Editors' Note: As of October 20, 2009, Apple has released an updated MacBook that adds an LED backlight and unibody design. That model replaces the one reviewed here.
While Apple still hasn't put a Netbook on the market, don't fault it for not trying to make its products more affordable. This year's WWDC 2009 keynote was all about lower price points and more features across the MacBook line, and leading off as the cheapest MacBook money can buy is the white polycarbonate MacBook, seemingly a footnote in a range of otherwise all-aluminum models.
Depending on your specific needs, for $999, you're getting a real bargain with the last non-Pro MacBook. You can either approach this as "for $200 more I can get a MacBook Pro," or "I can get something nearly as good as a MacBook Pro and save $200." The latter perspective, however, requires you to be willing to skip some of the Pro-level features, such as the new SD card slot and high-capacity battery.
If you can live without that, then the $999 MacBook just might be your bet. Even better, Apple's current back-to-school promotion throws in a free 8GB iPod Touch (minus sales tax) if you're a student, sweetening the deal a bit more, although the promotion runs across all Macs.
|Price as reviewed||$999|
|Processor||2.13 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo|
|Memory||2GB, 800MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||160 GB 5,400 rpm|
|Graphics||Nvidia GeForce 9400M|
|Operating system||OS X Leopard 10.5.7|
|Dimensions (WD)||12.78x8.92 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||13.3 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||5.1 / 5.6 pounds|
Apple's lowest-end laptop occupies a special place in the Mac spectrum. As of WWDC 2009, it's the last MacBook standing in the lineup--all the other Apple notebooks are now MacBook Pros. The MacBook (we can call it "the" MacBook, now) also is the last to retain the polycarbonate white plastic glossy casing that once defined a whole line of machines.
While the MacBook's more pedestrian appearance may not catch the eye as much as the unibody aluminum MacBook Pros, don't be fooled by its throwback looks; inside, Apple's done a good job of keeping the components on par with its more expensive brothers. In fact, the white MacBook has very comparable specs to the lowest-end 13-inch MacBook Pro. Its 2.13 GHz Core 2 Duo processor is close to the MacBook Pro's standard 2.26 GHz one, and the Nvidia 9400M integrated graphics processor is the same one that's in the MacBook Pro 13-inchers, so the gaming and media capabilities are comparable.
The MacBook retains its glossy white body, including in the features department: there's nothing here that wasn't in previous recent iterations of the MacBook line. The polycarbonate body, as always, feels sturdy and well built, if thicker than the aluminum versions, and the pleasingly minimalist glossy plastic exterior and matte white interior might be more prone to picking up scratches and staining. A good-quality Webcam above the display, decent-but-not-great built-in speakers, a single power button, and a standard raised Apple keyboard are all the same as preunibody Intel MacBooks.
Not surprisingly, the raised keyboard's handling is as good as it ever was, performing very nicely through extended writing sessions. The touchpad is not a clickable, button-free one like on the Pros, although it is capable of multitouch gestures. A single large button below the pad does its job well (of course, no second mouse button).
The 13.3-inch glossy LCD display offers a 1,200x800 native resolution, which is standard for a screen this size. This is also the same size and resolution as the 13-inch MacBook Pros. While this screen is not LED-backlit like the Pro line, we found the brightness and color to still be very good for any media playback or general gaming use.
|Apple MacBook (White, Summer 2009)||Average for category [mainstream]|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||2 USB 2.0, FireWire 400||4 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
The MacBook comes with two USB 2.0 ports, a mini-DVI port, a FireWire 400 port, and both a headphone and mic jack. To some, the older ports might even be seen as an advantage: this is the last Apple laptop to feature FireWire 400, a port that once was the key to DV editing. For owners of older hard drives and camcorders, especially students, the throwback port is a nice touch. Similarly, mini-DVI is the display output instead of mini DisplayPort, which is used on the MacBook Pro line. The two give pretty identical outputs, but finding mini-DVI adapters is a little easier and cheaper right now. Sadly, an SD card slot, while finally finding its way to Apple laptops, remains a Pro-only feature. That's kind of ridiculous, but it's easy enough to finagle a USB SD card reader.
The 160GB hard drive is a 40GB improvement in the base model from the previous $999 MacBook, and can be upgraded to a maximum of 500GB when ordering (an extra $200), a first for any MacBook. The included 2GB of DDR2 RAM can be expanded up to 4GB.
The 2.13 GHz Core 2 Duo processor runs only a bit slower than the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro, and is the same otherwise (the boost to 2.13 is a slight improvement over the previous 2.0GHz specs before WWDC). Our multimedia benchmarks had the white MacBook only running slightly behind the new 13-inch MacBook Pro, and very comparably on iTunes and Photoshop tests. Even better, the Nvidia 9400M GPU is exactly the same as the MacBook Pro 13-inchers. As a general gaming machine, the white MacBook can hold its own, as long as you keep your expectations modest and resolutions low.
Under our rigorous video playback battery drain test, the MacBook's removable battery ran for 3 hours and 30 minutes, although you can expect longer life under Web browsing and office use conditions. While the MacBook Pro line now has batteries claiming longer life and charge cycle lifetimes, they're also nonremovable. It would be nice to have a boosted battery life, but being able to swap out batteries is a good consolation prize.
Apple includes an industry-standard one-year parts-and-labor warranty with the system. Upgrading to a three-year plan under AppleCare will cost an extra $249, which includes calls to technical support. Support is also accessible through an online knowledge base, video tutorials, and through e-mail with customer service. Driver and software downloads are easily accessible through Apple's Web site.