Editors' note: As of June 2009, the product reviewed here has been replaced by these updated models.
There are two ways to look at Apple's newly reimagined MacBook laptops. They can be seen as more advanced, and in some ways more expensive, versions of the classic 13-inch MacBook, but we prefer to think of them as slightly stripped down, and less expensive, versions of the 15- and 17-inch MacBook Pro line. Some Internet commentators have even referred to the new models as the "MacBook Pro Mini."
Internally, the big news is an Nvidia chipset with improved integrated graphics, while the "unibody" aluminum chassis, the buttonless (or more accurately, all-button) touch pad, and edge-to-edge glass on the LED-backlit display are the major physical changes on the outside.
While the base model keeps the same $1,299 price (our review unit was the upgraded $1,599 version with a faster processor, a bigger hard drive, and backlit keyboard), you lose the FireWire port in the transition. And the $1,299 model gets you a 2.0GHz Core 2 Duo, rather than the 2.4GHz CPU. The higher-end model keeps the same 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU, but also costs $100 more. Both new MacBook models operate on a faster front-side bus, (from 800MHz to 1066MHz) and move from DDR2 memory to DDR3.
Even with the slower base model CPU and missing FireWire, the new MacBook represents both an impressive value and an impressive feat of engineering--although it's hard to expect anything else from Apple's flagship computer product, which has been a consistent favorite for several years.
|Price as reviewed / Starting price||$1,599 / $1,299|
|Processor||2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo|
|Memory||2GB, 1066MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||250GB 5,400rpm|
|Chipset||Nvidia GeForce 9400M|
|Graphics||Nvidia GeForce 9400M (integrated)|
|Operating system||Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard|
|Dimensions (WD)||12.8 x 8.94 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||13.3 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||4.5/5.2 pounds|
|Category||Thin and light|
The most obvious changes are physical. The familiar white-and-black bodies have been replaced with an aluminum chassis that looks nearly identical to the new MacBook Pro, only smaller. The actual construction for both the new MacBook and MacBook Pro now follows the MacBook Air model, with a solid block of aluminum carved down, rather than a thin outer shell that has had support struts added to it. The result is a lighter and thinner, yet stronger, chassis that feels more solid and substantial--a notable feat, as the previous MacBook models were already extremely sturdy.
Another notable new feature is a radically redesigned touch pad. This larger touch pad uses multitouch gestures similar to those found on the iPhone, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro, and offers a much larger surface area than previous 13-inch MacBooks--thanks to the elimination of a separate mouse button. In fact, the entire touch pad depresses like a button, although a simple tapping (as on a PC laptop) will also work once you turn that option on in the settings menu.
The all-button touch pad concept is actually a bit difficult to get used to, and feels slightly clunky at first compared with a traditional fixed-position touch pad. On the other hand, there are some useful new gestures: you can hide all your apps by sweeping four fingers up on the pad, and you can also designate one corner of the touch pad as a "right-click" zone. Most useful, perhaps, is sweeping four fingers left or right, which brings up the application switcher. Once you get used to that, going back to a regular touch pad would be difficult.
The 13.3-inch wide-screen LCD display offers a 1,280x800 native resolution, which is standard for screens between 13 and 15 inches in size. It provides for text and icons that are highly readable, but we'd love to see Apple move into the 16:9 display universe, as in the case with new systems from Sony, Hewlett-Packard, and others.
Apple has also added LED-backlit displays (previously available on the Pro models), which means a thinner lid and some battery life benefits, plus the edge-to-edge glass we're seeing more often on multimedia systems, such as the HP HDX18. The glass, however, also grabs stray light rays with ease, making the glossy screen seem that much glossier--a problem if you prefer matte screen finishes.
|Apple MacBook (Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz, Nvidia GeForce 9400M)||Average for category [thin-and-light]|
|Video||Mini DisplayPort||VGA-out, S-Video|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||2 USB 2.0||3 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
With only two USB 2.0 ports and no more FireWire, the new MacBook isn't exactly brimming with connections. Our two fondest MacBook wishes--an ExpressCard slot and an SD-card reader--have yet to come true, so photographers (especially those who use equipment with FireWire connections) may be disappointed--or encouraged to spring for a MacBook Pro. Apple is making a firm move to the DisplayPort camp by including a mini DisplayPort connection instead of mini-DVI or VGA, but a variety of external dongles (sold separately) will give you any video output you need.
In our benchmark tests, the new MacBook and its 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU performed comparably to its predecessor, which is to say that basic multitasking and productivity are a breeze, as is streaming and viewing HD-video content--much as we'd expect from any current Intel Core 2 Duo laptop. While the hardware is largely similar, MacBooks score better on our Multitasking test than similarly configured Windows laptops (such as the Dell Studio 15), thanks in part to the efficiency of the Mac operating system.
With no new CPU options, the big development in terms of performance is the new Nvidia chipset, called the GeForce 9400M, which also includes improved integrated graphics. Of course, one would not have to go far to improve on the Intel integrated graphics found in most laptops--we've long ago given up on trying to find a 3D-game test that gives playable frame rates from Intel's integrated graphics.
The GeForce 9400 graphics were impressive, giving us 58.7 frames per second in Quake IV (admittedly not the most hardware-intensive game) at 1,024x768 resolution. There may be some hope for integrated graphics yet--long the bane of any semi-serious PC gamer. The new MacBook Pro takes it one step further, including a separate discrete GeForce 9600 GPU and letting you switch between integrated and discrete graphics to save battery life or give better performance.
There's no doubt that Apple laptops are known for having above-average battery life. On CNET's video playback battery drain test, we got 4 hours and 3 minutes, which is shy of the "up to 5 hours of wireless productivity," promised by Apple. But as Web surfing can be less intensive than video playback, we could see getting close to that 5-hour mark in casual use. Notably, the new 15-inch MacBook Pro gets almost the same score with its dedicated GPU turned off (using only the integrated Nvidia 9400 chip, the same as in the 13-inch MacBook), and about 3 hours with the Nvidia GeForce 9600 card turned on.
Apple continues to both frustrate and impress with its service and support. MacBooks still have a standard 1-year parts-and-labor warranty, but only 90 days of toll-free telephone support. This, along with the proprietary nature of Apple's products, makes purchasing an extended Apple Care warranty almost a necessity, at $249 for a total of three years of coverage.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Find out more about how we test laptops.
OS X 10.5.5 Leopard; Intel Core 2 Duo 2.2GHz; 2048MB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 9400M; 250GB Toshiba 5,400rpm
OS X 10.5.5 Leopard; Intel Core 2 Duo 2.53GHz; 4096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 9400M / 512MB Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT; 320GB Hitachi 5,400rpm
OS X 10.5.1 Leopard; Intel Core 2 Duo 2.5GHz; 4096MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 512MB NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT; 250GB Hitachi 5,400rpm
OS X 10.5.1 Leopard; Intel Core 2 Duo 2.2GHz; 2048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 144MB Intel GMA X3100; 160GB Fujitsu 5,400rpm
Windows Vista Business Edition SP1; 1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U9400; 2048MB DDR3 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB Mobile Intel 4500MHD; 64GB Samsung Solid State Drive
Windows Vista Home Premium Edition SP1; 2.1GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T8100; 2048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB ATI Mobility Radeon HD3400; 250GB Western Digital 5,400rpm