Apple doesn't have a very large notebook lineup; just three MacBook Pro models and one MacBook. They've always kept it simple and that should make decision time painless, right? Not so much when it comes to the 13" machines with the MacBook and 13" MacBook Pro overlapping in most ways. Both share the same CPU, graphics processor and glass multi-touch trackpad, but the $1,199 Pro gets you double the RAM, a backlit keyboard, FireWire 800 and an SD card slot. Sure, only $200 sets them apart, so why not just go Pro? Price conscious consumers like that under $1,000 price tag, even if it's under by only a dollar. And the polycarbonate MacBook has a few things going for it besides the $200 cheaper sticker vs. the Pro: the underside doesn't get burning hot and it doesn't dent as do the metal-clad MacBook Pro models. This makes the MacBook both kid and klutz-friendly, though no matter how pretty and shiny the plastic, the MacBook isn't immune to scratches and discoloration. In fact, the bottom of our review unit got dirty inI just a day of careful and hygienic use.
Indeed, plastic never looked so good-- think of the MacBook as the perfect esthetic companion to the white iPhone 3GS. The unibody design carried over from the last gen MacBook, is curvier and has a glossier lid than older MacBook generations and the casing is made from a single piece of polycarbonate for improved strength. The underside has a soft touch finish (again like the last gen model), and that keeps it firmly on your desk. The bottom panel is affixed with 8 tiny philips head screws; remove it and you have access to everything-- hard drive, 2 SODIMM RAM slots, the optical drive and the tiny motherboard. Unlike the MacBook Pro 15", the MacBook has a single fan inside rather than two.
Bottom cover removed for access to all components. The black rectangle is the battery, the hard drive is beside it, the optical drive is above the the 2 RAM slots are just above the hard drive.
What's new from the last gen MacBook? Apple bumped the CPU and GPU so they match the 2010 MacBook Pro 13". While the CPU increase is modest from the older MacBook unibody model, moving from the NVIDIA 9400M to the NVIDIA 320M makes all the difference in the world, especially if you're into gaming or use apps that make use of the GPU (Photoshop et al.). The new MacBook gets a higher capacity "10 hour" battery that's still sealed inside under the bottom cover. While manufacturer estimates for battery life are unabashedly optimistic, in our tests the 2010 MacBook is good for 7 hours of use when surfing the web, playing some YouTube video with Flash 10.1 beta that uses the GPU, working on Office documents and checking email. That's excellent compared to most Windows laptops on the market with similar CPUs and screen sizes.
The bottom is affixed with 8 philips head screws.
In all other respects, the MacBook looks a little weak compared to its Windows brethren when it comes to hardware specs. These days a grand gets you an Intel Core i5 CPU and 4 gigs of RAM and a similar GPU. We've all heard of the "Mac tax"; that extra you pay for the pleasure of running Mac OS, and that is indeed part of the deal. Do you want to run Mac OS for its fluidity and near stranger relationship with viruses and driver update maladies? You pay for a Mac. But there's more: as with higher end machines like the HP Envy and upscale Sony Vaio models, you're paying for chic design, superb build quality and an excellent display.
The MacBook is no longer relegated to the bargain bin among Apple notebooks, and the gloss LED display is very color saturated and reasonably bright, though not as bright as our MacBook Air's display. Viewing angles, particularly side viewing angles are excellent. It's as good as Sony's XBrite displays and it beats $1,000 Windows laptops for display quality. Still it hurts when you have to live with 2 measily USB ports and no HDMI, though at least HDMI with both audio and video out is an option now via 3rd party Mini DisplayPort to HDMI adapters. While the MacBook Pro has an ambient light sensor that can adjust display brightness, the MacBook lacks this feature, and that's one omission we prefer since the Pro's ambient light sensor tends to drive us mad.
The huge glass multi-touch trackpad is still unique to Mac notebooks. Yes, there are plenty of multi-touch trackpads on Windows notebooks, and some like the Envy's, even copy the button-less design. Sadly none of them work nearly as well as the MacBook's. It's so easy to use, so intuitive it almost kills my desire for a touch screen. The chiclet style keyboard is one of the better on the laptop market, and being white, it's easier to see in the dark. That said, we miss the backlit Pro keyboards.
Video of the 2010 MacBook
Here's a short video of the MacBook so you can see it in 360 view.
We ran Geekbench 2.0 64 bit on the MacBook upgraded to 4 gigs of RAM and it fared similarly to the 13" 2010 MacBook Pro, as expected. Going from 2 to 4 gigs of RAM increased the overall score by 100 points in our tests. Unfortunately, Geekbench doesn't test the graphics subsystem, so the real improvements over the last gen MacBook, graphics, won't show here.
The superior GPU in the new MacBook is one of the strongest reasons to upgrade from an older MacBook, though we're bummed that Apple is still stingy with the VRAM-- the NVIDIA 320M gets only a paltry 256 megs of dedicated memory. That seems a few years out of date compared to Windows notebooks. Still, when running Mac OS it's more than enough for speedier window opening and better graphics performance in video and photo apps that use the GPU. If you attach a very large, high resolution display, the low VRAM and introductory-level discrete GPU do take a toll on performance though. The MacBook doesn't have switchable graphics where the machine switches between Intel integrated and dedicated graphics like the larger MacBook Pro models. It's all NVIDIA all the time.
If the MacBook doesn't have enough horsepower for your needs, moving up to the 13" MacBook Pro won't help matters. The base level 13" MacBook Pro performs identically to the 2010 MacBook and the $1,499 stepped-up 13" model only slightly improves CPU performance. Unfortunately for those of you who want the portability of a 13" but need more power, you'll have to move up to the 15" MacBook Pro with an Intel Core i5 CPU (starting price $1,799).
The machine has Apple's Mini DisplayPort (what have they got against HDMI?). That means you can use a variety of $29 adapters to connect to VGA, DVI and Dual-link DVI (the Apple 30" Cinema Display) monitors and HDMI via 3rd party adapters. The Dual-link adapter for the 30" display will actually set you back a painful $99, but at least you can do it. Gone are the days when MacBook's were intentionally limited to smaller external monitors.
Audio out is still the combined 3.5mm jack that's compatible with VoIP headsets and Apple's iPhone headset. The jack does support digital output, and there are the usual built-in mic, iSight camera and decent stereo speakers.
Like all Intel Macs, the MacBook can run Windows via Bootcamp (where you select which OS you want to use when you boot the Mac) or virtual environments like Parallels that run Windows in a window on Mac OS. The 2010 MacBook supports Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7 including 64 bit versions via Bootcamp. Windows 7 runs very well on this Mac which is as fast a machine as the recently dethroned Sony Vaio Z running a Core2 Duo. While we wouldn't throw Crysis at this Mac, it's more than capable of playing Warcraft and even Call of Duty Modern Warfare with effects turned down or off. In our 3D gaming tests, frame rates were 30% improved over the last gen MacBook with the NVIDIA 9400M.
The MacBook uses the same MagSafe charger port and connector as the MacBook Air and it comes with a 60 watt world charger.
If you want Mac OS (and we can't blame you), and are on a budget, the MacBook is Apple's most affordable notebook. It's attractive, has a colorful and bright LED backlit display that's a great improvement over pre-unibody MacBook models and the updated graphics give the machine enough punch for light gaming. It's a fast and responsive machine whether running Windows 7 or Mac OS X, and the multi-touch trackpad is superb. If you're not wed to Mac OS, there are certainly compelling Windows laptops in the same price range with better specs, but few have the Mac's build quality.
We do live in terror of the pure white finish that's scratchable and can stain. If you're rough on your computers, the MacBook unibody won't likely stay glossy and pretty for long. It is fairly impervious to dents and it is easy to wipe and clean though. Still, we wish Apple would find a way to toughen up the finish or move on to another one altogether (old black macbook, we miss you).
Our advice? If you can afford $200 more, get the 13" MacBook Pro. You get so much more for that small sum including a durable metal casing, twice the RAM, a backlit keyboard, FireWire 800 and an SD card slot. Heck, upgrading the MacBook the RAM to 4 gigs alone will cost your around $120. The only drawback with the Pro version is the heat transfer through the bottom and to your lap-- it gets very hot while the non-Pro model stays cool.
Pro: Good performance, very attractive and different, lovely gloss display, fantastic trackpad, very good chiclet keyboard, quiet and cool. Much more powerful than old generation pre-unibody MacBooks, can support large monitors.
Con: The MacBook looks a bit weak compared to the slightly more expensive MacBook Pro 13". Casing can scratch, battery isn't swappable.
Display:13.3" LED backlit display, 1280 x 800 resolution. NVIDIA GeForce 320M graphics with 256 megs VRAM. Has Mini DisplayPort for video out (requires adapter to plug into monitors and projectors). Supports mirroring and extended desktops with monitors up to 2560 x 1600 resolution.
Ion rechargeable, 63.5 Wh, "10 hour" battery. Battery is sealed inside computer body, though it's accessible if you remove the computer's bottom cover. MagSafe charging port, 60W world charger.
Core2 Duo P8600 processor. 2 gigs DDR3 PC-8500, 1066MHz RAM, has 2 SODIMM slots. Apple sells it with a max of 4 gigs RAM, but there's no reason it shouldn't upgrade to 8 gigs via two 4 gig RAM modules.
Drives: 250 gig, 5400rpm SATA drive. Dual layer DVD burner (SuperDrive).
x 9.12 x 1.08 inches. Weight: 4.7 pounds.
Camera:iSight webcam and unidirectional mic.
in stereo speakers, mic and 3.5mm stereo headphone/mic combo
jack with digital audio out.
Networking:Gigabit Ethernet, Integrated
WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n and Bluetooth 2.1 +EDR.
Software:Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard. Apple's iLife 09 application suite (iPhoto, iMovie, GarageBand and iPhoto), QuickTime, Safari web browser, Mac mail, contacts and calendar applications.
Ports:Two USB ports, Mini DisplayPort, Ethernet RJ-45, combined audio in/out 3.5mm jack and Kensington lock slot.