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Apple's 12-inch MacBook vs. Windows laptops: Fight!

Gordon Mah Ung | March 11, 2015
How does Apple's new 12-inch MacBook compare against similar Windows laptops? We dive into the specs.

Like I said: On pure specsmanship, the 12-inch MacBook gets a big meh here. Apple fans, however, should cheer that they're finally able to get a high-res display in a thin-and-light laptop. 

The form factor
Apple makes much hay about the size and weight of the new MacBook. It's basically 11 inches wide by 7.74 inches deep, with a maximum height of 13mm. (This, by the way, is how you crash Mars space probes: mixing standard and metric measurements.) Not bad.

I measured the thickest part of the Dell XPS13 at 18mm and the current MacBook Air 11 at 16.8mm (Apple's specs actually say 17mm at the thickest part). The XPS13 probably isn't the best representative though. The Asus Zenbook UX305 is about the same thickness as the 12-inch MacBook at 13mm. The Acer Aspire S7 and Lenova Yoga 3 Pro are a smidge thinner at 12.7mm.

The new MacBook also sports an impressive 2 lb. weight. That shaves about half a pound off most PC laptops. The Dell XPS13 and Yoga 3 Pro are about 2.6 lbs, as is the Asus Zenbook UX305. That makes the new 12-inch MacBook Air pretty light--just not the lightest.

That title will likely belong to Lenovo when it ships its LaVie HZ550 later this May. Using an IGZO panel and a magnesium lithium chassis Lenovo has cut the laptop's weight down to 1.72 lbs.. I hefted one at CES and thought it had been pumped full of helium. To be fair, though, the pre-production LaVie I tried didn't have the greatest keyboard and it wasn't super thin, at 16.9mm. 

The new MacBook packs a fanless design using Intel's Broadwell-based Core M chips. There's an option for the 1.1GHz Core M, which I'm assuming is the either the Core M 5Y51 or 5M 5Y70, or the 1.2GHz Core M 5Y71. I've gone ahead and lined up the three potential chips over at Intel's ARK if you want to dive into the specs.

Core M chips are essentially low-power Broadwell chips that generate about a third of the heat of the Broadwell U processors used in many recent PCs. This lets vendors build truly fanless systems.

Losing the fan and living on a third of the thermals does significantly impact performance though. In Asus Zenbook UX305, I saw roughly a 25 percent performance hit over the XPS13 with a Core i5 5200U in it. The hit in graphics performance is far worse. 

What's important here though is the design of the new MacBook. I've seen three Core M laptops, and so far, the performance is all over the map. It seems that either you let the skin temperature of the laptop get toasty and maintain good performance or you keep it cool and take a performance hit.


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