The Apple event held in March 2015 unveiled revamped MacBook Pros, MacBook Airs and an entirely new line – the MacBook. For those who have kept up to date with Apple longer than the new fanboys, you may remember that before the Air and Pro lineups, all Apple laptops were indeed labelled MacBook. It is not to be confused that the new 2015 MacBook is different.
So, you want to purchase an Apple laptop. Which one should you go for?
This article is based on a real story, where one of my clients asked for my support in purchasing a MacBook. He originally expressed his interest in February 2015 when the rumours of a new MacBook were strong, so I told him to hold off and wait for the refresh. He was originally interested in the MacBook Air because it was light – and after a short discussion, it was clear that an Air would more than suffice his needs.
For background information, he runs a production company based in London and needed a personal machine that was quick, simple and easy to use and would enable him to browse the web, watch videos, emails and a lot of basic other stuff. The reason I tell you this, is because this guide is based on fairly basic needs that suit the average user (about 80% of buyers). If you’re looking to edit videos and play games, this guide is not for you – but I will try to mention how the above mentioned machines will deal with your needs.
Let’s get started…
There are three updates that will concern you here:
In terms of appearance, the new MacBook Pro and MacBook Air look exactly as they did before. They both still feature the same unibody design and have the same dimensions. They both weigh the same too, with maybe a few grams difference. Apple have only boosted them up under-the-hood with newer, faster and more energy-efficient processors along with new memory and storage options. We’ll go in to these options in a little more detail, later.
The ‘MacBook’ is the new ultra-thin machine they have announced. This is what you have probably been reading about in the news and on social media. To put a long story short, I think it’s very under-powered and expensive for what you get. They will retail at just over £1000 and for that you are getting a very limited processor albeit with a smashing retina display and an all-new trackpad.
Now, let’s break it down. First the MacBook Pro, then the Air and then the MacBook. The names might be getting a little confusing here, but remember the three products are: MacBook Pro, MacBook Air and MacBook.
The new 2015 MacBook Air line up has seen significant upgrades. Both the 11inch and 13inch model get a bump in their specs as follows. The MacBook Air now features Intel’s latest Broadwell processors, faster flash storage and better graphics. They also get the update to Thunderbolt 2, but physically nothing else has changed.
Below is a comparison table of the changes the 2015 MacBook Air has seen:
|Base-spec early 2015||Base-spec mid-2014|
|Processor||1.6GHz dual-core Intel i5 Broadwell with 3MB shared L3 cache||1.4GHz dual-core Intel i5 Haswell ULT with 3MB shared L3 cache|
|Storage||128GB PCIe SSD||128GB PCIe SSD|
|Display||13.3inch, 1440x900px||13.3inch, 1440x900px|
|Graphics||Intel HD Graphics 6000||Intel HD Graphics 5000|
|Battery||12 hours||12 hours|
In other words, the only real change is the processing speeds brought by the 0.2GHz bump in the new Broadwell chips. The same chips also bring better graphics, and although Apple claim the new PCIe SSDs are up to twice as fast, this is not apparent from the specs.
The table above shows that the speed of the processor in the baseline model has been bumped from 1.4GHz to 1.6GHz: not a huge improvement, but this change is potentially more significant than the MacBook Pro’s increase from 2.4GHz to 2.6GHz because in lower-specced machines processing power is more likely to be the performance bottleneck.
Apple only updated the 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina (sometimes referred to as rMBP 13) in what some fans may call the mother-of-all spec-bumps. The 15-inch rMBP remains untouched, and the standard MacBook Pro (the one without the Retina screen) is still available to purchase.
The new rMBP 13 gets a full-array refresh with new Broadwell processors, improved battery life and a Force Touch trackpad.
The baseline model of the rMBP 13 now comes with a 2.7GHz dual-core Intel i5 Broadwell processor along with a standard configuration of 8GB of LPDDR3 (low-power DDR3) RAM. The integrated Intel Iris 6100 graphics and Force Touch trackpad are great additions to an inflation-proof device still costing only £999.
For those who are on a very tight budget, the previous model MacBook Pro (first one on the left in the image above) is still a great option. A solid machine which weighs the same as the new one but carries older hardware. But for an extra £100, the processor improvement, RAM increase, SSD storage and Force Touch trackpad is a bargain – however the drop from 500GB of space to a mere 128GB may not suit everybody.
I’d rather call it the over-priced-retina-chromebook. At only 13.1mm thick, it is Apple’s slimmest netbook/laptop device ever, but with that comes a fair few tradeoffs you could do without. The MacBook Air is generally underpowered for anyone who wants to do more than just surf the web (this years’ spec bumps may have solved that problem, though) and so the MacBook is seriously, seriously underpowered and not at all future-proof for anyone looking to make a solid investment.
Packed with a measly 1.1GHz dual-core processor, the new MacBook will start at £1049. Most of the higher-end Android devices have more powerful processors. 1.1GHz clock speed is already pretty week for today’s standards for watching large HD video files or running Google Chrome with ten tabs, but to rub salt in to the wounds, its an Intel Core M processor built for mobile devices. Now, this processor is incredible in it’s own right. It’s ultra-power-efficient, and small, which has helped the MacBook stay light, compact and bursting with battery life.
But, unless you’re happy to buy the MacBook 2, or whatever Apple decide to call the update next year, the new MacBook is a silly investment. When benchmarked, it barely keeps up with a four year old MacBook Air. A four year old MacBook Air doesn’t cost you over a grand of your hard-earned cash.
Looking at the availability once it launched, the 1.1GHz dual-core Intel Core M model with Turbo Boost up to 2.4GHz and 8GB memory will start at £1049. It will also come with 256GB of super-fast flash storage and Intel HD Graphics 5300. The next step up is the 1.2GHz dual-core Intel Core M model with 8GB RAM and 512GB of storage will start at £1299. This option comes with the same Intel HD 5300 Graphics option.
The specs sound just about OK, and to be fair they are. The MacBook will quite easily last you until 2016, and whilst you have it, it will be the envy of all your friends – but when we break down the price comparisons a little later on, you’ll realise that your money may be best spent elsewhere.
This is the hard part. It’s difficult to recommend a general solution, but the conclusion to this article will suit about 85% of users who only need a Mac for general and basic use. The guys over at Computer Palm (www.computerpalm.com) specialise in offering technology support and solutions so if you need a tailored recommendation I’d highly recommend you go and check them out!
Web browsing, word processing checking emails and Facebook-ing
Any of the three machines will suit you perfectly well. The above tasks are fairly light and can be easily handled by the MacBook, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. If having the latest device is important to you then you’d probably be safe with a MacBook.
Pre-2015, the MacBook Air was Apple’s solution to someone who needed to carry their laptop around with them everywhere. Now that the thinner and lighter MacBook is here, it’s easy to overlook the Air. Sure, the MacBook is lighter, smaller and more portable but you only have the option of a 12-inch screen (11 and 13-inch on the MacBook Air). The current generation of the MacBook Air is also a whole lot more powerful than the basic MacBook so if you’re looking to do anything beyond basic computing tasks the Air may be the better option for you. But, if your needs are genuinely basic, the MacBook should do fine for you.
Watching HD videos, programming, photography
The MacBook is pretty much completely ruled out here. HD videos are fine for the MacBook but any programming beyond 1000 lines, or reviewing large images files will begin to push your MacBook to its limits. At the end of the day, you want your experience to be a good one, and that won’t be the case if you’re sitting around waiting for your MacBook to load. The MacBook Air isn’t exactly built for reviewing raw image files but the processor and limited RAM in the baseline model seem to manage Adobe Lightroom and Apple Aperture once in a while fairly smoothly.
Anything other than browsing the web, checking emails, light programming and opening more than 10 tabs on Safari web browser
MacBook Pro. This machine is built with enough to carry out video editing (albeit you’d need one of the higher specs to do anything near semi-professional). It will handle anything you throw at it, and since the 2014 update they have got a lot lighter and thinner – just pop in to your local Apple Store and see it in person for yourself.
If you want something that will last you the next 7-8 years, go for a MacBook Pro. If budget is an issue you may have to consider staying away from the Retina option and go for the 2014 model which lacks a Solid-State-Drive and a few other things. But, this still makes it a great machine. It comes with a whooping 500GB hard drive, but for an extra £100 it may be worth taking on the base model Retina which comes with all the 2015 upgrades at the expense of a minuscule 128GB hard-drive.
If you’re a basic user, the MacBook Air should be your choice. The base model is good, too. And with the latest 2015 update it has a fair bit of processing power. The current generation MacBook Air base model should last you around 6 years before you need to upgrade.
I’d personally stay away from the MacBook. It’s well under-powered and you’ll probably need to upgrade in less than two years time. The 2015 update to both the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air and the unchanged price makes them both fantastic value for money – especially compared to the MacBook.
Remember, the non-retina and 15-inch MacBook Pro models did not get the 2015 update (as of April 2016) but it is expected they will get the spec bump sometime during the summer.