Single page Print

The hardware
Before we get started, let's have a quick look at what kind of hardware the new MacBook is packing:

Processor Intel Core 2 Duo 2.0GHz (3MB L2 cache, 1066MHz FSB)
Memory 2GB DDR3-1066
Chipset/graphics Nvidia GeForce 9400M
Display 13.3" TFT with 1280x800 resolution and LED backlight
Storage 2.5" 160GB Serial ATA hard drive (5,400 RPM)
8x slot-loading SuperDrive (DVD+/-R DL, DVD+/-RW, CD-RW)
Audio Stereo HD audio via Realtek codec
Built-in microphone
Ports 2 USB 2.0
1 mini DisplayPort
1 RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet
1 combined analog/digital stereo output
1 combined analog/digital line in
Communications 802.11n Wi-Fi
Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
Input devices Full-sized keyboard
Glass multi-touch trackpad
Camera iSight webcam
Dimensions 12.78" x 8.94" x 0.95" (325 x 227 x 24 mm)
Weight 4.5lbs (2.04kg)
Battery 45-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery

That's a pretty well-rounded feature set for a notebook these days—especially with the GeForce 9400M, which elegantly rolls core logic and surprisingly decent graphics processing features into a single chip. The Core 2 Duo is one of the latest 45nm models from Intel's Centrino 2 lineup, too, so it mixes power efficiency and great clock-for-clock performance.

The only sour note in my view is the mini-DisplayPort connector, which requires adapters to hook up to... well, pretty much anything except Apple's own 24" LED-backlit desktop monitor. DVI and VGA adapters both cost $29, and the dual-link DVI one will set you back $99. That's regrettable, although I should point out that the first-gen MacBook featured a mini-DVI port that also needed adapters for pretty much everything. Fans of the old MacBook may lament the disappearance of FireWire, as well, but that's not a major drawback unless you really must use a 13.3" laptop for video editing.

You might interject that those specs don't really justify the $1,299 price tag. I won't argue for a minute that Apple products don't carry premiums, but the MacBook seems like one of the least marked up. Think about it: perks like LED display backlighting, a slot-loading DVD burner, 802.11n Wi-Fi, a 45nm processor, and competent graphics usually come as options in other notebooks. Price out a comparable Windows system with the same features, and you may be surprised to find the price tag climbing well over $1,000. I tried it with Dell's XPS M1330, and the price rose to $1,344 with a similar feature set (albeit with a 2.1GHz processor, 3GB of RAM, and 250GB hard drive—Dell didn't offer other choices).

The difference here is simply that Apple doesn't let users opt out of the fancy extras. Whether you agree with that approach depends largely on your needs and budget, but don't go thinking Apple is robbing all of its customers blind. You can make a pretty compelling case for the MacBook's unique industrial design, too.

Instead of going with a pretty plastic enclosure, Apple has clad the new MacBook entirely with aluminum. Not only that, but it has carved the top part of the enclosure (including the palm rest, keyboard holes, and side ports) out of a single aluminum brick. That removes the need for a separate internal "cage" to ensure structural integrity, and it means the MacBook doesn't creak, bend, or budge at all when you pick it up or rest your hands on it to type. You can't say the same for most other notebooks, including Lenovo's notoriously rugged ThinkPad laptops.

I don't know if Apple uses the same aluminum brick-carving techniques to make the display lid and bottom panels, but both of them are made of equally sturdy-feeling aluminum. That's an especially reassuring trait for the lid, since the MacBook's LED-backlit display is very, very thin (about 6 mm by my count). The weakest link of the bunch might be the removable panel that conceals the battery and hard drive. It's not completely flush with the other bottom panel on my MacBook, and there's an ever-so-slight amount of horizontal play that allows it to wiggle back and forth a tad. I've seen users cry and moan about this issue on forum threads, but judging by the design of the retention mechanism, I don't see any way there couldn't be at least a small amount of wiggle. Fault or slight design weakness, I can't say I care much, especially since this is the only part of the MacBook that has any play at all.

Despite its thinness and slight wiggle, the removable battery/drive cover feels very sturdy and doesn't flex under pressure. You can easily pop it off by pushing and then pulling a small lever above it, and doing so reveals the battery and hard drive, both outfitted with transparent plastic tabs to make removal easier. Apple has etched instructions for upgrading memory on the inside of the panel, but don't look for SO-DIMM slots under the battery or HDD—you'll have to unscrew the other bottom panel and expose the whole motherboard to access them.

Part of me likes the concept of having an easy-to-remove cover under a laptop to upgrade memory, but practically speaking, I've only upgraded my ThinkPad's RAM once in four years. I may decide to cram 4GB of memory in the MacBook one day, but I don't expect to have to make that kind of upgrade on a regular basis. Mind you, I may never replace the hard drive, either, and Apple has made that really easy to upgrade for some reason. Perhaps it's betting users will want to slip in a solid-state drive once prices go down.

What's really striking about the folded MacBook is just how little sticks out. Turn over your typical Windows laptop, and you'll usually see an array of grooves, bumps, panels, vents, and labels, including the all-important Windows product key sticker. By contrast, the MacBook's bottom panel is almost as bare and elegant as the top one. Some might complain about form over function, but aside from the hidden DIMM slots, I don't see any major drawbacks with Apple's approach. And I find it refreshing to see a well-designed laptop with an underside that doesn't look like an afterthought.