Review: MacBook Core 2 Duo/2GHz and 2.2GHz

Apple has once again updated its popular consumer laptop. The newest glossy-screened MacBooks look nearly identical to their six-month-old siblings, but a number of significant under-the-hood improvements have added new zip to this generation with no increase in price.

Let’s start with speed: there’s a modest difference if you just look at the numbers. The new high- and mid-range models now clock 2.2GHz, which slightly tops the previous generation’s 2.16GHz speed. The low-end build is still 2GHz.

The new MacBooks also feature the newest chip architecture, a faster front side bus, an updated graphics processor, and increased RAM capacity—twice that recommended for the previous models. The new models have been upgraded from the Calistoga chipset architecture to the Santa Rosa architecture. This is important because it provides the platform on which the rest of the improvements depend.

For example, you can now install up to 4GB of RAM, up from a recommended maximum of 2GB in the previous models (Apple recommends matched RAM pairs for the MacBooks for the optimal performance); the front side bus has been increased to 800MHz from 667MHz; and the graphics chip has been updated to the Intel GMA X3100 with 144MB graphics allocation—the last generation had the Intel GMA 950 with 64MB. The MacBook’s new graphics processors don’t have dedicated video RAM, rather they share RAM with the main system memory, just like the previous models.

Features

While there’s little to visually distinguish these MacBooks from their May 2007 counterparts, there has been a slight keyboard update. New media control keys are now located along the function key row, the same as in the new iMac keyboards. There’s no embedded keypad, and the Apple symbol is now gone from the Command key. The unit is slightly lighter at 5 pounds, as opposed to 5.1 pounds.

Otherwise, the new MacBooks have most of the same components as their older counterparts. All models ship with 1GB of RAM, a 13.3-inch glossy widescreen display with a 1280 x 800 resolution, built-in iSight camera, built-in stereo speakers and microphone, one FireWire 400 and two USB ports, 802.11n-enabled AirPort Extreme, Bluetooth, Gigabit Ethernet, Apple Remote, and the usual slate of Apple software, including the new Leopard operating system and iLife ‘08. The MacBook’s 5400-rpm Serial ATA storage ranges from 80GB for the low-end model, to 120GB and 160GB for the mid-range and high-end models. The low-end model has a 24X slot-loading combo drive, while the high-end models both have an 8X slot-loading double-layer SuperDrive.

Performance

Tested with version 5 of Speedmark, Macworld ’s standard performance benchmark test —a new version that coincides with the release of OS X 10.5 (Leopard)—the 2.2GHz MacBooks outpaced the older 2.16GHz models by about 4 percent. Interestingly, the top of the line models matched or exceeded the 2.2GHz MacBook Pro with overall scores of 185 and 186 compared with the MacBook Pro’s 185.

Gaming scores improved with the new models, reflecting their updated graphics chips. Unreal Tournament 2004 frame rates jumped from 18.5 fps for the 2.16GHz white model to 25.4 fps for the 2.2GHz black model. For Quake 4 test, frame rates nearly doubled from 4.5 fps to 7.8 fps in comparing those same same models. Hard core gamers will still want to steer clear of the MacBook line, but if you play games only occasionally or you tend to play games that are only moderately graphics-processor-intensive, you’ll definitely benefit from the MacBooks’ new graphics chip.

New MacBook Benchmarks

Speedmark 5 Adobe Photoshop CS3 Cinema 4D XL 10.5 Compressor 3 iMovie HD iTunes 7.5 Unreal Tournament 2004 Quake 4 Finder
OVERALL SCORE SUITE RENDER MPEG2 Encode Aged Effect MP3 ENCODE FRAME RATE FRAME RATE ZIP ARCHIVE
MacBook Core 2 Duo (black)/2.2GHz (black) 186 1:17 1:00 2:05 0:51 1:12 25.4 7.8 5:13
MacBook Core 2 Duo (white)/2.2GHz 185 1:17 1:01 2:11 0:53 1:11 23.3 7.7 5:09
MacBook Core 2 Duo/2GHz (November 2007) 172 1:27 1:06 2:22 0:57 1:16 24.1 7.7 5:42
MacBook Core 2 Duo (white)/2.16GHz 179 1:16 1:04 2:17 0:53 1:13 18.5 4.5 5:11
15-inch MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo/2.2GH z 185 1:24 1:00 2:16 0:55 1:09 78 43.1 5:37
>Better <Better <Better <Better <Better <Better >Better >Better <Better

Best results in bold. Reference system in italics .

Speedmark 5 scores are relative to those of a 1.5GHz Core Solo Mac mini, which is assigned a score of 100. Adobe Photoshop, Cinema 4D XL, iMovie, iTunes, and Finder scores are in minutes:seconds. All systems were running Mac OS X 10.5 with 2GB of RAM. The Photoshop Suite test is a set of 14 scripted tasks using a 50MB file. Photoshop’s memory was set to 70 percent and History was set to Minimum. We recorded how long it took to render a scene in Cinema 4D XL. We used Compressor to encode a 6minute:26second DV file using the DVD: Fastest Encode 120 minutes - 4:3 setting. In iMovie, we applied the Aged Film effect from the Video FX. menu to a one minute movie. We converted 45 minutes of AAC audio files to MP3 using iTunes’ High Quality setting. We used Unreal Tournament 2004’s Antalus Botmatch average-frames-per-second score; we tested at a resolution of 1,024-by-768 pixels at the Maximum setting with both audio and graphics enabled. We ran Quake 4 timedemo at a resolution of 1,024-by-768 pixels at High Quality settings. We created a Zip archive in the Finder from a 2GB folder.—MACWORLD LAB TESTING BY JAMES GALBRAITH, JERRY JUNG, AND BRIAN CHEN

While the new systems took the honors for most of the benchmark tests, there was one lone anomaly: The older mid-range MacBook was a smidge faster at the Photoshop CS3 test than the newer models. And the new mid-range white unit topped the new black one in the ZIP archive test. While worth noting in an academic way, in reality, these test differentials are insignificant.

Battery life

Battery life was excellent and almost identical to the previous model. I watched a complete movie running off a DVD and it took 3 hours and 23 minutes for a fully charged battery to die (you can watch Doctor Zhivago in its entirety on your cross-country flight without having to recharge the MacBook’s battery). That compares with the 3 hours and 20 minutes watching the same movie on the 2.16 white model. Compare that with our initial tests on a 2.2GHz MacBook Pro (   ), which logged 3 hours of DVD playback.

Macworld’s buying advice

If you bought a Mac laptop recently, this latest MacBook upgrade will cause no reason for despair. However, if you’ve been awaiting the most optimal time to refresh an iBook or even an older PowerBook G4, this might be it. You’ll get plenty of value for the dollar with a nice improvement in performance, without having to hassle with an OS upgrade.

[ Jackie Dove is Macworld ’s senior reviews editor. ]

MacBook Core 2 Duo/2.2GHz and 2GHz

Subscribe to the MacWeek Newsletter

Comments