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A Look at the New Intel Core 2 Duo MacBooks
So Many Apples and So Little Time...
By Jim Fisher
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Mac users are presented with an array of choices when considering the purchase of a new computer. Apple offers several choices in both notebook and desktop computers. The entry-level Mac mini, the iMac with integrated LCD display and the professional level Mac Pro round out the desktop line. The notebooks are broken up into two lines, the MacBook and MacBook Pro.

The MacBook Pro, as the name implies, is Apple's professional portable computer. It's available in 15" and 17" sizes and features a wealth of features that make it an ideal choice for demanding professionals who require maximum performance out of a notebook. There are many users who don't need the horsepower that the MacBook Pro delivers or who are looking for a smaller, lighter and more portable notebook.

Apple's MacBook (top) and MacBook Pro notebooks (bottom)

This is where the MacBook steps in. The compact 13" notebook weighs in at a svelte 5.2 pounds, allowing you to carry it to and fro without straining your back. Apple has recently upgraded the system by replacing the Core Duo processor with the newer Core 2 Duo CPU.

System Tour

The first thing you'll notice about the MacBook is the signature aesthetics of the Apple design. The computer is housed in a polycarbonate case that is available in either white or black. When closed the computer is only 1.08" in height; its top adorned by the ubiquitous Apple insignia. Opening the notebook is simple thanks to a magnetic latching mechanism that eliminates the need for a mechanical latch. The power adapter also connects via magnetism for increased safety; tripping over a cord results in a separation of the MagSafe power adapter from the computer rather than a separation of the computer from your desk.

The 13.3" widescreen display features a glossy display for deep and bright color reproduction. Hidden above the screen is an integrated iSight camera. This allows you to participate in video conferencing and chatting without the need for a bulky external webcam.

The MacBook's keyboard may not look like other notebook keyboards at first glance, it features a modern design with small spaces surrounding each key, but even the fastest touch typist will feel right at home using it. The mouse pointer is controlled via a solid-slate trackpad with a single button.

Under the Hood

There are 3 base configurations of the MacBook, all with slightly different technical specs. The system is available with either a 1.83 GHz or 2.0 GHz Core 2 Duo processor. The Core 2 Duo can run up to 25% faster than its predecessor, although some applications will benefit more from that than others. If you are looking to upgrade your aging PowerBook or iBook youíll be happy to know that you can expect an increase in speed of up to six times.

The 1.83 GHz system comes in white with 512 MB of RAM, a DVD-ROM/CD-RW Combo drive and a 60 GB hard drive. The 2.0 GHz system is available in white or black with 1 GB of RAM and a 6x SuperDrive DVD burner standard. The white version ships with an 80 GB hard drive while the black MacBook includes a 120 GB drive. This is where the differences between the different models end.

Connecting peripherals is a simple matter. The computer has two USB 2.0 and one FireWire-400 port for connectivity. One thing you wonít find in the MacBook is any sort of CardBus or ExpressCard expansion slot. If you need an expansion slot for EVDO or other peripherals youíll have to move up to a MacBook Pro; both the 15" and 17" models feature a single ExpressCard/34 slot.

Wireless connectivity is built into the system. The system features integrated wireless Ethernet capable of 54 Mbps transfer speeds. A Gigabit Ethernet port is also available for connection to a wired network. The MacBook also includes integrated Bluetooth 2.0+EDR support. Bluetooth is a wireless protocol used in many portable devices such as cell phones, PDAs and headphones. The Apple remote control is also included with the computer for Front Row control.

Graphics are powered by an integrated Intel GMA 950 processor. It shares up to 64 MB of the computerís main memory for display functions. This is sufficient for common tasks such as e-mail, web browsing and even photo and video editing. The MacBook is not a great choice for gaming; if you are looking for fluid frame rates in the latest computer game you should consider getting a MacBook Pro, which features a dedicated graphics card. This will also affect professionals who use video applications that utilize the GPU for 3D rendering and compositing.

Daily Use

The MacBook is a great little computer. It's small and light enough to travel easily with a bright and clear screen. Apple rates the battery life at 6 hours per charge, but that will vary depending on your usage patterns. If you aren't interested in playing bleeding edge computer games or working with 3D graphics application the MacBook can also fill the role of your one-and-only Mac.

If you are looking to get a MacBook for use as your primary computer you should consider picking up the Apple wireless keyboard and Mighty Mouse. These Bluetooth peripherals give you a full-size keyboard and mouse. The computer also features a mini-DVI port for external display connection. Youíll need to pick up an adapter to connect a monitor, but once you do youíll be able to mirror or extend your desktop to a dedicated screen. The MacBook's internal hard drive will vary in size.

The MacBook is a good choice for a lot of Mac users. Demanding users should definitely consider a MacBook Pro, but the rest of us will appreciate the design, convenience and performance of the MacBook. The computer is a dream to use, gets the job done and is very, very pretty. Its compact form factor and light weight make it an ideal traveling companion. It's surprisingly powerful for a consumer level notebook and offers a plethora of integrated features that help reduce the number of external peripherals you'll need to carry in your notebook case. The toughest decision you might have to make in configuring your system is the color.

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