Earlier this month, Apple quietly updated its entry-level laptop, the MacBook. Available in just one standard configuration, the new MacBook now sports a faster running processor and improved graphics that provide a modest speed improvement over its predecessor.
New to the MacBook is a 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, which takes the place of the 2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo used in the previous model ( ). An Nvidia GeForce 320m integrated graphics subsystem replaces the Nvidia GeForce 9400m integrated graphics.
The only other differences of note are the addition of inertial scrolling and the Mini DisplayPort now supports both audio and video out when using a compatible third-party adapter. These new features were added to the MacBook Pro models released in April.
The new MacBook’s appearance is identical to the mid-2009 model it replaces, using the same 13-inch glossy screen and white plastic unibody design. Also unchanged are the ports, with a Mini DisplayPort, two USB 2.0 ports, and a Gigabit Ethernet port—FireWire continues to be missing (and missed by me).
Like the older system, the new MacBook ships standard with 2GB of RAM, and Apple says that 4GB is the recommended maximum RAM configuration. In case you are wondering, the entire MacBook Pro line ships with 4GB of RAM standard, with a maximum configuration of 8GB. It’s possible to install 8GB of RAM in a MacBook and it would probably work just fine, but if something goes wrong, you’d be on your own. The included warranty and AppleCare won’t cover a MacBook with 8GB of RAM.
New 2.4GHz MacBook: Speedmark scores
To find out how much these enhancements affect performance, we ran the new MacBook through our Speedmark 6 suite of overall system tests. We found that the new MacBook, with a Speedmark 6 score of 118, was seven percent faster than the 2.26GHz MacBook it replaces.
By far, the biggest gain was in our 3D game tests, in which the new MacBook, with its Nvidia GeForce 320M graphics, was able to display 66 percent more frames per second than the older model with its Nvidia GeForce 9400M graphics. The new MacBook’s faster processor also helped it post a 10 percent faster Cinebench CPU score.
The new system was also faster in our Photoshop and iTunes tests, but only by a few seconds. Interestingly, some of the hard drive tests (file duplication and unzipping a 2GB file) were a couple of seconds faster on the older model.
Comparing the new $999 MacBook to the entry-level $1199 13-inch 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro ( ), we see identical Speedmark scores. With the same hard drives, processors, and integrated graphics, this should come as little surprise. And though the $1199 MacBook Pro, with 4GB of RAM, includes twice the memory of the MacBook, our Speedmark tests (run one at a time) show very little benefit from the additional RAM. I ran Speedmark on the 2.26GHz MacBook with 4GB of RAM for our recent review of the 13-inch MacBook Pros and found only a 2-point increase in Speedmark scores with the additional memory. So why go Pro? There are a couple of advantages to the MacBook Pro, namely FireWire 800 and an SD card slot.
Looking at the performance differences between the MacBook and the low-end 15-inch MacBook Pro ( ), a $1799 model with 4GB of RAM, both integrated and discreet graphics, and a 2.4GHz Intel Core i5 processor, we see a much bigger gap—24 percent overall, according to Speedmark 6 results. The Core i5 MacBook Pro, with its Hyper-Threading and Turbo Boost technologies, was 32 percent faster than the MacBook in the Cinebench CPU test, 45 percent faster in MathematicaMark and 34 percent faster in our Aperture test. The 15-inch MacBook Pro’s discreet graphics was able to display nearly twice the number of frames per second as the new MacBook with only integrated graphics.
2.4GHz MacBook Pro Speedmark scores
2.4GHz Core 2 Duo
2.26GHz Core 2 Duo (Late 2009)
|13-inch MacBook Pro
2.4GHz Core 2 Duo
|15-inch MacBook Pro
2.4GHz Core i5
Best results in bold. Reference systems in italics.
How we tested. Call of Duty score is in frames per second (higher is better). Speedmark and MathematicaMark are performance scores (higher scores are better). All others are in minutes:seconds (lower is better, except for Battery Life, where higher is better). All systems were tested with 10.6.3 and 4GB 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 with mulitprocessors in CinemaBench. We used Compressor to encode a MOV file to the application’s H.264 for video podcast setting.We timed the import and thumbnail/preview creation time for 150 photos. In iMovie, we imported a camera archive and exported it to iTunes for Mobile Devices setting. We converted 90 minutes of AAC audio files to MP3 using iTunes’ High Quality setting. We Unzipped a 2GB archive in the Finder. We ran WorldBench 6 multitasking test on a Parallels VM. We imported 150 JPEGs into iPhoto. We used HandBrake to rip a DVD chapter to the hard drive. We opened a 500-page Word document in Pages ’09.—Macworld Lab testing by James Galbraith, Chris Holt, Lynn La, and Meghann Myers
With the new graphics and some minor changes to the battery, the new MacBook can last longer between charging cycles. In our tests, where we loop a movie from the hard drive at full screen, full brightness with AirPort connected to our local network and the volume on (but low), the MacBook was able to run for nearly 5 hours, or 58 minutes longer than the MacBook it replaces. It lasted 35 minutes longer than the 13-inch MacBook Pro and 22 minutes longer than the 15-inch MacBook Pro.
Note that our battery tests (and therefore, the results) differ significantly from those cited in Apple’s marketing materials.
Apple offers a very limited number of optional upgrades for the MacBook. Upping the RAM to 4GB from 2GB will cost $100, and swapping the 250GB, 5400-rpm hard drive for a 320GB drive of the same speed will cost $50; a 500GB drive adds $150 to the price. Faster hard drives, SSDs, or an anti-glare screen are not offered through the Apple Store.
Macworld buying advice
With its faster processor, improved graphics and longer battery life, the MacBook makes an attractive option for budget conscious laptop shoppers. Performance-wise, the MacBook isn’t different from the 13-inch 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro—the extra $200 for the MacBook Pro buys more RAM, a FireWire 800 port, an SD card slot, an an aluminum case.
[James Galbraith is Macworld’s lab director.]