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Apple Inc. Finally Refreshes the MacBook

By Ashraf Eassa - Apr 19, 2016 at 6:30PM

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A new Intel processor drives significant improvements to Apple's latest Mac.

Apple's latest MacBook. Image source: Apple. 

Last year, Apple (AAPL 4.01%) introduced the latest member in its portable Mac lineup known simply as the MacBook. The MacBook was extremely thin and light and, by virtue of the low-power Intel (INTC 0.84%) Core m processor inside, did not require a fan to keep the processor cool.

The device, though quite richly priced, seemed to do very well in the marketplace.

On April 19, the Mac maker announced a refresh of the MacBook to include two significant technical upgrades as well as the addition of a rose gold finish. Let's take a closer look.

New Skylake-based processors
The first-generation MacBook packed Intel's first Core m processor generation based on the company's Broadwell architecture. This was a pretty reasonable first crack at trying to stuff Intel's Core architecture in to a six-watt power envelope, but clearly the chipmaker has a lot of work to do to build Core-based chips for that particular power envelope.

The refreshed MacBook computers use second-generation Core m processors based on Intel's Skylake architecture. The second generation Core m chips bring significant enhancements to the table such as:

  • Faster CPU and graphics performance
  • Greater support for hardware video codecs, which should lead to lower power consumption when playing back certain types of video
  • Integrated image signal processor, which should save Apple the trouble of buying a discrete image signal processor to support the webcam
  • Significantly smaller package size

No single improvement here is going to be a game changer, but, taken together, they can lead to a significant progress in the user experience.

For example, the faster CPU and graphics performance should help speed up everyday tasks (such as web surfing). The smaller package size and increased integration (eliminating the need for additional discrete chips) likely allowed Apple to shrink the logic board of the device to allow the company to stick a larger battery in there (the new MacBook comes with a 41.4 watt-hour battery, up from 39.7 watt-hours in the older MacBook).

The larger battery size, coupled with what is very likely a more efficient platform overall, allowed Apple to boast an improvement in battery life to 10 hours of web browsing and 11 hours of iTunes movie playback (up from nine hours and 10 hours, respectively).

Where's the rest of the gang?
Interestingly, Apple didn't release updates to the MacBook Pro lineup. The Air products didn't receive upgrades, either, though the Mac maker is making 8 gigabytes of RAM standard on the 13-inch MacBook Air products (likely enabled by the fact that DRAM pricing continues to drop ).

According to DigiTimes, Apple is planning to launch new ultra-thin MacBooks during the second half of 2016. My expectation is that the MacBook Air lineup will be retired within the next six months, replaced by new additions to the MacBook (no "Air" and no "Pro" suffixes). I expect the MacBook Pro lineup to persist, as there are likely sizable numbers of Mac buyers who are willing to trade off thin and light for high performance.


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