Before we left for our 5 week trip to Europe I decided that I would need a real laptop computer on the road. I knew it would be a near necessity for booking hotels and making train reservations. Also, I would need to write emails and maybe even pay some online bills. I already have an iPad but really wanted to be able to run all my applications – Excel, Word, Picasa, etc. In looking for the lightest machine that would do this I came across the new MacBook and bought one.
When people see the new MacBook, they think it is a MacBook Air. Apple surprisingly built the new MacBook in a smaller and lighter configuration than the Air. When I first read about it I had to do a double take. The MacBook is 12 inches, in between the 11 and 13-inch Air, but at 2.03 lbs it weighs less and is thinner than the 11 and the 13-inch Air. It uses the new Intel Core M dual core processor. The processor is made on Intel’s 14nm FinFET process and runs at under 5W. For comparison the i7 and i5 typically run at around 15W. The base clock rate is only 1.1 GHz, but it can burst up to 2.4 GHz, putting it in a respectable performance range when needed. It also supports Intel’s Hyperthreading which helps to somewhat further optimize processor utilization.
Unlike the MacBook Air, it comes with a Retina display. The big advantage for me is that I almost always require a second display connected to my laptop to be productive. But with the Retina I can size two ‘full width’ windows side by side and work more efficiently. This means I can really be mobile and productive. Of course this is not a full on production machine like the MacBook Pro, but I really mostly use it for when I am on the road, or maybe when I want to do my writing or check email on my front porch.
The big departure for the MacBook is its choice of a single USB Type-C connector. There is no separate power socket or network port – just the one USB Type-C. (There is a headphone jack too.) The USB Type-C port is used for charging, driving external displays and/or connecting to external USB devices. It supports USB 3.1 at 5 Gb/s. To access the video output via HDMI or to connect traditional USB devices using the more common Type-A connector Apple sells a dongle, but it costs almost $80. Even this does not get you an Ethernet port.
USB Type-C is becoming more common these days. A quick scan on Amazon shows a multitude of devices for it. Surprisingly Apple has left off Thunderbolt. One report attributed this to the power overhead of Thunderbolt. It would grow the main board size and power requirements significantly. Traveling with the MacBook I learned that you can actually charge its battery using a USB battery pack or car USB adapter if needed – a blessing for mobile use. For charging it comes with a 29W wall adapter and a separate standard reversible USB Type-C cable. Those of you who have had to throw away a perfectly good adapter because of a frayed cable will appreciate this.
Apple is betting on 802.11ac for data transfers in and out. Several months ago I bought the Airport Extreme base station with 802.11ac, and it is fast and reliable. So far I have not felt the need to plug a network cable into the MacBook. I have even done a backup of the MacBook to a drive on a networked Mac Mini using the Time Machine app and MacOS Server software.
One caveat is that the MacBook is not up-gradable. The SSD drive and the RAM are soldered in. I have mixed feelings about this. It would be nice to be able to upgrade later. Apple always charges a premium for pre-configured disk and memory, and this leaves buyers with no options. But it comes with 8 GB of RAM so the main choice you need to make besides color is the storage size. I opted for the less expensive 256GB of SSD. This means my large library of pictures stays home, but I have space for lots of Power Point presentations, PDF’s and Word docs. I use DropBox to sync the folders I need so I do not need to think about moving the files I need when I go out.
So what Is the verdict? I’m pretty happy with the MacBook. The SSD means it boots amazingly fast and the overall system performance is excellent. My previous HP laptop has an i7 quad core with a traditional hard rive circa 2011, and for the things I use the MacBook for I have not noticed performance hit. The illuminated keyboard that Mac users love means I can use it in many situations that would have not worked for my old laptop.
Even the track pad works well for me, and I am a die hard mouse user – or at least was. The track pad is pressure sensitive glass with haptic feedback for the click action. This enables more functions in applications and the Finder by pressing harder on the track pad to get a ‘second’ click. In some apps the tack pad allows pressure sensitive drawing.
One of the reasons they made the system non-upgradable was to minimize the main circuit board size. The Core M processor with its integrated Intel HD Graphics 5300 processor have a low profile and small footprint. The bulk of the chassis is filled with batteries. However, this does not buy the user more battery life than say the MacBook Air. This is due to the power hungry Retina display. Without the Core M this machine would have a shorter battery life than the Air.
Older Macs are infamous for getting hot, really hot. The MacBook has a fan-less design, helped by its solid aluminum chassis as a heat sink. It can get warm, but has never been a problem.
For occasional photo editing, writing, posting blogs, web research and spreadsheets the MacBook works excellently. Mind you my home machine has a lot more juice, but I do not really miss it when I’m on the road. The MacBook slides into my backpack pretty easily and it was not hard to schlep across Europe. Overall I am quite happy with the MacBook. I am writing this now on it in a car on I-5 heading up to Mount Shasta, so you can see it is getting a lot of use.