12" Macbook review, after having used every single laptop in Apple's lineup since 2006

Discussion in 'MacBook' started by unixunderground, Jul 31, 2015.

  1. unixunderground, Jul 31, 2015
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2015

    unixunderground macrumors member

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    #1
    I've had a 15" 1st gen MBP, 1st gen 13" MBA, 2nd gen 13" MBP, 2nd gen 13" MBA, 15" rMBP, 11" MBA ,13" rMBP and recently got a 12" rMB, in that order.
    Most recent ones all maxed out models spec-wise, with the exception of my new rMB, as I thought I'd end up wardrobing it for a couple of weeks and then return it.

    After testing it for some time though, I completely changed my mind. It was the ultra-portable Mac experience I always wanted, which never quite got delivered with the 11" MBA.

    Being always on the go, I really wanted to like the 11" MBA, but in my experience, though small, it still weighted more than I would have liked, the screen resolution out of 2006 made my eyes cringe constantly, the enormous bezels were unsightly at best, and the very small trackpad constrained.
    The 16:9 aspect ration wasn't that great either, with extremely little vertical screen real estate.

    All those things put together, made it a real step back in terms of productivity, from the 15" rMBP I was using at the time.

    So I compromised in portability, and got a 13" rMBP a couple of months later, which was the best of both worlds, though heavier and bulkier than I would have liked.

    The 12" rMB, on the other hand, is everything I have ever wished for in a portable computer, and more. The keyboard, despite what most say, is the fastest and most tactile Macbook keyboard I've typed on, and after 48 hours of getting it, I was already typing faster than on my rMBP.
    Granted though I have been touch-typing for years, and on a desktop keyboard with good switches, I average in the low 100s WPM.

    The touchpad is also full size, in contrast with the 11" MBA, which makes a huge difference in productivity, for someone like me who uses lots of gestures. Force touch is really nifty too! Now that I've gotten used to it, the old touchpad feels dull in comparison.

    As for the speaker, I was really blown away. It delivers 15" rMBP-like performance, perhaps even slightly better and louder. Sure, there isn't much bass to talk about, but that's to be expected with a speaker module so small. Still quite the engineering marvel considered the size.

    Finally, I also really enjoy that they went with USB-C, I love being able to connect power,mouse,keyboard,ethernet,external drives and so forth with just a single cable. It's a brilliant machine for docking.
    Sure, you'll have to get some adapters, new flashdrives and cables, but then again that's gonna be the case anyway for everyone a few years from now, so might as well get started on early.
    And while I agree that having had two C ports would have been useful, having just one is not a deal braker by any means.

    I was also really worried by the Core M, coming from an i7, and hearing what all the reviewers said, but in my experience it's been optimized so well, that I am almost never reminded of being on a mobile processor.
    Even running 2 VMs on VMware works smoothly as butter, whilst also having plenty of other apps open on other desktops.
    Lightroom with 24mb Raw files in batches is somewhat slower than on my rMBP, but still workable.
    Driving a 4K display at 30Hz is perfectly doable, though 30Hz may be a bit low for some uses.
    60FPS 1080p video playback works without any issues at all.
    30FPS 4K video playback slows it down a bit, but it can still play smoothly enough depending on the compression/bitrate/codec.

    If I really have to do some heavy lifting work, I just fire up SSH or VNC, and connect to my 24 Core Xeon server with 96GB of RAM and PCIe SSD storage, and get done with it in a few minutes. But that's what I would have done anyway even with the maxed out rMBP 15", so no change there really.

    As a side note, like other reviews have mentioned, I also really like that it can be charged off a standard external power bank with high-enough amps.
    This is really a game changer for the frequent travelers and always on-the-go people as though external batteries for the older Macs were also available, they weighted tons, costed hundreds of dollars, and worked sub-optimally.
    With this, it can now effectively be run off-the-grid for days with a decent power bank.

    So all in all, best portable machine I have ever had among all the Macs I've owned over the last 10 years. All I wished for on a true-ulraportable machine. Sure, it has its limits processing-power wise, but for me the pros far outweigh the cons, and I am yet to find anything that doesn't run as smoothly as on my rMBP for every-day usage. Granted though, I don't do much resource-intensive work locally.

    My rMBP 13" is now up for sale. Though I have always gone back and forth between powerful and portable laptops with every new one, I think that technology has come such a way, that I will only get the portable ones onwards.


    ---
    TL;DR

    Awesome Mac, best I have ever had, bar none, compared to all portable Macs I have had since 2006.
    All I ever wished for in a portable machine. Less powerful on paper, but perfectly fine for my every day use.

    So light and thin I have to physically open my backpack/briefcase and look to check if I have it with me before leaving. A joy to carry around. Dream docking-machine connecting all peripherals with a single cable.

    Love being able to charge it off a power bank, meaning that it can effectively be taken off-the-grid for days with any decent one.
     
  2. Queen6 macrumors 603

    Queen6

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    #2
    Very similar have owned all the major revisions of the MacBook Pro and the Air. I dropped the Air for similar reasons, both the 11' & 13" the display is a tragedy, it wasn't great when the Air was released and it hasn't gotten any better. The Retina MacBook Pro`s are seriously solid performers, with the 13" Retina being Apple`s most balanced portable Mac. The footprint and at times the ferocious operating temperatures of the 15" rMBP can become tiresome when on the go, with the 13" rMBP being the "sweet spot" for many.

    The Retina MacBook is fast becoming my "goto" Mac, My profession gets me around the world, frequently off the "beaten track" I am in the field now with 13" rMBP & 12" rMB, the MacBook is literally hauled everywhere, so far it has performed superbly dealing with the typical MS Office productivity workload across 10-15 spaces; heavyweight engineering related documents & spreadsheets, and proprietary engineering applications.

    A 15" rMBP will always likely be a system I will own, equally as soon as the Retina MacBook is available on the Skylake platform I can see both my primary & secondary field systems being the 12" MacBook. The performance, versus portability, coupled with one of the very best displays in the business, makes for an extremely compelling argument. Should a project require more significant performance the 15" rMBP will always be available, hopefully Apple will deliver major update for Skylake for the rMBP.

    Q-6
     
  3. ahostmadsen macrumors 6502a

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    #3
    Exactly. I see a lot of complaints about the single port. But to some people that is in fact an asset, having just a single cable to connect/disconnect for desk/mobile use.
     
  4. MRrainer macrumors 6502a

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    #4
    Nice review, thank you. I'm worried about VM performance, too. It runs so nicely on my 2012 i7 Mini.
    But I've also got our private cloud at work where I could provision as many virtual servers as phat as I needed (within reason, of course).
    But having Fusion run locally is just more responsive for some stuff - if the local machine is fast enough. Else, it's just a drag.
     
  5. tbirdparis macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    May 30, 2015
    #5
    Nice overview.

    I've also owned quite a few macs going back to the Power PC days with G4s and so on. In terms of laptops, not so much because I never really saw the point (for me at least) until I got my first one which was a second gen core 2 duo 17 incher. It was the first time a laptop had desktop-like power and so was actually usable for me as a work machine at the time. Shortly after that though, I really got into the idea of having portable computing for a change, so I picked up a second hand 12" Powerbook G4. Thinking back, it's almost like I was trying to achieve what was eventually to be the use-case for the iPad when it came along later: A "real", hefty machine for heavy lifting and a vastly smaller personal machine for personal life stuff, watching movies on planes etc. For the time it was a pretty good combo.

    Later I upgraded to a top spec i7 MBP (17 inch again) but sadly I pulled the trigger one generation too early and got the series before they moved to true quad cores. So even with virtual cores, my i7 was never a real powerhouse and in reality was only slightly faster than my core 2 duo. Loved the unibody design, the fact that I could still get a matte screen and it had great resolution/desktop space for the time. But I noticed some other things that were little steps backwards. The built in speakers on the MBP were thin and tinny sounding compared to the older design core 2 duo, the thermal tolerances were razor-thin such that whenever I connected a FW800 audio interface (which was all the time for work), I would have a short window of time before it overheated like crazy and throttled down to PowerBook speeds. I think the FW controller chip getting worked by a not-great audio driver was enough to tip it over the heat edge.

    Now with the latest rMBPs, it seems that they've gotten the hefty performance back, however I've held off buying one because everyone I know who works with one in my business gets driven nuts by the loud fans kicking in and the inevitable CPU throttling when working on big Logic or ProTools projects, especially with video playback and driving multiple displays at once. For now I've given up on the dream of a truly reliable portable workstation and so work is in iMac and Mac Pro land for the time being. Hoping that a big generational leap will come to the MBPs soon, making them cool-running but still with high performance, and a big leap in internal capacity storage would be a strong selling point too.

    But over to the rMB.. this is where I'm definitely feeling some balance coming back to the force. It feels like they have nailed it on pretty much every front for this type of machine and so yep: I agree it feels like the most pleasant and perfectly fit-for purpose Mac I've owned in a long time. Feels like it promises you a bunch of things and it actually does them. Now they just need to get there with the Pro range. Those machines promise top-end performance and pro-level connectivity but fall short in practice. This isn't unique to Apple of course - the equation of making laptops the size that people want and expect nowadays and yet making them perform like monsters is currently an unsolvable one given where CPU design is currently stuck, heat and power consumption in particular. Sure you can theoretically run huge production sessions on a top spec MBP but you might want to find a way to keep it in a freezer while you work to get that performance in reality. Same problem with flash storage. It got us to a great place in terms of speed but we lost a ton of capacity in the tradeoff. So, now they seem to have nailed the balance at the consumer day-to-day laptop level, it would be awesome to see some solid breakthroughs happen at the pro level too, so that those machines do everything we buy them for with no ifs and buts...
     
  6. unixunderground, Jul 31, 2015
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2015

    unixunderground thread starter macrumors member

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    #6
    Absolutely. I foresee that as soon as a Skylake rMB gets released, something that all reviewers and major tech media outlets will praise, even the general public will hop on the train and these will be flying off the selves.

    If Apple, perhaps after retiring the long-overlived Macbook Air, ever releases a 14" rMB, I could also see both models over time obliterating the rMacbook Pro market, even more so as Cannonlake comes out and performs much better than Skylake, with even less power consumption.

    The rMB is definitely the foundation for the Macbook of the future.

    Indeed. This is going to be even truer as more USB type-C peripherals get released, like USB-C to USB-C hubs, screens and audio devices with USB-C input and so forth.

    Thanks for reading!
    I am not sure about what your use-case entails, but I think you will be just fine in most cases. With the Cloud as a backup, even more so.

    For me, most of my everyday *nix stuff runs natively no problem, so really all I am using it for, is occasional isolation testing, sometimes when I just need a linux distro locally and don't want to deal with delays on a slow network, or when I need Windows.

    And for that, it works well. Even as I write this, I have a Windows 10 VM running some of my office internal software, and a Debian one running some server debug stuff. That's on top of Safari with 12 open tabs, the appstore pulling some updates, and evernote, messages, sunrise and spotify in the background. With all this, I am at 60-70% CPU and just 57°C.
    Pretty impressive for a mobile processor if you ask me.
     
  7. unixunderground, Jul 31, 2015
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2015

    unixunderground thread starter macrumors member

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    Feb 2, 2011
    #7
    Thanks!

    Couldn't agree more. The Pro lineup could really use some serious rethinking as a whole product category. I was also really annoyed by the fans constantly blowing and throttling all over the place. So glad Apple lead the way over to passive cooling.

    The rMB is really a preview of the greatness to come. Now we just need technology, like flash storage and everything else, to catch up.

    I really think that in a few years, not so much with Skylake or Cannonlake but further on, when silicon is phased out and indium antimonide, optical, graphene, quantum or whatever takes on, we'll see some true innovation in the mobile computing sector.

    Then the time will come for true pro workstation-like performance, in an ultraportable package.

    We've got some really exciting times around the corner, in that sense.
     
  8. tbirdparis macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    May 30, 2015
    #8
    Yep, things could get really interesting again at the pro level after two things happen: a big leap in flash storage capacity leading to lower cost per GB and internal storage in the multi TB range. And secondly, some kind of fundamental breakthrough in CPU design that leads to thermal issues going away altogether and the current speed/power ceiling being blown off so that processor iterations start doubling in speeds every year or so again... I think the main problem is that from a form-factor point of view, the laptop market has matured to a state where there's a size/weight range that people expect now and there's no easy way to go backwards from here. And current or even closely foreseeable CPU/battery and storage tech just doesn't fit inside that box without either running out of juice too fast, not having enough disk space for pro use even if you pay through the nose for maxed out options, or in all cases - the power/speed you assume from what's written on the box is never consistently what you get because, ouchie, it's hot in there.

    Feels like in the pro space, the industry got a bit ahead of itself with the super slim paradigm because the industrial design department was ready to roll. But everyone else making the parts that make it go aren't quite there yet. However, at the lower end (i.e., the rMB), feels like they got in just when the water was just right. Should be in for some good times if the technology flows upwards to the pro space..
     
  9. Young Turk, Jul 31, 2015
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2015

    Young Turk macrumors 6502

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    #9
    Glad to hear. I too have owned probably just about every laptop Apple has made, starting with the Mac Portable in 1990. (Anyone else owned or remember that behemoth?), and I ordered my base model in Silver from Amazon (@$20 discount) before reading this review. They were actually in stock when I was at the Apple Store at North Star Mall in San Antonio last week. Website didn't indicate that. Regret not buying it then.
     
  10. tbirdparis macrumors 6502

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    #10
    I don't remember the Mac Portable but I just looked it up. Whoah! Look at what $6500 got you back then. We really are spoiled brats these days.. :)
     
  11. Queen6 macrumors 603

    Queen6

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    #11
    Definitely, the thin & light approach with current high power components, results in systems that add up to something less than the sum of their parts. Primary reason I dropped the 15" rMPB for the majority of my field work (engineering) was the temperature & noise, also why I have sat on my current 15" Retina for longer than I typically would, as to me it`s futile to add faster hotter silicon, to an already stretched thermal envelope, as the results are obvious.

    Intel are clearly focusing on the low power CPU`s with Skylake`s Core M receiving significant percentage gains for CPU & GPU performance, and it`s good to see Apple on form with the Retina MacBook excelling at what it does. As above the current 15" is now a little "lost" neither a true portable workstation, nor a great gaming platform and too expensive for many as a regular Notebook.

    Q-6
     
  12. wchigo macrumors 6502

    wchigo

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    #12
    Nice review. Perusing this forum has done bad things to my mind as it has been tempting me towards actually going out and buying one myself. I had told myself that I likely would, but would wait until gen 2 since I have a perfectly capable (late '13) 13" rMBP kicking around.

    I do use it for work (mostly emails and Word/Excel) and it's much better than the old 15" cMBP I had in terms of weight/speed or the 13" MBA in terms of screen/footprint. However, I still don't like to lug it around very often and I think that would change if I got the new rMB. At the same point in time, I wanted to squeeze one more year out of this machine and hopefully hop on the MB train with Skylake, but my need for the newest, shiniest thing always tends to get the best of me...:oops:
     
  13. throAU macrumors 601

    throAU

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    Perth, Western Australia
    #13
    On my 2015 13", i very rarely see the fan activate.

    I monitor with istatmenus and 95% of the time it is sitting on 0 rpm.
     
  14. JackieInCo macrumors 601

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    Colorado
    #14
    That is never supposed to happen. The fans are supposed to normally be at around 2100/2000. They are on my retina MBP when I let it sit for an hour or more sometimes. Something is wrong with your iStat menus or your MBP if they are at zero.
     
  15. Queen6 macrumors 603

    Queen6

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    #15
    Same with my 2014 2.8 512SSD 13" Retina, the issue is mainly confined to the 15" with dGPU it does perform significantly faster, equally it also gets far hotter with associated fan noise.

    Q-6
     
  16. JackieInCo macrumors 601

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    #16
    Again, the fans are always spinning on a MBP. You just don't hear them at 2100RPM. It is only when the computer gets hotter and they spin up faster that you hear them.

    They will never stop spinning.

    My 13" MBP spins at 2000 and my 2015 15" retina MBP spins at 2100/2000 for both fans.
     
  17. Queen6, Aug 1, 2015
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2015

    Queen6 macrumors 603

    Queen6

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    #17
    the issue is not the fans spinning at 2100rpm, it`s when they are spinning at 5K plus which can be frequently when using the 15" with dGPU, especially if connected to multiple display`s. This is exactly one reason why those that push the 15" tire of it, as the noise is intrusive for many and difficult to reduce due to the design of the 15" MBP.

    As has been stated by some, the 15" is not great at anything right now, nor do I anticipate it changing as the "path" seems set...

    Q-6
     
  18. Queen6 macrumors 603

    Queen6

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    #18
    It related solely to the 2015 13" rMBP with Broadwell CPU, either the sensor apps have not been updated for the hardware or the fan does shutdown, as Broadwell`s power savings allow for passive cooling in some situations.

    Q-6
     
  19. JackieInCo macrumors 601

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    #19
    Yes, I've come upon that annoying fan problem when converting nine seasons of a TV show to m4v for my Apple TV. The fans spun up to 6000+ continuously. After a few episodes, I gave up and moved them over to my 2012 Mini to convert. The fans still sun up on the Mini but not continuously like on the 2015 15" Retina.

    I bought a new non retina 2012 MBP and I have noticed the fans rarely go higher then 3500 or so and I am finding I am using it more often then my 2015 retina MBP because of that.
     
  20. JackieInCo macrumors 601

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    #20
    That makes sense now, thanks for the explanation.
     
  21. Queen6, Aug 1, 2015
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2015

    Queen6 macrumors 603

    Queen6

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    #21
    Exactly it can be a challenge to keep the fan RPM`s down on the 15" I believe many would prefer the 15" to be shall we say a little more "industrial" allowing it to run at full speed and quieter when on medium to high loads. Of course this will never happen as Apple`s mantra is thin and light above all else, which works in the case of the Retina MacBook and fails in the case of the 15" Retina MacBook Pro.

    Interesting, equally as I said adding more powerful components to an already stretched thermal envelope is futile and will only likely result in throttling and further fan noise. Personally I am waiting on Skylake for the 15" however if it`s more of the same I will likely look at other hardware.

    Q-6
     
  22. gochi macrumors 6502

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    #22
    well i am selling mine but its hard to part with it. lol
     
  23. knightmare456 macrumors newbie

    knightmare456

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    #23
    I've also had various MacBooks / Pro's / Air's since around 2008. Until recently I owned a 2012 MBP, 2.3 ghz, 256GB HDD, 8GB. I now have a 1.1 rMB and I don't regret switching. I've seen quite a few mixed reviews of the rMB on youtube, people saying either get the rMBP 13 or wait for the next rMB, this is is probably down to them trying to
    edit 4K video on their rMB and not being happy with the results, most of us aren't gonna be doing that though are we. Out of all the negative comments I've heard about the rMB (keyboard, 1 port, processing power) the only one I agree with having lived with it around 6 weeks is, 1 port isn't enough. Even when I had the rMBP the only ports I used were the MagSafe and a singe USB for transferring data/backups at the same time, I'd really appreciate 2 USB - C ports. When I first got the rMP it was at about 80% battery, I hooked up my iPhone to transfer my music library to iTunes via iExplorer the battery died before it managed to transfer everything (my iTunes is around 100GBs). Apart from that it's been all good, I could not go back to a traditional sized laptop after owning this, what I'd like next would be a 14 inch rMB with 2 USB - C ports.
     
  24. throAU, Aug 2, 2015
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2015

    throAU macrumors 601

    throAU

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    #24
    Not recent ones.

    Not the 13" in any case.

    The machine is 100% silent with no airflow, passive cooling only. The FAN does come on under significant load (especially when doing stuff an rMB will struggle with) and the sensor does record the speed properly when this happens. But just doing basic web/video/itunes stuff... no noise. Passive only.

    As you can see, in the pic the CPU package is only using under 2 watts. Its mostly under 10 in light usage. Which is mostly possible to passive cool like the Macbook.

    I actually installed iStatMenus because i couldn't hear the fan, went listening for it, couldn't feel any airflow, etc. It doesn't spin most of the time on the 2015 13".

    [​IMG]
     
  25. JackieInCo macrumors 601

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    #25
    I am sorry. I didn't realize it on the 13" MBPs. Like I said, I have the 15" i7 and the fans never ever stop.
     

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