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My work involves having both Mac and Windows on a laptop. While I need Mac for Xcode, I do some ASP.NET stuff tightly coupled with the Windows ecosystem.

I wonder if a MacBook Air CPU with 16 GB RAM would be enough to handle VMware Fusion with a couple of Visual Studio instances and debugging ASP.NET sites with the database on local MS SQL server?

There is an option of getting 13" MacBook Pro for a performance boost but I am frustrated with the touchbar as it's harder to use it with my fingers muscle memory. I'd like to avoid it as much as possible.

It is not necessary. I m a Computer Science student too and I am using MacBook Air myself. If you are familiar with Windows OS, you will get used to MAC OS X as well. It should take you not more than 7-15 days to master it. Programming can be done on MAC as well. Anyhow, with 128 GB, you do not have that much space to install 2 OSs. Windows is required only if you want to do gaming on your laptop.

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There are two basic ways of running Windows on a Mac, and each has tradeoffs. Depending on what you are using Windows for, the result can range from “fine” to “unacceptable”. In no particular order, these are:

Using Bootcamp. This involves following Apple instructions to carve out of a hard disk a bootable partition big enough to hold Windows itself and all your Windows apps. You then acquire (usually buy) Windows along with those aforementioned apps. Finally you follow Apple instructions as well as Windows instructions to install the OS as well as the apps.

Once you’ve done all that, each time you boot your computer you will decide which OS (macOS or Windows) you want to run because this method does not allow you to run both at once.

If you have a lot of files which need to be shared between Windows and the macOS sides of your Mac, you will probably choose to carve out a 3rd partition out of an available disk drive just for this sharing.

In most cases these 3 partitions (macOS/apps, Windows OS/apps, and shared files) are all on the system’s internal hard disk when you are using a laptop and that means you have to have a big enough disk to do all that.

Tradeoffs compared to method #2 below:

  • Primary Advantage — Performance. The speed of Windows on your Mac will be the same as a PC user would see if they were given your combination of CPU, RAM, Disk speed, network speed, and graphics processor on PC hardware.
  • Primary Disadvantage — Time. Booting any computer or shutting down any computer takes anywhere from 10s of seconds to minutes. This does’t matter if your work style means hours of work in just one of the two OS’s on your system but will kill you if you need to switch back and forth more than a couple of times a day.

Using Virtualization Software. There are two commercial candidates in the Mac world — Fusion and Parallels and one open-source candidate VirtualBox. All of them work the same way by allowing the full Windows operating system to run as an app underneath the full macOS. This means you’re running the macOS all the time and you launch or Quit the virtualization app anytime you want to run Windows.

Tradeoffs compared to method #1 above:

  • Primary Advantage — Functionality. Having them both running at once means you can pop back and forth between the macOS and Windows sides, cutting and pasting or dragging files in and out of a specific side.
  • Primary Disadvantage — Resource Demands. Having both operating systems running at the same time requires a LOT of resources (CPU, RAM, Disk speed, network speed, etc. A MacBook Air tends to be a lesser performance laptop than others in Apple’s lineup and has fewer customization options so be SURE you have tested the performance of the system with the mix of work you intend to do before you buy it. You should seriously consider a model with an SSD drive to maximize disk performance.

You can see all 4 of these options compared side-by-side in this feature article on the net by MacWorld in the UK.

My personal experience falls into the #2 category above. I use a 2009 MacBook Pro with a 2.66 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 8 GB of RAM, and 320 GB SATA disk along with vmware Fusion. That’s an old system but I love my 17″ screen too much to give it up yet. It works for me because I don’t need to run Windows very often, but when I do I need both Windows and macOS at the same time.

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In general, MacBook Air's can handle run anything constantly, that they can handle running for a short while. You cannot "overwork" the computer so to say - it won't suddenly break or stop working for that reason.

And yes, MacBook Air's in general can handle running VMware Fusion (if the model you have is supported by VMware Fusion). You decide yourself how much RAM you dedicate to the virtual machine, when setting it up - so 16 GB will make it possible to run multiple virtual machines.

If you want to have a clearer idea of the amount of RAM needed, you'll need to setup the system you want and check how much RAM it uses.

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