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MacBook 2016 review: Ultraportable laptop satisfies with speed gains

Roman Loyola | April 27, 2016
It's not a desktop Mac replacement. The MacBook is ideal for on-the-go use.

A better performer

Everything on the outside of the MacBook is the same as before, so I won’t dive into my thoughts on things like its size, weight, and construction; the 12-inch, 2304x1440 Retina display; the Force Trackpad; or the keyboard.

macbook keyboard 
Apple didn’t change anything on the exterior of the newest edition of the MacBook. It has the same screen, keyboard, and trackpad found in the 2015 version. Credit: Roman Loyola

The major changes are internal, so let’s focus on those. The MacBook now has Intel Skylake processors, an upgrade over the Broadwell processors used when the MacBook was introduced last year. Apple uses the Core M version of Intel’s processors in the MacBook, which are designed for mobile devices.

Apple offers two standard configurations: the $1,299 MacBook features a 1.1GHz dual-core Core m3 processor with Turbo Boost up to 2.2GHz, and the $1,599 MacBook has a 1.2GHz dual-core Core m5 processor with Turbo Boost up to 2.7GHz. (Both models have 4MB L3 cache and 8GB of 1866MHz LPDDR3 RAM.) For an additional fee, you can upgrade the processor to a 1.3GHz dual-core Core m7 processor with Turbo Boost up to 3.1GHz. (This review focuses on the $1,599 MacBook.)

How much of a speed improvement does the 2016 MacBook offer over last’s year’s version? Using Geekbench 3, the 1.2GHz Core m5 offers an increase ranging from 11 to 30 percent, depending on the older processor that it is being compared to. For example, in Geekbench’s 64-bit multi-core test, the 1.2GHz Core m5 is 11 percent faster than the 1.3GHz dual-core Core M processor that was an upgrade option for the 2015 MacBook. Another example: In the same test, the 1.2GHz Core m5 is 30 percent faster than the 2015 MacBook’s 1.1GHz Core M processor. Generally speaking, the speed increase isn’t unusual; we’ve seen similar increases in past Mac laptop upgrades. Faster is always better.

64-bit Geekbench 3 results: 2016 and 2015 MacBook

geekbench macbooks only
Longer bars/higher scores are better. Click to enlarge.

Now let’s compare the performance to the MacBook Air. Last year’s MacBook was about 9 percent slower than the current 1.6GHz MacBook Air (which was released in March of 2015 with a Broadwell processor). That speed difference threw a wrench into a shopper’s decision making: Pay $1,199 for a faster 13-inch MacBook Air or spend $1,299 or $1,599 for a slower MacBook? (Sure, there are other differences to consider, like the display and ports, but I’m simplifying here for argument’s sake.)

Fortunately, with the new MacBook, you feel like you’re getting performance that better justifies the price difference. The 1.2GHz Core m5 MacBook is 12 percent faster than the 1.6GHz MacBook Air in Geekbench’s single-core test; that’s a nice boost compared to last year, where the 2015 MacBook was as fast or slower (depending on which processor you pick) than the MacBook Air. In Geekbench’s multi-core test, the new MacBook was just 1 percent faster than the MacBook Air. But to put that in perspective, last year’s MacBook was slower than the MacBook Air by a range of 9 to 20 percent.


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