A developer's review of the new Macbook 1.3GHz

Discussion in 'MacBook' started by iscajal, May 13, 2015.

  1. iscajal, May 13, 2015
    Last edited: May 13, 2015

    iscajal macrumors member

    Apr 10, 2015
    .. rather subjective, granted.

    I'm coming from a MBPr 15", mid 2012; i7 @ 2.3GHz with 8GB of RAM, 1TB SSD. Anything you read below can be seen as relative to that.


    It looks, well, stunning. Physically, it's built just as well as any other recent unibody macbook I've had my hands on. However, it is less rigid than the big Macbook Pro ones. Simply due to it's lesser weight and thickness it feels like it would take less punishment than the big sturdy clamshell ones. That said, it is still extremely well built and once the "omg omg new device must baby it" factor wears off, it's a solid workhorse.

    I haven't noticed any build quality issues or defects on my model, although I can see how the tiniest differences in height would make it wobble on some surfaces.

    I have the space grey one and I don't think it'll scratch any different than the silver ones.


    Much has been said on this and it's a mostly subjective thing. For me personally, it took a few hours to get proficient with it, mostly due to the different keysize-spacing-ratio present on this thing.

    Typing experience is fluid once you get cracking and your muscle memory adjusts to the new layout. It feels a bit like the Surface 3 Pro typecover does, but without the "yoghurty", wobbly plasticy feel. A solid keyboard, one I don't mind working on on the go.

    Very minor side-niggle: Some of the keys sound noticeably different. My backspace has a sharper tack to it; while my spacebar sounds deeper. Physics, can't be helped I guess.

    Trackpad is fine and joyful to use, compared to the old hardware design. Moving swiftly on!


    Coming from a 15" one, definitely a difference. The screen felt large at first glance, but after working on it for an hour and looking back to my 15" one it looked positively tiny.

    When at a desk, you need to adjust your sitting/working posture as well. While working on a 15" one was okay with regard to angle of neck, arm positions, seating height and so on, it's a definite drawback for the 12" one. Your neck tilts forward more and you need to watch out to avoid hunching over it. Yes, it's that much smaller.

    I'm looking forward to getting the AV adapter and using it docked in clamshell mode, which I suspect is the best usecase for this thing while at a desk.

    Performance: Resolutions, text editing, browsing

    I'm doing most of my work in simple text editors. It's more than fine for that. In fact, thanks to the more modern GPU (my MPBr has a HD4000), UI transitions feel smoother and less janky. If there's any lag it's all whining and nitpicking.

    I've upped the screen estate to x960 and x1050 to test, and it helps a lot. Yes, the text gets fuzzier, but only very slightly. I don't notice the difference at normal viewing distances, and my eyesight isn't too bad. It's definitely smooth to work with. Performance with the higher HiDPI resolutions is perfectly fine; but I suspect if you run something 3D-intensive you will run out of VRAM very quickly.

    That said, I find x1050 a tiny bit too small. While I don't have any problems reading it, it's tiring to the eyes even at daytime and I'd rather much lean back a bit more and switch back to x960, or x900. You definitely get used to it and work around the limitations.

    Performance: GPU - Games

    The GPU is .. not good. Don't expect to run anything remotely GPU-spikey on this. Tested stuff:

    * Cities Skylines, details all as low as they get, 1280x800: ~5fps
    * Neverwinter Nights 1 in VMWare Fusion (!): ~10fps
    * XCom Enemy Within native: ~10fps
    * Pillars of Eternity: Playable. Ish. Mostly held back by 3D effects. If you turn those down it runs, but it's not smooth by any means.
    * Rimworld: Still awesome. And also buttery smooth (not surprise there).

    .. You get the picture. HOWEVER:

    All 3D games in common had the occasional seconds-long pauses, which made them completely unplayable.

    I just assumed that was throttling I was seeing and moved on.

    Performance: IntelliJ, Ruby, Rails development

    This also works very well. IntelliJ IDEA is about as fast (slow) as it was on my MBPr, UI-wise and editing-wise. I didn't notice any problems that were due to the Core M.

    In day to day workloads, compiling small pieces of code, this thing actually felt faster than my old MBPr. Things are very snappy. I suspect the faster, lower-latency SSD, new CPU architecture and better CPU burst behaviour helps a lot here.

    Performance: Blender, Photoshop

    Perfectly usable with external mouse, keyboard. Starts to drop in performance when approaching 500k faces.

    Photoshop runs just fine, as expected. I haven't tried connecting my Wacom tablet yet but unless you go overboard with layers or DPI it really shouldn't turn your hair grey.

    Performance: VMWare

    Running Windows 8 in VMWare was a pleasant surprise at well. Installing it was done in minutes and the Desktop felt responsive and snappy as well. Installing all the Windows updates afterwards however wasn't a nice experience, but then again, this isn't on any other hardware bar desktops.

    While it stays cool when idle, it got noticeably warmer under load; on a summers' day this might be a bit uncomfortable especially at the top of the keyboard if your hands are prone to sweating.

    Running Visual Studio CE in VMWare isn't fun. Slow, laggy UI (in 2015 standards) is the worst of it, but it will suffice for the occasional patch. All in all, it felt about the same as running the same VM on my MBPr.

    The bad:

    The throttling is noticeable when you are putting sustained load on it. It drops down to 1GHz-ish rapidly (note: this is HUGELY influenced by your thermal environ).

    Still, it's a 1GHz Broadwell, so even with both cores pinned at 80%+, it never felt "starved", and while some things jittered a bit (like some hiccups when loading new pages in Chrome), it was very responsive and perfectly usable.

    Edit: Some more actual thermal/throttling observations with proper tools. Intel clearly has no qualms running this chip up to 90C and keeping it there. Even maxing things with VMWare keeps core clocks at a brisk 2.2, 2.3 for multicore use. I'd assume it only drops down more when the actual skin temperature (=outer case) reaches limits as defined by Apple, which I'm not privvy to. Not sure what you need to do to make it go there, but my normal workload is insufficient.

    Of course, back in reality-land, the MBPr is still faster by leaps and bounds. It absolutely pummels the MB into the ground with multicore usecases.

    To be completely honest, in day to day use and for my workloads/usecases, I wouldn't know the difference between this and the i7. Intel has done some awesome binning on these things I think.


    That's a huge step-back to the MBPr. I haven't done any extensive testing yet, but I think that I get about 50% to 75% of runtime compared to my old thing FOR MY USECASES. Idle, the display is by far the biggest wattage slurper. I managed to squeeze out 6h(!) of IRC going from 80% to 60% at night, with the display set to very low. At daytime, it's more like 2 hours for the same span.

    Taxing the CPU, running VMWare, and so on, absolutely destroys your uptime. Realistically speaking, at daytime and with regular compiling going on, you can expect 3 to 5 hours of productive work in the cafe of your choice. Luckily, it charges VERY quickly!

    FWIW, I installed Intel Power Gadget and I saw my SoC draw 10W when the thermal envelope allowed. Fun times!

    The end of things

    I'm pretty sure I'm going to keep it. The added portability and just the "oh yes, i'll take it with me" factor are well worth the tradeoffs. I found myself sitting in lounge chairs, outside, or on the sofa, just because this thing is more portable. As they say, the laptop you have with you is more useful than the one sitting at home on a desk.

    BTW: Got a MBPr 15" to sell (in Germany)! Has a 1TB SSD!


    Let me know if you have questions burning bright.
  2. Zodiac.mj macrumors member

    Mar 10, 2013
    I'm also a developer (web apps) and going to switch from 15 rMBP maxed to 1.3 rMB. Thanks for review, my box will come tomorrow, but form what i already read it looks like this little machine will do just fine for my needs :)
  3. seong macrumors 65816


    Feb 11, 2010
    Thanks for the long write! Really enjoyed it (I have yet to receive mine.)
    I was scared when you mentioned how the battery will only last for 3~5 hours, but with my use with current late 2013 rMBP 15", I get max 5 hours as well on the go.
    Have you tried using an external battery with it to charge t on the go? This feature is one of many reasons why I chose the rMB over my current machine.
  4. iscajal thread starter macrumors member

    Apr 10, 2015
    The 3-5hours are with significant CPU load and screen brightness, but to be frank, anandtech has a much better writeup, with graphs comparing it to other macs. I'd recommend checking it out to get a clearer picture!

    And no, I haven't used a external battery yet. I might someday, but as of now, the internal battery is more than enough and I really don't feel like lugging another piece around.
  5. seong macrumors 65816


    Feb 11, 2010
    Ah I see. That sounds like a regular usage for me too. Thanks for the recommendation! I don't know why I forgot about good old anandtech.
  6. pookitoo macrumors regular


    Apr 16, 2015
    Thank for the review ;) I'm a web dev and i'm going to receive my 1,3 monday. But the 1,1 could do the job ? I haven't read a review to compare a 1.1 to the 1.3. (in France, 400 $ between the 2, with a smaller ssd, the price for the apple watch)
  7. iscajal thread starter macrumors member

    Apr 10, 2015
    I don't know. I never tested the 1.1 the same way. My rationale for getting the 1.3 is such:
    - You can probably make do as a web dev, but if you want to run VMs I'd say every cycle counts.
    - If I'm going to shell out for a new laptop, might as well get the best one, since it's for business and needs to last for two years at the very least.
    - Moaaaaarrrr spaaaaace.
  8. andy9l macrumors 68000

    Aug 31, 2009
    England, UK
    That is a huge performance hit. I mean, really huge.

    FWIW, I'm do a lot of web development too and found my 1.1 rMB has so far exceeded my expectations. Most frequently, I run Coda 2, Prepros, Apache and MySQL servers, multiple tabs in Safari, Mail and iTunes. It's held up really well so far.

    That said, I have a 27" iMac for getting the real work done. I would never rely on the rMB as a primary machine. For developers, the screen is simply too small (as with any laptop) - plug it in to an external display, and suddenly you're pressurising that weak GPU and you take a performance hit. It's just not powerful enough to be a primary machine for us techies, I'm afraid.

    Another point - the rMB is moving towards that oh-so-sweet 1-2 year refresh period. More recurring income for Apple. Don't expect to be using this machine in 3 years time.
  9. PsychicRutabaga macrumors member


    Apr 19, 2015
    This is a great review as it more closely matches my own use cases than most of the others I've seen. Thanks for taking the time with the writeup.

    My biggest, albeit minor concern, has been the keyboard. I wasn't able to get used to it in a couple of brief store demos, but so far everyone including yourself has indicated a few hours and it becomes quite comfortable. I've used a lot of strange keyboards, including chicklet keyboards on Netbooks and currently a Zagg Profolio for my iPad so I anticipate this will be a step up after some time acclimating to it.

    Thanks again for the writeup!
  10. iscajal thread starter macrumors member

    Apr 10, 2015
    All very good points; although I would like to point out that running a external (non-HiDPI) display will push less pixels than the internal one, as long as you stick to clamshell mode. I haven't tested yet since noone wants to sell me an AV adapter, but I doubt it'll break a sweat driving my Desktop 1600p panel.


    You're welcome! Let me know if you have any questions that need answering.
  11. andy9l macrumors 68000

    Aug 31, 2009
    England, UK
    A developer's review of the new Macbook 1.3GHz

    Absolutely, but then you have the typical thermal issues with clamshell mode. Although it would be interesting to see if the new rMB cooling mechanism alleviates this...

    I don't have the adapters to test, I'm afraid. I use my rMB in complete isolation, using iCloud to sync and Airdrop for odd files. Don't even need Google Drive or Dropbox anymore. It's great.

    My last challenge is getting Apache to work with an iCloud Drive folder. I can't get it working for the life of me!
  12. bibyfok macrumors 6502


    Jun 14, 2012
    I was doing video encoding on a MBPr 13 in Clamshell mode without heat issues.
  13. fatefulwhisper macrumors regular

    Jul 24, 2008
    I can vouch for this; I output to my 27" DELL everyday a 1440p and I put my macbook in clamshell mode; I've noticed that it runs much smoother/faster in general. Having it generate less pixels definitely does make a difference. However, I mainly use my external display for coding, and occasional web surfing.
  14. Dayv macrumors 6502

    Aug 18, 2009
    Did you try disabling LCD font smoothing? Despite the name, I found the text to be more readable at higher resolution with this turned off.
  15. andy9l macrumors 68000

    Aug 31, 2009
    England, UK

    In the past, MacBooks (MBP included) tend to run hotter in clamshell mode. Worse air flow - simple physics.

    As I said, it would be interesting to see it this new rMB cooling system alleviates that as it relies so much less on airflow.
  16. T'hain Esh Kelch macrumors 601

    T'hain Esh Kelch

    Aug 5, 2001
    Thank you for the excellent review with several real life examples. I am very impressed by your nighttime battery usage!

    You mention writing on the Macbook in various places - How is it to write on when you have it in the lab, or sitting in a strange angle in the couch? The lack of weight make me question if it would be stable enough to write a lot on, when you are not at a table.
  17. iscajal thread starter macrumors member

    Apr 10, 2015
    Yeah, didn't like it much. While text was a bit sharper, it also frayed more in most apps, and the thinner lines meant it was harder to read at distance.


    I was very surprised at the nighttime runtime as well. It's all in the display brightness and not using the CPU i guess. :)

    Just typing this from my couch. You definitely need to prop it up on both legs, or otherwise find a stable place. It really weighs nothing. Pillows, blankets, etc, all help; but once you have situated yourself it's much more comfy than a weighty 15" mbp. It doesn't wobble or flop around .. just don't expect to prop it against one side of the armchair and be happy.
  18. catalyst07 macrumors member

    Jun 15, 2013
    Thanks for the write-up, it's pretty much my exact use case and I was eyeing the 1.3ghz model.

    On the battery- has everything been indexed? I heard it takes about 48hrs to finish in the background before things start settling down and the battery can be consistently monitored. How high were you keeping the brightness? I plan on turning off the auto adjust feature so I can manually control it.

    Now if I could just plug in my thunderbolt monitor...
  19. iscajal thread starter macrumors member

    Apr 10, 2015
    No spotlight indexing and FDE is off. Brightness is average-ish; lower third for night use. Max for bright day use.
  20. Jetcat3 macrumors 6502

    May 3, 2015

    What is spotlight indexing and FTE? Also, what is clamshell mode? Sorry for not knowing! Great review.
  21. andy9l macrumors 68000

    Aug 31, 2009
    England, UK
    Spotlight indexing is when your Mac indexes the entire filesystem to enable instant searches. It's quite processor intensive on the first index.

    FDE is FileVault Disk Encryption - encrypts the contents of the hard drive so your password is required to read any data (protects against data theft).

    Clamshell mode is simply when you close your laptop lid when connected to an external display and the laptop will work similar to a desktop.
  22. mortenandersen macrumors 6502

    Apr 9, 2011
    Almost like not using the machine...

    This way of using the rMB is almost like not using it... that is, you could have used a lot of other machines in this way, without knowing what kind of machine you are using, apart from a machine being strong enough...

    What I mean, is: in this way you are not interacting with the machine, its keyboard and its screen, but only using its power.
  23. Zodiac.mj macrumors member

    Mar 10, 2013
    Well I know, but this will be my secondary machine, I have a hefty workstation at my office with gigs of databases, lots of stuff running and doing the real work on it. My rMB will be used at home or while I'm on the road.

    Before I made a decision to buy rMB, I took my wifes MBA (low end 2013 model, 4GB of RAM, 128GB SSD) and working on it was solid, everything worked smooth, no problems at all. PHPStorm + Vagrant with CentOS + external databases, lots of Chrome/Safari/Firefox tabs. If rMB won't perform worse, and with twice as RAM it shouldn't, I will be more than happy using it.

    I will change it anyway for next model in few months. Taking Apple current product cycle into consideration, it should be around 8 to 10 months. And I'm perfectly OK with that.
  24. johngwheeler macrumors 6502

    Dec 30, 2010
    I come from a land down-under...
    rMB isnt' designed for sole deskto use

    I take your point, and I don't think many people would buy a rMB to use it solely in desktop mode (especially in clamshell mode with an external keyboard & mouse). A desktop machine such as the Mac Mini or a more powerful laptop would be better in this role.

    However, if you occassionally plug in to external devices, which is likely to aid productivity when working at a desk, but also use the machine stand-alone and need maximum mobility, then the rMB is a good choice. It's only lacking a decent selection of cables that allow both external display use and charging. AFAIK, only the Apple A/V adapter allows this at the moment.
  25. Beau10 macrumors 6502a

    Apr 6, 2008
    Downtown San Diego
    My entire 4 year career as a Rails/Angular/React dev has been on laptops - 2 11" MBAs, a 15 rMBP, and now a 13" rMBP.

    Before I got into Rails I did enterprise .NET dev on a desktop with 3 monitors. Learning to work w/ constraints made me more productive. (ie. tiling manager, VIM, shell scripting, etc).

    Some of the most hardcore open source hackers I've met are mind-blowing w/ just old school netbooks.


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