We review the new Apple MacBook, the talk of the town that's sporting a new body crafted from a solid ingot of aluminium

Build quality and engineering of Apple's new MacBook redefines the state of the art in modern laptop computers, yet Apple has made some divisive decisions in its innovative redesign that may have some buyers hesitating as they reach for their wallets.

With the new range unveiled this week, Apple has kept the distinction between two separate ranges, as it did since before the Mac moved to Intel processors in 2006. Only now, that boundary between consumer and professional has become blurred somewhat, at least as far as the exterior design is concerned. Prior to the processor migration, there was the iBook G4 aimed at home users and PowerBook G4 for professionals. Post-Intel, the names became MacBook and MacBook Pro, but held similar price points and feature lists.

Now earning the name of MacBook are three different machines: a remix of the outgoing plastic-bodied MacBook with a slightly faster processor, and the all-new ‘unibody' MacBook, differentiated primarily by processor speeds of either 2GHz or 2.4GHz.

Unibody is how Apple describes the new case, hewn from a solid block of aluminium. This not only gives it great strength and durability against knocks, but a seamless integrity that makes traditional laptop construction look decidedly untidy in comparison.

Lift the round-edge screen and you find a clean top deck unmolested by random buttons or switches. There are no visible catches or speaker grilles, and sound now appears mysteriously through the keyboard and from the hidden cooling vent under the drop-down hinge. Even the built-in mic is barely visible, concealed behind tiny microperforations in the solid body just above the Escape key.

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

We review the new Apple MacBook, the talk of the town that's sporting a new body crafted from a solid ingot of aluminium

Like the previous generation, the Apple MacBook uses Sony-style Scrabble keys for the Qwerty keyboard, and in the case of the 2.4GHz model, keys that automatically light from behind in low-light conditions. Mind your fingers on this Mac, though, especially after eating. Those keys betray any hint of oiliness on your fingers.

The 13.3in display is also LED-lit now, a move that's said to reduce the use of toxic materials in construction, aid battery life and provide better brightness performance. Less welcome for many will be the choice of a high-gloss glass screen cover. The original Apple MacBook also bore a glossy screen, of course, found on many budget laptops now, which gives the impression of richer colours at first acquiantance but can dramatically reduce legibility by introducing distracting reflections in use. This screen can be bright at highest settings but can then look a little washed out and lacking in contrast.

At the top of the screen hidden in the bezel is a tiny webcam, almost invisible behind the reflective glass until a cam-related app such as iChat, Skype or Photo Booth is opened. And then a green LED lights up to notify you that you're on camera.

At the front right of the main body is a small black ‘dash', actually an IR receiver for the optional remote control. Close the lid to put the computer to sleep, and the trademark Apple pulsing white light appears next to it, seemingly out of solid metal - a very neat touch.

Apple Macbook

Where Apple can claim perhaps its most significant advance over the competition is with the trackpad. Gone is the separate click button at the bottom, as the entire pad - huge at 105mm across - now gently pivots when you press it. There's even an option for a physical right-click, the first time Apple has conceded this on its portables.

This trackpad may be finished in the same satin aluminium colour as the rest of the body but is actually made from glass. Slippery to the touch, it can be configured with a number of multitouch gestures in Mac OS X's preferences, such as two-finger scrolling, three-finger sideswipes, and the notable pinch movements found on the iPhone.

Open a webpage in Safari and you can enlarge text with an opening gesture of finger and thumb, or zoom in to images or PDFs in Preview - a very useful feature that is unavailable anywhere else. There's also three- and four-finger swipes to backtrack on web browsing, activate Mac OS X's Exposé feature (to move open windows off the desktop) and switch between applications.

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

We review the new Apple MacBook, the talk of the town that's sporting a new body crafted from a solid ingot of aluminium

The base model at £949 comes with a 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 160GB hard drive, while our test sample was the 2.4GHz model with 250GB of storage (£1149). Both come with 2GB of RAM as standard, configured as 2 x 1GB cards, but can accept up to 4GB. While changing RAM requires removing the entire base cover (yet still relatively straightforward), exchanging hard drives is even easier. You need only remove the battery cover and undo one crosshead screw.

Connectivity is a moot point, as Apple has removed the FireWire port found on practically every Mac since the late 90s (barring the even less port-endowed MacBook Air). While USB 2.0 is almost as fast for some duties, the sacrifice means many camcorders are now disenfranchised, while the capability for Target Disk Mode is now lost, where a Macintosh can be started up to access only its hard drive, useful for troubleshooting and rapid file exchanging.

Macbook

Wireless 802.11 stretches to draft-n specification, and usefully can work on the 5GHz band, where some 11n solutions are fixed at 2.4GHz operation. Bluetooth 2.1 is there, as is gigabit ethernet.

For graphics the new Mac portable line-up all use nVidia GeForce 9400M graphics processors, a step up from the integrated Intel solution of yore, if not as quick as we'd hoped after our testing.

To benchmark the Apple MacBook, we used Boot Camp to install Windows Vista SP1, Home Premium 32-bit edition.

With our usual FEAR test at Maximum detail settings, we recorded only 13 frames per second, rising to a playable 32fps if detail was dropped to High.

From the more challenging Crysis test, the new MacBook could only muster 7fps at our base preset of 1024x768 resolution, High detail settings. Setting our sights a little lower with Low settings, this MacBook made a better effort with 31fps. As a point of reference, though, this game would be entirely unplayable at any setting with the previous generation's Intel X3100 graphics chipset.

Running our usual Worldbench 6 real-world benchmark test, the new Apple MacBook achieved a score of 91, an impressive figure when set against the score of the early 2008 revision Apple MacBook Pro, also using a 2.4GHz processor (T8300), which measured 86.

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

Apple MacBook 2.4GHz Aluminium 2008: Specs

  • 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8600
  • Mac OS X 10.5
  • 13.3in (1280x800) LED-back-lit LCD display
  • 250GB SATA HDD 5400rpm
  • 2GB DDR3 RAM
  • nVidia GeForce 9400M GPU
  • 2 x USB 2.0
  • ethernet
  • mini DisplayPort video output
  • 8x SuperDrive (DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW)
  • 802.11b/g/draft-n
  • Bluetooth 2.1 with EDR
  • 3.5mm audio in/audio out, both with internal Toslink digital optical
  • 45Wh lithium-polymer battery
  • 227x325x24mm
  • 2.04kg
  • 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8600
  • Mac OS X 10.5
  • 13.3in (1280x800) LED-back-lit LCD display
  • 250GB SATA HDD 5400rpm
  • 2GB DDR3 RAM
  • nVidia GeForce 9400M GPU
  • 2 x USB 2.0
  • ethernet
  • mini DisplayPort video output
  • 8x SuperDrive (DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW)
  • 802.11b/g/draft-n
  • Bluetooth 2.1 with EDR
  • 3.5mm audio in/audio out, both with internal Toslink digital optical
  • 45Wh lithium-polymer battery
  • 227x325x24mm
  • 2.04kg

OUR VERDICT

Some users may be put off by the reflective screen, and perhaps more again by the exclusion FireWire, leaving just ethernet and two USB for physical data ports. Then there is the issue of price, since the entry point for buying a Mac portable has now been raised, even by accepting the plastic-bodied starter at £719; but appreciably more if you want a unibodied metal ’Book, ast £949. Yet it is in construction terms that the MacBook has the trump card. With evey component seemingly blueprinted for a low tolerance fit, this MacBook is a marvel of engineering, which truly feels like no other. To experience its build quality hands-on is to want one.

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