Apple's new MacBook: What price beauty?

Who else but Apple Computer could make basic black a $200 option?

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Mac fans have weighed in on a variety of forums and blogs, with some lauding the cool factor, others wanting more differentiation for those two Ben Franklins. I'm with the latter camp. Black is indeed cool. But it'd be cooler with a 100GB 7,200-rpm hard drive and 1GB of RAM standard.

One other note on the matte-black finish. The oil from your fingertips shows more easily than it does on the white models, although it's easy enough to wipe clean with a damp cloth.

Looks aside, the MacBook has other noteworthy changes: Its hard drive, accessible from beneath the battery cover, is easy to replace -- though Benjamin said novice users might still want a certified Apple professional to do the upgrade if they're unsure of what they're doing. And he recommended that users looking to boost the stock 512MB of PC2-5300 (DDR2-667) memory included in all MacBooks use matching pairs of RAM.

The integrated 64MB of video RAM works better that way, he said. "It enhances graphics performance nicely. If you think you're going to want more memory it's advantageous to buy it that way so you don't end up swapping it out later."

Bumping the MacBook's RAM to at least 1GB is indeed a smart move. Buying that extra RAM from Apple may not be, as the company charges more than most major third-party suppliers. In this case, you'll pay an additional $100 to double the memory from 512MB to 1GB. If Apple simply shipped the MacBook with a single stick 512MB stick of RAM, you could get a matching stick for about $45.

In the larger scheme of things, this is more a quibble than a qualm, and I have little doubt the MacBook will turn out to be an immensely successful laptop for Apple. It's a powerhouse of a machine, well outfitted with all the extras a road warrior could need, and quiet. The Core Duo chips make it darn fast. The new widescreen-design, glossy LCD and revamped keyboard are eye-catching, and the price, for the most part, is on target.

To me, the sweet spot is the mid-range, $1,299 model. Double the RAM to 1GB, slap in a 7,200-rpm drive, and you've got a stylish laptop that comes close to the performance of the top-end MacBook Pro at about half the price.

Sure, you'll be toting around a shiny, white MacBook instead of a matte black hunk of hipness. But the form and function debate can only carry you so far. Black exclusivity notwithstanding, it's the price and performance equation that makes this laptop lineup really cool.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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