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Rose gold and new Core M chips make for a tempting second-gen MacBook

The second generation of Intel Core M CPUs gives the 12-inch MacBook a boost, but it's still a one-port wonder.

Dan Ackerman
Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
4 min read

The 12-inch MacBook is a love-it-or-hate-it laptop. It seems to inspire either fierce loyalty or intense derision, at least judging from comments on my review of the original version, and social media feedback on any follow-up stories since. A new set of updates for 2016, including new processors for faster performance and better battery life, plus a new rose gold color option, may help throw off some of that shade, but not all.

When Apple released the 12-inch MacBook in the spring of 2015, it felt like a bold shot across the bow of a computer arms race which saw companies competing to add features from touch screens and 4K resolutions to depth-sensing webcams and detachable keyboards. Against all this feature creep, the MacBook -- shedding the Pro and Air monikers used by other Apple laptops -- was an exercise in strictly enforced minimalism.

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But, doubters were quick to call the 12-inch MacBook on the carpet for a list of perceived sins. It relied on Intel's initially unimpressive Core M processor, and its performance and battery life compared unfavorably to the bigger MacBook Air and Pro systems. The keyboard was unusually shallow, in order to fit into such a thin body. And most of all, the single USB-C port was a hard pill to swallow for those convinced of the need for separate power, video, and data ports.

Despite these built-in limitations, I liked the 2015 version of the MacBook, even though I agreed it was not the perfect laptop for everyone, or even most people. Over time, I found myself turning to it more and more often, especially for on-the-go computing in coffee shops around New York, eventually declaring it my current all-around favorite. But, it could still get bogged down with too many programs and windows open, and the battery life wasn't at the level where it could go days and days between charging sessions. The USB issue turned out to be less serious than I feared, and only two or three times in the months after the product's original release did I find myself stymied by a lack of ports (although when I did get stuck with a USB key and nowhere to connect it, it was very annoying).


The MacBook, with its sole USB-C port, on top of a MacBook Pro and MacBook Air.

Sarah Tew/CNET

With this 2016 update, Apple has addressed some, but not all, of the issues with the original. Based on our CNET Labs testing in other computers with the second generation of Core M processors (confusingly part of Intel's sixth generation of Core chips, also known by the code name Skylake), I'm confident that we'll see closer-to-mainstream levels of performance, and perhaps another hour or so of battery life. Those tests are being run right now, and we'll update this page with results when available.

Our first look at Apple's new 12-inch MacBook: Hands-on photos

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Along with Core m3, m5 and m7 CPUs (the M series now follows the same 3/5/7 format as the Core i-series chips), the new MacBook gets Intel's updated 515 integrated graphics, which won't make you a gamer, but may help with video application performance. The speed of the internal flash memory has also reportedly improved, but I doubt that's something casual users would even notice.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Frankly, the most obvious difference between the 2016 MacBook and the 2015 model is the addition of a fourth color option, rose gold, which is already available on iPhones and iPads. The previous MacBook started the trend by adding gold, but sadly, our review sample is a rather straitlaced space gray (silver is the fourth option). Note also that we're testing the step-up model, which costs $1,599 in the US (£1,299 and AU$2,449), and includes an Intel Core m5 processor and a big 512GB of storage. The base $1,299 model (£1,049 and AU$1,999) has the Core m3 and 256GB of storage.

In hands-on use, the new MacBook feels almost exactly like the previous version. If you've got the 2015 MacBook, there's no need to upgrade, but if you were holding off to see what the second generation looked like, the potential boost to performance and battery life makes me feel even more confident about using this as a primary laptop, especially for frequent travelers.

Sarah Tew/CNET

However, the lack of ports and the feel of the keyboard will still be enough to discourage some, especially those who are looking for a laptop that will stay tethered to a desk for all day, every day use.

The 2016 version of the MacBook is currently running our performance and battery life tests, and this page will be updated later with the results and further hands-on impressions.

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