Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

New Hotness

I’m sure you’re familiar with the elementary school math problem where you need precisely four litres of water, but you only have unmarked containers of three and five litres. You’re supposed to juggle the water between the pails in order to get a nice, even four litres of total water.

Now picture that problem, but instead of water, you have terabytes of very precious personal data, music, photos, and videos. Instead of buckets, you have a few hard drives. And you’re not moving water as a trivial exercise, but making the move to a brand new computer to last the next five years.

I purchased a mid-2007 MacBook Pro soon after it launched. It came with Tiger (version 10.4.7, I believe), and has since been upgraded with every major (and minor) OS update, a new hard drive, and a few surprising tweaks. It has served me well in editing video and photos, and designing and building websites. It’s not just a computer any more—it’s the tool I’ve used for everything I’ve done to forge a career, and to become a better student. But it’s Old ‘N’ Busted.

On August 13, 2012, 1,865 days after placing my order for that MacBook Pro, I clicked the “Complete Order” button for a computer again, this time for a mid-2012 MacBook Air. New Hotness. It’s the 13″ model, because I tried the 11″ in an Apple Store and found Photoshop to be too cramped. I upgraded the RAM to 8GB, for future proofing, and maxed-out the processor.

It’s a huge upgrade. Not only is it a Pro to an Air, but more importantly, it’s a 2007 machine to a 2012 machine. It has a faster processor, despite being 0.4 GHz slower on paper1, faster memory (and twice as much of it), a solid-state drive, and longer battery life. It’s thinner and lighter than my Pro, it’s ridiculously powerful, and super quiet. It’s also my first unibody machine.

I will admit that it was a tough call to not choose a retina MacBook Pro. I’m mobile enough that I need a notebook, but when I’m at my desk, I connect to an external display. When I was 14, I saw a 30″ Cinema Display in person, and I’ve coveted it ever since. I purchased a Thunderbolt Display to accompany my Air, to and to replace a terrible Dell monitor. Finally, I get to own a display of nearly equivalent size, and with the same horizontal pixel count. It has a better panel, a bunch of connectors, and is about half the price, to boot.

But, as I said, I needed a flawless way to move my terabytes of stuff from one computer to another. Some things are easy: I have a bunch of movies I’ve ripped from DVDs or bought on iTunes kicking around on a MyBook, so I don’t have to move a single byte—I can just connect it to my Thunderbolt Display. Some things are a little more complicated, however. My music library is 300 GB, and is perhaps the most precious folder of data I have. Most everything else can be stored in the cloud, but my music cannot2.

Luckily, while I was looking for solutions to this mess, Paul Haddad pointed out an inexpensive Thunderbolt drive from Buffalo. I went ahead and picked up a terabyte model. I’ve split it right down the middle. Half is partitioned as a Time Machine drive for the Air, and the other half is for my iTunes library.

Everything else has to be moved over by hand, though, for two very good reasons:

  1. The Air’s drive isn’t big enough for the remainder of my data, so I can’t use Migration Assistant.

  2. I want to rid myself of the cruft I’ve built up over the years. I’m sure I have a bunch of preference files for applications I don’t have any more, documents I will never again touch, and things I simply don’t need to move over.

Most applications can be moved over with a drag and drop, or downloaded again from the Mac App Store. I had to deal with a bit of DRM nonsense on the Photoshop side, but a quick deactivation of my Pro and activation of the Air made it easier than I had anticipated. Indie applications like Yojimbo and all my Panic apps were a piece of cake to move (and Panic’s automatic serial number finder made that process totally painless).

Everything has been working swimmingly so far. I have been consistently blown away by how fast, quiet, sturdy, and elegant the MacBook Air is. The Thunderbolt Display is a wonderful piece of hardware, though it wouldn’t have killed Apple to add a 3.5mm headphone jack. Minor quibbles aside, this is an awesome upgrade. I have managed to push my MacBook Pro (and its original MagSafe cable) to five years of great use in the classroom, across France in a TGV, across the Atlantic in a Boeing, and right here on my desk. I feel exceedingly lucky.


  1. Yes, I’m aware of the megahertz myth, and the gigahertz gambit (or whatever it’s called). ↩︎

  2. Neither realistically nor cheaply, anyway. It would cost at least $600 per year to host it with Amazon S3. I can’t use iTunes Match, because it has a 25,000 song limit. ↩︎