Apple MacBook 2006 Model review: Apple MacBook 2006 Model

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MSRP: $1,299.00

The Good Cheaper than the MacBook Pro, with nearly comparable performance; great design; built-in Webcam and remote control; can run Windows XP via Boot Camp.

The Bad No ExpressCard slot or FireWire 800; lacks media card reader; only 90 days of toll-free technical support.

The Bottom Line The new MacBook, updated to Intel's Core 2 Duo CPU, compares very favorably with Apple's high-end MacBook Pro line, offering premium performance at a reasonable price.

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8.1 Overall
  • Design 10
  • Features 9
  • Performance 7
  • Battery 8
  • Support 4

Now that the high-end MacBook Pro has Intel's Core 2 Duo CPU, it's high time the latest processor technology filtered down to Apple's more consumer-friendly MacBook line. There are three MacBook models, one with a 1.83GHz CPU and two with 2.0GHz CPUs. The MacBook starts at a mere $1,099, but our review unit is the most tricked-out of the three, offering the faster CPU and a larger hard drive for a still palatable $1,499. These 13.3-inch notebooks, available in the standard Apple colors of black and white, are nearly as powerful as their 15- and 17-inch Pro cousins, and they include a lot of the same features, such as the built-in iSight camera and Front Row remote. If the handful of compromises vs. the Pro model, such as the screen size and the lack of discrete graphics, isn't a deal breaker, the MacBook is a no-brainer for anyone who wants to step up to an Apple laptop or upgrade their older MacBook.

While the entry-level MacBook is available only in white, when you move up to the 2.0GHz version, black is also an option. Our black MacBook isn't quite as sharp as the metallic MacBook Pro we looked at recently, but it still has a very distinctive look, with rounded edges and a boxy iPod-like design. The matte black surface is nice to run your hands over and is largely fingerprint resistant. The white 2.0GHz model is $200 cheaper and starts with a smaller hard drive, but it can be upgraded to an identical configuration.

Measuring about 1 inch thick, 12.8 inches wide, and 9 inches deep, the MacBook is small enough to carry around every day and just big enough to comfortably function as your everyday computer. It weighs in at 5.1 pounds (5.7 pounds with the AC adapter), and while the difference is only about half a pound, it feels considerably lighter than the 15-inch MacBook Pro.

Opening the lid, you'll find a minimalist setup, including a power button, a full-size keyboard, a sizable touch pad with a single mouse button, and a built-in iSight camera that sits above the display. If you miss the scroll bar present on many Windows laptops, you'll find that the two-finger scroll option works well (run two fingers down the touch pad, and it scrolls like a mouse wheel). The keyboard has totally flat keys (a touch we also liked on the Sony VAIO C150P/Blink>), instead of the slightly concave keys you may be used to. It's matter of personal preference, but we like the cleaner look of flat keys.

The MacBook supplies you with two USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire 400 port (the MacBook Pro adds a FireWire 800 port), a mini-DVI port (an adapter is required for hooking up a regular monitor), and a slot-loading SuperDrive DVD burner. You won't find a media card reader, however, which has become a common feature on many laptops. Unlike the MacBook Pro, there's no ExpressCard slot for adding components later. An Ethernet port, an Airport Extreme 802.11a/b/g wireless card, and the built-in Bluetooth take care of the networking.

At a resolution of 1,280x800, the 13.3-inch wide-screen display is easy to read and offers enough screen real estate for anything short of high-res Photoshop sessions. With a 15-inch MacBook Pro, you'd jump up to 1,440x900, but the difference is minimal to the naked eye. Movie-watching is best as a one-person experience on the 13.3-inch screen vs. the more sharable 15- and 17-inch MacBook Pro models.

Our review unit came with 1GB of RAM and a 120GB hard drive. You can double the RAM to 2GB for $175, which seems like a smart investment for future-proofing your machine, and you can ramp up the hard drive to 160GB or 200GB models for $100 and $200, respectively. Other than that, the MacBook configurations are mostly fixed, although Apple is happy to sell you a variety of external accessories, such as a USB modem jack ($49) or a mini-DVI-to-VGA adapter ($19).

Apple claims significant performance boosts, up to 25 percent from the move to Core 2 Duo CPUs. In CNET Labs' Photoshop CS2 and iTunes encoding tests, we found that the new MacBook, with a 2.0GHz Core 2 Duo CPU and 1GB of RAM, performed admirably, coming in behind the 2.33GHz Core 2 Duo MacBook Prolink> model, but not by huge margins. That's even more impressive when you consider the MacBook Pro we tested had a whopping 3GB of RAM. As expected, both Core 2 Duo systems easily outclassed an older Core Duo MacBook Prolink> from earlier this year. We have updated our benchmarks recently, so we can't compare these scores directly against the last round of Core Duo MacBooks, but the new Core 2 Duo MacBook did show a 26 percent boost over the older Core Duo MacBook Pro, well in line with Apple's claims.

In many areas, the new MacBook Pro and MacBook systems are very similar, with design, price, and screen size as the major points of differentiation. One important difference to note is in the graphics subsystem. The MacBook Pro has an ATI Mobility Radeon X1600, while the MacBooks are stuck with Intel GMA 950 graphics. So if gaming is important to you, either Windows gaming through Boot Camp or Mac native gaming, you'll want to step up to the Pro model.

In our battery tests, we got an impressive 3 hours, 30 minutes out of the MacBook--beating the 15-inch MacBook Pro by half an hour. That's about what you'd expect from a thin-and-light notebook and more than enough for a movie or two or any flight shorter than a coast-to-coast run. If you are bicoastal, Apple has offers a $59 airline power adapter, called the MagSafe Airline Adapter, as an option. It has two different plugs for working with the power ports on different airlines.

The MacBook's AC adapter--both Airline and normal models--connects magnetically to the laptop, so if you accidentally trip over the cord, it will simply detach instead of sending your new purchase crashing to the floor. You additionally get Apple's tiny Front Row remote--the same as the one that comes with the iMac; it controls Apple's Front Row software for playing back movies, music, and photos from a home-theater-style 10-foot interface.

Many people prefer Apple systems specifically for the bundled suite of proprietary software, iLife '06, which includes intuitive tools for building Web sites, creating DVDs, composing music, and working with photos.