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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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Comments about Apple Updates 12-inch MacBook, Bumps MacBook Air RAM
(Comments are closed.)

The MacBook was originally marketed as a portable baby Boomer social media model. If it surfed the Web, made online purchases, provided email, and helped one keep up with social media, e.g. Facebook and Twitter, it was a success. With that criteria, probably a success.
I need that size and weight with significantly more processing power, 24-32GB RAM, and some ports that work with commonly used USB devices. Maybe they'll make one for twice the expense and call it a MacBook Pro.
Interesting indeed that the design experiment still is an experiment. And an utterly expensive one at that.

Let me say that I love the form factor and I have no doubt this is where notebooks are going.

That said, how does Apple market this thing with a straight face? If what it's supposed to do is mail, web surfing, and social media (no option for >8 GB RAM, slow CPU, no TB3 support on the USB-C port), wasn't that what the iPad (Pro) was designed for? And indeed the iPad actually does those things well. At half the cost! So where does that leave this thing? People who need OS X will go for the MBA (and miss retina), and those who need more power or expandability will opt for the 13" MBP (and bemoan the weight). But who would opt to pay more and get less with this thing?

I wonder if Apple's idea is that the MB price points will come down to the MBA range the moment they update the MBP and drop the MBA. At least then price-wise this thing will start making some sense.
David  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2016-04-20 10:55
I suspect what Apple is thinking is that most people don't use the ports that they have, that the speed is perfectly reasonable by any standard (note that it's about the same speed than the two year old MBP 13 I have), and that the iPad Pro isn't really going to replace a lot of people's needs for a keyboard.

My main priorities for a laptop are: portability and screen, then battery life and speed. The MacBook is pretty tempting based on that, and if I were in the market I'd absolutely think about getting one. I may be an anecdote, but I bet I'm not alone.
Josh Centers  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-04-20 14:55
When the 12-inch MacBook drops under $1000 new, I'll be interested.
Michael Paine  2016-04-21 03:02
Been using mine for nearly a year now. Great for travel and it runs all of the apps, databases etc that I use for business. I use an iMac in the office but have no hesitation plugging the Macbook into a good monitor for intensive work. It is a little slower sometimes but otherwise no noticable difference.

The single port is daunting but I have got used to it. In particular I just plug in the HDMI-USB-C adapter to connect power, monitor & keyboard and run the Macbook in clamshell mode. An easier process than my old, bulky Macbook Pro.
Dan Daranciang  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2016-04-23 19:32
For me, the only thing that kills its appeal to the intended market is the dreadful 480p "FaceTime" camera. This is a great college machine for students, and it's a very capable machine for intense web browsing, YouTube, and living the digital lifestyle. Except for the camera! It's like using an iPhone 4 all over again.

I'm currently using a late 2013 retina MacBook Pro (dual-core 2.4 GHz i5, 8 GB RAM, OS X 10.11.4) and waiting for the Geekbench scores to come in on the 1.3 GHz CTO model. This machine gets 2938 single core and 6321 multi-core. If the new MB comes in near that, it will be tempting.
Martin Price  2016-04-25 18:37
Does anyone have any inside poop or even rumors about when the MacBook Pros will be updated? I hope to be able to get the newest before I go to India for a year to teach, beginning July 1. I have a 2009 MBP 15" that has been around the world more times than I can recall. It has had a couple of breakdowns overseas and those were no fun. Of course I can replace it with something less than the newest, latest and greatest - that's what I'll have to do if Apple's calendar for updating the MBP doesn't align with mine.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-04-25 18:50
Seems pretty likely that new ones will be coming soon, hopefully before you have to leave.