Review: Apple takes the MacBook upscale

Apple's new Macbook inherits some high-end perks from the Pro line

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Performance and battery life

The 2.4-GHz Core 2 Duo processor in the MacBook Apple sent over for review performs as snappily as you'd expect. We ran a quick benchmark test on it, using Xbench 1.3 to see how it measures up. In short, it compares quite well with the new MacBook Pro we reviewed. That laptop, with the faster 2.53-GHz chip and twice the RAM (4GB), yielded an Xbench score of 123; this MacBook came within one point: 122.

Unlike the MacBook Pro, however, you can't get a super-speedy 2.8-GHz chip or a 7,200-rpm hard drive in the MacBook -- though you can buy your own hard drive and swap it in if you want to. As with the MacBook Pro, Apple has made accessing the hard drive, battery or RAM a fairly easy, do-it-yourself project.

The Xbench score of 122 on the MacBook is faster than my own 17-in. MacBook Pro -- last year's top-of-the-line model. (It scored 118; no doubt the faster front-side bus on the new models helps a bit in that area.) The new MacBook is also quiet and cool. I never heard the fans come on in nearly two weeks of use, and even when pushing the dual processors to display videos or iTunes' graphically intense visualizer, the temperature never rose above 147 degrees Fahrenheit. The speakers deliver good sound, too.

I've already noted the phenomenal screen, which retains its brightness, even outdoors on the sunniest days -- and it achieves full brightness as soon as the computer fires up. Older LCD screens need up to 20 minutes to do that, and even then, they're still not as bright.

Of primary importance to those who travel a lot is battery life. With the new MacBook, it's very good. Without even trying to tweak the energy saver settings to save juice, I got four hours and 10 minutes from the MacBook. This involved listening to tunes, watching videos, Web surfing and editing text with the screen at three notches below full brightness and the keyboard lighting on.

Turning down the screen brightness a bit more would no doubt extend that use time even closer to Apple's five-hour battery boast.

Final thoughts

Apple has taken its most mainstream portable computer decidedly upscale with its latest refresh. Structurally, it should last for years, and it exudes a feeling of solidity every time you pick it up, turn it on and type on it. Not only does it offer faster hardware, but it incorporates innovative touches (like the new track pad) that are both useful and, well, cool. If you don't need the speed or lit keyboard of the $1,599 model and you're fine with a 160GB hard drive, the $1,299 model represents a real bargain that should continue to pay returns for years to come.

If you want speed in a stylish but compact design, then the $1,599 is your ticket. Given that more and more people -- and companies -- are clamping down on spending these days, it makes sense to get the most you can out of your hardware purchases. Either MacBook would serve you well in that respect.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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