The MacBook's Design

In terms of overarching design, the MacBook is both treading new ground and much of the same. As we’ve mentioned before, the big promotional point for the MacBook is how small it is. And yet at the same time Apple has retained more or less all of the stylings that have come to define the modern unibody MacBook family design. The end result is a laptop that looks and acts almost exactly like a smaller MacBook Air or Retina MacBook Pro.

This leads to the new MacBook having all of the contours and finishes we have come to expect from a MacBook family laptop. The all-aluminum unibody design continues to impress and holds up well even with the MacBook’s smaller form factor. For the MacBook in particular it serves two goals for Apple, the first being to give the device a premium feel, but the second is to serve as a means of cooling the MacBook.

For one of the biggest changes in the MacBook compared to the MBA is the fact that this is a completely fanless design. There are no fans or even vents on the laptop to move heat or hot air; the closest thing that comes to a vent is the grating at the top of the laptop, above the keyboard, which houses other items such as the speakers. Otherwise all real heat dissipation is carried on by the aluminum case itself, which in turn is made practical by the use of the ultra-low power Core M processor. This also means that the MacBook is silent, containing no motorized parts and the only moving parts being the keyboard keys, the trackpad, and the screen hinge. The MacBook Air for its part was seldom loud, but for whisper quiet there’s no topping fanless.

Moving on, Apple retains the sloped design of their MacBook Air, leading to this MacBook having a similarly variable thickness. At its thickest part, towards the rear of the laptop, it’s just 13.1mm thick, and towards the front of the laptop this narrows to just 3.5mm. As with the MacBook Air I’m not sure if this sloped design is really necessary or beneficial versus a flat design, or if Apple does it merely to show off, but if you like your wrists low to the table, then at 3.5mm at its thinnest point, the MacBook is among the thinnest. Meanwhile the fact that the edges are also curved makes the MacBook deceptively thin overall, as even at 131mm it doesn’t feel even that thick when grabbed from the edges.

Perhaps the most notable – and admittedly cosmetic – change from the MacBook Air is the Apple logo on the top of the laptop. The iconic lit white logo is gone in favor of a black mirrored logo in its place. Apple doesn’t specifically address the logo, but with the tight constraints on both thickness and battery life – Apple needs to get 9+ hours off of a 39.7Wh battery driving a 12” Retina display – I suspect Apple finally sacrificed the logo to further save on power.

The other big cosmetic change here is the color of the aluminum laptop body itself, which in a first for an aluminum Mac now comes in multiple colors. Further reinforcing the crossover nature of the device and its place between a tablet and a traditional laptop, the MacBook comes in the current iOS device colors of Silver, Space Grey, and yes, Gold. Silver will be the closest to the traditional aluminum look, Space Grey is as close as you’ll get to a black MacBook, and Gold continues to defy our own expectations and be a popular color on Apple devices. Overall the current coloring is limited to just the MacBook, but given Apple’s drive for style, I wouldn’t be all that surprised if this eventually came to the Retina MacBook Pro as well, though perhaps not the MacBook Air for cost reasons.

I also want to quickly call attention to the lid hinge in the MacBook, which is something I feel Apple has done very well with. In such a thin and light laptop the percentage of the laptop’s weight that’s carried by the screen/lid has gone up, which risks the laptop becoming top-heavy. Not only has Apple managed to avoid a top-heavy design, but the hinge is as perfectly balanced as I’ve ever seen. The hinge is just loose enough that even trying to quickly lift the lid can’t really torque the laptop’s base up, and yet no looser than it needs to be. As a result the hinge still offers plenty of resistance without it being a problem for the relatively light base, and the laptop can easily be held at 90° without the lid dropping.

Moving on, we’ll cover the ports in depth a bit later, but we did want to quickly note the MacBook’s choice in ports while discussing the design. In another example of Apple minimalism – or maybe just another sign of the tablet/laptop crossover – the MacBook only has 2 ports: a USB Type-C port, and a 3.5mm combo jack for audio. All wired power, data, and video is routed over the single Type-C port, and the laptop itself is thin enough that there’s not room for something much larger, at the very least not without making the laptop thicker or eliminating the base’s curved sides. This makes the MacBook very much like an iPad, with its single Lightning port and a 3.5mm combo jack, and has some definite repercussions for usability.

With regards to internal design there’s not a lot we can say at this time – Apple doesn’t like us disassembling review samples – but in lieu of the eventual iFixit teardown, Apple has posted a handful of sanitized shots of the MacBook’s internals. Apple is keen to show off the MacBook’s miniscule logic board, which is only 1/3rd the size of the 11” MacBook Air’s board. Much of this is enabled by the use of the Core M processor, itself using an especially small package to leave room for other components. This is combined with a highly integrated design that sees the RAM soldered on the board, and I suspect the SSD as well, meaning virtually nothing here is replaceable short of the entire logic board itself. In any case, along with this Apple has forgone some of the 3rd party chips like Intel’s Thunderbolt controller, which reduces to a minimum the number of chips they need alongside the Core M processor.

Update 04/15/2015: The iFixit MacBook teardown is in, giving us some excellent shots of the logic board. These pictures show us just how little is there beyond the Core M CPU, the RAM, SSD, a couple of extra controllers, and the necessary power management hardware.


Images Courtesy iFixit

With such a small logic board, Apple has filled out the rest of the laptops internals with batteries, 39.7Wh worth to be precise. This ends up being just a bit more than the 11” MBA’s 38Wh battery, again despite the smaller overall footprint, and is a result of Apple’s use of their new layered lithium polymer batteries, or as Apple likes to call it, their terraced, contoured battery cells. Overall LiPoly has slightly lower energy density than Lithium Ion, however in return it’s a more malleable medium, allowing for greater shape customization, which is what Apple is taking advantage of here. The end result is that Apple is able to better fill out the sloping, rounded case of the MacBook with battery cells by terracing them, squeezing out what little space would have otherwise remained.

Taken in overall, the MacBook has a distinct iOS-device feel to it at times. This is most immediately apparent from the selection of chassis colors, but digging deeper it extends into the electronics and internal design choices as well. Pairing a relatively large screen with a small logic board and filling out every nook & cranny with batteries is very much the iPad way of building things, never mind the fact that the Core M processor itself is designed in part to be a high-end tablet processor. Then of course is the port selection: just a single combined power/data port, and then the 3.5mm jack for audio.

The end result is a device that has an interesting laptop/tablet crossover design to it. The MacBook is still without a doubt a Mac laptop, but it’s also more like an iOS device than anything before it. Consequently while it’s still primarily meant to be used as a laptop – just a very portable, very light one – it’s also clear that Apple envisions it being used like a tablet. To be charged overnight, carried around and run during the day, and then put back on its charger for the night.

The 2015 MacBook Review The MacBook’s Usability
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  • darkich - Wednesday, April 15, 2015 - link

    Oh Anandtech, it is blatantly obvious that you do everything you can to twist reality in favor of your sponsor (Intel).

    So MacBook has a twice better GPU than iPad Air 2?
    Why didn't you used a *graphics* category to explain that fact?
    Why didn't you ran Manhattan or T Rex and showed the respective scores?
    Reply
  • iLovefloss - Wednesday, April 15, 2015 - link

    They linked to a more comprehensive Core M review in the article. If you actually read the damn thing rather than trying to accuse people of being sellouts, then you maybe you'd caught that.

    Shit, the only thing more annoying than a social media (anti-)SJ conversation is tech websites review comments. Everybody is a sellout.
    Reply
  • narcaz - Wednesday, April 15, 2015 - link

    I am sorry, but i think this one of the of the more mediocre reviews from Anandtech:

    "Compared to the 128GB SSD and 4GB of RAM in the base MacBook Airs, this is the first ultra-portable Mac in a while where I can say even the base model feels properly equipped. At the very least users shouldn’t be struggling with RAM or SSD capacity for some time. Meanwhile given the fact that the equivalent upgrade of an 11” MacBook air would be $300 – bringing the total price to $1199 – this means that while the MacBook is still more expensive than a MacBook Air, the difference isn’t nearly as wide as it would first seem."

    Copy paste from Apple's marketing? The difference is as wide as it would first seem when you look at the trade-off. Compared to the MBA you get better portability and a retina screen. But you loose connectivity, battery life, hd camera, magsafe, cpu/gpu performance. And according to your defined target audience (second device buyers) buying these upgrades doesn't make much sense. It is ok that the 12'' MB is expensive, but don't try to argue around this fact.

    "As far as desktop performance goes, we haven’t found any major problems for the MacBook’s Intel HD Graphics 5300 GPU. Even with Core M’s power limits it doesn’t show any issues holding 60fps at the default virtual resolution of 1280 x 800, though I would not suggest going any higher unless it’s necessary."

    I had the impression that higher resolutions don't work very well on the 12'' MB models in the Apple store. It felt like the first 13'' rMBP: more screen space, but a bit laggy. The performance of the HD 4000 wasn't good enough and took another hit with Yosemite (especially when connected to a second display). I am not willing to invest in a MB, which isn't future proof for at least 2-3 years. The same is true for the potential lack of 4K/60hz. I hoped for more depth in this area.

    The review could have been more critical about the 1 USB C Port. If it breaks you can't even charge your machine anymore and out of warranty services are extremely expensive. But i think the comments discussed this point to death. Thanks for the extra remarks about the sustained performance in the comments and please put this in the review and maybe do more tests.
    Reply
  • wave84 - Wednesday, April 15, 2015 - link

    I don't really think the Macbook is expensive. This is actually useable as a main computer for a lot of users (journalists, web designers, web programmers, etc). It will do just fine, as long as you have 8GB RAM and 256 for storage, which you get.

    You lose some stuff indeed, but for 100 bucks you get retina screen, extreme portability, and most important of all, it's fanless and completely silent. This is a huge quality of life improvement which no review will take into account.

    Also, i do not believe the port to be an issue. Either you are docked, so you have plenty of ports (and you only unplug one cable), either you are mobile, when one port is enough for 99% of use cases.

    I am very close to buying it. Still waiting for some upgraded CPU numbers.
    Reply
  • narcaz - Wednesday, April 15, 2015 - link

    I am looking for a second device besides my 15'' rMBP. The iPad doesn't cut it anymore. But 1279$ + 79$ (needed for occasional presentation) is expensive compared to the 11'' MBA 899$+29$. Impossible to sugarcoat it. It looks like Apple's upselling strategy got you on the hook. You can rationalize this purchase as much as you want, but i don't want to pay for upgrades, which i don't need. If you value portability and retina screen fine, enjoy it, but this doesn't make it a very good deal.

    Even in the Apple ecosystem the single port is problematic. Airplay Screen Mirroring suffers from lags, iCloud Photo Library is cumbersome and there is no backup solution while being on the road. Cables aren't dead. I think the next version will have second port.
    Reply
  • telsin - Wednesday, April 15, 2015 - link

    I'm curious to see if a newer hardware revision of the Apple TV that they're likely to announce at WWDC resolves some of the airplay lag. That thing is still using an A5 processor, whereas the latest iphones are up to A8 (huge difference in CPU/GPU performance). I too found airplay rather obnoxious when I tried it. In OSX, you can have it treat an airplay target as a second monitor, but it really kind of sucks unless you're just putting something there to read as a static document. Reply
  • bogda - Wednesday, April 15, 2015 - link

    Now, make MacBook Air with the same quality screen, smaller bezel (like on this MacBook) and keyboard that stretches from edge to edge (like on this MacBook) and I might actually switch from PC to Mac. Reply
  • Mushin - Wednesday, April 15, 2015 - link

    As for the SSD which is only connected through PCIe 2.0 that is a limitation of Core M see:
    http://ark.intel.com/products/84666/Intel-Core-M-5...
    Reply
  • cknobman - Wednesday, April 15, 2015 - link

    All I can say is ehh.

    Sure its built nice and a super small form factor

    BUT

    Price is high, performance is just OK, and battery life is frankly underwhelming. Sure the battery life is not terrible but given the hype over the Core M I was expecting better battery life.

    Still no touch screen and it is still confined to the limitations of a laptop.
    The benefit of small underpowered devices like this should lie in their ability to serve multiple purposes easily and change form factors.
    If I still have to use it like a laptop (IE: open it up, type on a keyboard) and pay such a high price then I may as well go get a laptop with more power and better battery life.

    For this price I'd still rather have something like a Surface Pro 3. With its ability to serve multiple purposes I can use it like a tablet or a laptop, get better battery life, and get a touch screen. All while paying less.
    Reply
  • nerd1 - Wednesday, April 15, 2015 - link

    Sp3 is lighter, thinner, more powerful, has more ports, has more input methods and even cheaper. Reply

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