Apple MacBooks

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Apple MacBooks


We hope you won’t get too excited about these new MacBooks, because their changes are minimal since the last line. New, slightly faster CPUs, a change to the keyboard, and (of course) Mac OS X Leopard preinstalled don’t seem like much. In general, this line is solid, but not as lust-inspiring as other Mac laptop lines in the last few years. (Ah, for the 12-inch PowerBook G4 days…)


If you’re a big-picture thinker, the CPU change signals longer-term strategy and capabilities for more innovative, faster MacBooks later on. On the other hand, you’re probably not buying a Mac for its avant-garde possibilities—you’re buying it for what it can do for you now.


The differences amount to a new Intel processor (it’s the fourth-generation Centrino platform, code-named Santa Rosa, an update from the older Calistoga chipset) that bumps the CPU speed from 2.16GHz to 2.2GHz in the high-end (black) MacBook. The frontside bus runs at 800MHz—yes, that’s faster than the previous 667MHz bus, but since the RAM only runs at 667MHz, it can’t use the 800MHz to its fullest. But 4GB maximum RAM, double the amount of the old MacBooks? That we can get behind.


The other significant difference in this new line is the keyboard, which will be familiar to new iMac users. Most of the F keys are now assigned to special functions, like useful controls for iTunes, Dashboard and Exposé buttons, a mute key, and so on. Now when a phone call comes in, you can hit the Play/Pause or Mute button on your MacBook instead of having to navigate to iTunes. You can still assign F5 and F6 to whatever you want in the Keyboard & Mouse System Preferences. Longtime Mac users will mourn the Apple logo, which has been removed from the Command key (sniff). There’s also no number pad or Num Lock key, but who even used those keys anyway?


One more thing about the keyboard: As with the previous MacBooks, those matte keys feel nice in a tactile way, and we like that they’re spaced apart for a nice sense of typo reduction.


Users of Mac laptops prior to the MacBook/MacBook Pro lines may notice that the glossy, 13-inch screen feels cramped, despite the widescreen format. Because the screen is arranged horizontally instead of vertically, we still feel a little like we’re on the tiny floor 7 1/2 from the cult movie Being John Malkovich. And the interface itself seems a little small—we’re still not sure whether that’s because of Leopard or the display’s low resolution. (Before you buy, you should assess whether the 13-inch display will make you a claustrophobe.)


What about the performance, you ask? We give it a big “eh.” The overall speed is pretty good, and now that the new Intel GMA X3100 graphics processor uses 144MB RAM for video instead of the previous 64MB, our Doom 3 frames-per-second test squeezed 9 fps out of these MacBooks, while the previous ones had only produced 5.6 fps. (That doesn’t mean this is anywhere close to a gaming Mac, though.) We have to say, though, that even the relatively clean (i.e., not many apps running or installed) low-end MacBook gave us the spinning rainbow beach ball a few times.


If you’re trying to decide between these two models, you may think, “Of course a 2.2GHz processor is faster than a 2.0GHz processor.” And you’d be right. But our processor-intensive tests showed that the higher-end (black) MacBook was only about 4 to 6 percent faster than the low-end (white) MacBook.


A couple more personal issues with this MacBook line: The black MacBook’s matte outer case quickly gets very oily from your fingers, so before long, it’ll look less like a sleek notebook Mac and more like a fast-food bag. Also, the glossy screen is a matter of taste. Yes, the onscreen color is better and text is sharper, but if you have trouble with its glare, you have to get the MacBook Pro so you can choose the matte screen option—there’s no matte option with the MacBook.


If you can afford to spend an extra $500 to $900, you might seriously consider taking a step up to the MacBook Pro. For that money, you get a bigger, LED-backlit screen in your choice of glossy or matte finish, a less smudgy outer case, dedicated VRAM, twice the RAM, a backlit keyboard, and an ExpressCard/34 slot. That’s a lot more Mac for the money.


The bottom line. Thrills are not plentiful in this latest MacBook line, and at the moment we recommend you save your dollars to upgrade to the 15-inch MacBook Pro instead for the best value. It’s possible that by the time you read this, Apple will have announced that lust-inspiring line at January’s Mac Expo.







PRICE: $1,099 (white model)

SPECIFICATIONS: 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 1GB RAM, 4MB shared L2 cache, 5,400-rpm 80GB hard drive, Combo drive, Intel GMA X3100 graphics processor with 144MB of DDR2 SDRAM shared with main memory, 13.3-inch glossy widescreen display, two USB 2.0 ports, FireWire 400, Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11n AirPort Extreme, Bluetooth 2.0

Comes with Leopard. Cool new keyboard keys.

Not very different from previous version. A little poky. Shared main/video memory affects performance.








PRICE: $1,499 (black model)

SPECIFICATIONS: 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 1GB RAM, 4MB shared L2 cache, 5,400-rpm 160GB hard drive, double-layer SuperDrive, Intel GMA X3100 graphics processor with 144MB of DDR2 SDRAM shared with main memory, 13.3-inch glossy widescreen display, two USB 2.0 ports, FireWire 400, Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11n AirPort Extreme, Bluetooth 2.0

Better value than white model. Good overall speed. Comes with Leopard. Cool new keyboard keys.

Black coating gets oily. Not very different from previous version. Shared main/video memory affects performance






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I drag my laptop (macbook) back and forth from school and home. My primary use is entering grades into my online gradebook... I am CONSTANTLY using my num lock! If I am required to buy an external number pad when I buy a future mac, that will definitely make me re-think about buying a mac laptop(though I'd rather NEVER buy a pc laptop....) I do not want to have to tote around an external pad back and forth from school...

...and the numbers that are normally on keyboards do not suffice with their current positioning...

I'm sure there are others out there (teachers or other professions) who use the number lock all the time... I really do hope it makes a comeback.... Not to mention it's a shame that we're losing the APPLE key - being in my 30's the "open apple" and "closed apple" functions are nostalgic... I think it's for the pc users to have the command key, but why not keep the apple on it? That does distinguish the computer....


Amanda, Glen Ellyn, IL



That's right, not everyone can afford a pro. My little macbook is the best computer I have ever worked on. For someone who runs a small business, holds thousands of pictures, likes to edit them, has musica files out the wazoo, this is a pretty good deal. And i even have the cheapest one. Upgrading the ram is no big deal. I can do that later.
I don't regret buying my macbook at all.



come on...these are great machines for the price. not everyone can afford the pros and besides the keyboard on the macbook is way better than the mb pro. and that silver case is so last season! i still wish they'd make another 12 incher but i guess the mb air will have to do.


Aaron Heath

Right on, Jen. Where is the 12" (or 11.1" WS) option. The MacBooks aren't small, they're a horrible half-way house. I want a smaller Mac - C'mon Steve, make my Expo dreams come true.

If not I'm going for the 15" MacBook Pro, or one of the 11.1" ASUS models (to run Linux) next upgrade (maybe summer '08).

PS. Currently I own a 12" iBook G4 and a 15" PowerBook G4.



I have the middle one of the MacBook line that isn't shown here. (120 GB hard drive) I just got it a week or two ago and it's awesome! It's must faster than my trusty old PC and quality is great too. I don't see why they say that it isn't that nice here...


Computer Guy

I'm surprised no one's pointed out that there *IS* a 2.2GHz processor available in a white MacBook. It's the "middle child," the MacBook between the low-end white MacBook and the black MacBook.

This omission could be quite misleading to some, thinking they can only get a 2.2GHz proc in a black model, when in reality you *CAN* purchase that proc in white and pay $200 less for not getting black paint. Sure, the black MB has a bigger hard drive (40GB more at 160GB), but the white MB with a 2.2GHz proc is a great value. Add some more RAM for about $65 bucks, and at 2GB you're good to go. I'm not sorry I purchased my white MB.

Mac|Life might want to consider a bit of more thorough fact checking in the future...



I have a Black MacBook purchased in April, 2007 with 2.0GHz processor, 2GB of RAM, 160GB hard drive and the old integrated video processor. It runs great for what I do (MS Office for Mac, 7000 pictures on iPhoto, 8GB of music, and a bunch of simple video editing done on the previous version of iMovie). Extremely portable, great battery life, beautiful display, and pretty darn good stereo speakers given their tiny size. (Yes, they have absolutely no bass). My family relocated in June...we've been in three houses in the past six months and the macbook has been our lifeline in the best way possible throughout our moves.

Given that, Jennifer's right on the money regarding the black shell's tendency to pick up tons of finger grease. I use those IKlear cleaners about every two weeks to keep it looking spick and span. Additionally, I'm going to try and avoid the glossy screen in my next mac purchase. It looks great, but picks up every reflection, fingerprint, and cat hair in the universe. The processor and memory keep up for my video processing but starts getting pushed if I have iPhoto, Entourage, iMovie, and iTunes all open at the same time. (This is rare).

I'm just waiting for Apple to release an iMac with a matte screen. As soon as this happens, the old desktop Dell is likely going away.



I'm pretty happy with my MacBook so far (2Ghz C2D, outer casing dyed a nice mahogany color, RAM at 2Gb and 72rpm drive), but the least they could do is use one of the ATI or Nvidia integrated graphics options, some of which now have dedicated VRAM (ATI's Hypermemory and Nvidia's Turbocache). Many of the low-end offerings from other companies offer these, and at Apple's price point, we should expect at least that much.



When is Apple going to stop crippling it's consumer line with low-end graphics for top dollar prices? A $1500 MacBook should not come with a stinking Vampire Video Intel chipset- period. The entry price for a Mac laptop with a low level consumer gaming card is a cool $2k.

The same is true of the iMac series. Since Apple will not make these designs easily upgradable, the least hey could do is give us a decent graphics card. The entry price for a Mac desktop that you can upgrade the video on is a cool $2,200 (MacPro Dual Xeon 2 GHz) and that gets you a lame $57 bargain basement graphics card.

When is someone going to call Apple on this?


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These laptop computers come and go. I think going for a Macbook is quite nice as they are very compact to travel with and can be replaced whenever a significant new model comes out.

Sort of cycling them. The Macbook Pros are a much bigger investment.



Hi Jennifer, thanks for the best consise review of the macbook I've ever read. You were so right on about everything! Happy 08!


Michael Dunlop

What I HATE about my macbook is the built in graphics card! (its cool that the new ones are a little faster) When I found out about Colin Mcrae rally for Mac i got so excited! so i downloaded the demo to give it a try but when i went to launch it, it said that it did not support my graphics card!!! WHAT??? I got this computer two months ago!!! That really ticks me off. Maybe I should have gotten a Pro.



I feel exactly the same as you.
i hate that.
i should hv bought macbook pro!
no graphic cards!!!

and now they are killing the numpad!!
so i could not buy any of the new notebooks!
hate mac



That is exactly what they want!!

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