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Apple MacBook (2016) review: Updated, but is it any better?

By Kenny Yeo - 25 May 2016

Introduction

Updating the MacBook

Apple's super sexy and super light MacBook has been improved. But can the improvements win us over?

Last year, Apple revived the MacBook name with an all-new super thin and super light ultraportable notebook. It’s Apple’s thinnest and lightest ever notebook and it’s an impressive piece of kit, requiring Apple to redesign major components such as the Retina display and keyboard, in order to achieve the MacBook’s svelte figure. However, as slim and as portable as it is, it’s not perfect. We criticized it for its lack of performance and the fact that it only came with a single USB Type-C port. You can read more about it in our original review here.

A year on, Apple has updated the MacBook, but do the upgrades change anything? That’s what we are here to find out.

 

What’s new, and not?

Before we talk about what’s new, let’s talk about what’s not. First of all, the size of the display, dimensions, and weight are the same. That’s a good thing because this means the new MacBook is just as compact and portable. If you need a reminder, the MacBook is just 920g heavy and measures just 13.1mm at its thickest point. A year on, these numbers are still pretty impressive.

Also unchanged are all the technical wizardry that went into making last year’s MacBook so thin and light. The re-engineered Retina Display, innovative Force Touch trackpad, and the special keys, are all present on this MacBook. We won’t go through these in detail and you can refer to our review from last year to find out more.

The new MacBook still only has one USB Type-C port. This means connecting multiple devices for charging or transferring data is still going to be problematic.

Much to our chagrin, the MacBook still comes with a single USB Type-C port, which has to be used for power, data and video. It supports USB 3.1 Gen 1 and the maximum data transfer rate is 5Gbps. We talked about the limitations of a single port before in our review, but what this means for most users is that some type of adapter or USB hub is a must.

Now you can have a notebook that matches your rose gold iPhone.

So what’s new? The most obvious update to the new MacBook is that it is now available in a new rose gold finish. It’s the same rose gold finish as you’d find on Apple’s iPhones and whether that’s a good thing or not, we’ll leave it up to you. Generally speaking, we find that it’s a very divisive color choice - people either really love it or hate it. However, there’s no denying that it’s the most obvious way to tell others that you just got a spanking new MacBook.

Underneath, the MacBook has been given several internal upgrades. The most significant upgrade is that the MacBook is now powered by Intel’s latest sixth generation Skylake processors, specifically the ultra low TDP Core M processors. Like last year’s model, the new MacBook will be offered in two off-the-shelf configurations, with the differences being the processor and storage capacity.

  • The entry-level MacBook will receive a 1.1GHz dual-core Intel Core m3-6Y30 processor (4MB L3 cache) and 256GB of flash storage.
  • The higher spec model gets a 1.2GHz dual-core Intel Core m5-6Y54 processor (4MB L3 cache) and 512GB of flash storage.

If you are familiar with Intel’s new Core M processors, you’d find that Apple has once again specified its MacBook’s to run at higher base clock speeds than Intel’s base specifications. Intel’s specifications lists the Core m3-6Y30 with a base clock speed of 900MHz, while the Core m5-6Y54 has a base clock speed of 1.1GHz. Clearly, Apple has either overclocked it for more performance or at least qualified their CPU batches to operate faster.

Both new Core M processors will feature Intel’s new Intel HD Graphics 515 integrated GPU. It’s Intel’s new low-end integrated GPU and features 24 execution units running at 1GHz. Although it only looks like a small upgrade over last year’s Intel HD Graphics 5300 integrated GPU, Apple claims that the new Intel HD Graphics 515 integrated GPU will provide the MacBook up to 25% better graphics performance.

The new MacBook has the same ultra-flat and thin keyboard as last year's model. It's nice to use, but needs getting used to. The Force Touch trackpad is still magical to use.

The final update is the storage subsystem. Last year’s MacBook already had fast PCIe-based SSD storage, but those were running over a PCIe 2.0 x4 interface. The SSD in the new MacBooks will employ the use of a PCIe 3.0 x2 interface, which benefit from lower encoding overheads. As a result, though theoretical maximum bandwidth remains about the same, Apple claims that sequential read performance is up to 20 percent faster, while sequential write performance is up to 90 percent faster compared to last year’s MacBooks.

So in a nutshell, the new MacBook has three significant updates. It is now available in a new color; it gets newer, faster processors; and it has an improved storage subsystem. And as a result of all these updates, the MacBook now offers an additional hour of battery life. According to Apple, the new MacBook will deliver up to 10 hours of web browsing or 11 hours of iTunes movie playback.

Do their claims live up to our expectations? Hit the next page to find out.

8.0
  • Design 9.5
  • Features 7.5
  • Performance 7.5
  • Value 7.5
  • Mobility 9.5
The Good
Gorgeous design and now available in rose gold
Unbelievably thin and light
Awesome Force Touch trackpad
Great Retina Display
Excellent build quality
The Bad
Less powerful than other Mac notebooks
Shorter battery life than other Mac notebooks
Only one USB Type-C port
No dedicated jack/port for power
Keyboard needs getting used to
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