Computers

One reason why the 12-inch MacBook is better than the new MacBook Pro

Silence is golden.

Sarah Tew/CNET

As I write this blog post, I have ten tabs open in Chrome and no other apps running on my five-year-old MacBook Pro. Despite this low workload, my MacBook Pro's cooling fan whirs loudly. This is not a rare occurrence. It seems that with each passing day, the fan spins more and rests less. And should I do something as audacious as open iTunes and Photos at the same time, my MacBook sounds like a jet engine during take off. Same thing should I remove my MacBook from a desk or table where the air flows freely and rest the laptop atop my lap. Its whir is the worst.

Because I write about technology, I pulled the trigger on a new 13-inch MacBook Pro because I wanted to get my hands (well, fingertips) on the innovative Touch Bar. But, really, I was in the market for a new MacBook because I desire a quieter computing experience. If I wasn't a tech blogger, however, I might have opted for a model other than the new MacBook Pro with the Touch Bar.

Wait, the Touch Bar costs how much?

Apple's pricing rarely, if ever, make it easy on your wallet, but $1,799 for the cheapest Touch Bar MacBook Pro is steep even by Apple's standards. You can ditch the Touch Bar and get a new 13-inch MacBook Pro for $1,499, but where's the fun in that?

If I didn't write about technology and wasn't curious about the new Touch Bar -- Is it useful? Is it a gimmick? Is it a little of both? -- I would have skipped the new MacBook Pro lineup altogether and gone with the 12-inch MacBook. At $1,299, it costs $500 less than the MacBook Pro I just purchased and offers the same amount of memory (8GB), the same size SSD (256GB) and a Retina Display with nearly the same pixel density.

The biggest difference between the two models is the processor. The 12-inch MacBook has an efficient Core m3 processor, while the 13-inch MacBook Pro has a Core i5. While you undoubtedly sacrifice performance with the Core M, you also gain a golden benefit: silence. Utter, blissful silence.

The 12-inch MacBook is the only MacBook that doesn't require a cooling fan to keep its thermals in check. Like the Pro models, MacBook Air features a Core i5 processor and a cooling fan. If your computing needs are basic, then I would steer you to the 12-inch MacBook and its silent, fanless design.

MacBook features breakdown

Patrick Holland's already written an excellent breakdown of Apple's MacBook and MacBook Pro lines. He doesn't mention the cooling systems of the machines but otherwise hits on all other features and includes a stellar comparison chart. Here are a few more things you'll want to look out for.

Other than the cooling system and optional Touch Bar, I count five big differences between the 12-inch MacBook and the new 13-inch MacBook Pro models:

1. Weight

The 12-inch MacBook saves you a pound of carrying weight, coming in at a hair over 2 pounds compared with the 13-inch model, which is a hair over 3 pounds.

2. Keyboard

The 12-inch MacBook introduced the slim butterfly keyboard, which has a different feel from previous MacBooks with its flat keys and shallow travel. The new MacBook Pro models have adopted this butterfly keyboard, but it's the second-generation that tweaks the design. In his review of the 13-inch MacBook Pro, Dan Ackerman found the typing experience to be slightly improved compared with the first-generation butterfly keyboard on the 12-inch MacBook and said, "The keys have a little more bite to them, and appear to rise up from the keyboard tray just a hair more."

3. Number of ports

You'll need to make do with a lone USB-C port on the 12-inch MacBook. The 13-inch MacBook Pro gives you four such ports, any one of which you can use to charge your laptop. With either model, you'll likely need a USB-C to USB-A dongle or Apple's big multiport dongle.

4. Webcam

If you regularly use video conferences then you might want to shell out for the 13-inch MacBook Pro. It features a 720-pixel FaceTime camera compared with the 12-inch MacBook's 480-pixel camera.

5. Battery life

Apple claims the 12-inch MacBook will run for 11 hours and the 13-inch MacBook Pro for 10 hours. We're still testing the new models, but the 12-inch MacBook ran for 10.5 hours on CNET Labs' streaming video playback battery drain test. I'd wager the new MacBook Pro will come in roughly an hour short of that figure, giving the battery edge to the 12-inch MacBook and its efficient Core M processor.

Apple's 12-inch MacBook.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The lifespan argument

Some people will argue that it's better to choose a MacBook Pro over a MacBook as you're likely to outgrow the more powerful Core i5 processor in the MacBook Pro more slowly than the MacBook and its Core M processor. I would counter this lifespan argument by saying that main reason I've decided to move on from my old MacBook Pro is not its slowing performance but its loud cooling fan. I could better tolerate the occasional lags I experience if they weren't accompanied by the loud whir of the fan. What really makes me crazy is the fan engaging for long stretches for seemingly no reason at all. With the fanless MacBook, I'd need to find another reason to upgrade.

Following this logic, perhaps the MacBook model that offers the longest lifespan would be the step-up MacBook model. At $1,599, it adds $300 more than the baseline MacBook but upgrades the Core m3 processor to a Core m5, while also doubling the SSD to 512GB.

I'm not the only one with warm feelings for the 12-inch MacBook. Read why it has become Dan Ackerman's favorite laptop.

What do you think of the new MacBook Pros? Do you plan to buy one? Will your next laptop be another model from Apple or something else entirely? Let me know in the comments below.