Intel Core M lets new MacBook go light and fanless, but with sacrifices

Posted:
in Future Apple Hardware edited April 2015
At the heart of Apple's upcoming 12-inch MacBook is the Intel Core M, a processor series launched late last year and meant to power extremely light notebooks and tablets. But the new chips come with their own set of benefits and sacrifices, particularly for people considering other MacBook models.




At the moment there are seven models of Core M available, ranging in speed from 800 MHz to 1.2 GHz. All of them are dual-core, have a 4 MB cache, and are paired with the same integrated graphics chip, Intel's HD Graphics 5300.

Apple has chosen to go with the two fastest speeds -- 1.1 and 1.2 GHz -- for its stock configurations. The company is also promising a 1.3 GHz upgrade option, though no such chip is (yet) listed on Intel's website or even when browsing MacBooks at Apple's online store.

Pros: Smaller, quieter, more efficient

One of the leading traits of the Core M line is its standard 4.5 W of power consumption, a miniscule figure when you consider that other notebook processors can easily consume over 10 W. That effiency is attributable in large part to Intel using 14 nm architecture, claimed to be a first for processors.

It offers another advantage too, which is a smaller chip and die package. Indeed, the entire logic board for the new MacBook is about a third the size of the one in the MacBook Air, which is one way the computer manages to be so incredibly thin and light.

Less power also means less heat, allowing Core M machines to run fanless as long as they have proper ventilation channels. This contributes to the tiny dimensions of the MacBook, and should effectively eliminate noise.

Cons: Performance hits, no great battery leaps

There is one major drawback to Core M, and that's performance. Even the upcoming 1.3 GHz chip will still be clocked below the slowest current MacBook Air processor, which is a 1.6 GHz dual-core Core i5.

The two stock MacBook CPUs can Turbo Boost to 2.4 or 2.6 GHz, but the Air supercharges to at least 2.7 GHz. The Air can moreover be upgraded to a 2.2 GHz chip with a 3.2 GHz boost, and no matter which model you pick, you'll get an Intel HD Graphics 6000 chip for video.
Next to the MacBook Pro, the 12-inch MacBook doesn't even compete.
Next to the MacBook Pro, the 12-inch MacBook doesn't even compete. Entry-level Pro specifcations begin with a 2.7 GHz dual-core Core i5, paired with Intel's superior Iris Graphics 6100.

Since the new MacBook hasn't been released, it hasn't been benchmarked, but we can get a good approximation from another Core M system, the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro. That notebook has a 1.1 GHz chip identical to Apple's, and according to Digital Trends has Geekbench scores of just 2,453 in single-core mode and 4,267 in multi-core. That slots it below the 2,565 and 5,042 of the cheapest 2015 Air.

For whatever reason, the Core M also fails to grant the MacBook any dramatic battery life advantage. Both it and the 11-inch Air are rated for nine hours of web browsing and 10 hours of iTunes movie playback. The 13-inch Air is even better, capable of 12 hours for each task.

The Retina factor




That may be attributable to the MacBook's signature feature, which is a 2304x1440, LED-backlit IPS Retina display. Although Apple hasn't shared many technical details, those kinds of specifications aren't easy on a computer's battery, as a rule. The advertised power consumption of the MacBook is actually 5 W, not 4.5, something that could be connected to video issues.

Indeed, imposing Retina-quality graphics on the Core M may create inherent speed problems, as the Yoga 3 Pro's benchmarks suggest. People buying a MacBook will likely have a tough time with Photoshop, much less high-end 3D gaming or video editing. It should be noted that the Yoga uses a 3200x1800 display, so the MacBook may not struggle as much.

Because Apple isn't targeting gamers or media producers, the question becomes whether a sharper display and an ultra-thin chassis are worth $1,299 to the average user versus the Air's $899. A Retina MacBook Pro is also available for $1,299, and it could be that people in that price bracket will accept the extra bulk and weight in exchange for a smoother, more versatile experience.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 202
    iow tradeoffs, as with all things in life. or another headline would be, damn still can%u2019t have my apple cake and eat it too
  • Reply 2 of 202
    robertcrobertc Posts: 118member

    I think this is a little bit more of a wait and see situation. From what I understand, implementation is extremely critical to Core M performance. When Lenovo originally released the Yoga Pro 3 (which has a small fan) with a 5Y70, the performance numbers had been quite low. Following the internet exploded into doom & gloom regarding Core M and questioning Broadwell performance. Shortly after that the fanless Dell Venue 11 Pro (5Y10) managed to outperform the Yoga Pro 3, and the fanless ASUS T300 Chi (5Y10) outperforms the Dell.

     

    So clearly implementation will matter quite a bit. Fortunately, this is a department Apple generally exceeds in.  So if you wanted to get a good idea of 5Y71 performance, it might be best to look at ASUS' implementation in the higher end model of the T300 Chi (this device is very close to Intel's reference).

     

    As for the package as a whole? Despite implementation, I'm not sure if the performance will be enough to really satisfy (especially if the user is coming from a more recent Macbook Air). Core M will move to Skylake later this year, so hopefully we can start to see an improvement in performance and battery at that point in time. 

  • Reply 3 of 202
    slurpyslurpy Posts: 5,154member
    Eh, this machine will be more than up to the task of easily handling the average user's needs. My 2012 Air with 4GB RAM still flies, and I do heavy design and web work. This machine, with its 8GB RAM and probably much faster SSD would be overall faster, even if considered "underpowered" by geeks and power users.
  • Reply 4 of 202
    tyler82tyler82 Posts: 869member
    It's odd that there was a "megahertz war" in the early 2000s between Apple and Intel (which is why Apple always touted the other powerful aspects of the PowerPC over the Pentium) because I remember Intel reaching 1ghz first, and that was around 2002 or so. Yet we are still at 1ghz chips. I would think we would have 100 ghz by now,
  • Reply 5 of 202
    dreyfus2dreyfus2 Posts: 1,071member
    Not a big fan of comparing raw numbers across different processor families, but even that is not the issue here.

    This is not a machine anybody would buy for performance. The original MacBook Air did cost twice as much, had the slowest processor available at that time and (in its basic configuration) the slowest 1,8" drive that was otherwise only used in iPods. It still found a lot of buyers.

    This machine is only $100 more than a current 11" Air with identical RAM and storage. $100 buys you a better keyboard, better trackpad and a lightyears better screen in a smaller and lighter package. It will run the same applications, including casual photo and video editing, it even supports an external 4K display (through a pricey adapter, sure, but still), and people who made do with the abundance of ports on the 11" Air (and yes, I am kidding) might be just fine with it.

    I hate car analogies as much as the next guy, but you basically informed us, that nobody buys a Volvo as a racing car. But calling a choice a 'sacrifice' (which is quite the term, given the live-altering issue at hand)... OMG.
  • Reply 6 of 202
    adrayvenadrayven Posts: 460member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Slurpy View Post



    Eh, this machine will be more than up to the task of easily handling the average user's needs. My 2012 Air with 4GB RAM still flies, and I do heavy design and web work. This machine, with its 8GB RAM and probably much faster SSD would be overall faster, even if considered "underpowered" by geeks and power users.



    Agreed.. It's won't be fast at those tasks, but if you just doing touchups or even small editing of a video, the HD 6000 will handle it just fine.. Remember.. The CPU speed was not bumped, but the GPU has been reported to have seen a 40% speed bump in horse power.. something GeekBench does NOT measure. It's strictly a CPU / Memory and HDD test.. It barely touches GPU. 

     

    If we really want to test this new chipset, someone needs to pull out Cinebench.. Thats the best GPU test for Mac.. 

  • Reply 7 of 202
    Quote:

    ?For whatever reason, the Core M also fails to grant the MacBook any dramatic battery life advantage. Both it and the 11-inch Air are rated for nine hours of web browsing and 10 hours of iTunes movie playback. The 13-inch Air is even better, capable of 12 hours for each task.



     

    That reason would be the fact that it's pushing roughly 4 times as many pixels as a MacBook Air, and also needs a backlight that can shine through all those pixels.

     

    There's also the fact that Apple seems to think one day's worth of usage is enough battery, and once there is enough capacity for that they stop adding capacity so they can keep weight and thickness down. They've done the same thing with the last several generations of iPad.

  • Reply 8 of 202
    appexappex Posts: 687member
    The new Apple MacBook with Intel Core M should have been a Mac tablet instead (much as the successful Microsoft Surface).

    Besides, it is a deal breaker with no Thunderbolt and Ethernet ports, and a single USB port. Because hubs and adapters are calling for trouble, besides being awkward and inconvenient.

    I rather get the MacBook Air. I would ALSO purchase a light and small Mac tablet. Not for heavy work, but great for Keynote and PowerPoint presentations. Must have separated Thunderbolt and Ethernet ports, and at least two USB ports for pendrive sharing while using remotes like the following:
    Keyspan by Tripp Lite Presentation Wireless Remote Control, Silver, 60-ft. Range
    Model Number: PR-US2
    http://www.tripplite.com/wireless-presentation-remote-control-laser-pointer-2-button-mouse~PRUS2
  • Reply 9 of 202
    robertcrobertc Posts: 118member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post



    Since the new MacBook hasn't been released, it hasn't been benchmarked, but we can get a good approximation from another Core M system, the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro. That notebook has a 1.1 GHz chip identical to Apple's, and according to Digital Trends has Geekbench scores of just 2,453 in single-core mode and 4,267 in multi-core. That slots it below the 2,565 and 5,042 of the cheapest 2015 Air.

    The Geekbench score for the ASUS T300 Chi (5Y71) is 2944 single-core and 5680 multi-core (source).  The T300 Chi is a fanless 12.5" tablet, clearly the Lenovo 3 Pro still suffers from poor implementation.

     

    I'm certain the 2015 MacBook will offer performance levels at (if not higher than) the ASUS. 

  • Reply 10 of 202

    Oh my, how did Mac OS X ever run on PowerBook G4s? And how did we ever think it was fast? 

  • Reply 11 of 202
    The user and all related content has been deleted.
  • Reply 12 of 202
    staticx57staticx57 Posts: 399member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by dklebedev View Post



    The pricing suggests that Apple is valuing both performance and form equally. It may seem like it's a no-brainer to go with the Pro, but actually I can imagine people for whom the Macbook has more value. Can't wait to get a hands-on.

    The Pro is a non brainer if it is the ONLY machine you have. I already have a MBPr but wouldn't mind having this machine for light messing around duty.

  • Reply 13 of 202
    I'm just going to wait for the 13" MacBook Pro with Skylake chips and leave it at that.
  • Reply 14 of 202
    bugsnwbugsnw Posts: 717member

    If a lot of people buy the MacBook, making the sacrifice of speed for portability, then that will give Apple confidence that they are but one or two generations away from using their A-series chips in these 'air' style laptops.

     

    This is the first break to test the waters. For what it's worth, I think there is ample room for such a beast in Apple's product matrix. Might be a year or two down the road, but the convergence is titillating.

     

    There'd be new sacrifices that we don't know right now but also new features and bonuses such as being able to run iOS Apps.

  • Reply 15 of 202
    coolfactorcoolfactor Posts: 1,486member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by tyler82 View Post



    It's odd that there was a "megahertz war" in the early 2000s between Apple and Intel (which is why Apple always touted the other powerful aspects of the PowerPC over the Pentium) because I remember Intel reaching 1ghz first, and that was around 2002 or so. Yet we are still at 1ghz chips. I would think we would have 100 ghz by now,



    Processor architecture began to achieve better performance when scaled horizontally instead of vertically. Increasing the clock speed is a vertical approach. Adding more processors, or what we now called "cores", is the horizontal approach. Computing tasks can be split up and processed by multiple processor cores at once, and the results are combined together much faster than passing that same task through a single processor.

  • Reply 16 of 202
    simply258simply258 Posts: 100member
    They will sell millions of them. Average person isn't a graphic designer or gamer. And millions will gladly pay the price just for the size and look.
  • Reply 17 of 202
    pentaepentae Posts: 34member
    I believe Apple have made a very big mistake not putting that retina into the Macbook Air lineup and put a %u2018standard%u2019 display into this new Macbook to improve its performance and battery life.

    I have a fully specced out 13%u201D mid-2013 Macbook and they have not given me enough of a reason to move to the new Macbook Air.

    The new Macbook is too underpowered, and I won%u2019t ever get a Macbook Pro as it runs too hot for my lap.
  • Reply 18 of 202
    irelandireland Posts: 17,620member
    Quote:

     For whatever reason, the Core M also fails to grant the MacBook any dramatic battery life advantage.


     

    Retina display and battery capacity (thinness). In hindsight perhaps they made the best choice at this weight and thinness to clearly distinguish this product from the MBA. Price-wise and speed wise I'm not ready to upgrade from the Air yet. I'm thinking it'll be 2017 for me, and you know it'll have 2 USBs by then too. Hopefully one on either side as a charging convenience. That and the fact that the base model is €1,499 in Ireland (though admittedly it is 256GB and I would be opting for that model as 128GB is too small).

  • Reply 19 of 202
    analogjackanalogjack Posts: 1,068member
    This is an ultra light 'luxury' item for lightweight dabbling, hence a gold option. In a sense it's almost a new category. Probably will pan out to be a masterstroke.
  • Reply 20 of 202
    staticx57staticx57 Posts: 399member
    bugsnw wrote: »
    If a lot of people buy the MacBook, making the sacrifice of speed for portability, then that will give Apple confidence that they are but one or two generations away from using their A-series chips in these 'air' style laptops.

    This is the first break to test the waters. For what it's worth, I think there is ample room for such a beast in Apple's product matrix. Might be a year or two down the road, but the convergence is titillating.

    There'd be new sacrifices that we don't know right now but also new features and bonuses such as being able to run iOS Apps.


    Huh? The Core M scores better and uses the same power as the A8x all while running a much more powerful and versatile OS
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