Inside the brain of the new Apple MacBook

Inside the brain of the new Apple MacBook
Apple's new MacBooks are displayed following an Apple event in San Francisco, California March 9, 2015.

Sleek. Stunning. Sexy.

These words can be used to describe the new ultra-thin Apple MacBook.

It sure looks amazing, but how will it perform as a computer? While the new MacBook will not be available till April 10, we already know quite a lot about the Intel Core M chip that powers it.

In fact, this very processor has been available on Windows laptops and convertibles from PC makers since late last year.

A low-power chip designed for ultra-thin devices, the Intel Core M's key feature is that it does not require a cooling fan.

This lets manufacturers create extremely thin, fanless devices such as the Apple MacBook, which is merely 13.1mm thick. But the MacBook is beaten in the skinny department by the Asus ZenBook (12.3mm) and the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro (12.8mm). All three computers use the Intel Core M chip.

It is possible to omit the fan for the Intel Core M because this chip is rated at 4.5W TDP, short for Thermal Design Power. This is the term Intel uses to describe the maximum heat dissipated by a processor while running applications.

Compare that with the 15W TDP rating for the fifth-generation (Broadwell) Intel Core processor found in the latest laptops, including the refreshed Apple MacBook Air.

You may also have noticed that the Intel Core M processor models available for the MacBook have relatively low clock speeds of between 1.1GHz and 1.3GHz.

While the clock speeds for these dual-core chips increase dynamically (up to 2.9GHz) depending on the workload, it is clear that these are not super-fast processors.

Even Intel's own marketing spiel pits the Core M chip against a four-year-old laptop. In this case, the chipmaker says you can expect the Core M to be twice as fast as the older model in office productivity tasks and photo editing. For graphics performance, the Intel Core M is up to seven times as capable as a typical four-year-old laptop.

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