Apple’s lowest-end laptop, available for around £750, 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 laptops are now MacBook Pros. The MacBook is also the last in the lineup to retain the glossy white
plastic 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 aluminium Pros, don’t be fooled by its throw-back looks — inside, Apple’s done a good job of keeping the components on a par with its more expensive brothers. In fact, the white MacBook has comparable specs to the lowest-end 13-inch Pro. Its 2.13GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor is close to the Pro’s standard 2.26GHz one, and the Nvidia GeForce 9400M integrated graphics processor is the same one that’s in the Pro 13-inchers, so their gaming and media capabilities are comparable.
The polycarbonate body, as always, feels sturdy and well built, if thicker than the aluminium versions. The pleasingly minimalist glossy plastic exterior and matte white interior might also be more prone to staining and picking up scratches than the aluminium models. 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 those sported by pre-unibody Intel MacBooks.
Unsurprisingly, the raised keyboard is as good as it ever was, performing very well through extended writing sessions. The touchpad isn’t a clickable, button-free one like on the Pros, but it is capable of multitouch gestures. A single large button below the pad does its job well.
The 13.3-inch glossy LCD display offers a 1,280×800-pixel native resolution — standard for a screen of this size. This is also the same size and resolution as the screen of the 13-inch Pros. While this screen isn’t LED-backlit like the screens in the Pro line, we still found the brightness and colour to be very good for media playback and general gaming use.
The MacBook comes with two USB 2.0 ports, a mini-DVI port, a FireWire 400 port, and both a headphone and mic jack. For some, the older ports might be seen as an advantage: this is the last Apple laptop to feature FireWire 400, a port that once was key to digital video editing. For owners of older hard drives and camcorders, the throw-back port is a pleasing touch. Similarly, the display output is mini-DVI instead of mini DisplayPort, which is used on the Pro line. The two give pretty identical outputs, but finding mini-DVI adaptors is slightly easier and cheaper at the moment. Sadly, an SD card slot is a Pro-only feature.
For an extra £160, the 160GB hard drive can be upgraded to a maximum of 500GB — a first for any MacBook. The included 2GB of DDR2 RAM can be expanded up to 4GB (for an extra £70).
The 2.13GHz Core 2 Duo processor runs only slightly slower than the entry-level 13-inch Pro’s CPU, and is the same otherwise. In our multimedia benchmark tests, the MacBook ran only slightly slower than the new 13-inch Pro, and performed comparably in the iTunes and Photoshop tests.
Thanks to the 9400M GPU — shared with the Pro 13-inchers — the MacBook can hold its own as a general gaming machine, as long as you keep your expectations modest and resolutions low.
In 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 with more forgiving tasks, such as Web browsing and general office use. While the Pro line now has batteries that are claimed to offer longer life, they’re also non-removable. It’d be good to have boosted battery life, but being able to swap out batteries is a good consolation prize for those who choose the MacBook.