).

The elegance of the design alone is not enough to place it in a different category. If the argument had been that it can't be classified in the same category as the MacBook Air (with a list of reasons other than "I think that it looks ugly"), then this thread would look a lot different.


Of course in the form/looks department nothing beats the Air so far.

But for me if I can get function with form I will go with it. Sacrificing function for form is not a luxury I can afford at the moment :)

But the point is - Thinkpads are well built, the x220 is thin if not as thin, and it offers lot of functionality over the Air and even if it doesn't look as flashy it doesn't look that bad - people are used to seeing Thinkpads :)

[ I noticed you deleted the running OS X part - if anyone else was wondering - x220 can make a great hackintosh if you swapped the WiFi card - it has an empty mSATA connection if I remember correctly. Apart from that the hardware should be OS X friendly.]


> but the overall design is reminiscent of old laptops from the year 2001

The chunky black plastic is just as much a part of the Thinkpad brand as the unibody is for the Macbooks.


if it's anything like earlier x series, it's actually a cast metal base.


And the lid plastic is slightly rubberized.


Well, it's typical Thinkpad design, and Lenovo doesn't compete based on looks.

I suppose if style is the main consideration when purchasing a computer, Apple is hard to beat.


I'd have a hard time believing that style would be the main consideration if it's going to be a work laptop. Though I suppose to be fair, the OP never specified.


Style is actually a primary consideration in the design of the Thinkpad line. It's not enough to be reliable, it also has to look reliable.

People complaining about the design are often failing to correctly identify the intended user.


I actually prefer the Thinkpad design.


Well the aluminum looks nice, I too prefer the thinkpad design.

Don't get all the fuss over the apple look. To me the thinkpad looks very sharp and functional.


I'm responding here, because all the responses to this so far qualify and I don't want to single one out. I'd like to address them all.

I'd like to point out that chunky and heavy v. thin and light is not all about looking cool. A better comparison would be Thinkpad v. MBP. But since this is about alternatives to the Air, let's assume that thin & light are worth giving up some raw horsepower and perhaps some functionality.

If the form factor of the old Kaypro / Compaq luggables were around today you could pack a desktop machine's worth of power into it. If someone looking for a notebook computer was pointed toward one of those and remarked something like the above, I think we'd all agree with them.


Do you buy your laptops primarily to look at them, or to use them?


From what I understand, a big part of the appeal of the MBA is that it's light and thin enough that you can basically forget that you've got it in your bag. For people who travel a lot, that's a big deal. For some users, then, the laptop's physical attributes (dimensions, etc.) are important aspects of the machine's overall usability.


you can basically forget that you've got it in your bag

Except you can't, because you're worried about crushing it, due to a relatively frail case, or you're worried about scratching it because it looks pretty.

This is why I ditched an MBA and carry around a netbook.


One of my clients is swapping all of their sales people out of their windows laptops and into MacBook Airs because the sales people just need office and a web browser and the airs are far more impressive looking.

I have another client where the sales people have windows laptops, but they're not allowed to bring them to client meetings, instead they have to bring their iPads.

Sometimes form _is_ more important than function.


It can be tricky. Sometimes customers get the feeling you rip them off when you show off with expensive gadgets or expensive cars.


> Sometimes form _is_ more important than function.

Agreed, I have zero problems with this statement when qualified.


False dichotomy.


I wasn't trying to imply this is a strictly either-or choice. That's why I said primarily.


Carrying it about is a primary use. Arguably the primary use.


Well, that will depend on the user. In my case, I carry my laptop for probably an hour at most (round trip) and then set it down and use it for 2-3 hours at least.


Do you buy your car to look at it or drive it? Etc, etc, etc...


but if your car looks like a toilet with wheels it is no fun to drive. everything matters, function, form, feeling.


A lot of people hated the most toilet-like car I can think of, the 1998 Fiat Multipla. It still sold a whole lot, and I personally liked it. Making design pronouncements is a tricky business.


Not sure of the 2011 MBA, but Linux runs just fine on my 2010 Air. Feels a lot more responsive than OS X, but with somewhat worse battery life.


I run Linux for kernel development - having to load binary drivers is a strict no-no. So 2010 Air with its nVidia chip wasn't really a choice and when I tried nouveau wasn't really stable (still isn't - RE is hard). With 4GB RAM limit on the Air I couldn't run Linux in the VM comfortably.

For the 2011 Air - RAM is still an issue and WiFi card is another one - Broadcom is still working on getting a beta quality OSS driver out.

Compared to that x220 on Linux is very well supported.


+1 for x220

8) The nipple mouse in the middle of the keyboard means you never have to take your hands away from home row.


I've never noticed this to be an issue with mac laptops.

You've two thumbs for a reason, I never had much issue using my thumbs on the trackpad.


So true! I've just bought a Thinkpad T420 and the nipple was key in the decission. Once you get used it can't be beaten and not having it is terrible.

And the new Lenovo trackpads are also multitouch, not as good as Apple's tough.


Indeed. So awful you will never want to use it and will just use the keyboard instead ;-)


Some people love it. Like me. The pointer never feels quite so much like an extension of my brain with anything other than the nipplemouse.


The VM/RAM-Problem: We use VMs heavily and have one employee that is really happy with a MacBook AIR with 4GB RAM. On the other hand, we heavily restrict our VMs, so its more usual than not that each only has 512 MB RAM.


What do you think about the low resolution of the screen? for that reason alone i am considering the vaio z instead.


For my eyesight I find 1366x768 more comfortable for a 12.5" screen. But otherwise 1440x900 or above would be better for screen real estate.


In my experience the Macbook Air is the best bang for your buck in terms of weight, battery life and speed. The Samsung Series 9 is really the only one that comes close in those 3 areas, and it's more expensive. Full disclosure: I own the new i5 13" MBA and think it's the best purchase I've made in a long time.


I am planning to purchase the same MBA that you have.

Would you say it's good enough for someone who wants to do Django, python dev, Photoshop, Illustrator and some basic video editing?


Yup, without question. The only thing I'd warn you is that when you're doing heavy work (video encoding or lots of heavy compilation/running) or heavy play (lots of flash), the battery life will probably be just under 5. Not at all like the 7 they claim, which is really only for casual surfing where the processor is bored out of its mind.

(I have the same i5 13", it's been great)


Good question, I don't run a lot of those apps but I do Ruby/JavaScript development on it and it feels faster than my i7 MBP (probably because the MBP has a 5400rpm hard drive). My guess is that you'd be fine, the only thing I can think of is that the Intel video card might slow you down in graphics intensive work in Photoshop.


Seeing as how I've done most if not all of those things on a secession of laptops from a Powerbook G3, G4, plastic Macbook and a MBA, it's more than enough.


I have asked this question and done this research a number of times and all the links here are the paths you want to look down.

The Asus lowkey links, the Samsung 9 series (you can get this at Costco), the Sony Vaio Z series and the small end Lenovo ThinkPad's (which some friends have told me are a bit too small cause of the higher res screen).

When I looked the Samsung 9 had some serious touch-pad sensitivity issues. The Sony Vaio Z series is packed and quite expensive if you really load it out.

I would point out that the scrolling/zooming/multi-touch experience in Windows 7 on these other devices is no where near as fluid as the MBA; I don't know how important that is to you, but once I realized how herky-jerky it was going to be that was a turn off for me and how I was using my laptop.

Also the hardware loadout in the MBA compared to some of these other devices actually ends up making the MBA really competitively priced, especially when you add the SSD to the likes of the Sony Vaio Z which got quite expensive.

As always it depends what you want to do with the laptop (gaming? programming? web?) but just know that if OS X/Win isn't an issue the hardware on all these high end ultra lights is within the same ballpark and not night/day different.


I have a Sony Vaio Z21.

So alright alright, it's not, cheap. It's not in the same ball park as the MBA on the performance side (it annihilates it)

But!

- it's slightly lighter than the MBA

- its just as thin and compact

- it has a gorgeous screen that also doesnt reflects everything instead of showing you content

- it runs linux just fine

- you can plug a lightpeak graphic card if you like

- the SSD's are extremely, extremely fast (750mbyte/s sequential writes, and over the gigbyte/s sequential reads. And no, its not mbit/s) - standard voltage i7

- bunch of options if you like that sort of stuff (fingerprint reader, 3G card, fullhd screen, etc)

- battery sheet if you like 10-12H battery life for a slightly heavier lappy (long courier flights anyone?)

-actual HDMI out, VGA out, ethernet port, no need to carry adapters.

-it still looks pretty cool


that thing is 3x the cost of a macbook air... and I thought apple products were expensive.


what kind of battery life (with the build in battery) and fan noise do you experience under normal working conditions?


BS on the SSD speeds.

6 gbps SATA with 8/10 encoding (standard SATA) means the bus is saturated at 600MB/s.


Depending on his configuration they come in 2way and 4way RAID-0, so those numbers are potentially feasible.


I haven't found any non-Apple laptop with a trackpad that's even close. Everything I've tried on the Windows/Linux side has been bad enough to be a deal-breaker.


True. However on Linux and Windows I don't need to use the touchpad as often.


When I use Windows I feel like everything is inside a damn context menu that's difficult to access with the keyboard.

(imo of course) OS X beats Linux for keyboard shortcuts because they are more consistent. My ranking is: 1. OS X, 2. Linux, 3. Windows.

I'm a keyboard junkie, to a fault sometimes, but I find that I use the trackpad on my MacBook quite a bit because it's so useful with all the gestures and such.


> context menu that's difficult to access with the keyboard

Hmm, I guess you're right. Without the dedicated context menu key, you have to use SHIFT+F10. That's a pain.


Yes cumbersome would have been a better word than difficult. Once open it's pretty straightforward to navigate, though I really wish you could type the name of any menu item and jump to it like you can on OS X. If there's no alt shortcut on Windows you have to use the arrow keys which are off the home row, which still disrupts me every so slightly.


Or OS X if you learn the shortcuts.


This was a major reason I got an MBA. It is honestly the first laptop I've used where I feel absolutely no need to plug a USB mouse in. The trackpad is one of the most fundamental ways to interact from a UI perspective, -it's a big deal to have it done right.


Macbook Pro 13" for $999, then add whatever SSD you're willing to spring for.

This way you get

* the unibody

* the magsafe

* the battery of the MBP

* the flexibility to easily use OSX if you ever need to (without doing the sketchy hackintosh approach)

* the resale value of the MBP

And you get a lot more machine for the money than the MBA. The one cost you have to accept is the weight. But that's giving you a very sturdy machine, something you might value.

The video performance on this generation of 13" MBP is the one weak spot, but it will suffice if you don't need to be on the bleeding edge.


The Air screen is WAY less reflective than the one on MBP 13", to the point of being usable. If you, like me, cannot bear to see your reflection in the LCD :) then the Air is the only alternative to the WAY more expensive (and weighty) MBP 15" (with the BTO opaque LCD).


The i5 Macbook Pro 13" has the same performance as the i7 Macbook Air. (5910 vs 5830 on geekbench).


X220, replacing the stock HDD with a SDD. Clean install of Arch.

Points to note: when it first came out, I had to come up with a patch of tp smapi to get it to work. Not sure if that's still the case. You'll get inferior battery life in Linux, even worse than in Windows 7. I'm typically getting 5-6 hours on wireless doing not particularly intense stuff. Also some oddities with the special ThinkPad keys that's simply a matter of not caring enough to fix. Touchpad a bit funky.

It's a solid alternative, though I think I mostly chose it for a superior GUI, not the system itself.


I own a Lenovo X220, bought before the Air refresh.

Similar weight as the Air but much thicker. Little more powerful CPU to which I added 8GB ram and a 240GB OCZ Vertex 3 SSD.

12-13" IPS display, is the crappiest IPS I ever saw, still better than a TN though.

Battery life is around 5h, OK I guess.

Keyboard is great but touchpad is horrible. Mac os x is not an option, but Win 7 runs pretty great on it.


JFTR the X220 does not have a 13.3" (that would be the X1 or X301 iirc) but 12.5"


You are correct, sorry I was thinking about the Air.



Yeah the Asus UL20FT-B1 is out already and has more features than the air, and it's only around $400 at some places. Weighs 3.3 pounds.


Comes out next month then?


This isn't a recommendation, as I am not a customer, but System76 offers a "Lemur Ultrathin" model: http://www.system76.com/product_info.php?cPath=28&produc...

Here's a review: http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=1610568


The specs and prices of upgrades for things like ram/cpu are really impressive!


battery life seems pretty bad


I use a system76 pangolin, and battery life is my only complaint. I got mine when they offered a 1680x1050 screen.


if you're looking for a good-specced ultralight, the main contenders are the lenovo x220, hp 2560p, panasonic s10, and sony z something-or-other (i don't think anyone else has mentioned the s10 which is why i am adding this post - see http://www.engadget.com/2011/08/10/panasonic-outs-toughbook-... for example).

if you're considering a macbook air then i suspect the s10 or sony are closest to what you want. personally, i'd go for one of the other two...


I just looked at the link to Samsung 9 series and the googled for the Sony Viao Z series.

The Samsung 9 in the link is 1600EUR. I checked the German Apple site. The top end Air is 1499EUR. The low end 13" with a 128GB SSD like in the link is 1249EUR.

I looked up the Viao Z series on the Sony German site and this is a bit confusing. It says that it starts at 1754EUR which seems like a really good deal. But at the bottom where there are preconfigured models with more detailed specs that you can compare, it really starts at 2299EUR (so what are you getting for 1754EUR?).

The Air is the cheapest option???


Dunno how you got your prices but the MBA starts at around 1000E and ends at around 2000+EUR The Z starts at around 1700 and ends at around 4500EUR Not sure about the samsung.

Of course, you don't get the same between a MBA and a Z.

The MBA is a pretty nice machine in fact, if you're an OSX user and don't need the best-of-the-best (aka the Z, so far, its so much faster than the MBA it's not even funny)


The Samsung prices are in the link in tis topic. I got the MBA prices from the German Apple site. I got the Z prices from the German Sony site.

I only looked at preconfigured 13" systems. I was only looking at the basics too. CPU, RAM, SSD capacity. The Z is faster for sure, but I am not convinced it's worth the premium that they are selling it for.


IMO, the most important feature in a laptop is resolution. The presence of an ssd is a distant second.

Sony Vaios are ridiculously expensive; that being said, they offer 1920x1080 in a 13.1" form factor. This completely destroys everyone else, in my mind.


When the pixel density is that high though, the text starts to strain your eyes.


For equal sized characters (measured in in/cm), higher resolution should result in more readable font. Perhaps I'm biased because I spend all my time in terminals and browsers, but font scaling seems to work quite well for me.


Apple releases "Retina Display", with ultra-high resolution: "Amazing! So much better than anything else! So crisp! So beautiful!" Someone else releases lower pixel density display for laptop, but far better than what Apple deigns to offer: "Ugh! No! How can you read that? That just gives you eye strain..."

(Exaggerated for emphasis)


Right, but most icons do not exist in a high resolution format yet (as far as I know, I would appreciate if somebody to correct me on this, if I am wrong).

Apple's retina display works because they have graphics that are the same physical size on screen. When I switch from my MacBook Pro display to an external Samsung display, the icon and text both get smaller.


Then use a larger font and get better-looking text at the same size as the competition.


X201s, a previous model to the X220 (along with the non "s" X201) has a higher resolution display (1440x900 same res as Mac Air 13) than the X220 (1366x766) and weighs about 1/2 lb less than the X220. Loaded with SSD and 8 GB RAM it is my preference over the X220. If a 12.5" screen vs. the Mac Air 13.3" screen works for needs then you might consider this machine. The Thinkpad Trackpoint is great once you get used to it (probably a few hours/days at most). For long trips the replaceable batteries of the Thinkpad have an advantage over the Air.

The X201s , X220 are extremely durable machines (I've had Thinkpads since 1999) and have like Apple (and unlike Sony and some others) outstanding warranty service. Thinkpads (on certain models) and Apple both have international warranty.

If you want the larger screen of the Mac Air over the X201s or X220 then I don't see an alternative to the "Air" today.


Lenovo Thinkpad X1 has 13,3" and a full powered processor. If you want even bigger you can go with a T420 (14"), which is more similar to the X220 but with a media unit.


Alas the X1 at 13.3" has only the low resolution 1366x768 display and weighs 3.7 lbs and has less battery life than the Mac Air 13.3" which as the higher res 1440x900, weighs 3 lbs and has longer battery life. Lenovo did not update their "Mac Air" which was the X301. Sadly, like early (pre-2010) versions of the Mac Air it is underpowered (1.4 GHz ULV processor) but it did have the 1440x900 13.3" display. Pity Lenovo did not come out with the update to the X301 using the same processor, screen as the Mac Air.


Vaio Z with it's 13" 1080p screen for 2 kilobucks.


...perhaps but Sony service is for the dogs (by reputation). Both Lenovo/Thinkpad and Apple service is outstanding - both in American English. If you depend on your machine and you travel consider service.


It's not obvious from your question which aspects of the MBA are unsatisfactory, and which ones you would like the alternative to have. Can you say more about your needs?


I believe Intel is coming out with a new motherboard spec soon (or already did?) to build Windows computers that basically imitate the Air. So wait 6 months and you should have some good choices. Couldn't find link, sorry.


Here is a link that has some information on the Ultrabook:

http://news.cnet.com/8301-13924_3-20067411-64.html



I've this laptop. I quite like it, the screen can go very bright so you can use it outdoors.

The downsides: super sharp edges make it uncomfortable to rest on oneself, the power socket is flimsy and the charger easily damaged, awful drivers for the Broadcom WiFi chip.

I tend to give laptops a rough treatment lugging them around (my ThinkPad was continually damaged and had bits shattered off it on a regular basis). My last laptop was a Toughbook which bravely survived years though a few screws came out of it. The Samsung has done very well and the only damage is to the charger and the screen getting bright patches from being squashed in transit.

The SSD is very fast, maybe faster than the Intel X25M I had before, and I'm generally pleased with it. I use Ubuntu without major issues.


I have been using a Series 9 since the week it was released. It is an awesome computer. I run Windows 7 on it and use Ubuntu in VirtualBox for *nix development work. My only reservation is the SSD is only 128GB, but there's apparently a newer iteration that has 256GB: http://www.amazon.com/Samsung-NP900X3A-B02-13-3-Inch-Noteboo...

That said, I find the OP a bit unclear. If you need a computer that runs Mac OSX, your choices are clear, though fairly limited. The discussion in that case is about what form-factor you prefer (ultra-mobile, portable, desktop).

If you don't care about operating system, but are looking for a computer with a similar design aesthetic and form factor, there are several choices. The Samsung Series 9 is the closest match, in my opinion, for being metal, thin, light, and lacking a optical drive. With an optical drive, I would suggest the Toshiba Portege (R835) or so, which runs Ubuntu well.


I have one of these. If you plan to run Windows on it, it's fine. Linux (Ubuntu) is ok and fairly usable, but not 100% working. For example, some of the special Fn keys don't work, and it forgets my dual-monitor configuration when I disconnect and connect my external monitor.


Im very much into light and small notebooks and I love the Lenovo X301. The big advantage over the air is that it has a matte screen. I run linux on it which works perfectly.


No. The other macbooks are too big, and all other notebooks are too windowsey.


> all other notebooks are too windowsey.

Some are very Linuxey. My Acer netbook is fast enough for me and, for the price of an MBA, I could buy 4 of them. It's been reported Toshibas and Sony's have some issues. The i5-based Dell I got issued at work also works very well and seems to be built like a tank.

If you want Windows, well... There are small computers, some of them well built that can run Windows at Windows functionality levels.


Too windowsey? What does that even mean? Does it mean you don't actually have to choose between working AHCI and working sleep in Windows?


It means they're commodity hardware. They're made of plastic. They're poorly designed, cheaply made, and the general goal is to be almost as good as a MacBook Air.

Sometimes second place isn't good enough.


It means they're commodity hardware. They're made of plastic. They're poorly designed, cheaply made

And yet they're much better to run anything that isn't Mac OS X. They allow you to boot Linux or Windows from USB. They don't disable AHCI just because and force you to apply a sleep-breaking MBR hack if you wanted to use it. An Apple laptop is the worst possible laptop you could get if you wanted to run Windows. Trust me, I have one and I really hate it. This is the last Apple laptop I'm ever going to own.

If all other laptops are too Windowsey, then give me a Windowsey laptop over an Apple one any day.

edit: awww, seems like I hurt the delicate sentiments of a poor widdle Apple fanboy.


You can look at the excellent Sony Vaio Z Series


I'll second this. If you're looking for a cheap, light notebook with mid-range features, look elsewhere; however, if you want a fast, portable machine for development/design, I don't know of anything better. I've had one for about a year (typing on it now), and it's probably the best development laptop I've ever used (maybe even best development machine, period).

The only drawbacks I've seen are the price (it's quite expensive) and Sony isn't very good about keeping their drivers up-to-date, so anything custom/customized in the machine (like the graphics card) is kind of annoying to get new drivers for.


The point about the drivers is a big one. I've had a few Sony laptops and I'll never buy one again because support is non-existent after a couple of years.


Disagree. Everyone in my office got VAIO Z's. They were great machines for about 9 months, then started having SSD, overheating, and graphics problems. I used to be a huge fan of the VAIO, but not any more.


However one needs to keep in mind that Vaio Z is a Windows machine which is a poor platform for Ubuntu or a linux in general.


I have a Vaio Z, and the only thing that doesn't work smoothly is dynamic GPU switching. This is not a problem specific to the Vaio, it is simply not supported by Xorg (yet?). All other important hardware is Intel so driver support is excellent.

The only thing not to like about this machine is the price.


I haven't tried Linux on any Sony devices yet, how is the driver support? I tend to buy Lenovo only since I'm always confident that full driver and wireless support will be there always. The Vaio Z is very enticing, but with similar offerings from Lenovo like the X220, I'm tending towards the familiar.


All the important hardware is, as I said, Intel and thus has good driver support. My Vaio Z additionally has an nvidia GPU, Ricoh SD/MS controller, Broadcom Bluetooth, and Ricoh camera. I'm using only the Intel GPU so I can't comment on the nvidia one, but I imagine it would work with their binary drivers. The SD reader works, MS does not (there is a driver for another Ricoh MS controller, might be similar; simply adding the PCI ID doesn't seem to be sufficient). Camera works with UVC driver. No idea about Bluetooth.

The machine can be configured with fingerprint reader, 3G modem, and maybe something else. I don't have any of the extras so I don't know the level of support for these.

When I got it last year, there were a few minor issues with suspend, but these have since been fixed.


If the answer involves giving money to Sony, then you asked the wrong question.


For the time being Apple has a near monopoly on the CNC lathes used to make slick uni-body ultra portables. http://www.tuaw.com/2011/08/04/apples-hold-on-metal-chassis-...


I think that article meant "milling machines." Lathes are for parts that have a generally cylindrical shape. 10,000 is a lot. I really can't comprehend the amount of space that would require. These things are the size of a large bathroom.

Also, the production of Apple's laptop cases have to be a drop in the bucket compared to how many other CNC items are produced. I am skeptical of the article's claims.


Lenovo ThinkPad X1, T420s and X220


In May I was thinking about the X220, finally I've decided for a MacBook Pro (No new Airs at that moment). My decision was mainly because I prefer the Mac OS to Windows.

Of course I was going to install Linux on the Levono and Wipe Windows, but now I have OS X with my Laptop and Linux with my Desktop.


I've been on the lookout for the LG P220, but it doesn't seem like it's going to be released in North America... unfortunate. No word on pricing either, though that wasn't mentioned as a concern.

http://www.engadget.com/2011/08/12/lg-p220-ultraportable-spe...


Samsung QX411 actually looks a lot like the macbook air. It costs around 800$ with i5 and 6gb of RAM. Its very light for a 14' laptop and battery is pretty good too.

I own one and just love it, at first I installed Ubuntu but video and clickpad drivers didnt map well.. then found out I could just run Ubuntu inside VirtualBox with seamless performance .


It's a lot heavier than an Air, really more of a competitor to the 13" MBP. The Asus U46E is also in that category (slightly lighter and narrower, I preferred the screen).


I personally have an Acer 3820tg that I've had for about a year now. i5-430, 4gigs of ram, 500gb drive. I upgraded the memory to 6gb (had some lying around) and switched the 5400rpm drive for a 7200rpm. When I have the cash to spare, I'll put in 8gb and a SSD which should speed it up more. I run CrunchbangLinux (debian + xfce) upgraded to Sid repos instead of Squeeze. The only problems I have with it are the video switching can be a pain (solved with a bios mod that lets you disable the ati card, which I don't really use much at all) & the usual annoying broadcom wireless that means you need to connect wired to get the driver the first time or have the .debs downloaded first.

The model is a bit older now but the specs are good and you can probably find them quite cheap now. There is also a second gen version (3830 i think is model?) that has most of the same specs except second gen i5, usb 3 & i think nvidia instead of ati video.


That is almost twice the weight of the smaller Air, with larger dimensions.

Since those are pretty much the defining characteristics of the Air, not really an "alternative".


I've been using HP dm1z for half a year now. It's a pretty good portable laptop with good battery life. Although in terms of computing power it won't compare to the airs. But at $400 it is a pretty good MacBook air alternative.


What about a Asus U36? See e.g. the U36SD-RX145V model or the U36SD-RX117X model.

The display is not as good and the touchpad is probably inferior, otherwise it looks like a good fit for $$$ when compared to the Macbook Air.


MacBook Pro


Anyone try a lenovo x1? Seems like a good alternative, but haven't heard much about it.


Its pretty good except for the battery. If you need decent time on it then you need to get an additional battery slice which makes it more expensive and bulkier but it also gives you a great keyboard angle.


An iPad.


I know you're asking about Air alternatives... But I bought the top-of-the-line MacBook Air (i7 1.8ghz, 4gb ram, 256gb sdd) right after it came out, and it's one of the best purchases I've ever made. It's my first Mac and won't be the last. Definitely the best computer I've ever owned. I run Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign on it, and do minor video editing. The thing's blazing fast.


Have you ever had an SSD before?




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