Review: Apple's new 12" MacBook boasts incremental speed improvements

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited October 2017
Apple last week refreshed its MacBook lineup with processor upgrades and minor aesthetic tweaks, with the 12-inch MacBook benefiting from new Intel silicon and faster SSDs. Are the changes enough to prompt existing owners to upgrade? Find out in AppleInsider's video review.





Like its larger, more powerful MacBook Pro siblings, the 2017 MacBook received a minor CPU speed increase with the adoption of Intel Kaby Lake processors. Beyond that, not much has changed, but Apple's latest thin-and-light boasts substantial improvements in efficiency and lower heat output that could strike a cord with on-the-go users.

Design

As a minor refresh, the only visual differences between the 2017 MacBook and its predecessor are a couple of updated logos on the control and option keys. The overall chassis design remains unchanged, but the sleek lines are still fresh compared to Windows PC offerings.

Opening the device, users will find the keyboard has been updated with second-generation butterfly switches first introduced with the 2016 MacBook Pro. The keys have been tuned to offer more travel and a "clickier" feel than first-generation parts and are a welcome addition to the low-profile design.

This year's MacBook sports the same dimensions as the 2016 model, with a tapered chassis running from 0.14 inches at its slimmest point to 0.52 inches at the hinge. Width and depth remain static at 11.04 inches and 7.74 inches, respectively, while the entire package weighs in at just 2.03 pounds.


Models compared

Headlining this year's upgrade list is a move to Intel's latest Kaby Lake family processors. Although these new processors don't offer a major increase in performance, they do provide substantial improvements in efficiency and lower heat output. Lower thermals is particularly important for the fanless Retina MacBook, a hardware design that sometimes causes issues with overheating, which in turn leads to CPU throttling.

This year's base model 12" Retina MacBook comes with a 1.2GHz dual-core Intel Core m3 processor with 8GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage, up from a 1.1GHz dual-core Core m3 in 2016. Higher tier versions start with a 1.3GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 with Turbo Boost up to 3.2GHz and 4MB L3 cache, and can be configured up to a 1.4GHz dual-core Intel Core i7 processor.

The 8GB of RAM is exactly the same compared to last year's model, except buyers now have the option of upgrading to 16GB for an extra $200.

Graphics also gets an update from Intel's integrated HD 515 to HD 615. Although a very minor change, the new Macbook gets Bluetooth 4.2 over last year's 4.0.


Performance

The move to Intel's newest Kaby Lake processor nets MacBook a 100MHz increase in base clock over last year's model. Even more impressive is that the new chip turbo boosts up to 3.0GHz instead of 2.2GHz.

These updates sound good on paper, but we wanted to see how the machine performs in real world tests. We ran through a few benchmarks to find out. Overall, we found an average increase in CPU performance of around 26 percent and graphics performance of about 50 percent compared to the 2016 MacBook.

Importantly, Intel's latest chips are extremely efficient. Even with the higher clock speed we found that battery life for video viewing increased by up to 2 hours compared to last year's model. Longevity remained the same for other tasks like web surfing, suggesting Apple's hardware is tuned for video playback.

Apple promised major performance enhancements with MacBook's storage, and the SSDs didn't fail to impress. We tested the flash storage with a Blackmagic disk test and found the new modules to be around 63 percent faster than the previous model, offering faster transfer speeds as well as quicker boot and app loading times.


Constraints


Since the 12-inch Macbooks are fanless, it becomes increasingly difficult to dissipate heat while executing CPU-heavy tasks for extended periods of time. The only way to reduce heat is to throttle down the processor, which results in lowered performance. We tested thermal efficiency by continually looping the Cinebench R15 CPU benchmark and witnessed a decrease in scores of around 8 percent for the new Macbook, and 12 percent for the previous model.

Buyers should be aware that Apple's ultraportable, while capable of performing everyday tasks, is not a performance machine.

The biggest issue with the new 12-inch Macbook is its price. With $1,299, prospective buyers can grab the latest base model 13-inch MacBook Pro instead. Performance wise, the step-up Pro model is better in every way, save for a meager 128GB of storage.

Conclusion

With MacBook, Apple is targeting road warriors and users looking for the thinnest, lightest, and most portable system on the market. For most users, however, the performance benefits offered by the base MacBook Pro far outweigh sleek design.

The Pro version gets better speakers, better FaceTime camera, a bigger touchpad, a bigger, brighter, more colorful display with increased resolution, and major performance improvements. It even gets double the usb-c ports with the option of adding more. Most importantly for Apple's connectivity-constrained MacBooks, each port on the MacBook Pro supports Thunderbolt 3.

Unless portability is extremely important to you, our advice is to skip the 12-inch MacBook and go for the new 13-inch MacBook Pro instead.

Score: 3.5 out of 5

Where to buy

Those in the market for a new Mid 2017 12-inch MacBook can exclusively save $50 on every configuration at Adorama with coupon code APINSIDER. This bonus discount is on top of Adorama's already reduced pricing, making the total savings $70 off MSRP. Adorama also will not collect sales tax on orders shipped outside NY and NJ -- another $174 to $220 in savings for many shoppers compared to paying full price with tax at the Apple Store. To redeem the coupon, please see the step-by-step instructions below. And for a full list of deals, please visit our 12-inch MacBook Price Guide.

Mid 2017 12-inch MacBooks
12" (1.2GHz 8GB 256GB) Silver for $1,199.00 * ($100 off + no tax outside NY & NJ)
12" (1.2GHz 8GB 256GB) Space Gray for $1,229.00 * ($70 off + no tax outside NY & NJ)
12" (1.2GHz 8GB 256GB) Gold for $1,199.00 ($100 off + no tax outside NY & NJ)
12" (1.2GHz 8GB 256GB) Rose Gold for $1,229.00 * ($70 off + no tax outside NY & NJ)
12" (1.2GHz 16GB 256GB) Silver for $1,429.00 * ($70 off + no tax outside NY & NJ)
12" (1.2GHz 16GB 256GB) Space Gray for $1,429.00 * ($70 off + no tax outside NY & NJ)
12" (1.2GHz 16GB 256GB) Gold for $1,429.00 * ($70 off + no tax outside NY & NJ)
12" (1.2GHz 16GB 256GB) Rose Gold for $1,429.00 * ($70 off + no tax outside NY & NJ)
12" (1.3GHz 8GB 256GB) Silver for $1,329.00 ($70 off + no tax outside NY & NJ)
12" (1.3GHz 8GB 256GB) Space Gray for $1,329.00 * ($70 off + no tax outside NY & NJ)
12" (1.3GHz 8GB 256GB) Gold for $1,329.00 * ($70 off + no tax outside NY & NJ)
12" (1.3GHz 8GB 256GB) Rose Gold for $1,329.00 * ($70 off + no tax outside NY & NJ)
12" (1.3GHz 8GB 512GB) Silver for $1,529.00 * ($70 off + no tax outside NY & NJ)
12" (1.3GHz 8GB 512GB) Space Gray for $1,529.00 * ($70 off + no tax outside NY & NJ)
12" (1.3GHz 8GB 512GB) Gold for $1,529.00 * ($70 off + no tax outside NY & NJ)
12" (1.3GHz 8GB 512GB) Rose Gold for $1,474.00 * ($125 off + no tax outside NY & NJ)
12" (1.3GHz 16GB 256GB) Silver for $1,529.00 ($70 off + no tax outside NY & NJ)
12" (1.3GHz 16GB 256GB) Space Gray for $1,529.00 * ($70 off + no tax outside NY & NJ)
12" (1.3GHz 16GB 256GB) Gold for $1,529.00 * ($70 off + no tax outside NY & NJ)
12" (1.3GHz 16GB 256GB) Rose Gold for $1,529.00 * ($70 off + no tax outside NY & NJ)
12" (1.3GHz 16GB 512GB) Silver for $1,729.00 * ($70 off + no tax outside NY & NJ)
12" (1.3GHz 16GB 512GB) Space Gray for $1,729.00 * ($70 off + no tax outside NY & NJ)
12" (1.3GHz 16GB 512GB) Gold for $1,729.00 * ($70 off + no tax outside NY & NJ)
12" (1.3GHz 16GB 512GB) Rose Gold for $1,729.00 * ($70 off + no tax outside NY & NJ)
12" (1.4GHz 8GB 256GB) Silver for $1,479.00 * ($70 off + no tax outside NY & NJ)
12" (1.4GHz 8GB 256GB) Space Gray for $1,479.00 * ($70 off + no tax outside NY & NJ)
12" (1.4GHz 8GB 256GB Gold for $1,479.00 * ($70 off + no tax outside NY & NJ)
12" (1.4GHz 8GB 256GB) Rose Gold for $1,479.00 * ($70 off + no tax outside NY & NJ)
12" (1.4GHz 8GB 512GB) Silver for $1,679.00 * ($70 off + no tax outside NY & NJ)
12" (1.4GHz 8GB 512GB) Space Gray for $1,679.00 * ($70 off + no tax outside NY & NJ)
12" (1.4GHz 8GB 512GB) Gold for $1,679.00 ($70 off + no tax outside NY & NJ)
12" (1.4GHz 8GB 512GB) Rose Gold for $1,679.00 * ($70 off + no tax outside NY & NJ)
12" (1.4GHz 16GB 256GB) Silver for $1,679.00 * ($70 off + no tax outside NY & NJ)
12" (1.4GHz 16GB 256GB) Space Gray for $1,679.00 * ($70 off + no tax outside NY & NJ)
12" (1.4GHz 16GB 256GB) Gold for $1,679.00 * ($70 off + no tax outside NY & NJ)
12" (1.4GHz 16GB 256GB) Rose Gold for $1,679.00 * ($70 off + no tax outside NY & NJ)
12" (1.4GHz 16GB 512GB) Silver for $1,879.00 * ($70 off + no tax outside NY & NJ)
12" (1.4GHz 16GB 512GB) Space Gray for $1,899.00 * ($50 off + no tax outside NY & NJ)
12" (1.4GHz 16GB 512GB) Gold for $1,879.00 * ($70 off + no tax outside NY & NJ)
12" (1.4GHz 16GB 512GB) Rose Gold for $1,879.00 * ($70 off + no tax outside NY & NJ)
* Price with coupon code APINSIDER using the pricing links in this post. To redeem the coupon, see the step-by-step instructions below. Adorama will not collect sales tax on orders shipped outside NY and NJ.

(%) Step by Step Instructions for these Deals at Adorama

    1) Make sure you're using a browser with cookies enabled that isn't in private mode.
    2) Click on the price link to the desired configuration from this article or the Adorama price links in our Price Guides. You MUST click through our links in the same shopping session that you use our coupon. If you try to save a link for late, the coupon WON'T WORK. Once you click through a price link, you'll see a price that's higher than advertised (we'll fix that in a moment).
    3) Add the MacBook to your cart anyway, and when you're done shopping, begin the checkout process.
    4) After you enter your shipping information, move to the Payment section during checkout.
    5) Look for a link that says "Do you have a gift card or promo code?" next to the gift icon. Click that to bring up a coupon code field.


    6) Enter the coupon code APINSIDER in the field and click apply. The discount should appear under "Promo Savings" above the order total.
    7) That's it. If you live outside NY & NJ Adorama will also not collect sales tax on your order.
    As always, if you have any issues, you can reach out to us at priceguides@gmail.com and we'll try and help.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 10
    nadavvonadavvo Posts: 1member
    The comparison the review makes to the non-Touch Bar MBP is slightly inaccurate imo. Users who want the extra performance for more intensive tasks (video editing, intensive gaming) should indeed go for the Pro. But if that's the goal, it's gonna cost you quite a bit. You'd have to upgrade the poor 128GB storage to at least 256GB, the 8GB SSD to 16GB, and probably the CPU as well since 2.3 i5 won't get you far. The total for such a machine is $2,000. Honestly it seems like people (and reviewers) still can't rid themselves of the bad impressions the underpowered 2015-MacBook has made. A shame really, cause it's a fantastic machine.
    edited June 2017 williamlondonwozwozwatto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 10
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 2,893member
    The MacBook's time on this earth is limited...

    While it is comparable to the MBP cost wise, it can't compete on performance or capacity.
    But, when compared to an IPad Pro its only serious advantage is its touchpad.

    It appears to me that Apple will end up with two primary lines:  with and without fans.
    The IPad Pro and MacBook will eventually converge to meet the needs of the ultra portable and 'standard everyday' users -- while power users will need the larger, heavier, more powerful MBP....

    p.s.  Also, the lightening port must eventually progress to become a USB-C port. 
    edited June 2017
  • Reply 3 of 10
    wozwozwozwoz Posts: 204member
    The performance comparison to the 2016 Macbook is very helpful. Many thanks. That by itself makes a perfect review -- only missing perhaps is a comparison of the 2017 1.2GHz to 2017 1.3GHz models. The comparison of the Macbook to the Macbook Pro is, in my view, confused. If power matters, and portability does not, then buy yourself a Mac Pro or top end iMac. The Macbook Pro may have extra ports, larger screen etc, but aside from weight, it loses out on its chunky square design which is frankly ergonomically inferior to the far superior wedge shaped Macbook and Macbook Air designs, both of which are a pleasure to rest your wrists on.
    nadavvo
  • Reply 4 of 10
    The MacBook's time on this earth is limited...

    Interesting exhibition of ignorance. I use mine more than my iPad mini or my iMac. Bought it right after the mbpro announcement of last year and cannot be happier of what I have. Is useful in bed, airplane, even airport. Weight is limited, screen is gorgeous, covers my limited needs for photo or movie or music editing. Usually does not gets hot.

    what else? Tried to buy an external wifi hdisk for it. No way. All crap. Returned to sender. Using a wired USB 3 disk for storage, then.

    nadavvovlscoutwatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 10
    saareksaarek Posts: 1,054member
    It's a beautiful machine, I was strongly tempted to get one.

    But the form over function aspects such as just the one USB C port and lack of MagSafe were deal breakers for me personally.
  • Reply 6 of 10
    toddzrxtoddzrx Posts: 194member
    saarek said:
    It's a beautiful machine, I was strongly tempted to get one.

    But the form over function aspects such as just the one USB C port and lack of MagSafe were deal breakers for me personally.
    Sounds like you are a little confused on your requirements.  If you need more ports, and need to keep your laptop hooked to a charger because you're using a lot of juice, then why would you even bother looking at the MacBook?  The point of the MacBook is ultraportability; i.e., enough battery to keep you going all day without plugging in to charge, and no or very little need to plug anything else into it since everything else can be done wirelessly.

    The charge of "form over function" against the MacBook is a false one.

    (I'm not a MacBook owner.)
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 10
    saareksaarek Posts: 1,054member
    toddzrx said:
    saarek said:
    It's a beautiful machine, I was strongly tempted to get one.

    But the form over function aspects such as just the one USB C port and lack of MagSafe were deal breakers for me personally.
    Sounds like you are a little confused on your requirements.  If you need more ports, and need to keep your laptop hooked to a charger because you're using a lot of juice, then why would you even bother looking at the MacBook?  The point of the MacBook is ultraportability; i.e., enough battery to keep you going all day without plugging in to charge, and no or very little need to plug anything else into it since everything else can be done wirelessly.

    The charge of "form over function" against the MacBook is a false one.

    (I'm not a MacBook owner.)
    I'm in the market for an ultra portable, the MacBook Air is simply no longer a viable option as its not had a proper update in years.

    Yes, I expect decent battery life and will use it. On occasion I'll also want to plug certain items in as not everything is wonderful over wifi, external storage for example.

    I've been saved a few times over the years by MagSafe and am amazed they dropped it, form over function.

    I appreciate skating to where the puck will be as opposed to where it is now, but at the same time just a single port is ridiculous.

    As I stated, it's a beautiful machine, just not for me.

    If you disagree that's your right.
    edited June 2017
  • Reply 8 of 10
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 2,893member
    The MacBook's time on this earth is limited...

    Interesting exhibition of ignorance. I use mine more than my iPad mini or my iMac. Bought it right after the mbpro announcement of last year and cannot be happier of what I have. Is useful in bed, airplane, even airport. Weight is limited, screen is gorgeous, covers my limited needs for photo or movie or music editing. Usually does not gets hot.

    what else? Tried to buy an external wifi hdisk for it. No way. All crap. Returned to sender. Using a wired USB 3 disk for storage, then.

    You stopped reading too soon...
    "The IPad Pro and MacBook will eventually converge to meet the needs of the ultra portable and 'standard everyday' users"

    Yes, they currently serve 2 different sets of functions.   But, while the MacBook will never get a touch screen, Apple is inching steadily forward to provide the IPad Pro with the resources to enable it to also perform what has traditionally been the realm of the MacBook.
  • Reply 9 of 10
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 2,893member
    toddzrx said:
    saarek said:
    It's a beautiful machine, I was strongly tempted to get one.

    But the form over function aspects such as just the one USB C port and lack of MagSafe were deal breakers for me personally.
    Sounds like you are a little confused on your requirements.  If you need more ports, and need to keep your laptop hooked to a charger because you're using a lot of juice, then why would you even bother looking at the MacBook?  The point of the MacBook is ultraportability; i.e., enough battery to keep you going all day without plugging in to charge, and no or very little need to plug anything else into it since everything else can be done wirelessly.

    The charge of "form over function" against the MacBook is a false one.

    (I'm not a MacBook owner.)
    I thought he was clear:   it's a beautiful form, but not enough function to meet his needs. 
    I tend to agree with him (at least when I compare the MacBook to a traditional laptop with far more powerful CPU and GPU as well as 10 zillion ports)
  • Reply 10 of 10
    eumaeuseumaeus Posts: 8member
    I am a MacBook user, and have spent hundreds of hours writing code on mine. I happily trade a zillion ports and CPU for its super light weight. For me the form is the function. 

    I have a Mac Pro, which does compile about 2x as fast, but usually I prefer the couch and the MacBook to my desk and the big fast machine.

    Different folks work differently and have different values. 
    nadavvowozwoz
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