Apple MacBook Core 2 Duo Review

by Reads (275,491)

by Buddy Sun, England

Introduction:

Studying Computer Science at Imperial College London has given me the opportunity to use a wide range of Operating Systems. In the past year, I have both casually played with and professionally worked with Linux, UNIX, Windows and Mac OS X. In my personal opinion, Mac OS X impressed me the most with its logical structure; powerful hardware drawn graphics and effects; and security and stability.

Therefore, I did not hesitate when Apple announced its Core 2 Duo MacBook, and ordered one the very same day.

Seeing as the only things different between the Core Duo and Core 2 Duo MacBooks are hardware related, this review will focus more on performance and benchmarks, and less on the design and other things that have remained the same.

Specifications of MacBook as reviewed:

  • 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
  • 1GB memory
  • 80GB hard drive
  • Double-layer SuperDrive

Reasons for switching:

Apart from being greatly impressed by the OS X Operating System, I have recently been on the look out for a more portable notebook solution. After having ceased to play computer games due to excessive workload issues, I began to notice how big and heavy my 15.4 inch Asus A6Va really was. Also, as my university course has been focusing more and more on UNIX based systems in the past year and sensing that the trend is not going to change, I began to develop the need for a UNIX based Operating System. Linux, of course, would be an obvious solution, but I often find the popular Open Source Operating System act particularly unfriendly towards me.

Of course, friends are always a great factor in influencing my purchasing decisions. A number of them own MacBooks or iBooks, Macbook Pros, and Mac Minis. Although the Macbook Pro and the Mac Mini are both excellent machines, I did not quite like the Macbook Pro as I did not fancy the feel of its keyboard, and I do not see the point of spending a few hundred pounds extra for a dedicated graphics card I would never use. I did not like the Mac Mini because it meant that I would have to carry around a spare monitor.

Feel free to contact me if you wish to hear all the other reasons that influenced my purchase decision.

Making the purchasing decision:

As a university student in the UK, I had access to discounts via the Apple Higher Education Store via the Apple website. Therefore, I decided to phone Apple and order through the phone to put their sales department to the test.

A cheery sounding sales person called Rod answered my call, who gave me the Higher Education discount after I told him I was from Imperial College. Note that the italic word does indeed mean what you think it means. I did not need to provide him with any proof of identity at all. But then again, I have heard that Apple do checks on the profiles of their customers during the few days before dispatch.

The Higher Education Discount meant that I only had to pay £755.50 for my MacBook as opposed to the usual price of £879. Other than the MacBook, I also ordered an HP Deskjet 5940 and the Brenthaven Edge 13.3″ Black Macbook case, which I might review at a future date if the demand for it arises.

Delivery via a Sailing Boat:

Due to the fact that I was buying on the release day (8 November 2006) of the Core 2 Duo MacBooks, delivery had to take a bit longer than usual. My purchase was to be dispatched on the 13th of November, five days from my order date. Sounds reasonable? Not quite, for there is a catch.

Having never previously purchased a Mac before, I had no notion of the Apple definition for the term ‘dispatched’. From my experience with other major retailers, ‘dispatched’ meant that the item is on its way from the retailer’s warehouse in the country you live in towards the address you specified. In Apple’s case, it meant that the item is on its way from Apple’s warehouse in China towards the address you specified. Of course, it’s no where near as straight forward as just a flight from China to your local airport. Apple first has to book the flight, go through some customs, fly the package to The Netherlands, where it goes through some more customs, chuck it on a truck, ship it to Denver, chuck it on another truck and ship it to your doorstep. Regardless, my machine arrived at my door more than two weeks after ordering.


I waited for this box for more than 2 weeks (view large image)


Contents of the box for those of you who are interested. That rectangular thing in the middle is the Macbook (view large image)

 

Looks, Build, and Jagged Edges:

What is there to say? The only thing that was upgraded in this MacBook was the CPU, superdrive, and the wireless network card. The Core 2 Duo MacBook looks and feels exactly the same as any of my friend’s older Core Duo MacBooks.

If you want my opinion, then I have to say that the Macbook is actually not as solid as it might seem at first.

The main build flaw would lie with its Optical Drive. The MacBook has a slot loading optical drive, as opposed to an ejecting drive, and when one of my friends tried to remove a CD that had a label stuck to it in his Macbook, the label caused the CD to get stuck in the drive. Eventually, he had to bring his machine to an Apple store, where they manually removed the disc.

Other than the optical drive, I for one am not used to the MacBook keyboard: the Apple CD Eject key has replaced the Delete key; the Return key is incredibly small, making me constantly miss and type ‘]’ instead. There is also no Ctrl or Alt or Fn key to the right of the space bar – instead there is an unexpected small second Return key.

Most likely due to the overuse of my Asus last year, the MacBook keyboard feels a bit loose. Compared to my solid Asus, the keys on this keyboard feel wobbly and are too light to type on. At least most keys do not seem to be significantly smaller than the keyboard on my 15.4-inch machine.

While we’re on the subject, let’s talk about jagged, sharp, unrounded edges on some notebooks that cut your wrists while you’re typing and slice your palm when using the track pad.

The Macbook seems to be one of those notebooks.

I think the paragraph above just about summed up how much pain I’m going through while typing this. I’m surprised Apple didn’t round these edges!


Sharp edges (view large image)

What’s a Card Reader? And other ports:

This was the main concern I had when purchasing this MacBook. The Macbook has no PC card slot, no built in memory card reader, no built in modem, and no VGA or DVI port (instead it has a mini DVI, which is totally useless until you purchase a converter for £15, £12 after Higher Education Discount, from an Apple retailer). It does have a proper Firewire 400 port and 2 USB 2.0 ports, but, being the peripheral lover that I am (see Additional Photos at the end of this review), this dilemma forced me to purchase quite some additional equipment – quite pricey equipment in most cases.

Within a week of getting my Mac, I had purchased: a mini-DVI to VGA converter (£12), an external mobile USB 2.0 4 port hub (£10) and the Logitech V270 wireless Bluetooth mouse (£30).

Did I mention that it only has 1 audio combo port for all Audio output?

The morale of this section would be that in most cases, the MacBook will be more expensive than it might seem at first.

Hot or Noisy:

Compared to my Asus, the Macbook is virtually silent! Even when I stressed the CPU, the pretty loud fans died down shortly after I had terminated the process.

The only other unwanted noise that I can think of would be the quiet clicks from the keyboard as you type, as the Hard Drive is absolutely silent.

Heat wise, the bottom of the Macbook and the bit above the keyboard (below the screen) do get hot, but the hand rests, keyboard and track pad remain cool throughout. The bottom of the Macbook does get hotter when stressed, sometimes so hot that it is no longer comfortable to place on my lap. However, the heat is bearable during lighter use, so it is possible to use it on journeys that have a lack of tables as long as you don’t start encoding some gigantic video file for more than a minute.

Below are some results of Temperature Monitor during various use cycles on the Macbook:

After 2 hours of casual use* on battery power

 

Casual use* in AC mode

 

When stressed

*Casual use = using Word in Rosetta, installing the occasional package all the while keeping iTunes and Safari running

Note that the MacBook does not under clock itself when in battery mode – it constantly uses SpeedStep instead, meaning your CPU clock speed will vary depending on the tasks you perform. This is reflected in the temperature results.

It seems that although the CPU can reach high temperatures in the MacBook, the temperature under the Macbook remain pretty cool. The big temperature difference between the CPU cores and heatsinks indicate that the fan on the MacBook is very effective. In fact, after I ran the application to stress the processor the fans died down after about only a minute.

The Macbook definitely has a more efficient cooling system than my Asus, and no, my MacBook does not moo.           

Dynamic Resolution:

One of the things that impressed me a lot on the PowerMacs at university was their ability to make a monitor seem much bigger than it actually was. Although this feature is less noticeable on my Macbook, the Mac OS X GUI is no doubt extremely impressive. Everything looks colourful, sharp and well contrasted. I find it absolutely amazing how much better the OS 10.4 GUI is compared to Windows XP.

Another reason to switch to Mac I suppose.


Desktop view (view large image)

 

Bluetooth 2.0:

I have always been a dedicated wired peripheral user. But, due to the lack of ports and other unimportant reasons, I had no choice but to switch some of my devices to Bluetooth.

The Macbook comes with Bluetooth 2.0, supporting ranges of up to 100 meters and speeds of up to 3Mbps.

That is all good, but connecting multiple Bluetooth devices to the Macbook still creates extreme interference between the devices, causing them to malfunction. This limited me to only connect one device via Bluetooth to the Mac at any one time, which is a bit disappointing (especially after spending extra to get those Bluetooth devices).

Intel HD Audio:

Maybe it’s just me, but the music powered into my head through my Creative earphones just sound so much better on my Mac than it did on my Asus or my Compaq and HP desktops!

The speakers are no different: the sounds from them are crisp and clear. Although not the loudest on the market, they do their job and are more than loud enough for someone like me, who will be using it in silent public areas most of the time.

Did I mention that it has separate volume settings depending on the devices connected? A total life safer for me!!

Performance and Benchmarks:

Does the Core 2 Duo Macbook really perform 25% better than the Core Duo Macbook? I for one had my doubts, so I decided to put my Macbook through various benchmark tests.  

 

Cinebench 9.5 Benchmark MacBook Core 2 Duo (1GB RAM) MacBook Core Duo (1GB RAM) Improvement of Core 2 Duo over Core Duo
Rendering (Single CPU) 331 CB-CPU 305 CB-CPU 8.5%
Rendering (Multiple CPU) 596 CB-CPU 550 CB-CPU 8.36%
Multiprocessor Speedup 1.80 1.80
Shading (CINEMA 4D) 407 CB-GFX 342 CB-GFX 19%
Shading (OpenGL Software Lighting) 1414 CB-GFX 1194 CB-GFX 18.4%
Shading (OpenGL Hardware Lighting) 1496 CB-GFX 1096 CB-GFX 36.5%
OpenGL Speedup 3.67 3.49 5.2%

 

I for one was quite surprised at the increase in OpenGL performance on the Core 2 Duo Macbook. The increase is not small either – a 19% increase in Cinema 4D Shading and an impressive 36.5% increase in Hardware Lighting. Now, this might seem tempting, but do remember that OpenGL does not perform very well in Mac OS X, so this does not mean that the Core 2 Duo Macbook will actually perform 30% better in games than the Core Duo Macbook.

The CPU results show a performance increase of about 9%. This is quite a bit lower than Apple’s 25% claim, but we shouldn’t let a single test cloud our judgement just yet.

xBench:

XBench Results MacBook Core 2 Duo (1GB RAM) MacBook Core Duo (1GB RAM) Improvement of Core 2 Duo over Core Duo
CPU Test Result 101.35 72.56 36%
Overall Score 107.91 91.86 15%

 

As my friend’s 2.0Ghz Core Duo Macbook with 1GB RAM scored 91.86 overall and 72.56 on the CPU test, it seems that the Core 2 Duo Macbook shows a 15% increase in overall performance and an impressive 36% increase in the CPU test.

So far, we have seen two tests with some pretty different results. Therefore, I thought it necessary to run a few additional tests in Boot Camp Windows.

3DMark05:

I was quite surprised that a GMA950 could rack up such a result. That score actually beats the 546 from my AMD 64 Desktop with 512MB RAM and an integrated ATI Radeon X200 graphics card.

 

3DMark05 Results MacBook Core 2 Duo (1GB RAM) MacBook Core Duo (1GB RAM) Improvement of Core 2 Duo over Core Duo
3DMark Score 636 564 12.8%

 

According to www.pcmweb.nl, a 2Ghz Core Duo Macbook with 1GB RAM got a 3DMark05 result of 564. This means that the Core 2 Duo Macbook shows a 12.8% increase in 3D performance, which is pretty nice.

PCMark05:

I tried to run PCMark on Boot Camp Windows, but either due to beta drivers or erroneous programming, PCMark kept complaining that I did not have Windows Media Player 10 installed (I didn’t, I had 11 installed instead) and it refused to give me a result.

Overall, it is clear that the Core 2 Duo Macbook shows at least an overall 9% increase in performance than its predecessor, the Core Duo Macbook, which in some tests went up to an impressive 36%.

Camera:

The iSight camera, despite being VGA, is of pretty high quality. The colours and refresh rate both seem much quicker than the cam built into my Asus, and the little indicator light is useful for discovering your hacker friend spying on you over MSN.

Rosetta Vs DVD on battery:

What better way is there to talk about battery than to put it to the test? I put my Core 2 Duo Macbook through various battery tests, all listed below:

A normal day at university test:

This test involved using the Macbook on battery power during lectures and tutorials at university, without plugging it in or shutting it down throughout. The Macbook is put to sleep mode when not active. When active, it operates at half screen brightness.

Time in sleep mode: 4 hours 21 minutes       

Time not in sleep mode: 159 minutes (2 hours 44 minutes)         

Total time: 7 hours

Marathon:

This test involved keeping the Macbook on with half screen brightness and a Bluetooth mouse connected, while doing tasks such as working in Word under Rosetta, running iTunes and browsing the web until the Macbook put itself to sleep due to power shortage.

Total time: 2 hours 45 minutes

DVD Marathon:

This test involved me chaining episodes of anime on the pretty impressive built in DVD Player in OS X in battery mode at half brightness until the Macbook put itself to sleep due to power shortage.

Total time: 3 hours 11 minutes

Gaming mode:

I am not going to bother to see how long the Macbook lasts under gaming simply because it is pointless. If you want to game on your Mac, get a Macbook Pro or iMac or Mac Pro. The Macbook and Mac Mini are not gaming machines. Live with it.

Interpretation of results:

I found the results to be very interesting. It seems that Rosetta is a pretty big battery hog because, as shown in the Marathon and DVD Marathon tests, running Word drains the battery quicker than running a DVD player application with a DVD spinning in your optical drive.

Seeing as I was also running Word almost constantly during the ‘A normal day at university test’, I think it’s safe to conclude that Sleep Mode in OS X does not drain the batty very much at all.

I suppose that I will have to wait until Universal binaries of Microsoft Office and Adobe Studio are released before I can fully experience the battery life on the Macbook.

Aside from that, more than 3 hours of DVD playback is pretty decent, especially at this brightness in my opinion.

Summary:

Although the Core 2 Duo Macbook is just a notch above its predecessor in terms of performance, it feels like it’s a generation ahead of my one-year-old Asus PC laptop. While I usually describe my Asus as being a Minotaur: well built, powerful and able enough to handle the most demanding things I throw at it in terms of brute strength, but can destroy you easily if you displease it; this Macbook would have to be described as a Pegasi: graceful, cooperative, but will only accept owners who can handle it with not just skill, but respect as well.

Pros:

  • Good overall build
  • High quality iSight camera
  • Excellent sound card
  • OS X >> Windows XP (with the exception of gaming)
  • A performance increase is always nice

Cons:

  • Standard delivery method is on a cart pulled by a mule. (Very slow, for those of you who don’t get it)
  • Rosetta
  • No PC card slot
  • No memory card reader
  • Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950

Conclusion:

As some of you might have noticed from earlier paragraphs, this is my first Mac. Therefore, having been a hardcore PC user for the past 13 years, I think I have the right to conclude that at this time of writing, Mac OS totally sweeps the floor with Windows, or any other desktop Operating System for that matter.

I have never before experienced such a simple to use, efficient, bug free and secure user interface. The most frustrating part during this review was when I had to Boot Camp into Windows and run the few benchmark tests. The driver installations, restarts and overall slowness of XP compared to OS 10.4 were utterly unbearable. The longing for OS X during that time was even more painful than these sharp uncut edges digging their way slowly into my wrists.

Additional Photos:

Macbook on my desk. And yes, that is a USB powered Lava Lamp. Proof that I love the wires (view large image)

 

 

Hey, I had to do it for the benchmarks ok? I had no choice (view large image)

Macbook on my ASUS (view large image)

Macbook beside my ASUS (view large image)

 


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