The Budget Mac

11" MacBook Air vs. Hackintosh Netbook: No Contest

- 2011.11.16 - Tip Jar

Low End Mac's contributors recently shared their thoughts about Hackintoshes and the tinkering community (see The Hackintosh Conundrum), and it got me thinking back to my experiments with hacking OS X onto a netbook (see The HackBook Experience: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly from early 2010).

When I first started looking into making a HackBook, my reasons were fairly simple: I always like a challenge, and Apple wasn't serving my needs in the ultraportable arena. Sure, there was the 13" MacBook Air, but it was expensive and plagued with hinge problems and slowness. It was not an obvious successor to the 12" PowerBook G4 that, up until recently, was my perfect computer.

So I proceeded to find an easy-to-hack netbook that would fit the bill. It had its problems, but for about six months, it met my needs, and it was my main Mac. Later that year, I picked up a MacBook Aluminum Unibody (like Charles Moore's) and used the two in tandem for a while.

When I needed a disc drive and more graphics and computing power, I used the MacBook. When I needed portability, I turned to to HackBook.

And then, Apple came out with the 11" MacBook Air. With reviews of its speed and light weight sweeping the Web, I knew this would be my next Mac, and my days of using the HackBook were limited. I waited for the graphics issues to be sorted out and for a newer generation model to debut so prices would drop. Once all those milestones passed, a Late 2010 11" Air was mine!

Since acquiring one when Apple had refurbs available for $750, I haven't touched the HackBook, and I've mostly abandoned my MacBook Unibody except for occasional iDevice syncing and DVD ripping, both functions that the Air will serve creditably once I get around to it.

One of my annoyances with the HackBook was its paltry graphics capability; streaming video was noticeably choppy, about on par with my 12" 1.5 GHz PowerBook G4. The Air, on the other hand, handles streaming video well from all the popular sources - Netflix, Hulu, YouTube. It's also extremely quick about loading applications, thanks to the SSD, and it's lighter than the Lenovo with about twice the battery life. Plus, it has none of the annoying bugs that come with forcing OS X into unsupported hardware.

The only obvious limitation is hard drive space with the 64 GB SSD, but I've always maintained a redundant set of large-capacity external drives for storage, so that doesn't bother me. As with the HackBook, I don't plan on doing a lot of heavy computing with the Air. Unlike the converted S10's 1.6 GHz single-core Atom processor, however, the dual-core 1.6 GHz Core 2 Duo in the Air does gives me the option of doing heavier work.*

The seamless experience of using OS X on Apple hardware is what drew me to Macs in the first place. I love that Hackintoshes exist and give people the option of an affordable Mac experience, but now that Apple has bridged so many of the gaps between OS X and Windows and brought back the small portable form factor, I'm comfortable leaving that particular tinkering behind. LEM

* It's difficult to find real world comparisons of these specific machines, but a lot of "synthetic" ones are available. Primate Labs' Geekbench score for the single-core 1.66 GHz Atom is 876, while a 1.6 GHz Core 2 Duo scores 1684 to 1971 (there have been several different versons), which means the MacBook Air has about twice the raw processing power of the Lenovo S10. Then factor in the Air's SSD and 2 GB of system memory vs. the Lenovo's hard drive and 1 GB of RAM, and you've got even more performance.

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