Mac Musings

The MacBook Core 2 Value Equation

Dan Knight - 2006.11.08, revised - Tip Jar

Just six months after introducing the MacBook, Apple has moved the model from its original Intel Core Duo CPU to the newer Core 2 Duo. This will result in a roughly 10% improvement in overall computing power - and as much as 25% on some tasks.

Prices and features are pretty much the same on the 1.83 GHz model, but the 2.0 GHz MacBook Core2s have been improved with 6x dual-layer SuperDrives, 1 GB of RAM, larger hard drives (80 GB on the white model, 120 GB on the black one), and their Core 2 CPUs have a twice-as-large 4 MB level 2 cache.

The Entry-level MacBook

There has been a slight value improvement in the US$1,099 1.83 GHz white MacBook, as the Core 2 CPU averages about 10% more powerful. Beyond that, the introduction of a second-generation MacBook hopefully means an end to all the teething pains experienced with early Core Duo MacBooks - mooing fans, random shutdowns, overheating, discoloring plastics, etc.

Build-to-order options include 1 GB of RAM for a very fair US$75, 2 GB for a fairly reasonable $250, and bigger hard drives at fairly steep prices (add $50 for 80 GB, $200 for 120, $300 for 160, $400 for 200).

Because the MacBook's video uses 64 MB of system memory and Mac OS X 10.4.x already wants 512 MB to run decently, we strongly recommend upgrading to at least 1 GB of RAM (the MacBook can go as high as 2 GB).

The 2.0 GHz MacBooks

Apple has made the 2.0 GHz white and black MacBooks more compelling options by doubling RAM to 1 GB, including a dual-layer 6x SuperDrive (vs. single-layer 4x), a twice-as-large 4 MB level 2 cache, and using larger hard drives. The US$1,299 model now includes an 80 GB hard drive, and the US$1,499 black MacBook has a 120 GB drive.

Build-to-order options include 2 GB of RAM for a very fair $175, and bigger hard drives at somewhat steep prices (add $150 to the white MacBook for 120 GB, $2500 for 160, $350 for 200; on the black MacBook, add $100 for 160 GB or $200 for 200 GB).

Value

Ramseeker currently lists 1 GB memory kits for the MacBook at US$108 shipped, 2 GB at US$192. If you don't need a SuperDrive, you'll still want to bump the 1.83 GHz MacBook to at least 1 GB so current Universal Binary software and legacy PowerPC programs will run decently. That eliminates over half the price difference between the 1.83 GHz and 2.0 GHz white MacBooks.

Unless you know you won't want to burn DVDs and don't plan on running any older Mac software, you may be happy with the 512 MB 1.83 GHz model. For anyone else, the 2.0 GHz model is more than worth the price difference for the extra RAM, bigger hard drive, dual-layer SuperDrive, and 10% faster CPU.

We still have a problem with the "black tax" on the top-end MacBook. For US$200 you gain a 50% larger hard drive and a black computer. Yeah, it looks great - and that's worth something - but in terms of computing value, you're not gaining enough to justify the cost.

Of the three models, the value champion is the 2.0 GHz white MacBook.

Memory upgrade prices are reasonable except for the 2 GB upgrade to the 1.83 GHz model. Hard drive upgrades are overpriced, and since drive upgrades are trivially simple, we suggest you do your own upgrade if you want or need a larger hard drive.

Close-out Prices on Core Duo

Based on benchmarks of the MacBook Pro Core Duo and Core 2 Duo models, we know that the Core 2 is about 10% more efficient, so there should be at the very least a 10% difference in price between the 1.83 GHz Core Duo MacBook and the 1.83 GHz Core 2 model. I'd call a $999 price close enough.

With the 2.0 GHz models, we not only have a 10% performance difference, but also more RAM (worth US$108), bigger hard drives (worth US$20-50 more), and a dual-layer 6x SuperDrive. Based on this, the white 2.0 GHz MacBook Core Duo should sell for no more than $1,049, and the black one for $1,199.

UPDATE: Club Mac and MacMall have their usual $100 mail-in rebates on the new Core 2 models. Here are the best close-out prices as of Nov. 9:

  • 1.83 GHz Core Duo, $949 after rebate, Club Mac and MacMall
  • 2.0 GHz Core Duo, white, $1,050 after rebate, Amazon.com
  • 2.0 GHz Core Duo, black, $1,199, Power Max

Looking at these prices, I'd say that these dealers have hit the right price points to move their inventory. Black Core Duo MacBooks appear to be in limited supply already.

Refurbished Core Duo MacBooks

The Apple Store has been offline, but refurbs usually sell for about 15% less than new, and Apple was selling refurbished 1.83 GHz MacBooks for $949 before introducing the new models. With a full Apple warranty, these would be well priced at $849.

UPDATE: Apple is selling refurbished 1.83 GHz white MacBooks for $899. With a full one-year warranty, that's a decent price.

Refurbished 2.0 GHz white MacBooks sold for $1,099, but based on our figures, they should now be going out the door at $899-949. Likewise, the black MacBooks, formerly sold at $1,299 refurbished, should be priced in the $1,049-1,099 range.

UPDATE: Apple is selling refurbished 2 GHz white MacBooks for $999, which I'd consider at least $50 too high in comparison to the new Core 2 models. Refurbished black MacBooks are going for $1,099, which is the high side of our "fair" price range. If you want black and don't need the latest and greatest, that's $400 saved.

We will come back and revise these figures later today and again tomorrow based on actual close-out prices from independent Mac dealers and refurb prices from the Apple Store.

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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