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Apple MacBook (Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz, NVIDIA GeForce 9400M)

>> Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Internally, the big news is an Nvidia chipset with improved integrated graphics, while the "unibody" aluminum chassis, the buttonless (or more accurately, all button) touch pad, and edge to edge glass on the LED-backlit display are the major physical changes on the outside. While the base model keeps the same $1,299 price (our review unit was the upgraded $1,599 version with a faster processor, a bigger hard drive, and backlit keyboard), you lose the FireWire port in the transition.

And the $1,299 model gets you a 2.0GHz Core 2 Duo, rather than the 2.4GHz CPU. The higher end model keeps the same 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU, but also costs $100 more. Both new MacBook models operate on a faster front side bus, (from 800MHz to 1066MHz) and move from DDR2 memory to DDR3. Even with the slower base model CPU and missing FireWire, the new MacBook represents both an impressive value and an impressive feat of engineering although it's hard to expect anything else from Apple's flagship computer product, which has been a consistent favorite for several years.

The most obvious changes are physical. The familiar white and black bodies have been replaced with an aluminum chassis that looks nearly identical to the new MacBook Pro, only smaller. The actual construction for both the new MacBook and MacBook Pro now follows the MacBook Air model, with a solid block of aluminum carved down, rather than a thin outer shell that has had support struts added to it.

The result is a lighter and thinner, yet stronger, chassis that feels more solid and substantial a notable feat, as the previous MacBook models were already extremely sturdy. Another notable new feature is a radically redesigned touch pad. This larger touch pad uses multi touch gestures similar to those found on the iPhone, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro, and offers a much larger surface area than previous 13 inch MacBooks thanks to the elimination of a separate mouse button.

In fact, the entire touch pad depresses like a button, although a simple tapping (as on a PC laptop) will also work once you turn that option on in the settings menu. The all button touch pad concept is actually a bit difficult to get used to, and feels slightly clunky at first compared with a traditional fixed position touch pad. On the other hand, there are some useful new gestures you can hide all your apps by sweeping four fingers up on the pad, and you can also designate one corner of the touch pad as a "right click" zone.

Most useful, perhaps, is sweeping four fingers left or right, which brings up the application switcher. Once you get used to that, going back to a regular touch pad would be difficult. The 13.3 inch wide screen LCD display offers a 1,280x800 native resolution, which is standard for screens between 13 and 15 inches in size. It provides for text and icons that are highly readable, but we'd love to see Apple move into the 16:9 display universe, as in the case with new systems from Sony, Hewlett Packard, and others.

Apple has also added LED-backlit displays (previously available on the Pro models), which means a thinner lid and some battery life benefits, plus the edge to edge glass we're seeing more often on multimedia systems, such as the HP HDX18. The glass, however, also grabs stray light rays with ease, making the glossy screen seem that much glossier a problem if you prefer matte screen finishes.

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