If you have decided that you want to buy a Mac for college, but are having a difficult time figuring out which one would work best for you, I'd like to try to do my best to help make the decision.
- The prices shown here will be based on Apple's official education discounted prices.
Go to Apple.com and go to the tab Store and you should find Education Store on the left.
Base model 13" MacBook Pro (MBP) & Base model 13" MacBook Air (MBA).
- Macbook Air $1249
1.7GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor
4GB memory 1333MHz
128GB flash storage1
Intel HD Graphics 3000
- Macbook Pro $1099
2.4GHz dual-core Intel Core i5
Intel HD Graphics 3000
Firstly, you will notice that the Macbook Pro has a "stronger" processor. The better processor is great, but for normal uses such as web browsing, large word documents, etc. you won't recognize a difference. If you're going to be rendering files or processing files, that is where you will notice a difference, but for anything else that a typical student will do, both processors are going to perform similarly.
For memory, the both come with 4GB standard. The thing that separates them is that you cannot upgrade the ram on the Macbook Air. It is also currently capped at 4GB, so you will not be able to upgrade it later on. Whereas with the Macbook Pro you can upgrade it later on if you choose, up to 16GB if you so choose to. With memory being cheap these days, you can easily upgrade the MBP to 8GB for around $50, a worthy upgrade when done yourself. Memory becomes very important when you have multiple applications open, so keep that in mind if you're going to have more demanding applications open often.
The flash storage on the Macbook Air is not replaceable, but while it is only 128GB and not swappable, it makes up for it with speed. It uses an SSD which allows you to launch applications, boot-up your computer and load files much more quickly, as well as saving files. Once you have an SSD you will notice the speed difference.
The Macbook Pro on the other end comes with a larger but much slower traditional hard drive. It doesn't even come with a 7200rpm hard drive, but rather a 5400rpm hard drive, but no worries, it can be replaced. You can change it yourself to a 7200rpm or even an SSD if you so choose to. The Macbook Pro can be more versatile when it comes to storage.
You will be getting the same integrated graphics on both machines. These are not meant to be gaming computers, so if you're looking for more performance in gaming, I would suggest an iMac, or if it must be portable, a 15" or 17" Macbook Pro.
Some notable differences between the Macbook Air and the Macbook Pro is that the Macbook Air has a higher resolution display. The Macbook Air comes with a 1440 by 900 display while the Macbook Pro comes with a 1280 by 800. I must admit that the Pro comes with a low resolution display for a 13" screen, but it still beats the competitor's. Although the Pro comes with a lower resolution display, it is an IPS display. IPS stands for In Plane Switching, which basically means that you can view it at 179 degrees and the colors will not become distorted. So they both have a advantage and disadvantage.
Another difference is that the Macbook Air does not have an optical drive (disc drive), it does to to gain a slim form factor. If you still use discs for some reason, you can later pickup a USB disc drive. An advantage for the Pro is that you can take out its Superdrive and replace it with a hard drive or an SSD which will give you the opportunity to have two drives in your portable machine!
They both have the same reported battery life of 7hrs - so battery life should be similar.
Other things are more physical, the 2011 Macbook Airs have a back-lit keyboard just like the Macbook Pro and the Macbook Pro has glass over the display making it more glossy. Weight and form factor is noticeable of course.
If you think the a 13" display is too small after purchasing it and using it, remember you can always use an external monitor when you are in your room and use the 13" display when on the go.
Hopefully this has helped you better understand the two machines. I haven't gone into detail about them and thus if you have any questions feel free to email me at leftywamu@g m a i l . c o m . I'll be glad to help with more personal decision making. I currently own a 27" iMac, 13" Macbook and an 11" Macbook Air if that helps.