The MacBook is the best-selling Mac model in Apple's history. So it makes a lot of sense that Apple has given its entry-level white laptop a considered makeover.

The MacBook is Apple's entry-level Mac laptop, first appearing in 2006 after the company's migration to Intel processors. The latest version, while offering essentially the same facilities and all-white plastic design, now sees a subtle facelift for the bodywork that echoes the all-metal MacBook Pro range.

But where the unibody MacBook Pro series is milled from solid aluminium, the MacBook is still based on polycarbonate white plastic, albeit finished to a new, higher standard. Edges are now more rounded, making for a much more ‘grabbable' laptop. And the palm rest area has a glossy finish that should see it more resistant to the ingress of dirt and daily wear that could stain older models.

The other major revision is to the trackpad, which is now the same all-rocking glass multi-touch item fitted to the Pro series notebooks. Combined with the pinch and swipe gesture facilities built into Mac OS X Snow Leopard, this will certainly improve day-to-day comfort and productivity.

The new design has the entire baseplate as a removable plate, held in place by eight screws. With this removed it's easy to access the hard disk and RAM for later upgrading.

But that same baseplate lacks any individual ‘feet' as such, relying on the whole base - itself bearing a slightly rubbery texture - to support the MacBook. A unifoot, if you will. It's a neat idea although this we fear this will become quite marked over time, detracting from the virginal whiteness above.

Read more Apple MacBook reviews

Connectivity included on the Apple MacBook is all well up-to-date: gigabit ethernet, dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1 with Enhanced Data Rate, along with Mini DisplayPort for digital video connections to an outboard screen. This does mean, of course, that for use with any non-Apple screen you'll need to buy a DVI adaptor.

Peripheral support is limited to just two USB 2.0 ports - FireWire, Apple's erstwhile favourite high-speed data link, has now been removed.

Screen quality of the 13.3in LED backlit display is good, if not as crisp or defined as the same size and resolution version fitted to the MacBook Air, for instance.

Aside from the gentle revisions to the curvier casework and a subtraction from the port line-up, the processor is now a faster 2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, now backed up with 2GB of the latest DDR3 RAM in place of DDR2, while hard disk capacity has moved from 160GB to 250GB.

The graphics engine is the same, nVidia's highly regarded, and efficient, 9400M chip - the same as that allied with the Intel Atom to form the Ion platform. Some light gaming is more than possible: we saw an average framerate of 14fps in our toughest FEAR test, rising to 33fps when quality settings were taken down from Max to High.

In raw performance, we saw a useful boost in overall speed too. The previous starter Apple MacBook sported a 2.0GHz (P7350) processor that took it to a WorldBench score of 79 points. The extra quarter-gigahertz and faster RAM resulted in the Late 2009 iteration of the MacBook seeing a 16% speed increase in WorldBench, to a total of 92 points.

With its built-in lithium-polymer battery, the Apple MacBook is also capable of impressive battery life. We measured a very useful 6hrs 38mins in MobileMark 2007 Productivity, running in Windows 7 Ultimate.

NEXT PAGE: The original Macworld review >>

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 £799 white laptop a makeover in time for the 2009 Christmas shopping season.

MacBook design

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 aluminium), the new MacBook has no greyish surface grafted atop the frame.

The result is a consistent white colour, 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.

Apple MacBook 2009

MacBook multi-touch: 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.

MacBook webcam: 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.)

MacBook power and keyboard: The power button is smaller, and the keyboard keys feel more solid and are a bit quieter than before.

MacBook screen: The 13.3-inch display offers the same 1,280-x-800-pixel resolution as before, but the new MacBook uses LED backlighting on its display (just like the 13-inch MacBook Pro).

The difference is a notably brighter output, although when viewed next to each other, the new MacBook shows a significant yellow colour shift when changing your horizontal viewing angle (the previous model simply got more washed out). The switch to LED lets Apple finally add the MacBook to its list of arsenic- and mercury-free laptop displays.

MacBook dimensions: 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 0.15kg 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.

Height: 2.74 cm (1.08 inches)
Width: 33.03 cm (13 inches)
Depth: 23.17 cm (9.12 inches)
Weight: 2.13 kg (4.7 pounds)

MacBook remote: On the front edge, the sleep status indicator is longer and narrower than before, and conspicuously absent is the infrared (IR) port that used to sit to the right of it.

Without an IR port, you can't use the new Apple Remote (or the older remote, for that matter). I don't consider this a huge loss, since I never used an Apple Remote to control my MacBook. (In fact, I've been frequently annoyed when I used the remote to control my Apple TV and it threw the MacBook on the couch into Front Row at the same time.)

NEXT: MacBook ports, bottom and batteries

MacBook ports: 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 - for connecting a camcorder or for using FireWire Target Disk Mode, for example - this MacBook isn't for you; for an extra £100 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 analogue/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.

Apple MacBook 2009 front

On the back

Instead of non-skid pads in the corners on the bottom of the MacBook, the entire surface is one giant rubberized foot secured by eight Phillips screws.

This surface is smoother and doesn't provide as much friction as the pads on the older MacBooks did, and it collected a fair amount of dirt and debris from my desk (although a quick rub got it looking good as new).

Another problem with the unibody design is that it requires that the battery be built in. As with Apple's other unibody laptops, the battery is not user-replaceable, but Apple says that the battery gives you between three and a half and seven hours of juice and up to 1,000 charge cycles before being reduced to 80 percent capacity.

Apple says that the battery should take about five years to reach that point, but your mileage will vary. The company charges £99 to replace the battery - the same price you'd pay for an extra battery for an older MacBook - which can be done as a same-day service in an Apple Store.

It is still pretty easy, however, to access the hard drive and RAM slots for quick upgrades or replacements in those areas.

Integrating the battery into the design allows for a larger (and therefore longer-lasting) battery, plus it reduces some weight. In our battery test, the charge lasted for an impressive four hours and nine minutes while playing a looped video clip in QuickTime X at full screen and full brightness, but with AirPort turned off.

That was exactly the same duration as the 13-inch 2.26GHz MacBook Pro, and 40 minutes longer than the previous MacBook. During that time (and during our other testing) the bottom of the MacBook never got very warm, which had been a complaint of some MacBook users in the past.

NEXT: MacBook performance

 

On the inside
MacBook processor: 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 1,066MHz DDR3 RAM as opposed to 800MHz DDR2 RAM (4GB is still the supported RAM limit).

MacBook memory: The MacBook ships with 2GB, and Apple will double it to 4GB for an extra £80. Apple officially lists the maximum RAM at 4GB, but since it uses the same chipset and components as the 13-inch MacBook Pro, it does support up to 8GB as well.

Of course, 4GB SO-DIMM RAM modules are still very expensive. As prices drop in the next year or two, having that 8GB ceiling as an upgrade option will be a good thing. (Apple doesn't offer an 8GB option for the MacBook, and currently charges £560 to upgrade the MacBook Pro from 2GB to 8GB.)

Apple MacBook closed

MacBook wireless: The MacBook also retains its 802.11n and Bluetooth 2.1 wireless networking.

MacBook graphics: The new MacBook uses the same Nvidia GeForce 9400M graphics processor that shares 256MB of RAM with main memory (although, as I mentioned, the system RAM is faster).

That processor still lets you mirror or extend your desktop to a second display at up to 2,560-x-1,600 resolution at millions of colours.

You won't find any of the Mini DisplayPort adaptors you'll need to connect to an external display, however, in the box. Each is sold separately by Apple.

MacBook performance

To gauge the new MacBook's speed, Macworld Lab ran our full suite of benchmarks. To see how the under-the-hood changes to the MacBook would affect performance, we ran the system through a series of 19 different tests involving the Finder and 12 third-party applications. We then compared the results to a number of reference systems.

The new MacBook's slightly faster processor speed and improved RAM speed make this MacBook a little bit faster than its predecessor, as you might expect.

Apple MacBook 2009

Improvements ranged from 5.5 percent faster for an iTunes MP3 encoding test to 17 percent faster for an Aperture import test.

The new MacBook shaved seven seconds off the Photoshop CS4 test suite (12.5 percent), 13 seconds off our iMovie archive import test (10.4 percent), and nine seconds off our unzip archive Finder test (11 percent).

The new MacBook also matched or bested the 2.26GHz 13-inch MacBook Pro in almost all of our tests - somewhat surprising considering the two systems have almost identical components (although it's possible that the MacBook Pro's smaller hard drive was a factor, or that we have a test system with a somewhat wonky hard drive).

The MacBook blew the latest MacBook Air out of the water in all tests except our Finder folder duplication (only one second faster) and unzip archive (16 seconds slower) tests.

The MacBook benefits nicely from its unibody face-lift: it's lighter and more attractive, and it performs better than the model that came before it. You can think of it as a MacBook Pro minus the FireWire port and SD card slot, for £100 less. It performs very well and doesn't feel like an entry-level system. If you have only USB-based camcorders, hard drives, and peripherals, the missing FireWire port won’t be an issue for you. However, if you’re still using FireWire equipment and plan to use said equipment with your laptop, you should instead look at the MacBook Pro (an SD card slot is less of an issue, since you can just buy an inexpensive card reader).

Jonathan Seff, Macworld

NEXT: Apple MacBook verdict

Apple MacBook (Late 2009): Specs

  • 2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7550
  • 1066MHz FSB
  • 3MB L2 cache
  • 13.3in (1280 x 800) glossy LCD display
  • Mac OS X 10.6.2
  • 250GB 5400rpm SATA HDD
  • 2GB (2 x 1GB) DDR3 RAM
  • nVidia 9400M with 256MB shared RAM
  • Mini DisplayPort
  • slot-load DVD±RW DL optical drive
  • 2 x USB 2.0
  • gigabit ethernet
  • 802.11a/b/g/n
  • Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
  • combo audio in/digital out jack
  • stereo speakers
  • built-in mic
  • webcam
  • Multi-touch trackpad
  • MagSafe power port
  • integrated 60Wh lithium-polymer battery
  • 330 x 232 x 27mm
  • 2121g
  • 2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7550
  • 1066MHz FSB
  • 3MB L2 cache
  • 13.3in (1280 x 800) glossy LCD display
  • Mac OS X 10.6.2
  • 250GB 5400rpm SATA HDD
  • 2GB (2 x 1GB) DDR3 RAM
  • nVidia 9400M with 256MB shared RAM
  • Mini DisplayPort
  • slot-load DVD±RW DL optical drive
  • 2 x USB 2.0
  • gigabit ethernet
  • 802.11a/b/g/n
  • Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
  • combo audio in/digital out jack
  • stereo speakers
  • built-in mic
  • webcam
  • Multi-touch trackpad
  • MagSafe power port
  • integrated 60Wh lithium-polymer battery
  • 330 x 232 x 27mm
  • 2121g

OUR VERDICT

While we lament the loss of a high-speed FireWire port, the new multi-touch trackpad, case design and faster components should more than compensate for most users. Cheaper 13in notebooks can be found but none will match the thoughtful design and sheer usability of this revised MacBook.

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