Macbook Air and large Scrivener files

Does anyone run large Scrivener projects on a Macbook Air? By large I mean projects that are 2 or 3 gb in size. Also, does anyone run huge Devon Think Pro Office files on one of these machines?

Both my laptop and desktop will officially become obsolete when Mountain Lion is released. I don’t plan to rush-upgrade, but I will eventually have to get around to it. I’m debating between a Macbook Air (undecided about size) and a 13" Macbook Pro. I’m currently using an early 2008 Macbook with 4g ram and 2.4 ghz core 2 duo. It handles these files, but does sometime chug a little. It’s getting time to move up, anyway.

I will use my desktop (which I also have to upgrade) for photo editing and other heavy stuff. The heaviest thing on the laptop will be the aforementioned Scrivener projects and Devon Think files. Portability does matter, but not so much that I would give up being able to run these files. I’d really like a little more zip than my current laptop gives me.

All input is welcome.

I’ve got about the same generation MBP you do; it was the late year model, which I believe is when they radically changed the design for the better, but the specs are pretty close (2.8 GHz; but that’s no big deal). I also have a first generation MBA 11" that’s about 1.5 years old now. To compare the two systems is difficult, because there are some things the MBA is astonishingly fast at, and other things it’s only okay at. Anything regarding file access speed, it can outperform the MBP. But when it comes to serious work, like Photoshop or some of the more computationally expensive programs like DTPo and even Scrivener for some tasks (like compiling and large folder management) the MBP out-performs it considerably. So switching between the computers is a bit strange. The MBP can do 20 things at once without clogging up too much, but file I/O is noticeably slower. Projects take longer to load and save, that sort of thing.

So, you’ll get a little zip with the MBAs, but not always. Overall these things perform about on par with a four year old MacBook Pro. They won’t blow your socks off. But we’ve kind of passed the days when a four year upgrade would have meant entering a new era of speed. The new stuff is definitely faster, and better designed, but it is not like it used to be. I doubt even a brand new MBP would make a huge difference in the day to day.

Large projects in Scrivener, by the way, aren’t really a huge performance factor. The main time it comes up is when you are backing up the project—and that will be faster on the MBA if you leave .zip off. Scrivener doesn’t load the whole thing into memory (obviously). The main thing that makes a project load fast or slow is how detailed its binder is. A 5Gb project with 20 outline elements will load way faster than a 15Mb project with 2,000 outline elements.

Thank you Ioa.

Do you think that a quad core would be superior to a duo core when it comes to handling Scrivener and DevonThink Pro Office files? I do break my huge projects up into lots of small files, which sounds like it would push my laptop harder. Also, would an ssd drive speed opening and closing files with a macbook pro?

Whatever I buy, I’ll be using it for years, so it’s important to look at all options.

The difference between a hard drive and an SSD is huge. Very noticeable. The whole thing feels much snappier. The downside is cost and size limits. 256Gb just doesn’t cut it these days. Seriously, I do software development on my MacBook Pro, with a 256Gb SSD. I consistently have 30 or so Gb of free space. But if you do lots of photos and movies, drive space could be a problem.

Thanks for the info. I’ve been thinking about this a lot – thinking about buying a computer is actually more fun that buying one, at least for me; cheaper, too.

I like the two computers I have. I know this will sound childish, is childish, but my Macbook, even after all these years, is still cute. I’ve kept it in Zagg film or whatever you call it, so it looks shiny and scratch free as the day I took it out of the packaging. And it runs great, too.

My desktop is an aging Mac Pro, a 2.66 ghz quad with 9 gb of ram. It has no problem, and I mean none, with anything I throw at it. Plus, it’s easy-peezy to add more ram, hard-drives, etc, and I get to pick my own monitor(s). Unfortunately, Apple is obsoleting it, along with my Macbook. There’s no point in even looking at a Mac Pro right now. I’m waiting for an upgrade, and if Apple abandons the Mac Pros, I may have to start thinking Windows. I’ve tried iMacs. Too limiting for the long haul.

So, I’m thinking about taking several thousand dollars out of my pocket and putting it into Apple’s bank account; all to be able to run an operating system whose advertised features don’t seem all that compelling. I’m not sure what I’m gonna do. Your advice kind of points me toward a Macbook Pro, but I love the idea of an iPad-sized computer. The only heavy lifting I ask of a laptop is Scrivener and Devon Think Pro Office. I don’t even put Aperture or Photoshop on my laptop. I do not want to deal with a computer that churns and sputters over my Scrivener/DTO files. That would make me a lot unhappier than a couple of pounds of weight. So, probably a 13" Macbook Pro.

I know I’m eventually going to have to upgrade. I had a great time, looking at the Apple website and debating what to buy. But when I considered pulling the trigger on one of these babies, I stared at the screen, then shut down Safari and started doing something else.

That’s one of the main things that puts the MBA more in the accessory role than the primary role, in my opinion. It’s a great little computer, don’t get me wrong I use mine nearly every day and I love how light and portable it is, but I wouldn’t think of making one my primary computer. There are just too many “satellite” things about it, such as not being able to play DVDs or only two USB ports.

But, for a satellite machine that you primarily use for writing—even the smaller drives are fine. I have the 128Gb and I’ve never found myself in want for more. There is plenty of free space on this thing. And hey, if that’s all you use for computers then perhaps it could make a primary. Computers have just become my music and film hub over the years and that means terabytes not gigabytes as I even rip the DVDs I buy so as to not wear them out.

That’s the position I find myself in as well. Even Lion, frankly, there isn’t much in Lion that would compel me to upgrade. If I didn’t need a Lion install for tech support I don’t even think I would have it installed. I’d be happy with Snow Leopard (and in fact that is what my MBA continues to use). I don’t need a bunch of features that I immediately turned off anyway or rarely use, and Mountain Lion has literally nothing that I’m interested in. At least Lion had full screen. So if I were just in computers for myself, I would hold onto my hardware until it fell apart. The hardware and software gains over the past four years just aren’t all that compelling to be honest. So much of Apple’s creative focus and bandwidth has been on gadgets, and it shows.

Well, let me rephrase in case I was unclear. I would compare the MBA 11" to your current MBP in terms of what you can expect of it. It’s a touch faster in some ways and a touch slower in others, but it’s not a massive improvement. It’s what you’ve got right now, except massively more portable and durable. It’s what they call a “cross-grade” rather than an upgrade. Your switching some variables around with some positives and negatives for a slightly different configuration. In your position, it could be a positive change, this different configuration of variables, because it is a distilled and refined version of what a laptop is. It’s just the laptop and no frills. If you’ve got a MP tower at home, it would make a better satellite than your MBP in every way.

I’ve done that maybe a dozen times over the past year. I keep feeling like “it’s time to upgrade” because my laptop is getting a bit old, and etc. But then I look at the web page. And I look at the thousands of dollars. And I look at my laptop and there it sits, humming away quietly as it always has. It might sometimes chug a bit when I jam 80 things at it at once, but by and large it’s a good machine and it gets a lot of work done. So I close the Apple website.

To put it another way: four years ago the computers they were selling were already overpowered for what a non-graphics/video/high-math person needs, and not much about what we do as low-profile users has changed. Sure the new stuff is going to be faster, but that won’t even be noticeable most of the time. Buried in a composition mode view for an hour or two, it makes no difference at all if your computer has two or four cores.

My last 2 upgrades were forced upon me by dire happenstance:

a) in October 2010, the space bar fell off on my 4 yr old MBP 15" (the first Mac I’d had) and I broke it trying to put it back on. Cue the MBP 17" as there was one in the shop.

b) in October 2011, I replaced the 4 yr old Mac Pro with a 27" SSD iMac, because my wife bought a new dining room table. Her justification was that the older one is too small when we have people round at Christmas and I thought “Right, if that’s the game we’re playing…”

I don’t really need the power of either of the new computers, but over a four year life cycle, it’s cheaper than golf – and it’s certainly more fun than a bloody dining-room table.

Recently, I’ve noticed that my golf clubs have started to slice…

I have a 13" MBA which is my only computer (apart from my old PowerBook G4, which I kept as backup in case something goes wrong). I use it for Scrivener, Devonthink Pro Office, and Sente. In my experience they perform fine. The thing that slows everything down is my brain – the computer is usually way ahead of me. I don’t really play DVDs (I think I have about six of them), so that’s not a problem for me, and I don’t play music from the computer (my CDs are all classical, and contrary to what the experts say, I’m not convinced that computers give quite the quality of sound you need for classical music). So most of what I have on my computer is text, apart from a certain number of photographs. My Devonthink and Scrivener projects are mostly text, too, so that might be why I don’t notice any limitations. If you have similar material in your projects, I would say there is absolutely no problem with having an MBA as a main or only computer. I’m delighted with mine, and don’t really need anything else.


I have an 11’ MBA with 128 Gb SSD memory and 4Gb RAM. Like others, I run Scrivener and DevonThink on it with no problem at all, although none of my files is of gigabyte size (well, the DT ones are, but DT as is well known has ways of dealing with that). And it is a really kewl machine. 8)

This information is very helpful and I think you a lot.

I think I’m too indecisive to do anything right now. I keep circling: I like the one I have … an iPad-sized computer would be great … why would I want to spend a thousand dollars on a cross grade … the 13" macbook pro is actually cheaper and more computer … I like the one i have.

I think the bottom line is (drum roll) I like the one I have.

I guess I’ll just tuck this info away for a time when I WANT another laptop, rather than just feel pushed into one.

As for expensive hobbies, you should check out my camera bag. My golf clubs (drat the things, it’s obviously all on them) slice too.

I’m going to try to re-activate this thread with another question. I’m still thinking about this. I hope some of you more experienced folks will be kind enough to help me think it through.

My question:

Is the screen on the 11 inch mba big enough for software such as Curio, Aeon Timeline and Flowing Logic Pro?

Again, I have never and will never do serious photo editing, layouts or anything of that ilk on my laptop. Photoshop, Aperture, In Design will not touch the mbp or mba I eventually buy. But I do want to use these other applications, and, depending on where I am in my work cycle, use them a lot.

Hmm. This is a more difficult one. My “other” computer uses an old Acer 22-inch screen. In one sense that’s already sometimes too small for Flowing* Logic charts, especially when used for planning fiction where long thin event lines are the order of the day. The effect is like looking through a porthole at a horse race, except you can move the porthole. In the same sense, the 22-inch could be too small for Curio, where you’re effectively looking through a porthole at a whiteboard. In both cases, the usability of an 11-inch screen would depend on the size and complexity of the charts you produce.

*I’m assuming Flying Logic, although Flowing Logic would be just as good a name! :wink:

At least one of Curio’s toolbars is too wide for the 11". I wrote them an e-mail about it so I assume they know. I also wrote about how they have functions on the toolbar that exist nowhere else in the interface, and hiding the toolbar is a valuable thing to do on the 11". So it’s workable, but not ideal. I can’t say for the others, I’ve never tried them on it. I would think Aeon would be okay. If you have an Apple Store close by, that’s a good way to test your favourite applications.

Not exactly portable, an 11-foot MBA, Hugh! :laughing:

More seriously, every time I see an 11" MBA, I think “I’d love one of those!” Every time I use my 13" MBA, I think, “I’m really glad I got this 13” one!" Sadly, for timing and availability reasons, I had to get it off the shelf, which means only 2MB of RAM, but that hasn’t proved an issue. I’ve also come to the conclusion that, for my purposes, it’s the perfect machine for Scrivener, and even prefer it to my new (late 2011) 17" MBP.

I always have a left-right split screen, with the binder open but the inspector closed. I don’t need the inspector most of the time, and when I do need it, a click of the button, or the shortcut opens and closes it. With that configuration, Scrivener fills the screen with no need to use full-screen or compose mode and the three panes are exactly the size I want them; so it’s distraction-free while retaining the menu-bar and tool-bar — customised to be minimalist, with small icons only, re-ordered to suit me — and for most things I use all the time I have shortcuts; anything else I might need occasionally, the menus are there.

The 11" is perhaps more aesthetically attractive with visions of portability, but I simply wouldn’t want to sacrifice screen-space. My original, revision one MBA had the same screen resolution as the 11" or nearly, but I definitely found it not so comfortable when scrivening.



Argh! And I remember actually changing it from the correct notation…

Reminds of this iPad 2 review.

Thanks for the replies. As usual, they were full of helpful information. I am going to replace my laptop, and I think I’ll stick with the 13 inch screen size. (That’s today; who knows what I’ll decide tomorrow.) Macrumors says to wait because mbp upgrades are coming soon. So, I’ll wait just a bit.

Yes, I meant FLYING Logic rather than Flowing Logic. Dunno where that came from.

Thanks again.