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5 things to consider before you buy a new MacBook

Michael deAgonia | May 16, 2016
The stylish little laptop has upgraded hardware, but some caveats apply.

Faster chips, still quiet

The MacBook runs on either an Intel Core m3, m5, or m7 processor, depending on the configuration (or whether you want to pay a little more). The default entry-level $1,299 model gets a 1.1GHz dual-core Intel Core m3 (with Turbo Boost up to 2.2GHz when more speed is necessary) and 256GB of PCIe flash storage. The $1,599 model has a 1.2GHz dual-core Intel Core m5 processor (up to 2.7GHz with Turbo Boost) and 512GB of PCIe-flash based storage. Both models can be upgraded to a dual-core Intel Core m7, and both come with 8GB of 1866Mhz onboard RAM (which cannot be upgraded).

So when buying, you basically have to decide two things: which of the three processors do you want, and how much storage do you need. In general, more of each is better -- especially if you tend to keep hardware for several years.

While the new Skylake-based chipset is faster than last year's model, it still offers about an hour more of battery life. The MacBook itself consumes about 5 watts of power, contains no moving parts -- there aren't even any cooling fans -- and runs absolutely, completely silent. Really a stickler for quiet? You can also silence the haptic click in the trackpad in System Preferences. Shhh... you hear that? Well, it's not the new MacBook, that's for sure.

OS X or iOS 9?

Lately, I've been traveling a lot, and since November, I've always chosen to fly with my 12.9-in. iPad Pro in a Logitech Keyboard case. (The iPad has effectively replaced my four-year-old 15-in. MacBook Pro for travel.) What made that workable for me was the introduction of iOS 9: ever since Split View became a thing for the iPad, I've been able to work on a tablet just as effectively as I have on my Mac, especially when writing and researching on the go.

For many, however, relying on a device that runs iOS isn't an option, no matter how portable the hardware is. For personal, technical or software reasons, a large number of Apple users still prefer OS X. This new MacBook fits the bill if you need a full-featured operating system, can get by with minimal ports (one), and want ultra portability. While the iPad Pro/Logitech Case is more travel-friendly than the 15-in. MacBook Pro, the MacBook makes the iPad/case combo feel downright clumsy. And with OS X, the MacBook can run all of the desktop software you're already accustomed to.

Frozen in time

As noted, the MacBook cannot be upgraded; what you buy now is what you'll be using for the life of this product. The memory, processor, and storage are all soldered onto the MacBook's motherboard. Both models come with 8GB of 1866MHz LPDDR3 SDRAM memory and both use the Intel HD Graphics 515 graphics card. The only customizable option is the CPU, which can be upgraded to a 1.3GHz dual-core Intel Core m7 (with up to 3.1GHz with Turbo Boost). The upgrade costs $250 extra on the $1,299 model, $150 more on the $1,599 MacBook. That brings the price of a "tricked out" MacBook to $1,749.


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