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Retina MacBook Q&A - Published April 29, 2016

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How fast are the "Early 2016" 12-Inch Retina Display MacBook models compared to one another? How much faster are these models than the "Early 2015" line replaced? How fast are they compared to the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro?

In the corporate press release for the "Early 2016" Retina MacBook models -- the MacBook "Core m3" 1.1 12-Inch, "Core m5" 1.2 12-Inch, and "Core m7" 1.3 12-Inch -- Apple mentions that the notebook is "faster" no fewer than seven times.

2016 Retina MacBook
Photo Credit: Apple, Inc. (Early 2016 Retina Display MacBook)

Apple boasts that the graphics, memory, and flash storage all are faster than the model replaced, but only specifically notes that the notebook "delivers up to 25 percent faster graphics performance" than the earlier "Early 2015" Retina MacBook.

Consequently, without any mention of overall performance nor disk performance, an objective third-party evaluation is particularly worthwhile not only to compare the performance of the "Early 2016" MacBook to its predecessor, but to compare it to recent MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models, too.

General Performance Overview

For a helpful overview of the performance difference between the "Early 2016" Retina MacBook and other notebooks,'s own Ultimate Mac Comparison makes it quick to compare side-by-side 32-bit and 64-bit Geekbench benchmark averages with all other G3 and later Macs for thousands of possible performance comparisons.

For example, the Geekbench 3.0 benchmark shows that the standard high-end model -- the MacBook "Core m5" 1.2 12-Inch -- is 14% faster in single core and 16% faster in multicore tasks than the low-end MacBook "Core m3" 1.1 12-Inch model. Additionally, the MacBook "Core m7" 1.3 12-Inch model with a custom configured 1.3 GHz Core m7 (M7-6Y75) processor is between 19%-30% faster than the low-end model and 4%-12% faster than the standard high-end model.

It is worth noting that the custom processor option costs 19% more than the entry-level model and 9% more than the standard high-end model, so it is a fairly good value for those interested in the maximum price-to-performance ratio.

Compared to the "Early 2015" Retina MacBook models replaced, the "Early 2016" Retina MacBook are modestly faster overall:

2015 MacBook 2016 MacBook Percent Faster
"Core M" 1.1 12" "Core m3" 1.1 12" 8%-11%
"Core M" 1.2 12" "Core m5" 1.2 12" 16%-19%
"Core M" 1.3 12" "Core m7" 1.3 12" 12%-23%

However, compared to the "Early 2015" 11-Inch MacBook Air models, the standard "Early 2016" Retina MacBook models are slower:

2015 MacBook Air 2016 MacBook Percent Slower
"Core i5" 1.6 11" "Core m3" 1.1 12" 12%-13%
"Core i7" 2.2 11" "Core m5" 1.2 12" 11%-16%

Given that the Retina Display MacBook Pro models are significantly faster than the MacBook Air models, it should not be a surprise that even the fastest custom configured "Early 2016" Retina MacBook -- the MacBook "Core m7" 1.3 12" -- is around 6%-8% slower than the slowest "Early 2015" Retina MacBook Pro -- the MacBook Pro "Core i5" 2.7 13-Inch. Although it is slower, the non-Pro MacBook costs more.

Other Benchmarks & Real-World Test Results

Geekbench provides a good overview of overall performance, but other benchmarks and real-world tests also can be useful for perspective, particularly given Apple's advertised focus on graphics performance in addition to disk performance.

MacNN tested the graphics performance of the "Early 2016" MacBook and reported a significant gain compared to its predecessor:

From the GPU-intensive Cinebench R15 benchmark, the new Intel [HD Graphics 515] chip makes for an approximately 20 percent gain [over the older Intel HD Graphics 5300 in the "Early 2015" MacBook replaced]. It seems like a lot on paper, 20 percent, but when you are starting from a low base, it only amounts to around about a 2fps improvement. It is still good enough to play a game like Minecraft in your downtime, but nothing too graphically demanding.

Focusing on the SSD performance, Engadget found a substantial speed increase for the "Early 2016" compared to its predecessor, as well:

The startup time wasn't faster -- nine seconds to the log-in screen vs. seven last year -- but I'm not complaining. Meanwhile, the PCIe SSD inside now reaches average write speeds of 845 MB/s, according to the Blackmagic Disk Speed Test. That's way up from 451.7 MB/s on last year's model. Meanwhile, read speeds are now approaching a gigabyte per second, with the rates in my tests coming out to an average of 947 MB/s. That's up considerably from 738.2 MB/s last year.

Finally, the always excellent "old school" BareFeats hit the "Early 2016" MacBook with graphics and disk tests alike and discovered:

The 2016 Retina MacBook with the Intel HD Graphics 515 produces OpenGL performance from 36% to 65% better than the 2015 Retina MacBook's Intel HD Graphics 5300. As for OpenCL performance, the 2016 was only 8% faster.
As for internal flash, the READ speed of the 2016 MacBook (512G PCIe) is 13% higher than the 2015 MacBook (512 PCIe) while the WRITE speed is 87% higher.

Although the test results vary, it's clear that the "Early 2016" MacBook models are faster than their predecessors in both graphics and disk-related tasks alike.

Performance Summary

Ultimately, the "Early 2016" MacBook models, when compared to the "Early 2015" MacBook models replaced, provide a significant increase in speed overall in addition to graphics and disk performance.

However, the MacBook performance remains inferior to the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro lines and likewise is best suited for someone who mostly wants a beautiful display in a small package and is less concerned about performance. If performance is important to you, the Retina MacBook is not your best choice.

Site sponsor PowerMax sells the Retina MacBook -- as well as new and used MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models -- free of sales tax.

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