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Hellhammer

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With the second generation thread getting closed and our endless love for speculation, it's time for one that focuses on the third generation MacBook. This post will act as a rational summary of what is expected in the next generation MacBook based on what we know today. This is a WikiPost, so anyone can edit it as new information surfaces.

Introduction

Skylake's successor is called Kaby Lake and it marks as a dramatic change in Intel's product strategy. In the past, Intel's CPUs followed a "tick-tock" model, where tick refers to a die shrink and tock refers to a new architecture. Basically, one year would be a tick, the next year a tock and the year after that another tick. Kaby Lake breaks the model because similar to Skylake, it is also a tock, which means two tocks in a row. In nutshell, shrinking transistors has become increasingly more difficult and expensive, which forced Intel to push back the 10nm node by a year (codenamed Cannonlake, expected in H2'17 now).

What this means is that Kaby Lake is essentially a refined version of Skylake. It uses the same 14nm FinFET manufacturing process and is built upon the Skylake microarchitecture, but features some enhancements to differentiate it from Skylake. Intel hasn't officially said much about Kaby Lake, so right now all we have is leaked information and rumours that may or may not be accurate.

What is almost certain is that the Y-series Core M chips will remain dual core with base TDP of 4.5W. It will feature GT2 graphics without eDRAM and will come in BGA1515 package similar to Skylake. (source)

Mobile Kaby Lake chips are scheduled to be released in Q3 this year and we will likely hear more details about the schedule during Computex in early June. In any case, it's unlikely that the MacBook will receive an update until early 2017, though, given Apple's past update behaviour.

CPU Performance

As the CPU architecture and process node are mostly unchanged from Skylake, it's unlikely that Kaby Lake will bring any notable increases in CPU performance. I would expect performance gains to be in the low single digits, most likely around 3-5%. This is clock for clock (i.e. IPC) gains - individual SKUs may of course carry higher gains due to matured 14nm process, but honestly I don't expect Kaby Lake to provide any substantial improvements in the CPU department.

RAM Support

Leaked information reveals that the memory controller in Kaby Lake Core M won't support DDR4 of any kind. That means the third generation MacBook will continue to use LPDDR3. A bump from 1867MHz to 2000MHz or 2133MHz is possible if the memory controller is updated to support higher bandwidths, but personally I find this unlikely and the performance gains would be marginal anyway.

GPU Performance & Media Playback

The GPU department may show greater gains, though, as it's rumoured that Kaby Lake will feature next generation (Gen10) graphics architecture (source). How much, that we don't know. Unfortunately the SKUs with faster GT3 graphics with eDRAM are 15W and up, so the improvements will be limited to the architectural enhancements. If Broadwell to Skylake upgrade is of any guidance, then the upgrade should be 10-40% depending on the test, so a conservative estimate would be in the 10-20% range. Not much, but pretty good for a year-over-year gain.

Hardware decode engine is expected to fully support Google's VP9, which is an alternative to HEVC codec (source). Skylake only features partial VP9 support and decoding is done in a hybrid way involving both CPU and GPU, whereas Kaby Lake will do it using the fixed function hardware blocks only, meaning longer battery life (source). Both HEVC and VP9 supports are also updated to support 10-bit content (i.e. higher quality). For the end-user these aren't a big deal since Skylake already has HEVC and VP9 support, but the improved VP9 engine and support for 10-bit may improve battery life and compatibility with some services that use such formats. Not many do at the moment, but in the future all will due to the huge gains in quality/bitrate ratio.

USB 3.1 & Thunderbolt 3

Leaked information shows that the high-end mobile and desktop SKUs with a separate Platform Controller Hub (PCH) have native support for USB 3.1 (likely means Gen 2 i.e. 10Gbps - source). However, the single-chip mobile SKUs including Core M will still be limited to USB 3.0 (or USB 3.1 Gen 1 i.e. 5Gbps), unfortunately (source).

In other words, the only way to obtain USB 3.1 support would be to use an additional controller, such as Intel's Alpine Ridge chip, which also supports Thunderbolt 3. That is unlikely, though, because the logic board simply has no space for an additional chip. If Apple had plans for Thunderbolt support in the MacBook, then I would argue that the first generation would already have had Thunderbolt support. This means that the 2017 MacBook will continue to be limited to USB 3.0 speeds like the first two generations. Cannonlake may bring native USB 3.1 support to Core M in 2018 MacBook, but there isn't any info on that yet.

Storage

The MacBook has always used a custom PCIe NVMe SSD controller designed by Apple. The first generation used a PCIe 2.0 x4 design, whereas the second generation migrated to a 3.0 x2 design. Given that PCIe 4.0 is still at least a couple of years away, I expect Apple to keep the same PCIe 3.0 x2 controller in the third generation MacBook.

We may, however, see a performance and capacity boost from 3D NAND. Samsung has been selling 3D NAND equipped SSDs since 2014 and Intel-Micron and SK Hynix are just starting to sell their first 3D NAND drives this quarter. With 3D NAND being more widely available and priced closer to planar NAND, I would expect Apple to adopt it in the next generation MacBook. The benefit of 3D NAND is improved performance due to larger cell geometry (i.e. better performance even with the same controller) and larger die capacities due to vertical scaling. Samsung and Intel-Micron are both already shipping 256Gbit dies, which would allow Apple to offer 1TB of storage in the MacBook.

Design

It is very unlikely that we will see a design change next year. Apple typically keeps the same design in Macs for at least three generations (e.g. original MacBook Air), so the third generation will merely be a spec bump, similar to this year's update. That means no second USB port or other fundamental changes to the product.

Miscellaneous

The 480p FaceTime camera creates a lot of discussion and I believe it's entirely possible that Apple updates it to 720p next year. I don't think there are any technical reasons as to why Apple chose 480p as 720p sensors are very small nowadays, so I think it was an economic decision.

Summary

All in all, the 2017 update is likely going to be a marginal one. Kaby Lake will bring some enhancements to performance, but compared to the 2016 update the improvements won't be as big. Battery life may be marginally improved, but not enough to warrant a change to the 10-hour rating. Anyone who is waiting for a bigger update will have to wait for Cannonlake in 2018.

The addition of 1TB of storage, likely as a BTO, is likely going to be the only "real" update in the 2017 model, but will only be useful to certain people.


Price drops are possible, perhaps even likely, as the MacBook will no longer be as innovative as it was in 2015. Price cuts are also required if Apple's strategy is to position the MacBook as a MacBook Air replacement in the long run, which to me makes sense given how much the two overlap.
 
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KPOM

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Oct 23, 2010
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That's too bad about Thunderbolt or even USB 3.1 Gen 2. That said, I don't think the typical MacBook buyer cares. I do think a modest price drop is possible.
 
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RubberShoes

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Jun 30, 2007
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You are forgetting DDR4 ram which will greatly help with GPU performance. I wanted to hold out for a DDR4 TB3 MacBook but glad I dropped the money on the 2016 m7.
 
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Hellhammer

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You are forgetting DDR4 ram which will greatly help with GPU performance. I wanted to hold out for a DDR4 TB3 MacBook but glad I dropped the money on the 2016 m7.

Thanks for the catch, I had a feeling that I was missing something. Unfortunately, though, Kaby Lake Core M chips won't support DDR4 at all if leaked information is to believe, which means the 2017 will continue to use LPDDR3. I've updated the OP to reflect this.
 
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objektør

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@ hellhammer
thanks for taking the time to share your solid reflections
I mostly agree (with the ones I understand...)

My rMB is one year old now and I'm still very pleased with its performance. And it looks like Kaby Lake is not going to offer me anything I really want or need so I will at least wait until Canonlake before I even consider an upgrade.
My biggest 'concern' is the battery. Sometimes I'm down at 82% at 253 cycles and I wonder how long it will perform in 1 or 2 years. Right now it is still lasting me all day so no complaints.
 
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Hellhammer

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My rMB is one year old now and I'm still very pleased with its performance. And it looks like Kaby Lake is not going to offer me anything I really want or need so I will at least wait until Canonlake before I even consider an upgrade.
My biggest 'concern' is the battery. Sometimes I'm down at 82% at 253 cycles and I wonder how long it will perform in 1 or 2 years. Right now it is still lasting me all day so no complaints.

Is 82% the health of the battery? Apple says their batteries are supposed to withstand 1000 cycles with 80% health remaining, so if you're at 82% at 253 cycles you may want to take it in for repair as it's clearly not performing as advertised.
 
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objektør

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Nov 25, 2014
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Is 82% the health of the battery? Apple says their batteries are supposed to withstand 1000 cycles with 80% health remaining, so if you're at 82% at 253 cycles you may want to take it in for repair as it's clearly not performing as advertised.

yes, 82% health.
I am 'investigating' my possibilities. There is no Apple store where I live (northern Norway) so it's difficult to take it to the store. I bought mine at Elkjop (a kind of norwegian Best Buy I think) who offer 2 years warranty.
There are several threads about this issue and it looks like mine is not worse than others but I agree that it is not as it should be. As the situation is now (83%@ 254) I am not entitled to a new battery.
I'm considering Apple Care (I have one week left to decide) since a new battery will cost me about 500 euro!! Apple Care costs me 250.
Would be interesting to hear how the battery in the 2016 rMB is behaving.
 
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SAdProZ

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Mar 19, 2005
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Miscellaneous

The 480p FaceTime camera creates a lot of discussion and I believe it's entirely possible that Apple updates it to 720p next year. I don't think there are any technical reasons as to why Apple chose 480p as 720p sensors are very small nowadays, so I think it was an economic decision.
According to a commentor on Reddit who claimed to be an optics engineer, Apple most likely couldn't make it 720p for the last two generations because of the limited physical space required between optic lens and the sensor.

At least with off the shelf components. Therefor not a economic decision. But I'm imagining they are working with the vendor to improve the technology for such a tight physical optic space. Fingers crossed for next year.
[doublepost=1462801249][/doublepost]Great post by the way. (Serious)
[doublepost=1462801756][/doublepost]
Price drops are possible, perhaps even likely, as the MacBook will no longer be as innovative as it was in 2015. Price cuts are also required if Apple's strategy is to position the MacBook as a MacBook Air replacement in the long run, which to me makes sense given how much the two overlap.
This is what I'm hoping for as well. I know it sounds exploitive to think about Apple creating "disposable computers" (similar to phones where you buy and own for 2 years, then sell or hand-down to someone else) but the idea excites me. Lower cost, higher upgrade frequency, multiple laptops in the house for backups or different occasions (work vs personal). This is what made the Air so attractive and Apple is now in a position to lower the price even further with economies of scale.
 
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Trey M

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I think the likelihood of additional upgrades being offered (1TB ssd, 16gb RAM) will become increasingly viable down the road for the rMB (and potentially in the Kaby Lake update). You sort of saw this happen with the MBA...as each processor update improved upon the performance of the last fairly significantly, the Macbook Air saw more and more adoption, especially in the business world. What this represented was the MBA becoming a true mainstream computer capable of handling most user's tasks, the number one recommended option among many tech publications. You also saw the MBA matching the (lower-end) rMBPs in a lot of cases in terms of SSD/RAM. It has reached a point in the last couple of years where the overall performance gap between the MBA and MBP isn't nearly what it used to be. All of this is evidenced by the fact that the MBP refresh is imminent.

I think we should expect a similar pattern for the rMB during the current generation's lifespan (generation being defined as the current design, not processor-gen). Adoption will continue to increase due to the performance improvments in Skylake and KabyLake machines, and the consumer demand for increased customization will be there. I'd fully expect the rMB to have configurable options for 1TB/16GB RAM in the next 2-3 'new' releases.
 
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SAdProZ

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Mar 19, 2005
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You guys are funny.

But on a serious note, why can't you guys, and by you guys I mean the entire internet, learn to attack the merits of an idea without it devolving into an attack on a person?
 
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east85

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Jun 24, 2010
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According to a commentor on Reddit who claimed to be an optics engineer, Apple most likely couldn't make it 720p for the last two generations because of the limited physical space required between optic lens and the sensor.

At least with off the shelf components. Therefor not a economic decision. But I'm imagining they are working with the vendor to improve the technology for such a tight physical optic space. Fingers crossed for next year.
[doublepost=1462801249][/doublepost]Great post by the way. (Serious)
[doublepost=1462801756][/doublepost]
This is what I'm hoping for as well. I know it sounds exploitive to think about Apple creating "disposable computers" (similar to phones where you buy and own for 2 years, then sell or hand-down to someone else) but the idea excites me. Lower cost, higher upgrade frequency, multiple laptops in the house for backups or different occasions (work vs personal). This is what made the Air so attractive and Apple is now in a position to lower the price even further with economies of scale.

I've been warming up to the idea of unserviceable computers somewhat. I mean, I have older iOS devices that operate at an acceptable level after having owned them for way more than 2 years. Even though they're "disposable" they have managed acceptable battery life after many years even. I think if this is replicated with the new MacBooks consistently I'd be fine with buying one.

I've been very hesitant though with the rMB in particular because of the multiple reports of premature battery degradation. I guess I could say the same with keyboard issues on the first generation. I wonder if these issues have been mostly resolved with the 2016 model. If not it will be interesting to see where quality control goes with the next revision.
 
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SAdProZ

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Mar 19, 2005
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I've been warming up to the idea of unserviceable computers somewhat. I mean, I have older iOS devices that operate at an acceptable level after having owned them for way more than 2 years. Even though they're "disposable" they have managed acceptable battery life after many years even. I think if this is replicated with the new MacBooks consistently I'd be fine with buying one.

I've been very hesitant though with the rMB in particular because of the multiple reports of premature battery degradation. I guess I could say the same with keyboard issues on the first generation. I wonder if these issues have been mostly resolved with the 2016 model. If not it will be interesting to see where quality control goes with the next revision.
Yeah. When you spend so much on a computer/laptop ($2k+) I fell (emotionally) that it's best I get my money's worth and own for 4-5 years.

But I have to think about both my personal economics and personal experience.

Do I...
  • OPTION 1: Own a laptop that keeps the same specs for 5 years, despite yearly innovation, and therefore don't gain from yearly innovation until year 6. For example: I owned an iMac for 5 years, which was 4 years of NOT benefiting from USB 3.0 and all the great USB 3.0 HDs in the market. I was limited to FireWire HD which are now no longer market standard. That was just one negative. The other was I did not benefit from SSD all those years.
  • OPTION 2: Or do I buy a cheaper (in cost) laptop and upgrade every 2 years so that I gain from yearly innovation every 2 years (as opposed to 6). Not to mention resell depreciation is smaller a year or two later rather not than 5 or 6 years later. (Demand for 6 year laptop vs a 2 year old laptop)
If Apple sells, and I buy, ~$1,000 laptops, I'll feel the benefit and move from OPTION 1 to OPTION 2. Which means my shorter upgrade cycle keeps me closer to the innovation cycle in that product category.
[doublepost=1463323648][/doublepost]
I've been very hesitant though with the rMB in particular because of the multiple reports of premature battery degradation. I guess I could say the same with keyboard issues on the first generation. I wonder if these issues have been mostly resolved with the 2016 model. If not it will be interesting to see where quality control goes with the next revision.
I haven't heard about those. But this is why I'm thinking: buy the cheapest version, sell it every year to buy a new one every year.

Example: entry level 2016 rMB is faster and better than most expensive BTO 2015 rMB.

So it's better to buy the cheapest, and upgrade early, than buy the most expensive, and upgrade minimum 2-3 years later. It's more economical in terms of joy/innovation, and maybe even cost.

But all this is contingent on your personal workflow and what you want to get out of your computer, not to forget depreciation and ability to sell it a price close to what you paid.

If you sell a $1,200 rMB for $900 a year later, that's only $300/year to own a computer ($25/month).

If you sell a $1,700 rMB for $400 about 5 years later, that's only $260/year to own a computer ($22/month).

So by my example it's $3/month better to keep a laptop for 5 years, but that $3/month is not worth it if you factor in experience and losing out on 4 years of innovation.

So I would rather subscribe to a "disposable laptop" way of doing things.
 
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KaliPaige

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Feb 9, 2016
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What I'd like to see:

  • Multiple screen size configurations. (12", 14", maybe even 16" but I doubt it!)
  • At least two USB-C ports.
  • 720p minimum webcam (Seriously Apple, it's 2016.)
  • Kaby Lake processors.
  • Even more battery life!
What I'd hate to see:
  • "Thinner and lighter."
  • No 3.5mm headphone jack.
  • Just another boring spec bump.
Seriously, the MacBook is one sexy piece of equipment, but the fact that it seems so artificially limited when HP was able to cram multiple ports into an even thinner laptop just makes this whole thing seem underwhelming. Even more so when you consider that the 13" rMBP starts at the same price and is an infinitely more capable computer without adding too much extra weight!
 
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Trey M

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What I'd like to see:

  • Multiple screen size configurations. (12", 14", maybe even 16" but I doubt it!)
  • At least two USB-C ports.
  • 720p minimum webcam (Seriously Apple, it's 2016.)
  • Kaby Lake processors.
  • Even more battery life!
What I'd hate to see:

  • "Thinner and lighter."
  • No 3.5mm headphone jack.
  • Just another boring spec bump.
Seriously, the MacBook is one sexy piece of equipment, but the fact that it seems so artificially limited when HP was able to cram multiple ports into an even thinner laptop just makes this whole thing seem underwhelming. Even more so when you consider that the 13" rMBP starts at the same price and is an infinitely more capable computer without adding too much extra weight!


I think we'll see most of the things you'd 'Like to see' except for a 12'' model and Kaby Lake. IMO 0% chance we'll see Kaby Lake in the Pro update in June. Almost positive the chips won't even be ready be then. And, I could be wrong, but I just don't see Apple launching a 12'' Pro machine. I think it would cannibalize a lot of the demand for the rMB and that really doesn't seem to make sense. I also don't see them killing the 3.5mm headphone jack as they have continued to offer Optical support in the Pros and I don't think that'll change.

My prediction is we'll see 2 new MBP models: 14'' model and a new 16'' model. Both in very similar footprints to the current 13 and 15 Pros and slightly thinner, as well.

Not sure why you wouldn't want to see your laptop be thinner and lighter, though. I understand some people prioritize battery life over things like thin and light, but you can't tell me shaving half a pound off the 16'' Pro wouldn't make the device that much more impressive.
 
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Hellhammer

Moderator emeritus
Original poster
Dec 10, 2008
22,164
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I think we'll see most of the things you'd 'Like to see' except for a 12'' model and Kaby Lake. IMO 0% chance we'll see Kaby Lake in the Pro update in June. Almost positive the chips won't even be ready be then. And, I could be wrong, but I just don't see Apple launching a 12'' Pro machine. I think it would cannibalize a lot of the demand for the rMB and that really doesn't seem to make sense. I also don't see them killing the 3.5mm headphone jack as they have continued to offer Optical support in the Pros and I don't think that'll change.

My prediction is we'll see 2 new MBP models: 14'' model and a new 16'' model. Both in very similar footprints to the current 13 and 15 Pros and slightly thinner, as well.

Not sure why you wouldn't want to see your laptop be thinner and lighter, though. I understand some people prioritize battery life over things like thin and light, but you can't tell me shaving half a pound off the 16'' Pro wouldn't make the device that much more impressive.

You do realise that this thread is about the next ten 12" MacBook, right? ;)
 
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Mac 128

macrumors 603
Apr 16, 2015
5,360
2,927
What I'd like to see:

  • Multiple screen size configurations. (12", 14", maybe even 16" but I doubt it!)
  • At least two USB-C ports.
  • 720p minimum webcam (Seriously Apple, it's 2016.)
  • Kaby Lake processors.
  • Even more battery life!
What I'd hate to see:
  • "Thinner and lighter."
  • No 3.5mm headphone jack.
  • Just another boring spec bump.
Seriously, the MacBook is one sexy piece of equipment, but the fact that it seems so artificially limited when HP was able to cram multiple ports into an even thinner laptop just makes this whole thing seem underwhelming. Even more so when you consider that the 13" rMBP starts at the same price and is an infinitely more capable computer without adding too much extra weight!

If Apple removes the 3.5mm headphone jack from the iPhone, I guarantee they will remove the headphone jack on the rMB and replace it with a Lightning 2 connector. There won't be two USB-C ports. And If Apple does do this, it will happen with a silent Fall upgrade like the iPad 3 to 4 update mid-cycle.
 
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cookie.monster

macrumors newbie
Sep 1, 2009
13
1
Thank you for write up. One thing that got omitted is support for 4k 60hz. This was a deal breaker for me (and suspect others) in first gen and unfortunately 2nd gen did not get any support for that.
By any chance do you know if there will be any changes in Kaby Lake's GPU/embedded DP controller that would allow 4k60p?

related topic on AT
 
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