Monday, May 4, 2015

Apple's New 12" MacBook

On the 9th of March, Apple introduced the new MacBook and with it gave us a glimpse at the direction they are going with their lineup of portable computers.  This spectacular new machine is an amazing 13.1mm thin, weighs in at 2lbs and features a stunning 12" 226 pixels per inch Retina display.  The laptop sports a revolutionary full-size, amazingly thin LED backlit keyboard.  And with thoughtful engineering and the latest microprocessor technology available from Intel, this Macbook is the first laptop computer Apple has released that does not have a fan.  Additionally, Apple has taken a cue from their popular iPod, iPhone and iPad product lines in making this latest MacBook available with traditional silver,  space gray and gold color options.

And what Apple product launch would be complete without a series of detractors and naysayers who take to their keyboards and publish post after post deriding the engineering decisions Apple has made.  It reminds me of when Apple dropped the floppy drive from their iMac lineup and the Internet erupted in a fury.  The denzines of the interwebs once again got their panties in the proverbial wad when Apple decided optical drives were no longer mandatory facets of their notebook lineup.  With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that neither of these decisions have had a negative impact on the Mac platform which has enjoyed quarter after quarter of Mac unit sales growth for years now - outpacing growth (or decline as it were) in the PC market.

Last year, I could no longer resist the siren call of the 15" retina model and it's screaming fast solid state storage options.  I will admit that I also purchased a USB SuperDrive as part of me felt as if I could not live without it.  After spending a year and two months with this amazing machine, I can count the number of times I have pulled the SuperDrive out of my Brenthaven Professional 17 Video Backpack on one hand. Each of those times, the only reason I used the DVD drive was to transcode a physical DVD movie I had purchased into a file I could load into our iTunes library.

More than anything, it seems people are lamenting the lack of ports on the new MacBook.  The new machine features a single USB Type-C port which is used to either connect to external peripherals or charge the notebook.  Apple does sell a number of different adapters for use with their newest notebook:

SanDisk has already announced a USB Type-C flash drive.  Amazon features a virtual cornucopia of USB Type-C hubs.  As time goes on, the market will respond with more and more products.  And from a portability perspective, is the lack of ports really that much of a problem?  When people do travel, are they really carting around a bunch of peripherals they need to plug into their computer?  And if they do, I suspect the case they are using to transport those peripherals will have enough room for a USB hub which will provide more than enough ports to suit their demanding needs.

Personally, I was disappointed to hear that the new USB Type-C port does NOT feature Apple's MagSafe technology.  As such, I speculate this translates into a slightly higher risk of pulling the laptop off the table where it is charging should you trip over the power cord when it is plugged in.  I do like the fact that the USB Type-C connector borrows from Apple's proprietary Lightning connector in that it is dual-sided, so there is no "wrong" way to insert the cable.  Finally, the USB Type-C port on Apple's newest portable supports the same data transfer rate as the first generation of USB 3.1 - five (5) gigabits per second (Gbps).  For reference purposes, the original Apple/Intel Thunderbolt connector supports a data transfer rate of ten (10) gigabits per second whereas the Thunderbolt 2 connector has a double the transfer capacity ringing in at a blazing twenty (20) gigabits per second.  

Does the average user really need the speed offered by a Thunderbolt 2 connection or is the MacBook's USB Type-C port's five (5) gigabits per second fast enough?  Most USB flash drives max out at around 800 megabits per second (mbps) data transfer rates - a fifth of the supported transfer rate of the USB Type-C port.  A traditional 7200RPM hard disk drive typically has a disk-to-buffer sustained data transfer rate of about 1,030 megabits per second (1.03 gigabits per second).  So five (5) gigabits per second still provides more than enough capacity to support the sustained data transfer rate of 7200 RPM hard drives.

The USB Type-C port on Apple's new MacBook provides sufficient capacity for all but the most demanding of computer users.  The main problem people will have is that their existing peripherals may not be able to plug into a USB Type-C port.  And if that's the case, there is an adapter for that.  Alternately, plug your non USB Type-C peripherals into a USB Hub and connect the hub to the MacBook with the aforementioned adapter.

I consider myself to be something of a power user.  My absolute favorite hobby is developing computer software.  As good fortune would have it, that also happens to be my chosen profession.  As such, I spend a considerable amount of the waking hours of the day working in either the Eclipse, Netbeans, or SQL Developer integrated developer environments writing and compiling code.  At times, I need to spin up a copy of Microsoft Wwindows in a Parallels Desktop virtual machine because much to my chagrin, there still are some products I need to use which are only available on the Windows platform (fortunately, that is becoming less and less of a problem every day).  Is the new Macbook enough "power" for me?

According to the Geekbench 3 processor benchmark developed by the fine folks over at Primate Labs, the new Macbook delivers about 65% of the single core and 38% of the multi-core computing capacity of my Late 2013 15" Retina MacBook Pro.

Late 2013 15" MacBook Pro Geekbench 3

Early 2015 12" MacBook Geekbench 3

I am not so certain that I would regularly experience any type of significant performance problem using the new MacBook as my machine really only consumes the majority of available CPU cycles when I'm compiling my code or using Handbrake to transcode video.

The number of ports isn't particularly troublesome for me.  As a general rule, when I am at home, I have my MacBook sitting in one of Just Mobile's AluRack (TM) mounted to the back of my 27" Cinema Display.  The USB hard disk drive I use as my Time Machine backup volume is plugged into the back of my Cinema Display.  As are my NeatDesk scanner and Epson Stylus Photo 2200 printer.  I use one of Apple's Wireless Keyboards as well as their amazing Magic Mouse as my primary input devices.  There is a single cable with three different connectors (MagSafe, DisplayPort, and USB) that runs from the back of my display and attaches to my computer.  Consolidating those three connectors down to a one would, in my opinion be a very good thing.

Connectivity is not a problem for the new MacBook.  The machine supports the state-of-the-art 802.11ac Wi-Fi specification along with Bluetooth 4.0.  There is no physical Ethernet port  on the device; however, I can say from personal experience that isn't something I really miss.  My MacBook Pro sits on the back of my Cinema Display most of the day and I connect to my home network using WiFi even though the gigabit ports on my AirPort Extreme base station are only about eighteen inches away.  

The only time I had felt compelled to physically plug my MacBook Pro into a network was when I would go into the office in a previous life.  Their wireless network was absolutely atrocious and it always befuddled me that a Fortune 500 company would have such a horrendous Wi-Fi network for their employees.  Of course, I also did all of my work on my personal MacBook Pro because it was vastly more capable than the brick that was issued to me and spent years Kensington locked underneath my desk.  That too was telling.

Suffice it to say that I do not believe the absence of a plethora of ports will be that much of a problem for this machine's target demographic.  This brings me to my final point which is that this machine is not designed for everyone.  Apple currently has eleven different models of Macintosh computers that make up six different product lines.
Almost all of the above mentioned Macintosh computers feature different sets of build to order components which you can use to further tailor your perfect Mac to suit your unique set of needs.  Apple even provides a handy little comparison tool that you can use to help determine which Mac is right for you.

The new MacBook is a stellar product.  It is super thin, features an amazing display, and it weighs next to nothing.  The system's processor is a state of the art chip from Intel that just sips power.  The meticulous focus on reduced power consumption coupled with Apple's unique battery design provides nine to ten hours of battery life!  I have no problem recommending this machine to most of the people in my life as I think it is more than capable of meeting the majority of people's needs.

If you want a physically bigger screen, faster (or more) CPU(s) or better graphics, then buy one of the other MacBooks Apple has available.  Those we entrust for providing us with a thoughtful analysis of the capabilities of a machine should not get caught up in their own hubris and deride a product simply because they feel it doesn't meet their unique set of needs.  They should realize that unlike the Ring of Power, there is no one computer that will rule them all.

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