Apple MacBook Review for 2.0GHz White Color Version (pics, specs)

by Dazzla Reads (252,588)

by Darryl Ponting, England

Key Specs:

  • 2.0GHz Intel Core Duo
  • 100GB 5400 RPM Hard Drive
  • 2GB 667MHz DDR2 RAM (upgraded from stock amount)
  • Intel GMA950
  • 13.3″ Glossy Widescreen (1280 x 800)

First impressions

One thing I noticed about the Apple MacBook which wasn’t entirely apparent from all the photos I’d seen swarming the net was the contrast between the glossy white and the matte grey of the inside. Everything I’d seen so far suggested a difference far more subtle if at all! In reality the difference is pretty large and I’m not too sure if I’m keen on it yet. I was extremely close to going for the Blackbook but common sense prevailed, the 100 or so difference meant an extra 1GB of RAM which was far more useful. Besides, I’ve seen the way my Navy Nintendo DS Lite and my Logitech Midnight Black MX1000 mouse pick up fingerprints, and I despise dust and dirt!

The texture is very nice, smooth to the touch but not glossy, a lot of people have mentioned the lip at the bottom of the macbook where just below the trackpad meets the glossy surface. There’s been suggestions that it’s quite sharp and it can cut into your wrist when typing. The way my hands rested when typing meant my wrist never got near the edge and even when it does it’s not sharp enough to cut it, it’s a non-issue for me.

Build quality

The MacBook is an extremely sturdy laptop, I compared it with a Dell at work and an Acer at home. The Dell (although it is around 2 years old) creaked all over the place, it doesn’t help that there’s flaps and slots all over the place. With the Dell you could also press the back of the screen and see the results on the LCD, as many of you would’ve done at some point. With the Macbook there wasn’t a hint of shimmering, I dare not press it harder! Another aspect of the Macbook I like is the port arrangement, the lines it leaves are so clean with 6 ports on the left hand side towards the back and that’s it. You have the tiny IR sensor for Front Row on the front and the slot loading superdrive. By its very nature there’s less room for creaking and less weak points. On the one hand you could argue that its lack of expansion slots are a downside, but personally I’d rather have it just the way it is, I’ve not seen a well implemented expansion card slot outside of Apple.


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Heat issues? What heat issues….

Yes everyone has heard the horror stories regarding the Macbook Pro and when the Macbook came out everyone feared the worst. I’m not going to comment on people ripping apart their Macbook and reapplying thermal paste, people yanking out bits of plastic they deem extra.  I’m just going to let you know how my Macbook is. Under normal load it’s not even warm to the touch, the whole of the surface where the keyboard lies is cool to the touch all over. Under normal load the fans don’t even come on, the Macbook is absolutely silent. Under normal load I hear no whine, moos or anything of the kind. Perhaps I’m lucky, but more than likely I’m the norm, it’s the few exceptions which are plastered all over the net portraying some sort of horror story. Under full load the fans come on but they’re not intrusive, it’s still quieter than my iMac, the rear left near the Escape key gets warm but not hot. Running CoreDuoTemp displays an idle temp of around 40-50 with it between 70 and 80 on full load, these numbers are well within the operating spec of a 100 degrees maximum (Core Duo spec sheet section 3.2).

Expandability

This is one of the first Apple laptops I can remember that has such ease of use with regards to replacing the hard drive. After taking the battery out you have 3 small (and I mean small, glasses screw small) screws to undo and an L shaped bracket comes out, one side revealing the 2 memory slots and the other revealing a slide out SATA 2.5″ hard drive. I was tempted initially to stick with the standard hard drive and buy a 160GB Seagate perpendicular hard drive until I realized they don’t offer it in SATA yet. The second option was a 100GB 7200 RPM drive but ultimately it was still cheaper to upgrade to 100GB from Apple and I couldn’t be bothered to buy an enclosure for the redundant hard drive Apple supplied (I couldn’t not use it!).

Trackpad and its features

The trackpad is fortunate in that it’s inherited many of the nice features of its (far bigger) 17″ brother (and in a hacked up pre 10.4.7 kind of way its 15″ brother too). Within OS X I’m never found wanting a second mouse button, I’ve taken a quick video to hopefuly demonstrate how the right clicking works on the trackpad as well as the scrolling. There’s 2 ways to right click:

  1. You can tap 2 fingers on the trackpad itself
  2. You can have 2 fingers on the trackpad whilst pressing the single trackpad button

I personally find myself just tapping with 2 fingers to right click because I’m a tapper, as a result of this I prefer this trackpad implementation to the traditional 2 button trackpad. I used to find myself tapping the trackpad for a regular click then moving down to the right click when needed. This way I can get my clicking and secondary clicking all out of the trackpad.

Video : Trackpad in action 680KB



Here’s the option to enable the two fingered tapping:


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Scrolling is another area that I feel the Macbook (and Pros) excel, I’ve read people call it clunky and unwieldy but I love how simple it is. In a similar fashion to right clicking you just place 2 fingers on the trackpad and move in any direction, it’s not strictly left/right and strictly up/down you can scroll diagonally throughout 360 degrees. Again I’ve included a video to demonstrate.

Video : Trackpad scrolling 800KB



When it comes to performance with scrolling (and window resizing) OS X started at the lowest it could possibly get, with each new ($129.99) update it’s brought massive performance boosts in this area but with my iMac I still felt it had a step to go before being slick and snappy. The Macbook makes this final jump with scrolling and window resizing being stupidly fast, everything I’ve thrown at it has been instant (apart from PowerPC apps via Rosetta).

Video : Window resizing 2.2MB

 

Video : Safari launch speed 364KB



That keyboard…

There are two kinds of people out there, those who like laptop style keyboards and those who don’t. If you fall into the latter category then I don’t think you’ll like the Macbook keyboard at all. If on the other hand you do then I think you’ll love it. I fall into the camp that loves laptop style keyboards, I love the reduced amount of travel compared to regular keyboards, I love how quiet they are compared to regular keyboards and I love Macbook keyboard. If I have one gripe it’s that the enter key is a little too small, initially I found myself missing it and hitting the ] or the key sat next to it. I’ve got used to it now but it’s worth mentioning.


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Aperture and the Pro apps

One of the reasons I bought this laptop was to take it with me on holiday in July, I wanted to be able to run Aperture on it when I was away to organize and touch up my photos. This has been a sticking point and a huge topic of discussion for many people because there’s a huge demand for a small form factor Pro laptop. The Macbook isn’t it, not only because of the lack of dedicated GPU but because of size. At over 5 lbs and with the dimensions it is, it’s not the 12″ Powerbook replacement many were after. Regardless, I bought it for that because that’s what I need right now. If I had the option of a <4 lbs 12.1″ Apple Macbook Pro then I would’ve snapped it up in an instant. Still, they didn’t so this is what we have, how’s the performance on the “Pro” apps?

In Final Cut Studio the performance so far has been pretty good, here’s the link to the Creative Mac benchmarks and they’re pretty favorable. In Final Cut Pro rendering it was alongside the Dual 2.0GHz G5, in Motion it was faster in 3 out of the 4 tests and in Compressor it was faster in 3 out of the 4 tests. Now as time moves on and Final Cut Studio evolves there’s no telling how much of it they’ll shift onto the GPU, in which case the Macbook starts hitting its weak point. But for the time being the very fact that a 899 laptop beats out a 1399 (excluding screen) Dual 2.0GHz G5 is pretty darn good.

I found no similar benchmarks for Aperture so I fired it up. The first thing I hit was the resolution warning, a dialog pops up when you try and run Aperture saying it doesn’t meet the resolution requirements (1280 x 854). With Aperture 1.1.1 you have the option of either just running Aperture or quitting. Having previously used the program on a 1680 x 1050 20″ iMac it did feel a little cramped at first, where on the iMac you can edit photos within the window you don’t really have that luxury on the Macbook, full screen is really the only way. Browsing through the library and doing the basic tasks like white balance etc are pretty quick, but when you get into anything more than that you do notice that it’s doing some pretty intensive work. Watch the video and you’ll see how using the crop and straighten tool isn’t quite as instant as you’d expect. I’d say it was on par with my iMac with the basics and slightly slower for the rest so you know with a dedicated GPU it’s simply going to be faster.



The Macbook certainly isn’t a work horse for Aperture, it’s not intended to be but for those hankering after the smallest laptop Apple offers I’d say it just about passes for a mobile Aperture workstation. There’s certainly room in Apple’s lineup for a proper small form factor Pro laptop regardless of what they (publicly) say, I imagine somewhere along the line when Merom kicks in and Apple learn all their lessons from their first generation of Intel laptops we’ll see that hole filled in their lineup.

Video : Aperture in action 1 880KB



Video : Aperture in action 2 3MB



Magsafe

Unlike others I’m not one who’s proclaiming this as a stroke of genius, I guess that’s because I’ve been fortunate to never have tripped on a power lead. It’s certainly a nicely engineered feature and I appreciate having it but I’ve never been unlucky enough to require it. For those who don’t know, Magsafe is a magnetic power lead.  The idea is if someone trips on the lead it’ll unplug itself sparing your laptop the fall. If you pull on it parallel to the laptop then the lead might as well be permanently bonded to the laptop, it’s almost irremovable, but pull it at any sort of angle and it’ll come straight out. Great in theory but I wonder if it’ll work as nicely in practice, I’d rather not test to find out, you’ll have to make do with my nicely controlled videos of it in action :-)

Video : Magsafe disconnect 372KB



Video : Magsafe connect 224KB




Boot Camp VS Parallels… FIGHT!

I’ve got to say that Boot Camp is a stroke of genius on Apples behalf, they’ve added a safety net which has been holding many people back from switching, just one extra thing made possible by the switch to Intel. As with many people there are certain Windows applications that simply aren’t replaceable by anything OS X has to offer, in the past we’ve had to make do by either buying a cheap Windows box or using Virtual PC (or equivalent). We now have the luxury of Virtualization and running Windows natively. For me the one app I can’t make do without is Visio (in combination with Harnware so Omnigraffle or something similar isn’t an option), before I went down the road of setting up my laptop just the way I was going to have it it was experiment time.

The first application on my laptop was Parallels Desktop RC2, I assigned the machine 512 MB RAM, enabled Virtualization and let it fly by installing Windows XP. The first thing that struck me was the speed, I’d been used to Virtual PC and it’s 90 minute Windows install (at the minimum!) but this flew through it as fast as it would being native, once at the desktop my expectations were brought down with a bump, the GUI felt a little sluggish which is just what I’d feared. One thing I didn’t realize was that Parallels has its own set of OS tools which you install in the virtual machine just like its competitors. After doing this there was a great, great difference in responsiveness. I proceeded to install Office 2003 because this was the test to see if I could get away with just Parallels or if I’d actually have to dual boot to get what I wanted. Word and Excel were good, I wouldn’t say fast and I wouldn’t say native speed because I’ve since used it on Boot Camp and it’s simply not as fast. Could you happily use it on a day to day basis? Damn right. Is it stupidly faster than all other Virtual PC solutions on the Mac before? Again, damn right. When it came to Visio though and opening some sample files I use there was a tiny bit of lag in moving around the drawing. It probably wouldn’t bother me but I like working at 100 MPH, making mistakes and fixing them rather then plodding along. As a result I wasn’t happy enough using it knowing I could get blazing performance via Boot Camp. For 90% of the things people need Windows for I’d say it was perfect and at the moment it’s a $39.99 pre order with the final product costing $79.99 now, that’s a bargain in my eyes but something to consider if you don’t already own Windows.

Parallels Desktop

Boot Camp was a bit of a shot out of the dark from Apple, for weeks the multi OS boot competition had been gathering steam and no sooner had it been solved and the prize money stumped up had Apple released their (far more elegant) solution. Boot Camp does a very slick job of holding your hand to partition your hard drive and install Windows. The setup will give you a graphical representation of the HD split by a slider you can grab, you simply resize to your liking. Personally I fancied more of a play! I actually wanted 3 partitions, something Boot Camp can’t offer. I wanted XP, OS X and a third partition to store all my media; this third partition would be visible by both with shared music, movie, pictures and desktop folders. I followed this tutorial to create my 3 partitions and it worked without a hitch. I decided on the media partition being HFS+ and using Macdrive on Windows rather than FAT32. Believe it or not one of the reasons for this was FAT32 volumes always appear in uppercase in OS X and I couldn’t stand that.

So, does Vista work?

If you’re following any of the steps I mention below, don’t blame me if you hose your OS X install or your Macbook catches fire…

Taking it one step further than running the upgrade advisor on XP via Boot Camp (which interestingly gives good results, the Macbook is Aero Glass capable for those who want to know) I decided to give Vista Beta 2 a try. The install wasn’t as flawless as the XP install, I did a fresh install as opposed to an upgrade and there were a few hoops to jump through. First step was to boot from the Vista Beta 2 CD and delete the 200MB EFI partition then proceed to install Vista on the partition created by Boot Camp. After you restart midway through installation there is an error message related to Winload.exe, you have to boot from the CD again but this time choose recovery options, the installer will detect a repairable partition and offer to repair it. Repair, restart, continue installation like normal. Once you get to the desktop you have the issue of quite a lot of unrecognized hardware, I decided to give the driver CD that Boot Camp creates a try. The installation of the drivers actually completes but there’s still quite a lot of unrecognized hardware, Vista reports that one of the Intel GPU components isn’t installed correctly and although I could run at the native 1280 x 800 resolution it was choking on the performance advisor getting only a 2 which is less than when the advisor is run on Windows. As a result (I imagine) there was no Glass, sound was also broken. Performance generally felt ok but as a test it wasn’t really successful, I’d lost patience and I wanted to get my OS X/XP setup finalized to I could get to the setup I wanted.


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XP on Boot Camp, OS X and my shared partition

Performance of XP on Boot Camp is as you’d expect it, blazing fast, it is a dual core 2.0 GHz chip with 2GB of 667 MHz memory after all. After installing Macdrive and picking up my third HFS+ partition I simply used TweakUI to relocate my My Music, My Movies, My Pictures and Desktop folder to the HFS+ partition. I’d made the 60GB partition my Home folder with Netinfo Utility in OS X so the 2 operating systems shared the media folders. This in my eyes is exactly the type of setup I imagined and wanted and I’m more than happy with how it’s worked out. The only 2 applications (excluding TweakUI) I installed were Office 2003 and Office 2007, performance on both was instant as you’d expect. One thing I’m yet to try is anything taxing on the GPU e.g. games. I don’t think I ever will, my DS Lite and 360 have that area covered but from the benchmarks I’ve seen around the place I wouldn’t get my hopes up.

The drivers CD which Boot Camp created includes drivers for everything apart from the IR sensor and in a way the iSight (gets installed but it doesn’t work). Bluetooth, wireless and video all work as expected. One of the best features of the laptop which is so perfect in OS X is all of a sudden crippled in XP, the trackpad. You don’t get any scrolling, no advanced right click tapping, nothing. Straight away I’d suggest you install AppleMouse, a utility that I set to run at startup which gives you the ability to use ctrl + click to right click. Another thing which is worth mentioning is there is no delete key on the Macbook, there’s a backspace but no delete. This means no ctrl + alt + del, although for the task manager there’s other ways around it for users who need to ctrl + alt + del to logon there’s not. Fortunately there are quite a few utilities to remap the keyboard. I personally used a small utility called remapkey.exe which is part of the Windows Server 2003 resource kit. I changed the right hand Apple button to the del key, normally it’s the Windows key but there’s already one on the left hand side so it was spare.

Video : Boot Camp in action 4.4MB



Download : RemapKey utility 176KB

Performance

Always handy in a review, there are many many reviews already out there with every type of benchmark imaginable so I’m only including the ones I felt relevant to me. First up is video encoding. I do loads of MPEG2 encoding and MPEG4 encoding so first up is encoding some h.264.

h.264 Encoding Test Setup:

Handbrake 0.7.1 (Universal)
Lost In Translation DVD (gotta test it out on something decent)
Chapter 5 (03:55)
Video – 1000 kbps variable bitrate
Sound – 128 kbps
h.264, x264 main profile
720*384

Here are the results:


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This was a huge boost to me as this is one of the most frequent activities I perform. The dual core really comes into its own when video encoding is concerned.

High Definition Video Playback:

Before purchasing the Macbook I’d read good things in regards to HD playback, the GMA950 was actually pretty competent when it comes to playback of 720p and even 1080p material. To test this out I tried the following from Apples HD gallery:

BBC Motion Gallery: Africa (720p)
Warren Miller’s Higher Ground (1080p)

The 720p video played in a window and full screen without dropping a single frame, impressive I’m sure you’ll agree. Even better than that was the performance of the 1080p clip, playing this on my iMac brought it to a crawl with the clip averaging around 11-15 FPS. On the Macbook this wasn’t the case, obviously it can’t be played 1:1 in a window so I tried it in a window filling the screen and full screen, both times it averaged around 20-24 FPS but only by looking at the movie info could I tell, it was a very smooth experience.

General GUI performance:

I’ve already commented on the fantastic window resizing performance earlier on in the review so I thought I’d just include a little video clip of Expose in action, the GPU flies through it without a hint of stutter.

Video : Expose in action 1.1MB




Photoshop Test:

I’ve tested it in every way I can imagine by using a standard test borrowed from the MacNN forums. The test is as follows:

1 – Download the test image from here
2 – Save it to the computer and then open it up in Photoshop
3 – From there please apply a ‘radial blur’ with the settings at:

Amount = 100
Blur Method = Spin
Quality = Best

To get the time you can either use a stopwatch or use the timing facility in Photoshop.

I will be including the following figures from myself:

Photoshop CS2 via Windows XP in Parallels Desktop RC2
Photoshop CS2 via Windows XP in Boot Camp
Photoshop CS2 Natively on the 2.1GHz G5 iMac
Photoshop CS2 via Rosetta on the Macbook
Photoshop CS2 via Rosetta on the Macbook (after it’s cached the instruction set)

I’ll also include other figures as a reference point, here’s the results:


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The figures don’t really tell the whole story, for example it was faster under Parallels then under Rosetta but the responsiveness was greater in OS X than in the virtual machine. Boot Camp is a different story but I wouldn’t go as far as restarting the Macbook to run Photoshop CS2, Rosetta is perfectly fine. The reason I included 2 Rosetta benchmarks in the test was because I’ve read that OS X caches the PowerPC instructions, if you’re doing the same PowerPC stuff over and over again (e.g. this filter) it speeds up greatly, load times are also reduced with Photoshop CS2 going from around 6-7 bounces to 3 bounces on the second launch.

Speaker, Wifi and battery life

I thought I’d briefly touch on this, the speakers on the Macbook aren’t actually visible initially, they’re hidden within the hinge on the far left and far right. The sound quality is adequate but nothing more, sound via headphones and external speakers though is a different matter with the quality being exactly as good as you’d expect. The WiFi range on the Macbook is extremely good, sat in my garden around 50-60 ft away from the Linksys router I got 3 out of 4 bars, even picking up neighbours WiFi from around 80 ft away.

Apple claim up to 6 hours for the Macbook but I’ve gotta say that must be with the screen on minimum, everything throttled and no work being done. Browsing the net, listening to iTunes and playing around with Aperture gave me 3:15, turn WiFi off and I get an estimated time of over 4:30. I’m glad we’ve arrived at the stage where 3-4 hours of battery life is merely average, I remember my VAIO about 7-8 years ago having around 90 minutes of battery life. Here’s to the next 7-8 years and 12-15 hours of battery life!

Conclusion

The Macbook angered a lot of people, but I think it just happened to anger the most vocal of Apple fans. I feel this laptop is going to be huge and one of Apples biggest sellers, it doesn’t “Complete the family” like Apple says, there’s still room for a small form factor Pro laptop and the Macbook isn’t it. For the rest of us though I think it’s fantastic value for money. I have a few gripes about the laptop with the first being the most obvious: the GPU. Yes the majority of users aren’t going to notice but it stinks of cheap for the sake of it by Apple. I imagine their margins could’ve allowed for a X1300, heck even something as low as a X300 would’ve sufficed, it’s still better then what we have now. From what I’ve read the GMA950 is an extra $4 over the regular 945 chipset, with prices like that it’s not hard to understand why Apple went down this route. All being said I’m happy, very happy with the Macbook. I’ve previously owned a 12″ Powerbook and I feel this improves on it in every way which mattered to me, I also think it looks a lot better!

That being said, when Apple announce their 12.1″ widescreen, 0.8″ thin, 2.0GHz Merom, X1400 GPU with 160GB perpendicular HD I’ll be first in line whatever the cost, ready to dump all my impressions on you lot!




And here’s a few more pics to finish it up…


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