Since its debut in May 2006, the Apple MacBook laptop family has earned a place in the pantheon of Apple's all-time greatest hits. The sturdy, Intel-powered MacBook notebooks have been so popular with consumers, especially students, that they've helped Apple nearly double its laptop sales over the past year and grab close to 10 percent of the US retail market.

See our Laptop Advisor website for expert reviews of today’s best laptops, plus read our essential advice to make sure you choose the right specs

The latest enhancements to the Apple MacBook line aren't spectacular, but they're sure to solidify the MacBook's status as a market leader. All three models - still weighing in at 2.3kg, and priced at £699, £829 and £949, have slightly faster processors and higher-capacity hard drives. In addition, the entry-level model now has twice as much standard system memory (1GB) and on-chip Level 2 cache (4MB) as its predecessor, bringing it up to par with its higher-priced siblings.

Building on success

All three Core 2 Duo MacBooks come with the same rich set of standard features as before. As in the previous iterations, the base model includes a Combo (CD-RW/DVD-ROM) optical drive, while the other two models come with an 8x SuperDrive with double-layer support.

All three models include bright, glossy 13.3in screens, with a native resolution of 1,280x800 pixels; a 667MHz frontside bus to ferry data between the CPU and RAM; AirPort Extreme and Bluetooth 2.0+EDR (Enhanced Data Rate) wireless networking; a Gigabit Ethernet jack; one FireWire 400 and two USB 2.0 ports (but no FireWire 800); a scrolling trackpad; digital and analogue audio in and out ports; a mini-DVI (digital visual interface) port, which, with the addition of inexpensive adaptors, can drive displays with external DVI, VGA, or Composite and S-video connections. The all-new MacBooks also contain a built-in iSight camera for videoconferencing via iChat AV or having fun with Apple's Photo Booth software; an infrared Apple Remote and Front Row software; and, of course, the innovative MagSafe power connector, which reduces the risk of disaster by detaching itself from the computer if you trip on the power cord. Phew.

Also included with the Apple MacBook Core 2 Duo line is the iLife '06 suite of digital media applications. You don't, however, get any productivity software such as iWork - you'll probably need to add Microsoft Office or something similar.

All three Apple MacBook models now come with full, out-of-the-box support for 802.11n, the latest flavour of Wi-Fi wireless networking. 802.11n offers twice the range and up to five times the throughput of the previous standard, 802.11g. (The previous Core 2 Duo MacBooks, introduced last November, had 802.11n hardware built in, but you had to pay and download special software from Apple to enable this capability.)

Of course, you won't be able to use 802.11n unless you're connecting to a base station that supports the new standard, such as Apple's latest AirPort Extreme Base Station . (In principle, Apple's implementation of 802.11n should also work with other companies' 802.11n-capable hardware, but since the new standard isn't final, there are more compatibility challenges than with recent previous generations of Wi-Fi gear.)

Top to bottom

The £949 MacBook, with its handsome black enclosure, now includes a 2.16GHz version of Intel's Core 2 Duo processor, compared with the previous 2GHz Core 2 Duo, and it comes with a 160GB hard drive, up from 120GB.

As for the £829 white model, it now has a 2.16GHz Core 2 Duo chip, up from 2GHz, and its hard drive has grown from 80GB to 120GB. And the £699 white model , which previously came with a 1.83GHz version of the Core 2 Duo and a 60GB hard drive, now sports a 2GHz processor and an 80GB drive.

The biggest winner in all this is probably the entry-level MacBook. In the previous generation of MacBooks, with only 2MB of L2 cache and 512MB of RAM in the standard configuration, it felt a bit sluggish in comparison to the other two models. Now, that's no longer true.

In the case of the more expensive Apple MacBooks, the performance benefits are not quite so easily discernible, because their processors, while faster, have the same 4MB of L2 cache as in the previous generation. Still, PC Advisor's test results show a clear and consistent speedup across a variety of applications.

None of the MacBooks performed very well on our Unreal Tournament frame-rate test because they still rely on their Intel chipset and a share of main memory, rather than a specialised chip and memory, for graphics processing. If you're a serious action gamer, you'll be happier with a PC laptop (or an iMac or MacBook Pro if you are an Apple loyalist).

Apple MacBook 2.0/2.16GHz 13-inch: Specs

  • 13.3in 1,280x800 pixel display
  • 2.0GHz or 2.16GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
  • up to 2GB memory
  • up to 200GB hard drive
  • Apple remote with Front Row
  • built-in iSight camera
  • Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950
  • slot-loading optical drive
  • built-in AirPort Extreme
  • FireWire 400 and two USB 2.0 ports
  • Gigabit Ethernet
  • Bluetooth 2.0+EDR
  • 13.3in 1,280x800 pixel display
  • 2.0GHz or 2.16GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
  • up to 2GB memory
  • up to 200GB hard drive
  • Apple remote with Front Row
  • built-in iSight camera
  • Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950
  • slot-loading optical drive
  • built-in AirPort Extreme
  • FireWire 400 and two USB 2.0 ports
  • Gigabit Ethernet
  • Bluetooth 2.0+EDR

OUR VERDICT

With more cache and system memory as well as a larger hard drive, the £699 MacBook is noticeably snappier than its predecessor, and not significantly slower than its higher-priced siblings. Still, if you can afford an additional £130, our recommendation is the midrange model. Its SuperDrive and roomier hard drive are sure to come in handy sooner or later - sooner if you're into digital music, photos, and video. As for the £949 black MacBook, it sure looks classy, but handprints can mar its elegance. You'll have to decide if the cachet of owning a black Mac laptop - and the larger hard drive - is worth the extra expense. Interested in hot new laptops? See also: Acer Aspire 5920 Intel Santa Rosa Laptop, Samsung R70 Intel Santa Rosa laptop, Hi-Grade D7000SR Intel Santa Rosa notebook and Lenovo ThinkPad T60 business laptop.

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