One morning some years ago, I sat in a coffee shop in town and poked out a screed about what was up that day, which I re-read to re-fresh. I got some nookie earlier that morning, apparently–nice to hear that that used to happen to me sometimes. But I was also going on about not having internet access at home and hitting up the various wireless hotspots in the Old Pueblo to bumble around online when I wasn’t at work or trying to sleep. Which led me to talking about tha few-chaaah! “The Cloud” is a big deal right now, but has been a long time coming. I am not going to claim prescience or anything like that. I will simply appreciate the hell out of this Mercury Aura Pro.
In October 2010, Apple did a refresh of the fabulous Macbook Air into two models: A 13-inch like the original and, most excitingly for me, an 11-inch model–the portability I always needed. Also, SSD was not merely an option but was standard on these foxes. Plus, the prices were much more realistic. Small and light too. Two annoyances typical of Apple: the RAM was soldered directly onto the motherboard (no upgrade path possible) and the SSD was a non-standard design, though it was removable. Plus they used these funny Pentalobe screws to fix the bottom plate to the machine. Clearly upgradability (and thus longevity) was not in Apple’s design philosophy anymore.
No matter. I obsessed over getting one of these, especially the little 11-inch. No question I was going to get that. I went for the $999 base model (1.4 GHz CPU, 2 GB RAM, 64 GB SSD) knowing that the 64 GB storage was going to be a problem, but only a small one as long as I kept a 2 TB drive handy and looked seriously at online storage, which by now was improving in availability and options. I’d already spent eight months experimenting with the iPad as a computer replacement (no dice), and really wanted a real frickin keyboard again. And not to have to deal with iOS on a day-to-day basis for all my computing needs.
Not too long later, Other World Computing came up with a solution: The Mercury Aura Pro. They’d come up with a line of SSDs exactly like the ones in the new Macbook Airs, only much higher capacity. The low-end was 180 GB–slightly more, mind you, than my black Macbook Marlena‘s hard drive, but much faster in terms of access. Just lovely! Expensive as hell, but worth the bother if you really need/want the space. Almost six months into my sojourn with this Macbook Air, I routinely maxed out the storage thanks to iTunes. I kept an eye on the Aura Pros though. The 180 GB model was my target, if only because that would bring this computer more into line with what I had with Marlena. Plus I could swing the $400-plus price tag if I was really careful, but no more than that.
So I placed the order yesterday (Friday) and put in for Saturday delivery since the price on the 180 model had dropped by about $60 from what it was back in January. It showed up this morning. Took me longer to get it home than it did to install it. OWC was kind enough to include in the box the two screwdrivers needed to perform the install: A Torx for the screw that holds the SSD in place in the computer and a Pentalobe to get at the ten screws holding the bottom plate in place. Those little bastards were a pain, but once you got them off, the plate just popped right out. If you’ve ever looked at tear-downs of this model of computer, it’s mostly battery inside. I took a couple of pictures I’ll try to include here. Like I said, it took longer to get the thing home than it did to get the drive in, even with the tiny little screws and the funny screwdriver.
Performance tests of this drive are just a Google search away if you’re curious. I am not writing this as a review of this SSD anyway as such is not necessary. I am writing this as an appreciation. In terms of speed, the SSD is an obvious win over any hard drive. The 2010 Macbook Air has the fastest boot time I have ever seen in a computer–even counting the DOS days. The OWC upgrade doesn’t improve upon that, but it’s also no slouch. This is still as peppy as it was, only now it has some lebensraum! The $400-plus price tag might give an indication of why Apple did not add substantial storage to these computers. The size and the apparently underpowered CPU have been criticized by various haters out there, but this was a pretty brisk seller for Apple when it came out so the compromise was worthwhile.
What it means to me though is that I can hold on to this computer for a long time–which you might say I’d have to in order to justify dropping a hunk of change into this little honey. I bought this originally with the idea that I could upgrade to a 13 inch Macbook Pro next year while at the same time retiring my black Macbook Marlena (if Mom ends up finally buying a new computer at that point), maybe selling both to underwrite the upgrade. I don’t hold on to old tech anymore out of sentiment. If it’s not useful, out it goes.
As I’ve been using this computer though, and keeping a weather eye on the developments with Chrome OS, I realize that this computer is damn near perfect for what I need right now and for the forseeable–even more so than Marlena was. It’s lighter, smaller, and in some ways faster than that computer–though not really up to resource-heavy tasks given the slower CPU. My computer use right now is practically at thin-client level. I use this to watch TV shows and movies with Hulu and Netflix (and iTunes). I also use it to sync my phone and drop in the occasional audiobook. I also use it to write, and am trying to increase that usage wherever possible. With Zoho Writer out there (at the moment more feature-rich than Google Docs), I don’t really need a heavy-duty computer for writing, trolling websites–I mean research–or for “multimedia,” to use an outdated word. I don’t game and if I do it’s on my iPhone, so I don’t need the latest and the fastest. Besides, I’m tired of heating up a room with my computer.
The Chromebooks look interesting, and if one can make a few habit changes would be viable for most computer use. I still believe that the Chrome OS will make a far superior tablet OS to all the alternatives out there right now, including Android, once web designers make the distinction between mobile and touch (and stop using fucking Flash!). Inertia and habit are the main reasons why anyone would want a physical keyboard at this point, including me. The keyboard/pointer paradigm of human-computer interface is clunky but no one has come up with a truly compelling alternative. The iPhone OS and what we’re seeing so far from “Windows 8” are really innovative ideas, but the iPhone OS is a powerful smartphone operating system–not meant for heavy lifting–and “Windows 8” is an intriguing idea grafted on top of the biggest pile of baggage outside an ex-girlfriend’s head, the MS Windows OS.
So what I’m getting at is that there aren’t many options on the horizon for your forward-thinking tappity-tapper here. As I said, I’m intrigued by the Chromebooks–even if Google didn’t send a CR-48 to yours truly when I really REALLY could have used one. Damn you all. However, if the Chromebooks were about the size and heft of this very Macbook Air–and maybe had a little more generous SSD inside (16 gigs? Really? Not everything is in the cloud yet Google…), I would scoop up one lickety-frickin-split. And love it. Each time I think about it though, I realize I’ve got it pretty good with this little Macbook Air. And the Mercury Aura Pro has made it even better.
Good Looking out OWC. Good looking out.