The new MacBook, how does it shape up?
Posted: Jun 10 2015
The new MacBook was announced in March of this year and has just started shipping to the lucky customers who eagerly placed their pre-orders. Two models are available; 1.1GHz dual-core Core M with 8GB RAM and 256GB Flash at £1049 and 1.2GHz dual-core Core M with 8GB RAM and 512GB Flash at £1299, the Built To Order option offers a further upgraded 1.3GHz dual-core Core M processor. It revives the MacBook model that was discontinued in 2011, made redundant by the equally powerful MacBook Pro and similarly priced MacBook Air of the time. The new MacBook differentiates itself from the current MacBook Air and MacBook Pro by offering some interesting new features and a whole new form factor.
For us the most interesting part of the new MacBook’s specification was the use of the Broadwell Core M processor. The Core M processors are designed to be as power efficient as possible using as little as a third of the energy of the current generation MacBook Air’s Core i5/i7 processors. The Core M’s lower power consumption allows for a smaller battery, allowing Apple’s engineers to make this the thinnest Apple notebook yet, while still maintaining a battery life of up to 10 hours. The Core M’s low power consumption means that little energy is expended as heat, allowing the MacBook to be a completely fanless notebook, making this Apple’s first notebook that has no moving parts. No more dust and fluff clogging up vents and fans is quite an exciting prospect! These advantages do however come at a pretty surprising cost, the Core M processors are slower than their Core i5/i7 counterparts in the MacBook Airs and Pro by some margin.
Some readers may be shocked in seeing that the new MacBook’s processor is actually slightly slower than that found in the Mid 2011 MacBook Air! While it is comforting to know that OS X can comfortably run on such hardware, it shows Apple has made this notebook squarely aimed at the casual user. Running the Adobe suite or Parallels on one of these machines is going to be very taxing for the processor.
As expected Apple have used an integrated graphics solution on the MacBook, the Intel HD Graphics 5300. While this offers minimal oomph, it follows in the same vein as the processor choice, ultra efficiency and very low power consumption. It is on par in performance with the HD 4000 found in the Mid 2012 MacBook Air and Mid 2012 13-inch MacBook Pro, but uses much less energy.
Graphics Benchmark provided by 3DMark 2013 Ice Storm Standard
The MacBook comes with a 12-inch display, blessed with Apple’s Retina display technology, giving a maximum resolution of 2304 by 1440. This slots it straight in between the 11 and 13-inch MacBook Air offerings, but with a significantly higher resolution display. According to Apple the display also has redesigned pixels with a larger aperture, allowing more light to pass through, again saving on energy usage.
The battery life has been an integral part of the new MacBook’s design, being a determining factor in the form factor and the choice of components used. Due to the MacBook’s ultra thin body the battery takes up the majority of the internal space and in an industry first is tapered to fit the body as precisely as possible to maximise usage of space. The result is a battery life of up to 9 hours wireless web or up to 10 hours of iTunes movie playback.
This gives comparable battery life to the MacBook Air which is impressive considering the MacBook’s battery is 39.7-watt-hours when compared to the 38-watt-hour and 54-watt-hour batteries found in the 11-inch and 13-inch MacBook Airs, especially considering that the MacBook has to power a screen with a much higher resolution.
One of the most controversial features of the MacBook is the complete obliteration of all external ports, except one, the new 3.1 USB-C port. Every wired connection; charging, external devices and displays must use this multifunction port. While we are impressed that this little reversible port can handle two-way power, very fast data transfer and external displays it feels like a scary proposition having to use an adapter to charge your iPhone and MacBook at the same time.
Apple have always been at the forefront of connectivity, famously being the first to eliminate floppy disc drives and optical drives from their computers so we are going to trust them on this one.
Weighing in at just over 900g and 13.1mm thick makes it the lightest and thinnest Apple notebook yet, beating the 11-inch despite having a larger display. This new form factor was the main reason as to why Apple dropped the usual connectivity in favour of the USB-C port, the normal ports simply wouldn’t fit! The full sized keyboard sits perfectly between the edges of the body, and a new Apple designed butterfly mechanism allows each key to use less vertical space whilst improving the precision of key presses.
At £1049 for the base level model, the MacBook is no longer priced to be Apple’s entry level notebook, despite the limitation on its performance. A refurbished 13-inch Mid 2012 MacBook Air (see here) will offer better performance at a lower price point if you do not mind going without the Retina display and slightly thinner form factor.