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The new MacBook keyboard is better, but not enough to convince the doubters

The new MacBook keyboard is better, but not enough to convince the doubters


Also, Intel’s processor naming scheme is bonkers

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Phot by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

There was way more hardware news at WWDC this week than I think anybody expected. And for small laptop partisans, one of the quietest announcements might have been one of the best: you can now get the MacBook with a Core i5 or i7 processor.

The review model Apple provided us with is the base model with a Core m3 processor. After just a day of using it, I’m not going to opine on its performance — especially since the 2016 MacBook I have to compare it to is a 2016 core m7.

The big question a lot of people are asking is whether the little MacBook is finally over that power hump that’s kept users from switching over to it. I sadly cannot answer that for you, but my hunch is that the basic calculus isn’t going to change. If you need speed, get a MacBook Pro or a Windows PC or maybe even a MacBook Air. If you can live with a single USB-C port (and all the dongles that entails), and don’t need a ton of power, stay tuned for a full review.

There’s still just one lonely USB-C port

In the meantime, I can tell you a little about the keyboard. Beyond the processor, it’s the only other thing Apple’s changed. The keys have a slightly updated butterfly mechanism compared to last year’s model — they’re more similar to the keys on the MacBook Pro now. That doesn’t mean that they have a ton more key travel, though, because they feel about the same to me. I think I prefer the newer keyboard; it’s a little less clacky and the keys feel a little softer as you press down, but there’s still a satisfying click when you hit them. The finish is a little more matte, and Apple added the proper symbols above the Control and Option keys.

That’s a lot of words for a keyboard that, like the processors, isn’t likely to change the basic equation for most people. It’s slightly better than before. I like it, but then I am also a fan of the keyboard on last year’s MacBook (and many people are not).

No Intel. Bad Intel. Bad.

One other thing, since you’re here: I need to talk to you a little bit about Intel’s processor naming conventions, because they are unnecessarily confusing. The chips in these MacBooks are part of a new family of processors from Intel called Kaby Lake, which are iteratively better than their predecessor processors, called Skylake. And when Intel made the switch over, it changed how it named things.

What you need to know is that the Core i5 and Core i7 options on the skinny little MacBooks are not the more powerful Core i5 and i7 processors you might be thinking of. They’re less powerful than the processors you can get on the MacBook Pro models.

In some ways, this makes sense: these new Kaby Lake chips are able to turbo up to some pretty impressive speeds. But in most ways, this is just annoying dissembling from Intel that everybody else is forced to play along with because Intel gets to name its things whatever it chooses. The secret to distinguishing these chips, as Jake Kastrenakes wrote last September, is to look for the full product code for the processors. If it’s a “Y” series instead of a “U,” it’s the lighter-power version.

For the record, here are the exact processor models shipping on these MacBooks:

  • Intel® Core™ i7-7Y75 Processor (5W, 1.4GHz CPU base, 3.6GHz CPU max single core turbo)
  • Intel® Core™ i5-7Y54 Processor (5W, 1.3GHz CPU base, 3.2GHz CPU max single core turbo)
  • Intel® Core™ m3-7Y32 Processor (5W, 1.2GHz CPU base, 3.0GHz CPU max single core turbo)

And here’s how Apple describes these processor options when you go to buy them:

Enjoy great performance from seventh-generation Intel Core processors. Choose the speed and processor you want for your MacBook.

This MacBook model includes the dual-core Intel Core i5 at 1.3GHz with Turbo Boost speeds up to 3.2GHz. For faster performance, choose the optional dual-core Intel Core i7 processor for 1.4GHz of processing power and Turbo Boost speeds up to 3.6GHz.

Why did Intel do all this with the names? When Jake asked last year, this was the answer:

“We have also made significant performance improvements” to the Core m line “such that both form factor and performance lines were blurring,” Intel’s Scott Massey [wrote] in an email to The Verge

But I have a different theory: