Which MacBook?

I hope I’m posting this in the right place.

I have a mid 2011 MBA with a half full 64gb memory that I basically only use for scrivener and word (sometimes for a PPT or spreadsheet). It. Is. So. Slow. Even with nothing else on in the background, scrivener is painfully slow.
I’ve accepted I need more RAM so will have to upgrade if I don’t wish to become further acquainted with the rainbow spinner of doom.
I do take it around with me but I’m prepared to carry something heavier/bigger if it will be fast and reliable. The husband says just to go for a midrange 13” MBP. Do you clever people agree?

You are confusing RAM with hard disk space. I think your problem is lack of hard disk space, not lack of RAM. My wife has a 2011 MBP. It has 4GB of RAM, and had a 512 Hard Disk. It was so slow I was thinking of replacing it, but what we did was back up all her data, get the HD replaced with a solid-state disk of the same capacity and clone the data back onto the new drive. It’s still running MacOS 10.11.6, but is now very fast.

If you or your husband know of somewhere you can get that done, I’d get the HD replaced with a 256GB Solid State drive at least to give yourself plenty of extra space. It’ll cost you a fraction of replacing the MBP with an MBA.

That said, for years I ran Scrivener very happily up to version 3 on a 2010 MBA with only 2GB of RAM and a 256GB SSID. I changed it because I wanted the ability to upgrade the OS further. I was sad, because I loved that computer and actually preferred it to my current 13" MBA. If future proofing is a consideration for you, a 13" MBA is a wonderful computer to use—I wish I could justify getting myself a new one! Mind you, people are not always happy with the new keyboards, so try one first.

HTH :slight_smile:


Hello Mark,
Thanks for the detailed response.

Actually, the hard disk is only half full and I took it to two specialists who said it was the RAM that was the issue and there was nothing they could do. (I was told I couldn’t add any hard disk space either- I specifically asked about SSD). I think it’s only 2GB…

All I can say is that, I ran Scrivener happily in 2GB, but it’s true you can’t add more RAM. And it’s nonsense to say you can’t replace the HD in a 2011 MBA with an SSID, as I have done just that for my wife. But unless you’re anywhere near me, I don’t think I can advise further in hardware terms, other than to suggest you might look into a little app called “Memory Clean” (available from the Mac app store) which allows you to purge your RAM of bits that are occupying memory without being needed.

The other questions then are: "How big is/are your projects? Do have they many large images in them? Are you running more than one project at a time? Do you habitually work in Scrivenings mode?



Thanks, Mark. I’m a bit confused about the SSD then.

No images. One project at a time. The one I’m doing now is 93,000 words.

To be fair, it’s not just scrivener that is slow. I get the spinner when I use two tabs on safari and nothing else open. And a lag with word, nothing else open. I’ve deleted mail, photos, everything else.

I’m in London… anywhere near you? :laughing:

Hi Pingpong,

I’m in Exeter at the moment, but will be back in London (West London) late next week, and will have time after the 13th. If that’s any good for you, I’ll PM you with my phone number if it would help you to get together. Phil, who swapped the drive in my wife’s MBA is in Exeter, though.

My wife uses Firefox rather than Safari, but had the same problem with everything, including booting up and waking from sleep. The SSID has changed all that for her.

Let me know tomorrow. I’m going to put a comment on your other thread too.



2Gb is the absolute minimum requirement for Sierra, so yes, MacOS Sierra and most any decent programs (Scrivener) will be somewhat sluggish.

Personally I suggest 8 gb of RAM absolute min for any current OS for the minimum of upgrade ability (recommend 16gb) As for Storage, I recommend 512 gb for reasonably life expectancy given all current MacBooks have no RAM or storage upgrade options after purchase.

My personal system is 15” 2018 MBP 1TB, 32GB and the Vega 20 GPU. These specs are way beyond requirements except for my video work yet will still be a very useable and saleable product when I upgrade to my next MBP.

macOS performance on spinning HD is totally unbearable over the last few releases, this is much worse than low memory. I have an otherwise great 2015 iMac with a HD and it takes many minutes to boot or run software, and constantly hangs. I can’t replace the HD easily, but I use and external USB3 SSD, and even though USB3 is not ideal, it is an order of magnitude faster.

I disagree with mark on the use of memory cleaner software, they cause more performance issues than they solve by force purging system OS caches unnecessarily.

So, the key is to transition to an SSD (any size is better than no SSD), and memory comes second IMO.

To clarify, because I’m not seeing anyone explicitly stating so, the Solid State Drive (SSD) replacement suggestion isn’t about how much space you have left on it, but because microchips (as with an SSD’s construction) are orders of magnitude faster than older style drives.

Those older drivest have internal metal disks and metal read/write arms (that look a little like record player arms in miniature) which all have to move around to read and write data. Your operating system, and most programs, write and read data on your hard drive constantly. Web browsing consists of downloading (writing to your hard drive) images and HTML text files (among others), and then assembling them into a web page on your computer (reading them back from your drive). Scrivener is constantly saving the file or files within a project that you’re editing.

An SSD has no moving parts. When an SSD is asked for data, it can jump from the first microchip within it to the last one in the same time that it takes it to move over to the microchip that’s physically adjacent to it. In comparison, spinning disks and read/write arms have to actually move around to do the same kind of operation.

If upgrading RAM were possible, that would also be advisable, since part of what slows you down is that the later versions of Mac OS take up so much of your RAM these days. There’s not a lot of room for programs and the data in their files/web browser tabs with only 2 GB of RAM, so it has to “swap” out parts of your programs or files to the hard drive to make room for what it needs to load up. This “swapping” to the hard drive will also get much faster with an SSD, so you’ll probably see a marked improvement all around with that one upgrade.

If you end up getting a new computer, I’d suggest checking out the latest MB Air. I have a mid 2012 model with 8 G of ram, and barely enough hard drive space, but that hard drive is an SSD, and I have no complaints about performance for anything but games and photoshop-like operations. The new ones are lighter and have 12 hours of battery life, which means you can leave your charging adapter at home, further lightening your bag. A MB pro is overkill for Scrivener and other light-duty programs.

Were there ever any MacBook Air models that didn’t have an SSD drive? I recall getting one of the very first of that line (not counting the prototype model that came out a few years earlier—which also had an early SSD option), back in 2010, and one of the big things that made it an appealing laptop despite its lack of ports and lesser battery life was that SSD drive. It could even do some things faster than my fully loaded MacBook Pro at the time, if the tasks were primarily disk related. Not only for the speed though, as having a laptop that is nearly entirely resilient to vibration and minor concussions was also a big plus. With platter drives you have to be very careful about your work environment. With the MacBook Air you could use it safely, it perched on your knees, while riding on a bumpy road in a city bus. The only moving part inside of it was a small fan.

Granted, the technology for SSD drives back then was quite new, and many advancements have been made in the past ten years. SSD drives are a lot better, and upgrading to a new one probably wouldn’t hurt. It’s not going to be the kind of night and day difference you’d see when going from an old 4,200 to 5,400 RPM laptop-sized platter drive though.

I’ve been operating on the assumption that we were talking about replacing a non-SSD drive, but apparently, they stopped offering non-SSD storage options with the 2010 model.

So Please disregard my post, as a mid-2011 model must have an SSD. Upgrading to a Pro is still overkill in my opinion, unless you’re going to be working in Photoshop, video editing software, or playing games on it.


@nontroppo wrote

I suggested that because if she really only has 2GB RAM, then purging the memory can help, as I have had to do when trying to work in Final Cut Pro X on an iMac with only 4GB RAM. Otherwise, I wouldn’t do it.

And I have to apologise to @pingpong. I thought you said you had a 13" MacBook Pro, but that was what your husband was recommending and on re-reading I see you have an MBA. Senior moments here, I’m afraid! And you forum people are right; I don’t think the SSID in an MBA can be upgraded.

@pingpong, I think you should trade in your MBA either for a post-2015 MBP or MBA with at least 8GB RAM and a decent SSID, that is if you have a reliable Apple certified dealer near you. Or if you want and can afford a new MBA or MBP then that would be the best future proofing, but I think you should go to your nearest Apple store and try typing on one of each of them to see how you get on with the keyboard. It seems a lot of people hate the new “butterfly” keys.



The most important spec on a laptop for writers is the keyboard. It’s got to be a pleasure to type on for hours. For me, that rules out any current Apple laptop, but you might like the (new?) low-travel keys they’re using. Make sure you try one in store before you commit!

The second most important spec is the screen. You’ve got to enjoy looking at it for hours. Any Apple laptop with a Retina display should be plenty good enough, but older / 2nd hand Apples may be at a disadvantage.

Everything else… other than saying 4GB RAM is an absolute minimum these days, your laptop tech specs will be defined by what else you choose to use it for. If it’s just email and light internet browsing, go for light weight portability and price. If it’s photo editing, you’ll want something meatier under the hood.

But don’t forget… keyboard #1, screen #2 for a writing machine!

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I don’t have a problem with the 2018 model keyboard, however when I’m at my desk connected to the larger monitor I also connect a mechanical keyboard that has a feel I really do love. Did the same with the previous MacBook - 2013 model.