Apple has given its plastic entry-level MacBook laptop a small spec bump and a 'unibody' makeover, making it lighter and sturdier than before. The battery isn't user-replaceable now, but will last longer, while the trackpad has been upgraded to the same glass multi-touch design as the MacBook Pros'
The white MacBook was starting to look a little long in the tooth next to the aluminium MacBook Pros that were first launched late last year, but now Apple has given its plastic entry-level laptop a small spec bump and a 'unibody' makeover. It's available now for £799 direct from Apple.
Unibody it may be, but the MacBook is still made from white polycarbonate. By using a seamless slab of white plastic for the bottom half of the case, however, Apple has made the MacBook feel much more solid and it's helped cut down the weight, too -- it weighs 140g less than its predecessor. The design isn't quite the same as the aluminium unibody MacBook Pros and the MacBook has much softer, rounded edges. The shiny finish is quick to pick up dust, hair and other grime, though.
The MacBook's case isn't completely sealed -- the underside is a separate slice of matte grey plastic that's held in place with eight screws. This has a rubbery finish that does away with the need for individual feet, but this particular MacBook still rocked slightly on a level surface.
This MacBook's low-profile keyboard is the same as on the previous model, but the trackpad has been upgraded to the same glass multi-touch design as the MacBook Pros'. To recap, this does away with a separate button and instead can be clicked almost anywhere on its surface. Right-clicks are achieved by clicking with two fingers, but you can also set the bottom-right corner of the pad to act as a right button — something that also works in Windows via Boot Camp.
Although the lid design has changed, the 13.3-inch LED-backlit screen doesn't get the same frameless glass treatment as the MacBook Pros. Image quality has been improved over the previous model and it's a sharp, vibrant display, but far from the brightest we've seen.
A slot-loading DVD-writer sits on the right of the case and the ports all sit on the left. Apple has dropped FireWire (that's now a MacBook Pro-only feature) and the separate audio in/out ports -- there's now just a single 3.5mm port that acts as an analogue/optical digital input and headphone socket. There's no SD-card slot either -- another Pro feature.
The MacBook's specification hasn't changed dramatically -- the Core 2 Duo processor has been upped to 2.26GHz and DDR3 RAM is now standard, but you still only get 2GB of it at this price. The Nvidia GeForce 9400M graphics card remains unchanged.
The Mac Xbench benchmark uses a variety of synthetic tests to assess system performance and the MacBook returned an overall result of 118.31. For comparison, a MacBook Air with a 1.86GHz Core 2 Duo chip and 2GB of DDR3 RAM scored 117.11, but its faster solid-state drive greatly compensated for its slower processor.
The other major change is the battery. The MacBook now has a fixed internal cell just like the MacBook Pros (although there's no external LED display to show its charge). Whatever the perceived disadvantages, the main advantage is longer battery life and Apple reckons the MacBook should be good for up to 7 hours' use away from the mains. That time suggests a light-use scenario, but since the MacBook ran for 3 hours and 41 minutes in our heavy-use test (looping a 720p QuickTime video with the screen at full brightness, with Wi-Fi off and hard disk spin-down disabled), it probably isn't too wide of the mark.
Owners of the previous MacBook won't feel too aggrieved by the changes with this model, but new buyers face a quandary -- the 13-inch MacBook Pro only costs £100 more, is lighter and offers a few more features. That's not to say we don't like this new model, but we'd like it a whole lot more if Apple had dropped the price a little.
Edited by Nick Hide