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B&H First Look: The New MacBook

By David Flores

MacBook

Apple's White MacBook has been a boon of the education and entry-level computing market since Macs first adopted Intel processors. The latest offering from Cupertino reconsiders the "entry-level" nature of the MacBook by bringing its capabilities and feature set more closely in line with professional MacBook Pro models.

From a design standpoint, the new MacBook takes its cues from the unibody build of the Pro line. Unibody construction gives the laptop a more solid feel, and significantly improves all-around strength and durability. The new MacBook offers a superior, purposeful and tactile touch over the previous generation. Nothing bends, flexes, or gives.

The unibody lower case of the new MacBook
The unibody lower case of the new MacBook

When you hold the machine, you get the feeling it could easily survive a four-year Art History degree and the inside of your well-traveled backpack, too. This is essentially the same type of build you get from a MacBook Pro, but with the body composed of polymer instead of aluminum. The bottom of the machine has a rubberized grip surface that keeps it from sliding off tables and desks. This also seems to keep heat from building up while using the computer on your lap.

The rubber bottom panel of the new MacBook
The rubber bottom panel of the new MacBook

Processing power sees a significant bump from the previous model, with the Intel 2.26GHz Core 2 Duo CPU. The new chip features 3MB of L2 cache running at a perfect 1:1 ratio with the processor speed. Standard memory configuration includes 2GB of 1066MHz DDR3 SDRAM. This is expandable to support up to 4GB. These specs are the same as the current 13" MacBook Pro, and should yield comparable performance.

The I/O of the new MacBook
The I/O of the new MacBook

The internal hard disk offers 250GB of storage space, and can be special ordered with 320 or 500GB options. I/O is fairly standard, with two USB 2.0 ports, a Mini DisplayPort, Audio in/out, and an Ethernet connector. What's missing here? Firewire. It's the first plastic MacBook design to abandon the standard, and you'll have to upgrade to a MacBook Pro if you need this type of support. This was disappointing to me at first, but when I started making a list of my Firewire-enabled devices, I didn't come up with much. My Western Digital Studio drives support Firewire and USB 2.0. Most of my memory card readers are also on the USB standard. Apple's entire iPod line is USB-only. Nonetheless, Firewire is available on just about every other Apple computer. From the Mac mini to the Mac Pro, the option is there. It feels like it should be here, too.

Like the MacBook Pro, the new MacBook adopts an internal, non-user-replaceable battery. This has some positives and some negatives. The integrated battery design allows for much more efficient use of both power and internal space. Apple rates the battery for up to 7 hours of wireless productivity. In my tests, I was able to squeeze out about 4.5 hours surfing the web, editing some articles, and playing back video on iTunes. This was surprisingly good—besting my run on the 13" MacBook Pro by about 30 minutes of juice. On the flip side, you can't swap out batteries whenever you want to. This isn't such a big deal. Walk into any library or coffee shop and you'll see most folks favor carrying power adapters over a bundle of extra laptop batteries.

The 13.3" LED-backlit display is rich and bright, with the highest levels of contrast ever offered on a MacBook. With its glossy finish, the panel enhances blacks and reads somewhat warmer than the previous model. From word processing in Microsoft Office to advanced photo editing with Aperture, I found the screen to perform very well. The Mini DisplayPort allows the new MacBook to share or mirror its display with the Apple 24" Cinema Display and other monitors.

The MacBook's Multi-Touch Trackpad is finally brought in line with Pro models. Large and smooth, the entire surface can be used as a button. Multi-Touch gesture support is built in with two-finger scrolling, zoom-in pinching, and the same three-finger swipe functionality of the MacBook Pro.

Multi-Touch in action
Multi-Touch in action

Like every other Mac out there, the new MacBook uses the 802.11N standard for wireless communication and Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR for pairing peripheral devices. A built-in iSight camera and mic make it easy to keep up with family and friends.

In sum, the new MacBook offers the same processing capabilities and essentially the same rigid build of the 13" MacBook Pro. Unibody construction is the big story here. Though not as sleek as brushed aluminum, the white composite body of the MacBook is more than capable of handling the rigors of daily computing. Driven by OS X Snow Leopard, the hardware and software coupling of the Mac makes for a powerful—yet simple—computing experience. Starting at under $1000, the new MacBook offers higher levels of performance and features than most PC laptops in the price point.

David Flores is a photographer and filmmaker based in New York City. He is a member of the B&H Creative Content Team.


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