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2020 MacBook Air update


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2020 MacBook Air update
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pscates2.0
Mr. Farmiga
 
Join Date: May 2004
 
2020-03-18, 11:29

https://www.apple.com/macbook-air/

Seems pretty solid...has that new (well, old) scissor keyboard (you know, the one that worked before they went and replaced it with one that didn't), a $100 price drop AND 256GB base storage (which points to good things for the upcoming 13" MacBook Pro...no way will it continue to have a 128GB model on the low-end, now that a $999 Air doesn't). And it'll certainly have the better keyboard as well, so that's nice. If they'll just make 16GB RAM the base (at least in the $1,799 and up models), that'll be quite an out-of-the-box winner.

But this looks like a nice, solid update, after a year. The keyboard, alone, with clinch it for many. I know part of how they got to that $999 is the i3 processor in that base model...what's the big thing between it and the i5 (that you now how to BTO to on that $999 model; dual core vs. quad core? What's that equal in real-life usage, for casual, consumer-level tasks (surfing, YouTube, email, iTunes, Photos)?

Last edited by pscates2.0 : 2020-03-18 at 11:51.
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kscherer
The Ban Hammer
 
Join Date: Aug 2004
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2020-03-18, 12:17

It's a nice update, for sure. The Air was already very well positioned and a good-ish price point. This is way better. Best laptop value in Apple's history. And a quad-core Air with 512GB SSD at $1299 makes those base MacBook Pro's look stupid. They have to be replaced within the next month or they will stop selling. The Touch Bar isn't that good.

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pscates2.0
Mr. Farmiga
 
Join Date: May 2004
 
2020-03-18, 13:34

The 13" Pro doesn't need to be playing in that $1,200 neighborhood anyway, IMO. At this point, I think the Air, when you consider its BTO upgrades, nicely covers that $999-$1,399 range for 90% of the population.

That $1,499 Pro, with Touch Bar, quad-core, beefier graphics, etc. makes a nice "halfway point" transition between the Air lineup (including its upgrade options) and those higher-end $1,799/$1,999 13" Pro models (which, hopefully, will even be more "Pro"-worthy whenever they're updated (16GB RAM out of the box, etc.).
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chucker
 
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2020-03-18, 14:01

This is, at least, the first 10nm Mac. About half a decade late. Boy, did Intel have a bad few years.

So, a few things:
  • unusually, the first CPU upgrade is a no-brainer. Normally, CPU BTO options aren't worth it, but in this case — do not buy the base model. $100 buys you quad-core!* The next step above that is far less worthwhile (despite being another $150). Weird that Apple spaced them out like that — really, the first upgrade is arguably worth $250, and the second only $100.
  • this also means Gruber was wrong — the 2018 MacBook Air was a one-off in terms of offering no CPU upgrades at all. Gruber saw a future in which all Macs, or at least consumer ones, would reduce those choices. Which I can kind of see: it's not like you choose your iPhone's or iPad's CPU and RAM either. But for now at least, that future hasn't happened. Maybe Apple had a change of heart?
  • all CPUs have the good Iris Plus GPU. That's not at all a given on an Ice Lake laptop. Kudos to Apple for not cheaping out here.
  • there's basically no benchmarks yet. We'll probably see a nice single-core performance boost because the move to 10nm gives Intel more headroom, and the move from the Skylake to Sunny Cove microarchitecture gave them a multitude of long-postponed architectural improvements. That's why Apple says these have 3733 MHz memory, whereas that brand-new 16-inch MacBook Pro from November? Still has only 2666 MHz memory. Even the crazy-high-end Mac Pro only goes to 2933 MHz. For years, Intel couldn't ship these generational improvements, and now we're possibly seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
  • as a no-brainer, the multi-core performance will be way up. Apple says "up to two times faster CPU performance". It's unclear if they're being their usual grammatically incorrect selves and mean twice as fast (in which case that might even be pessimistic), or if they literally mean up to thrice as fast, which could be in the realm of possibilities here.
  • aaaaaand GPU performance will be way, way up. And also, the next-gen MacBook Air, which will probably use Tiger Lake, will yield another massive GPU performance boost.

All in all? First impressions suggest to me that this is an excellent MacBook to have, if you don't have high-end needs.

*) I'd say quad-core is currently the sweet spot for most people. Even if your app is single-threaded (for the most part, odds are it will be), the dozens of background processes now have three cores across which to spread. And these are all hyper-threaded, so you sort-of get four more "threads". Aaaaand even if not, Ice Lake can turboboost like hell. Assuming Apple's thermals allow for it, anyway. Interestingly, Apple's specs actually give a much higher base clock than what Intel says.

AMD wants to go to more cores than that, and I don't really see the mass-market applications that make good use of that. Yeah, it sounds great on paper to have an eight-core laptop, but will your app benefit? Probably not.
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chucker
 
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2020-03-18, 14:02

Quote:
Originally Posted by pscates2.0 View Post
The 13" Pro doesn't need to be playing in that $1,200 neighborhood anyway, IMO. At this point, I think the Air, when you consider its BTO upgrades, nicely covers that $999-$1,399 range for 90% of the population.

That $1,499 Pro, with Touch Bar, quad-core, beefier graphics, etc. makes a nice "halfway point" transition between the Air lineup (including its upgrade options) and those higher-end $1,799/$1,999 13" Pro models (which, hopefully, will even be more "Pro"-worthy whenever they're updated (16GB RAM out of the box, etc.).
Yeah.

Before today, I would have argued that unless you really, really want the MacBook Air look or want it to be a tad lighter and thinner, you should have gone for the mid-2019 base-model 13-inch MacBook Pro. Just $200 bought you a much faster machine with added benefits like better speakers and display.

But today? That Air just got a massive improvement, and now all 13-inch MacBook Pros need to catch up.
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pscates2.0
Mr. Farmiga
 
Join Date: May 2004
 
2020-03-18, 14:19

If the upcoming 13” Pro update isn’t what I’m expecting/hoping (16GB out of the box for $1,799, etc), then I’ll simply get today’s Air, with the i5 and 16GB upgrades and still come in $500 less. I’m totally fine with 256GB so that’s nothing I’d have to upgrade now!

May do it anyway. My needs are quite modest anymore. I now merely dabble in the graphics sandbox and just do things in Affinity Designer (bye, Adobe!) and Sketchup on those fronts (and that’s just B&W line art floorplan/small house/room, guitar and woodworking designs/layout). Everything else is basically Safari and iTunes. I’m about 87% sure an upgraded Air would do me just fine at this point. But I’ll wait and give the updated 13” Pro a shot...Apple might make my decision really easy.
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kscherer
The Ban Hammer
 
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2020-03-18, 14:24

I think that update is imminent. The 13" Pro's look really bad across the line right now.
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pscates2.0
Mr. Farmiga
 
Join Date: May 2004
 
2020-03-18, 15:15

Yeah, the rumors are all over the place...Q1, Q2, first half of 2020, WWDC (which isn't really happening, but they can still announce/unveil stuff via webcast keynote, etc.). But yes...today's Air release sure makes that $1,299 Pro look a bit less-than. No way on earth I'd look seriously at that model (I wasn't already, but especially now, today).

I don't know why the 13" (or 14", as the case may be) wasn't released alongside the new 16" months ago. Or, what made them choose the Air over the Pro as the next one to get updated (the new keyboard, etc.).

Sometimes their actions are head-scratchers.
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pscates2.0
Mr. Farmiga
 
Join Date: May 2004
 
2020-03-18, 15:26

While on the topic (I posted this in my initial post, but it made it too long):

Would this new $999 base model Air be a reasonable upgrade for my 72-year-old uncle who's on a late-2009(!) 21.5" iMac? 85% of his time is in Safari/YouTube, with the remaining 15% split between Mail and Photos. That's it, literally. No iMovie, GarageBand, no graphics/Adobe stuff whatsoever, etc. An iPad isn't an option even though he's the perfect candidate, but it's a lost cause and I've given up on that (no need to tell me things I already know).

Out of the blue, two weeks ago, he mentions wanting a laptop. I told him to hang tight because I knew an Air update was looming.

So, taking into account a) what he does and b) the age of his iMac (it's a 3.06GHz Core 2 Duo, with 4GB RAM and a spinning hard drive), would today's $999 MacBook Air be a step down in performance in any major way? Or would it actually be a step up, with the extra RAM, the SSD, etc.? Or would it kinda be a wash, no real difference either way? I realize 3.06GHz is quite a bit more than 1.1GHz, but I also know that isn't the sole factor in this stuff.

My gut tells me he'd never know the difference, with a nearly-decade step up in processor and other specs and doing the 3-4 things he does.

If the dual-core i3 is just not anything to aspire to, then I believe I could get him to consider the i5 upgrade (and, probably even the 16GB...that wouldn't hurt either). Realistically, it'll be his last computer. But if he balked at the extra outlay, would the stock i3 model with 8GB of RAM for $999 provide close to the experience he currently knows?
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kscherer
The Ban Hammer
 
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2020-03-18, 15:38

Sort how much storage he is using. If he can fit comfortably (and can, you know, see), it's a very good fit. Plenty of computer for almost everyone.

Other than screen size, the 2020 Air is going to be way more powerful than his current iMac.

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pscates2.0
Mr. Farmiga
 
Join Date: May 2004
 
2020-03-18, 16:31

I figured so.

I told him the next time he's at Mom's, he needs to sit with her Air. It's older, non-Retina but it's the same size screen, etc. I've encouraged him to do this before blindly buying. Storage-wise, I'm waiting to hear from him on that. I think that iMac came with 500GB and the only thing he really has are photos. But I don't know if he even has 20-30GB's worth.

For context, I have 3,225 photos and 14 videos, going back to May 2002 and it's not even 10GB. I can't imagine him having more than that, but I do want to make sure. But I'm thinking that's not going to be much of an issue. I doubt he's using 100GB of the 500 he has.
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kscherer
The Ban Hammer
 
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2020-03-18, 17:30

Quote:
Originally Posted by pscates2.0 View Post
I have 3,225 photos and 14 videos


Man, I'm working on a customer's photo library as we speak, and dude has 178,000 photos!

And they're all headshots.
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chucker
 
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2020-03-18, 21:55

Quote:
Originally Posted by pscates2.0 View Post
Or, what made them choose the Air over the Pro as the next one to get updated (the new keyboard, etc.).

Sometimes their actions are head-scratchers.
Well, for starters, the Air hadn’t been updated since 2018. (There was an update in 2019 but it was basically just to add True Tone.) The base Pro, meanwhile, got the Touch Bar and various other enhancements in mid-2019. It’s not that old a model yet. The higher 13 Pros also saw updates in last May.

Second, I think they wanted the Air out a lot sooner, but couldn’t because Intel delivered about half a year late.

I know what you mean on schedules, though. I think Steve cared more to avoid weird inconsistencies in the line up. In the past several years, we keep seeing “don’t buy x until it gets updated; consider y instead” stuff in their MacBook line. That’s not good. It’s quite possible Intel is forcing their hand their.
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pscates2.0
Mr. Farmiga
 
Join Date: May 2004
 
2020-03-19, 11:07

Quote:
Originally Posted by pscates2.0 View Post
Storage-wise, I'm waiting to hear from him on that. I think that iMac came with 500GB and the only thing he really has are photos. But I don't know if he even has 20-30GB's worth.
He called last night. He has 373GB FREE from a 500GB hard drive, so he's using 127GB total. I think the 256GB will be plenty...no way he's going to get anywhere near that...it took a decade to reach the 127GB, and that's everything, not just photos. The other specs - 3.06GHz Core 2 Duo, 4GB RAM, late 2009 21.5" iMac - I had correct from Googling/Mactracker.

We talked last night and he loved the sound of $999. I might try to make the case for the i5 quad-core and/or 16GB jump, but even the stock $999 configuration would do all he needs/expects should he want to keep it under $1,000.
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kscherer
The Ban Hammer
 
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2020-03-19, 11:45

Yeah, he'll just have to pare down some stuff. At least, if he wants to transfer old to new. If they are fine starting from scratch, then the 128 is just fine the way it is. However, grandma is going to complain about those missing photos.

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pscates2.0
Mr. Farmiga
 
Join Date: May 2004
 
2020-03-19, 11:58

???

He’s current using 127GB TOTAL (apps, files, OS, music, photos). He’d be going to a MacBook with 256GB. He shouldn’t have to pare down anything.
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turtle
Lord of the Rant.
Formerly turtle2472
 
Join Date: Mar 2005
Location: Tidewater Virginia
 
2020-03-19, 12:24

Off-topic (click to toggle):
Quote:
Originally Posted by kscherer View Post


Man, I'm working on a customer's photo library as we speak, and dude has 178,000 photos!

And they're all headshots.
I was a photo major and general shutterbug and "only" have 15,477 pics with 1009 videos.
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Matsu
Veteran Member
 
Join Date: May 2004
 
2020-03-19, 12:35

Is it totally weird for me to consider cross shopping a tricked out MBA vs an iPad Pro 12.9" ?

I'm not so up-to-date with my photo editing. Still on CS6 and late 2013 iMac (can't remember which i7 I have and a 4GB GPU, 24GB RAM) with two screens which does everything I need when editing at home. But, for editing on the move, I wonder if it's time to start experimenting with a tablet instead?

The MBA would have the benefit of running largely familiar software, though it could force me into Adobe's subscription model, which I hate, unless I'm really willing to pull together a new workflow from the other applications that have become available in recent years.

The iPad would certainly force me to get used to some new applications, and I have some concern about how it deals with file hierarchies. I need to be able to import, create and store/backup image libraries, and I don't know how far iOS has come or not for this type of use.

.........................................
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chucker
 
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2020-03-19, 13:57

Quote:
Originally Posted by Matsu View Post
The iPad would certainly force me to get used to some new applications, and I have some concern about how it deals with file hierarchies. I need to be able to import, create and store/backup image libraries, and I don't know how far iOS has come or not for this type of use.
The Files app has gotten a lot better.

There's also FileBrowser if you want something more advanced.
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kscherer
The Ban Hammer
 
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2020-03-19, 13:58

Quote:
Originally Posted by pscates2.0 View Post
???

He’s current using 127GB TOTAL (apps, files, OS, music, photos). He’d be going to a MacBook with 256GB. He shouldn’t have to pare down anything.
Sorry. You mentioned he liked that $999 price tag. My bad.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Matsu View Post
Is it totally weird for me to consider cross shopping a tricked out MBA vs an iPad Pro 12.9" ?
Do you already own an iPad?

If so, then you already have the answer. While it is possible that the new keyboard/trackpad thingy may solve some editing issues with apps like Pages and Numbers, these new Pro's don't really do anything any other iPad can't already do.

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Matsu
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2020-03-19, 15:10

Current iPad isn't used for anything other than surfing, youtube, netflix, amazon, facetime/messages etc... I don't take or edit photos on it, but it is at least a few generations old now. I was thinking more abuot functionality with with Adobe-like photo editing software - if it exists, I'm not sure since I've paid almost no attention to this space once I locked down my current set-up.

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kscherer
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2020-03-19, 15:30

If you can run iOS 13 on your old thing, you could download the Adobe business now* just to get a feel for things.

I sometimes get snarled at by customers by asking if they already have an iPad. They act as though the latest model will somehow be dramatically different in terms of usability, but it really won't. An iPad Air and an iPad Pro do pretty much all the same things. What has changed are security authentication and Apple Pencil support. There have always been keyboards available.

Again, the trackpad may change things, but considering it will cost a minimum of $1100 for that setup, a MacBook Air starts to look pretty good. Thus far, the iPad just hasn't offered anything truly compelling to me. I owned one for a while (my wife has a Mini and uses it like crazy; my daughter has a 6th-gen and a Pencil and uses it for a lot of artwork) but the editing features in Pages drove me away. Plus, now that I have an iPhone, I have even less use for one.

Other than the sexiness, there's just nothing about the platform that attracts my eye over a laptop, and I'm pretty hard-pressed to purchase one just because it looks good.

*Maybe, depending on system requirements.

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Matsu
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2020-03-19, 16:09

I'm thinking of it from the how I like to work. As it is, I like to take photos in the field and edit at home. I like to organize and edit on two large screens. One for large thumbs, and the other for the current edit. (Both in a properly lit, aka dim room, both set to sRGB - because that's what I have and what most places will use anyway.) I like a mouse and keyboard at my desk. They're fast, I'm good at making selections with the pen tool, and shading masks, etc very quickly, and I know what keystrokes do what (at least in LR and PS6) I tried to get used to a wacom, but in the end the mouse is faster for me... for retouching. If I were an artist drawing freehand, I'd totally go for a pen input, but not for photo retouching. However, this is how I like to work at my desk. In the field, I might not even have a desk. If a mouse is out, I'm not sure how I would rank retouching with a trackpad vs a pen on tablet? When i write, I like a keyboard.

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kscherer
The Ban Hammer
 
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2020-03-19, 16:36

Do you currently have a laptop? Or perhaps have access to a used/cheap Magic Trackpad?

And, not sure what the pointer will look like within Photoshop for iPad. Will there be a mouse pointer thingy? In other words, the UI may be different enough that it drives you nuts.

I don't think this is one of those "buy it and try it" purchases. If you go iPad, you really need to spend some time with it first.

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chucker
 
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2020-03-20, 02:30

Quote:
Originally Posted by kscherer View Post
And, not sure what the pointer will look like within Photoshop for iPad. Will there be a mouse pointer thingy? In other words, the UI may be different enough that it drives you nuts.
iPadOS has this adaptive pointer thing. It's not like the Mac's arrow-style pointer at all. Regularly, you get a fat circular blob. As you get close to UI controls, the pointer morphs into a highlight rectangle for those controls. Watch the video at https://www.theverge.com/2020/3/18/2...t-mouse-cursor starting around 0:47.

Quote:
Originally Posted by kscherer View Post
I don't think this is one of those "buy it and try it" purchases. If you go iPad, you really need to spend some time with it first.
Yes. iPadOS is a very different platform (deliberately, and in some areas to its benefit, and in others to its detriment) than macOS.
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chucker
 
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2020-03-20, 02:40

So, two things about the MacBook Air that are puzzling and no huge deal but also not great:
  • no Wi-Fi 6. Strange to launch the iPad Pro with it but, on the same day, the MacBook Air without it. I also don't personally care much, and for virtually everyone with an Air, Wi-Fi 5 is plenty. But for future-proofing, not so good.
  • no cellular! I get that Apple doesn't want to do touch on the Mac because it overcomplicates the UI paradigm (and I saw in Windows 8 how retrofitting touch can make things worse for everyone, and I don't think Windows 10 has fully corrected all the mistakes just yet). But for cellular? All Apple has to do is put a $129 option (same as on iPads) in MacBooks, on the hardware side. Then on the software side, introduce an API in 10.15.4 and highlight it again with 10.16 that lets developers reduce data use while on metered connections, and include an iOS-style preference pane that lets you block cellular per-app altogether (TripMode is fairly good in this regard; if a third party can do it, so can Apple).

A bummer. But also, depending on your needs, probably not a big deal. But how cool would a cellular MacBook Air have been?

(Gruber also mentions the poor camera. But MacBooks will never have an iPhone-like front-facing camera. The MacBook camera is about 2mm deep; the iPhone camera is about 7mm deep. Could they put a better camera in there? Maybe. But to make it anywhere near as good as the iPhone's, they'd have to make the lid a lot thicker — no way.)
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pscates2.0
Mr. Farmiga
 
Join Date: May 2004
 
2020-03-20, 05:37

The other thing I noticed was a large clock speed reduction. The 2019 models all had a 1.6GHz i5. These new ones give you a choice but they’re all 1.1GHz i3 or i5 (1.2GHz if you get the i7).

I’ can’t recall Apple having a 500MHz reduction like this in a new model of the same machine.

Not up on all the tech and inner workings of the various generations of Intel processors, so do other processor/chip improvements and specs kinda make up for this or are the 2020 noticeably slower/less powerful than the 2019 models in the way 1.6 -> 1.1 would appear via casual glance?

Apple is big on the “giveth/taketh away” thing...for every 2-3 things they give (new keyboard, doubled storage, lower price), they offset it somewhere else. Does this help account for that $100 price drop? I wonder if most folks would’ve been okay with the previous pricing if even the $1,099 base model had the 1.6GHz i5? Or is such a thing not really noticeable in typical “non-pro” day-to-day use (surfing, emailing, iTunes, etc.)?
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chucker
 
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2020-03-20, 08:38

Quote:
Originally Posted by pscates2.0 View Post
The other thing I noticed was a large clock speed reduction. The 2019 models all had a 1.6GHz i5. These new ones give you a choice but they’re all 1.1GHz i3 or i5 (1.2GHz if you get the i7).

I’ can’t recall Apple having a 500MHz reduction like this in a new model of the same machine.

Not up on all the tech and inner workings of the various generations of Intel processors, so do other processor/chip improvements and specs kinda make up for this or are the 2020 noticeably slower/less powerful than the 2019 models in the way 1.6 -> 1.1 would appear via casual glance?
So strictly speaking, we don't know yet; there are no independent benchmarks for this CPU yet.

But the answer is probably yes: the improvements do make up for it.

Also, Ice Lake does have very low clock speeds, and that looks bad. But in the long run it's a good thing: it gives them headroom again to make performance better over the years (with the previous 14nm CPUs, they were hitting 5 GHz, and while that sounds good on paper, it also you're hitting physical limits).

Quote:
Originally Posted by pscates2.0 View Post
Apple is big on the “giveth/taketh away” thing...for every 2-3 things they give (new keyboard, doubled storage, lower price), they offset it somewhere else. Does this help account for that $100 price drop? I wonder if most folks would’ve been okay with the previous pricing if even the $1,099 base model had the 1.6GHz i5? Or is such a thing not really noticeable in typical “non-pro” day-to-day use (surfing, emailing, iTunes, etc.)?
Get the i5! The i3 isn't bad, but the $100 are very much worth it. That upgrade is easily worth $250, if you ask me.

Last edited by chucker : 2020-03-20 at 10:33.
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chucker
 
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2020-03-20, 10:35

Quote:
Originally Posted by chucker View Post
So strictly speaking, we don't know yet; there are no independent benchmarks for this CPU yet.

But the answer is probably yes: the improvements do make up for it.
In fact, it's hell yes.

The i5 is 33% faster in single-core and 63% faster in multi-core, despite 45% lower clock.

(I don't agree with Jason's conclusions regarding ARM. Six cores are faster than four. Who knew??)
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kscherer
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2020-03-20, 11:06

Quote:
Originally Posted by chucker View Post
iPadOS has this adaptive pointer thing. It's not like the Mac's arrow-style pointer at all. Regularly, you get a fat circular blob. As you get close to UI controls, the pointer morphs into a highlight rectangle for those controls. Watch the video at https://www.theverge.com/2020/3/18/2...t-mouse-cursor starting around 0:47.
I've seen the videos. What I want to know is if Adobe and the like will have any UI control over this. In other words, will they be able to force the cursor to change into an arrow for instance?

Quote:
Originally Posted by chucker View Post
(I don't agree with Jason's conclusions regarding ARM. Six cores are faster than four. Who knew??)
Yeah, cores are nice, but only if the app is multi-core aware. Some apps perform a lot better on a faster, single core than on a slower-clocked multi-core.

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