Overall system performance is something of a mixed bag with the new MacBook. While the 256GB onboard solid state drive is relatively quick and the startup, shutdown and system resume times are in line with most Macs, the MacBook suffers from performance limitations of the Intel Core M processor inside.
We tested the base configuration of the new MacBook priced at $1,299 with the Intel Core M-5Y31 dual-core processor. This CPU has a native base frequency of just 900 MHz but is configured to run at 1.1 GHz with a max Turbo frequency of 2.4 GHz. The main benefits of this processor are extremely low power consumption and the ability to be passively cooled without a fan (more on that later).
Despite some additional lag time with various tasks, we found the real-world performance to be similar to what we’ve seen from last year’s 11-inch MacBook Air and close to what we’ve experienced using the 13-inch MacBook Air from 2013. However, this MacBook consistently feels less “snappy” in many ways.
For starters, we noticed that apps require more “bounces” from the Dock before launching to the desktop. Similarly, activities like processing Photoshop filters or editing HD video clips for YouTube take noticeably longer than on the previous-generation MacBook Air. The infamous spinning pinwheel popped up numerous times while we waited for the MacBook to perform CPU-intense tasks. We would put the real-world CPU performance on par with what we’ve seen from a $500 Windows 8.1 laptop from 2014 with a 4th generation Intel Core i5 processor.
The Apple-friendly Geekbench 3 test results suggest that the performance of the new MacBook is still better than premium 13-inch Ultrabooks running Windows 8.1 like the HP Spectre x360 or the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro, but our standard Windows benchmarks suggest the MacBook is somewhat underpowered compared to Windows PCs. Keep in mind that the MacBook’s scores from the Windows benchmarks might be skewed by the lack of optimized Windows drivers for the MacBook.
No matter how you look at it, the Intel Core M-5Y31 and the integrated Intel HD Graphics 5300 simply won’t deliver jaw-dropping speed. This laptop is all about being thin and delivering great battery life.
Our 2015 Apple MacBook features the following specifications:
- 12-inch Retina display (2304 x 1440 pixels)
- 1.1 GHz Intel Core M-5Y31 dual-core processor (4MB cache, Turbo Boost up to 2.4 GHz)
- 8 GB onboard system memory (1600 MHz, LPDDR3)
- 256 GB PCIe-based onboard flash SSD storage
- Intel HD Graphics 5300 (integrated)
- 802.11ac Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n compatible)
- Bluetooth 4.0
- USB-C port
- 480p FaceTime camera
- 39.7-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery
- 29W USB-C power adapter included
- Dimensions: 0.14-0.52 x 11.04 x 7.74 inches (0.35-1.31 x 28.05 x 19.65 cm)
- Weight: 2.03 lbs (0.92 kg)
- Price as configured: $1,299.00
PCMark8 Home (Accelerated) measures overall system performance in Windows 8 for general activities from web browsing and video streaming to typing documents and playing games (higher scores mean better performance):
Heat and Noise
The MacBook is essentially silent thanks to the use of a solid state drive for storage and no cooling fan or optical drive to make extra noise. We didn’t notice any high-pitched CPU whine during our testing, so the only noise coming from the MacBook should be audio from the built-in speakers.
External temperatures are likewise kept in check (essentially the same as skin temperature) thanks to the passively cooled Intel Core M-5Y31 and the form-fitting aluminum chassis that serves as a giant heat sink for the logic board. The CPU and the rest of the logic board are seated on an anisotropic graphite sheet that works like thermal paste to disperse heat to the MacBook’s aluminum body. This would be a problem if Apple used a higher-performance, higher-wattage CPU, but a benefit of the low-power processor is less heat.
Apple has earned a reputation for delivering exceptional battery life, and the new MacBook follows that rule. While the Intel Core M-5Y31 falls short in terms of raw computing power, it more than makes up for that shortcoming by minimizing the battery drain. The TDP of this processor is just 4.5 Watts compared to roughly three times as much power consumption (15 Watts) from the Core i5-4260U processor in last year’s 11-inch MacBook Air.
Combine that modest power consumption with an impressive 6-cell lithium-polymer battery rated at 39.7 Watt-hours that is spread out over most of the internal space. The logic board inside the MacBook takes up only a fraction of space while the battery fills most of the internal volume of the chassis.
Apple claims the MacBook delivers “up to 9 hours of wireless web” use, or “up to 10 hours of iTunes movie playback” but we didn’t get that kind of battery life with the screen brightness set to auto and moving somewhere between a brightness setting around 11 and the maximum brightness of 16. We consistently triggered the MacBook’s battery alert after 5-6 hours of non-stop web browsing, video streaming, and light productivity (typing in a Pages document or editing a photo in iPhoto). That being said, the high-resolution Retina display certainly consumes the majority of battery power; you should be able to get more than 7 or 8 hours of battery life if you manually set the screen brightness to a lower level.