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Apple Updates 12-inch MacBook, Bumps MacBook Air RAM

Over a year after its introduction (see “New 12-inch MacBook Joins Updated MacBook Air and MacBook Pro,” 9 March 2015), Apple has updated the 12-inch MacBook with new Intel Skylake processors, better graphics performance, faster flash storage, and an extra hour of battery life. A new rose gold finish joins the existing gold, silver, and space gray color options. The price still starts at $1299, and it remains limited to 8 GB of RAM and a single USB-C port.

If the 12-inch MacBook doesn’t meet your needs, Apple also announced that the 13-inch MacBook Air now comes with 8 GB of RAM standard, as opposed to the previous 4 GB in the base model.

The updated 12-inch MacBook maintains the same weight and measurements as last year’s model, remaining the lightest and thinnest MacBook in the lineup, at only 2.03 pounds (0.92 kg), and ranging from 0.14 (3.5 mm) to 0.52 inches (13.1 mm) in thickness. It also maintains the same 11.04 inch width (28.05 cm) and 7.74 inch (19.65 cm) depth as the previous model.

Like its predecessor, the MacBook comes in two configurations: a $1299 model with a 1.1 GHz dual-core Intel Core m3 processor (Turbo Boost up to 2.2 GHz, which is slightly slower than last year’s 2.4 GHz Turbo Boost speed) and 256 GB of PCIe flash storage, and a $1599 model with a 1.2 GHz dual-core Intel Core m5 processor (Turbo Boost up to 2.7 GHz, which is slightly faster than last year’s 2.6 GHz Turbo Boost speed) and 512 GB of PCIe flash storage. Both the m3 and m5 processors are equipped with 4 MB of L3 cache.

Both models can be upgraded to a 1.3 GHz dual-core Intel Core m7, with Turbo Boost speeds of up to 3.1 GHz. For the $1299 model, the upgrade cost is $250, while it’s only $150 for the $1599 model.

Regardless of which MacBook you choose, you’re stuck with 8 GB of RAM, but it’s clocked at 1866 MHz this year, as opposed to last year’s 1600 MHz speed.

While storage capacities are the same as last year, Apple claims that the speed of the flash-based storage has increased, though it doesn’t specify by how much. In The Verge’s testing, write speeds are 80 to 90 percent faster, though read speeds aren’t appreciably better than last year’s model.

Both 12-inch MacBooks have been upgraded to Intel HD Graphics 515, which Apple claims is up to 25 percent faster than the Intel HD Graphics 5300 used in last year’s models. The built-in Retina display is the same as last year, supporting resolutions of up to 2304 by 1440 at 226 pixels per inch.

Apple promises better battery life in both models, with up to 10 hours of “wireless Web” (up from 9 hours last year) and 11 hours of “iTunes movie playback” (up from 10 last year). The battery upgrade gives the 12-inch MacBook an extra hour of life over the 11-inch MacBook Air, but it still has up to two hours less battery life than the 13-inch MacBook Air.

Unfortunately, the new 12-inch MacBook is stuck with the same paltry 480p FaceTime camera as last year’s model, notably worse than the 720p FaceTime HD cameras in Apple’s other laptops.

We still find the 12-inch MacBook to be a perplexing product. While we were willing to categorize last year’s model as a design experiment, much like the original MacBook Air, the 2016 model doesn’t address many of the fundamental complaints about the original — namely, the single USB-C port that even our portable pro, Julio Ojeda-Zapata, finds frustrating (see “MacBook Accessories Reduce Single USB-C Port Inconvenience,” 10 March 2016). To add to that frustration, USB-C accessories are limited, and if you plug in a poorly designed cable, it could fry your computer.

The 12-inch MacBook doesn’t make a lot of sense unless you’re looking for the utmost portability, combined with a Retina display, and no other details are particularly important to you. The 11-inch and 13-inch MacBook Air models may lack Retina displays but they are cheaper, just as portable, and somewhat more powerful, and the 13-inch model offers more battery life. The 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display offers a lot more power and the same battery life for the same price, with the tradeoff being extra weight.

We had anticipated that Apple might retire the MacBook Air line in favor of the MacBook, but without the MacBook’s price coming down significantly, that seems unlikely. The other option would seem to be adding a Retina display to the MacBook Air line, but perhaps that would increase the price too much. We’ll just have to wait to see if the next set of updates indicates what Apple might be planning.

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