MacBook Air as a development machine

Last week I got a new 13″ MacBook Air as a possible replacement for my 15″ MacBook Pro. Although it has a slower CPU and less RAM, the SSD makes it almost as fast, and in some cases even faster. Applications launch almost instantaneously and disk intensive tasks are much faster on the Air.

Despite having a 2.1 GHz Core 2 Duo and 4GB of RAM, vs the MacBook Pro’s 2.8 GHz Core i7 and 8GB of RAM, the MacBook Air is surprisingly pleasant to use. If you travel a lot, the Air’s size, weight, and battery life make it a better choice than the larger MacBook Pro, unless you do a lot of graphic intensive work.

My primary work is iOS software development, so I need a machine that can run Xcode, as well as Photoshop to create UI elements. THe Air works surprisingly well with both applications. Since I have a high end Core i7 iMac, I’ve set it up to support Xcode distributed compilation, which makes it even nicer to use.

For distributed compilation, you need two or more Macs running the same version of Xcode and the same OS version. On your fastest machines, in Xcode’s distributed build preferences enable ‘share my computer’, and on the others enable ‘distributed building’. You will then be able to take advantage of the faster machine when building on any of the other machines.

Here’s how I set it up on my iMac to provide distributed build services:

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Here are the settings on the MacBook Air to distribute builds to the iMac:

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With this setup, the MacBook Air can take advantage of the SSD’s faster disk speeds as well as the iMac’s faster CPU. Of course when I’m away from my home network I can’t take advantage of that speed boost.

2 responses to “MacBook Air as a development machine

  1. Thanks for the post. I am considering a Mac Book Air as my portable iOS development platform as well but I am also looking at the 15" Mac Book Pro.

    How is XCode and Interface Builder performing when you are not able to do distributed builds? Do you still believe that Mac Book Air is a valid development platform?

    • Interface builder doesn't take advantage of distributed builds, and even without it Xcode is a bit faster than my old 2008 13" aluminum MacBook. The only time the Air feels slow is when importing tracks into iTunes or encoding & exporting video.

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