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Laptops Reviews
15,669 Reviews

Apple MacBook 2.1/2.4GHz laptop review

From £699

Manufacturer: Apple

Apple's MacBook update brings an improved hardware architecture, faster system bus and more robust graphics.

Since it first replaced the iBook in 2006, the MacBook narrows the performance gap between Apple's consumer and professional laptop lines with each new update. Apple last updated the MacBooks in November 2007, bringing with it an improved hardware architecture, faster system bus and more robust graphics. The changes in the MacBooks released last week aren't as significant as the November 2007 updates, but the changes still add extra oomph to Apple's consumer laptop.

What's inside

The new MacBooks use either a 2.1GHz or 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor (up from 2.0GHz and 2.2GHz, respectively) with 3MB of L2 cache shared between the processor's two cores. Previously, the MacBooks had 4MB of L2 cache, but the new Penryn processors inside the new MacBooks work efficiently with the smaller cache.

The 2.1GHz MacBook comes with 1GB of RAM. The 2.4GHz MacBooks (one white, the other black) come with 2GB; the models they replaced came with 1GB. All MacBooks support to up 4GB of RAM. As before, Apple recommends installing RAM in matched pairs into the two RAM slots for best performance with the integrated graphics system (the MacBooks come with two 512MB or two 1GB SO-DIMMs, and if you want to upgrade your RAM after purchase, you'll have to replace both SO-DIMMs for the best results). Although the frontside bus runs at 800MHz, the MacBooks continue to use RAM rated at 667MHz.

The new MacBooks use the same graphics chip as before, the Intel GMA X3100, which doesn't have dedicated video RAM. The MacBooks use 144MB of RAM from the main system memory, making the 2GB models even more appealing. The graphics processor can power an external display at up to 1,920x1,200 pixels to either mirror or extend the desktop (using an external display brings the shared memory used up to 160MB). To connect to any external display, you need to purchase one of Apple's video adapters (mini-DVI to DVI or mini-DVI to VGA).

As with the previous-generation MacBooks, the keyboard has media control keys located along the function key row. The keyboard has a springy yet solid feel to it, and offers a bit more tactile and audible feedback than early MacBook models. Unfortunately, you won't find the touted MultiTouch trackpad on any MacBook. If you really have the need to pinch, swipe, and rotate on the trackpad, you have to turn to the MacBook Pro or the MacBook Air.

The only difference between the £829 white 2.4GHz MacBook and the £949 black 2.4GHz MacBook (except for price and colour, obviously) is the black model's larger hard drive storage capacity. All MacBooks get a boost in hard drive size to 120GB, 160GB, and 250GB, from 80GB, 120GB, and 160GB respectively. All of the drives run at 5,400 rpm.

Most of the other components in the new MacBooks are the same as their older counterparts. All models have a 13.3in glossy widescreen display with a 1,280x800-pixel resolution, built-in iSight camera, built-in stereo speakers and microphone, analogue and digital audio input and output, one FireWire 400 and two USB 2.0 ports, 802.11n-enabled AirPort Extreme, Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR, and Gigabit ethernet. The 2.1GHz MacBook has a 24-speed slot-loading combo drive, while the other two MacBooks have an eight-speed slot-loading double-layer SuperDrive. One thing you won't find in the box anymore is the Apple Remote, which is now a paid-for add-on. Software-wise, the MacBooks include OS X 10.5 (Leopard) and iLife '08.

NEXT PAGE: The new MacBook's performance in our labs, plus our expert verdict >>

Apple MacBook 2.1/2.4GHz 13-inch Expert Verdict »

2.1GHz MacBook (white): £699
2.1GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
1GB memory
120GB hard-disk drive
combo drive
13in display
2.4GHz MacBook (white): £829
2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
2GB memory
160GB hard-disk drive
double-layer SuperDrive
13in display
2.4GHz MacBook (black): £949
2.4GHz intel Core 2 Duo
2GB memory
250GB hard-disk drive
double-layer SuperDrive
13in display

The new MacBooks represent some progress - PowerBook and even some first-generation MacBook users will definitely see substantial improvement over their current systems. If you just bought a MacBook a few months ago, however, you won't be kicking yourself for buying too early, since the differences between the two aren't that great. The 2.1GHz MacBook is a capable system, but for £130 more you can get a faster processor, bigger hard drive, SuperDrive, and - perhaps most important - an extra 1GB of RAM. That money is well worth it considering all the upgrades. There’s no denying the allure of the black model, with its sleek matte finish and quarter-terabyte hard drive - if you can afford the price difference, it’s a nice choice.

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