When Apple announced the new MacBook my first thought was, “yes, I want one, now, immediately, where’s my car keys I’m going to the Apple store”. Just look at it, how can you not impulsively want one?
But when they mentioned it is fanless, the CPU performance had me worried. In order to make this computer so thin, with no fans and with decent battery life, the CPU is stripped back to sip power. Generally this means they’re gutless and almost worthless. The Intel Core M CPUs used by Apple in the MacBook are Intel’s latest and are listed on ARK. The 1.1GHz base model CPU is the M-5Y70. The 1.2GHz model is the M-5Y71 capped to 2.6Ghz turbo boost instead of 2.9GHz.
Using the site CPU Monkey, which already has benchmarks for the M-5Y70 (the 1.1GHz base model MacBook CPU) and the i5-5250U (base model CPU in all the 2015 MacBook Airs) and going by the Cinebench and Geekbench results, the CPUs are virtually neck and neck. The main difference being in GPU use, where the Intel 6000 graphics out perform the 5300 graphics significantly. Compared to the 2014 MacBook Air (aka the one you have now with the i5-4260U CPU), performance is virtually identical. AS the GPU in the Core-M is about the same. There’s other benchmarks on Notebook Check too.
I seriously did not expect that. If you’re happy with the performance of a current MacBook Air, the Core M CPU options are about the same overall. Obviously it’s not a video encoding, virtual machine monster, but will do a lot of things very nicely and use bugger all power doing so. That 14nm fab process from Intel is good, very good.
Another great thing Apple has done that will help with performance is using a PCIe SSD, not a SATA SSD. The PCIe bus has a lot more bandwidth than SATA, so this allows the storage to have a much higher bandwidth rate, which can make a significant difference in day to day use of your computer. Much more so than CPU performance. All of Apple’s laptops have PCIe SSDs, unlike a lot of other laptop manufactures who use SATA SSDs and only put PCIe ones in their premium machines.
Even the price is relatively competitive versus the MacBook Air. To buy the base model MacBook, you’re looking at $1799. It has 8GB of RAM in it, so for a 13″ MacBook Air with 8GB of RAM, it’ll set you back $1839. $1689 for the 11″. At $1799 the MacBook is right in the middle and has a Retina display, is lighter and has longer battery life (and looks cooler). That’s not bad at all. The MacBook will only be $1620 as well, as DSE, JB, Good Guys, etc. regularly sell at 10% off. The MacBook Air with 8GB is a custom order and not eligble for 10% off. Realistically it works out to be cheaper than the MacBook Air when adding 8GB of RAM. I didn’t expect that either.
Unfortunately, the MacBook does have downsides. The main one being the solitary USB-C port used for charging and connectivity. If you want to plug a 2nd display into your MacBook and charge your MacBook at the same time, you need to purchase a $119 “USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter” and then, you’re limited to only 1080p output, despite the MacBook supporting UHD resolutions. There’s no DisplayPort or HDMI 2.0 USB-C adaptors out right now. If you’re using a projector that’s VGA only, you’ll need to buy a second $119 adaptor that supports VGA (as well as charging & USB). This is something Apple should really have included in the box with the MacBook – it’s going to be pretty vital for a lot of people and $119 is pretty steep. The good thing is that USB-C isn’t an Apple only standard and hopefully other laptop manufacturers use it, so we see a lot of third party accessories at much cheaper prices than what Apple is charging.
One upside of USB-C is that the MacBook now charges over USB. It needs 29W, but no doubt there will be chargers that will supply that level of power and have multiple sockets so you can travel with a single power brick for your phone, laptop, camera and anything else that uses USB.
Other little trade-offs on the MacBook are that the MacBook Air has Thunderbolt and a card reader, the MacBook doesn’t. There’s no Ethernet adaptor for the MacBook right now unless someone makes a USB-C one (which hopefully also has charging pass-through). The FaceTime camera is only 480p but is 720p on the Air.
Overall the MacBook seems to be a pretty nice machine if your needs aren’t encoding video, rendering 3D graphics or working with virtual machines. Basically, if you find the performance of a MacBook Air acceptable, the performance of this new sleek MacBook will be fine too. The single USB-C port trade-off however, requires more contemplation. Can you live without a Thunderbolt port, a USB port and a card reader? Do you mind taking little dongles with you to achieve stuff the MacBook Air does built in? Is that trade-off worth it for a lighter laptop? Probably. Plus it comes in gold.