Since its introduction back in May 2006, Apple’s low-cost, entry-level MacBook laptop has been tremendously popular. In fact, Apple says the MacBook is the best-selling single Mac model in the company’s history. Which is why it makes a lot of sense that Apple has given its $999 white laptop a makeover in time for the holiday shopping season.
On the outside
Placing the new MacBook and the previous model side by side, there are many small physical differences. Because of its unibody construction (in this case, a piece of polycarbonate instead of aluminum), the new MacBook has no grayish surface grafted atop the frame. The result is a consistent white color, and a smoother surface without the sharp edges of the earlier generation. It also means a lot fewer screws—the older MacBook had two screws on each side, plus four on the back to the sides of the display hinge. This model does away with all of those screws.
A big difference is that the new MacBook now has a glass Multi-Touch trackpad with gesture support. The trackpad is larger than the combined pad-and-button area on the old model. The smooth glass feels nicer than the older trackpad, but it does take getting used to if you’ve been using the previous design.
The new MacBook also has a round iSight hole (as opposed to a rounded square) with only a status light to its right. (The microphone has moved to the upper left corner of the keyboard area.) The power button is smaller, and the keyboard keys feel more solid and are a bit quieter than before.
The screen back has a slight taper (like the MacBook Air) that gives it a thinner appearance than the constant thickness of yore.
Overall, the new MacBook is slightly wider and deeper than its predecessor, although it shaves 0.3 pounds from the total weight. Oddly, when I first picked it up I thought it was heavier than the older MacBook—a sensation I attribute to a different distribution of weight because of the thinner display in the new model.
Speaking of ports, there are also some changes to the array of ports on the side of the MacBook. To get it out of the way—no, there isn’t a FireWire point on this MacBook. The white MacBook had been the only 13-inch laptop from Apple with a FireWire port (until the 13-inch MacBook Pros added them back) and now it’s gone from the low end. If you need a small laptop with a FireWire port, this MacBook isn’t for you (for an extra $200 you can move up to a similarly-sized MacBook Pro, which includes a FireWire 800 port as well as an SD slot). The display connection is now Mini DisplayPort (previously there was a mini-DVI connector), and Apple is using a single audio port for analog/digital output as well as line in. (The Sound preference pane has a Use Audio Port For pop-up menu from which you can choose either Sound Output or Sound Input.) The sound port supports the Apple Stereo Headset with microphone. The other ports are gigabit Ethernet, MagSafe power, two USB 2.0, and a Kensington lock slot. As before, the other side features an 8x slot-loading double-layer SuperDrive.
On the back
One thing I haven’t had a chance to do yet is take the rubber back panel off to see if hard drive swapping is as easy as in the past.
On the inside
The latest MacBook stills uses an Intel Core 2 Duo processor, but bumps the speed from 2.13GHz to 2.26GHz (both have 3MB of shared L2 cache). And although the MacBook maintains the same 1066MHz frontside bus, the new model supports 1066MHz DDR3 RAM as opposed to 800MHz DDR2 RAM (4GB is still the supported RAM limit). The MacBook also retains its 802.11n and Bluetooth 2.1 wireless networking.
Did I leave anything important out? Post a comment with your questions and I’ll try to answer them here. And we’ll be doing lab testing and a full review shortly.
[Update: iFixit’s teardown shows that it’s pretty easy to access the hard drive and RAM slots.]