First take: Apple's new MacBook offers sleek style, solid performance

It's still encased in white plastic, but it gets new 'unibody' look

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So is the MacBook right for you? It is, if you're looking to trim costs as much as possible but still want a high-quality Apple laptop. All things considered, the MacBook's build quality, LED screen, updated components and, of course, Snow Leopard make it a solid deal at $999. Of course, for $200 more, the 13-in. MacBook Pro offers an aluminum case, a display enclosed in glass, a backlit keyboard, up to 8GB of memory, an SD slot and a FireWire port.

Personally, I think every Apple computer should offer a FireWire connection, since that allows you to take advantage of Target Disk Mode. For the uninitiated, Target Disk Mode allows a Mac to function as a hard drive, bypassing Mac OS X, when the T key is held at startup. That makes it easy to plug one Mac into another using a FireWire cable for file transfers or troubleshooting. It's a feature that's just as useful for mainstream buyers as it is for IT support staffers. (Even without FireWire you can still connect Macs using an Ethernet or USB cable - or a wireless connection -- to transfer files -- but it's a less elegant solution.)

It's important to note that the MacBook comes in only one size. So if you need something larger than a 13-in. screen, you're going to have to move up to a 15-in. MacBook Pro. You get a lot more computer with that model, but it costs $1,699. (Apple once offered its entry-level laptops in two sizes: a 12-in. model and a slightly larger 14-in. model. Those were discontinued when the MacBook line was introduced in 2006.)

Also be mindful that the MacBook comes only in white; the black model was discontinued a year ago. From my experience, earlier models -- especially the old iBooks that pre-dated the MacBook line -- had a tendency to yellow over time. After a few years, they were more of an ivory white than bright white.

If you can live with that minor caveat and don't need any of the features on the MacBook Pro, then you'll be more than happy with the new MacBook. It offers a compelling computer at a compelling price. Performance is close to that of the low-end MacBook Pro, and the hardware is designed to get the most out of the operating system.

And the new unibody construction offers an air of elegance that earlier models can't match. The updated look, with its rounded corners and sleek lines, is what will draw buyers' attention, but the beauty is more than skin deep.

MacBook's white polycarbonate body is a fingerprint magnet
The white polycarbonate body is a fingerprint magnet, but wipes off easily.

Michael DeAgonia is an award-winning writer, computer consultant and technologist who has been using Macs and working on them professionally since 1993. His tech-support background includes tenures at Computerworld, colleges and Apple, and in the biopharmaceutical and graphics industries. He has also worked as a Macintosh administrator at several companies.


Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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