The Mobile Mac

Can Apple's Consumer MacBook Really Replace Two PowerBooks and a ThinkPad?

- 2006.07.06 -Tip Jar

I need to learn what crow tastes like.

For months, I've worked hard to convince myself that I don't reallyneed an Intel Mac, have upgraded my PowerPC machines to addfunctionality and performance, and have been in and out of the AppleStore looking longingly at the latest Intel Core Duo powerhouses.

Well, last week I bit the bullet and walked out with a blackMacBook under myarm.

In use, I've come to really like many aspects of this computer - andto dislike one or two as well.

Consider this the lawyer's take on Apple's new consumer machine.

First off, (as usual) I ignored my own advice and bought the mostexpensive model in the range instead of the cheapest. Looking at the$1,499 black MacBook and the $1,099 white one, the difference in valuefor your money is staggering. The 1.83 GHz Core Duo will do everythingthat the 2.0 GHz model does and is close enough in speed to simply notmatter. Also, since the first thing I did was install 2 GB of RAMand a 120 GB Seagate Momentus 5400 rpm hard drive, the extra 20 GB thatcomes with the black MacBook only matters in the price I get on theeBay market for the used drive.

In effect, all that I got for my extra $400 are the ability to(slowly) burn DVDs and the slick black case. I've got enough DVDburning computers around to not care at all about the SuperDrive, but Ijust had to have the black case.

MacBookGood-bye, PowerBooks

With any luck, this machine will replace both my 12" and 15"PowerBooks and become my only computer, though it's still too early totell.

The 12" is already gone, passed on to a friend for almost what Ipaid for it. It was a good deal for her, as she had been wanting aRegion Free PowerBook for some time, and, likeme, all of her work programs are still PowerPC optimized. I was veryreluctant to sell, but the desire to play with an Intel 'Book just gotthe better of me.

Okay, on to the MacBook itself.

The black case is simply gorgeous, and in my line of work - whereimage does actually count - it may be worthwhile. The white ones looknice, too, but the black definitely looks and feels more expensive. Thefeel is very different as the black MacBook has a matte surface thatfeels almost rubberized. It's actually a lot like the rubber paint thatIBM used to put on ThinkPads in the late 1990s, and it really looks andfeels super.

Dare I say that the black MacBook actually looksmore like a professional item than the aluminum PowerBooks and MacBookPros do?

Dare I say that the black MacBook actually looks more like aprofessional item than the aluminum PowerBooks and MacBook Pros do?

Fortunately, this "budget" model gives up very little under the hoodto the much more expensive MacBook Pro.

Screen and Graphics

I seriously considered getting the 15" MacBook Pro onaccount of its video card and matte screen, but after spending enoughtime with the MacBook at the Apple Store in Pasadena, I realized thatthe glossy screen was very, very good - and so was the Intel GMA 950graphics.

...glare is far better controlled than on anyother glossy screen I've tried....

The screen was my biggest worry, but I've not yet had glare renderit unusable. On the contrary, glare is far better controlled than onany other glossy screen I've tried, and better even than on somelow-end matte panels. Yes, it reflects, but the screen is so brightthat the glare is usually overpowered and unnoticeable.

The benefits of a glossy screen are all present and accounted for.Deep blacks, vivid, saturated color, and a certain "pop" that makesmovies really impressive all come together to make this a much betterlaptop for DVD movies than even my 15"PowerBook, which, while larger, just doesn't have the same imagequality for movies.

MacBook Gaming

The GMA 950 graphics are also far better than they should be. Ihaven't tried Rome: Total War yet, but Star Wars: Knights ofthe Old Republic actually plays better on the MacBook (Windowsversion using Boot Camp) than the Mac version did on either of myPowerBooks with their discreet 64 MB graphics cards. Doom3universal, with detail reduced, is about the same as on my 15"PowerBook, which is far better than I expected from "vampire video" onthe MacBook.

It's no gaming powerhouse, but in every other respect this is simplythe most powerful laptop that I've ever used. 2.0 GHz of Core Duo powerand 2 GB of interleaved (matched pair) RAM make up a lot for theintegrated video in just about any application.

The Keyboard

The last area I was a bit concerned over was the keyboard, which isa very strange-looking affair with perfectly square keys that sink intoindividual holes cut into the top case. It looks like the toy keyboardson those toy computers of the early 80s (anyone remember IBM's original PCjrkeyboard?), but it feels like anything but.

The action is shallower than on any laptop keyboard of recent memory- I'm guessing about 2mm of travel instead of the usual 3mm - but thefeel in those 2mm is incredible. The action is firm, which I prefer,with a definite point of engagement that gives this touch-typistperfect feedback and almost zero untyped characters.

The feel is still odd, but my typing speed and accuracy have neverbeen better. I would guess that with more familiarity this will becomeone of my favorite laptop keyboards, as good as the aluminum PowerBooksand IBM ThinkPads that are my benchmarks for laptop keyboards.


I mentioned there being things I don't like. Here goes.

The case is very easily smudged with the oils from hands andfingers. Normally this doesn't really show on most laptops, but on theblack MacBook it's very obvious. Wash those hands often if you plan touse one of these.

Also, this thing really cooks, and I'm not only talking about thespeed. I use a temperature monitoring program and have seen theinternal sensors for the processor cores as high as 85° Celsius.That's seriously hot folks, though well within Intel's rated 100°Celsius for this processor.

Apple is not kidding when they say this machine isn't for "lap-top"use. Most of the time it hovers around 77° Celsius, which is hotterthan either of my PowerBooks have ever reached (I've seen 68° C onthe 12"). The polycarbonate case makes the heat about the same as onthe cooler-running PowerBooks from the outside, but I've got to wonderhow all that heat affects the long-term reliability of thesemachines.

Build Quality

Heat aside, this MacBook has what appears to be the bestbuild-quality of any Apple laptop since the Lombard and Pismo PowerBooks of 1999-2000.It feels solid; there is no flex in the case, and the hinges feel firm.The trackpad button is solid, and touching the back of the display doesnot produce any visible artifacts.

I'm hoping that means these MacBooks will go the distance, but onlytime will tell on that one. For the price and performance, however,there is no better bargain.


Now for what really matters to my use, performance under Rosetta andbattery life.

MS Office and QuickBooks Pro run just fine under Rosetta, about thesame as they do on the 15" PowerBook actually. That wasn't the casebefore the RAM upgrade. When I tried MS Office at the Apple Store withthe stock 512 MB of RAM, I was extremely disappointed, but everythingI'd read suggested that more RAM really makes Rosetta bearable.

It's true - after the 2 GB RAM upgrade I have no complaintswhatsoever about performance under Rosetta. Sure, Photoshop is slowerthan on the 15" PowerBook, for which the program is well optimized, butQuickBooks and Office, which are relatively low-demand as far asprocessing is concerned, are both more than tolerable.

Battery life is also better than I expected at about 5 hours realworld with the screen dim. I've installed the CHUD tools, and amanxious to test battery life in Core Solo mode. With the screen dim andone core I'm hoping to reach Apple's claim of 6 hours, though onlyfurther testing will give that answer. As it is, the MacBook lastslonger than either the 12" PowerBook or 15" PowerBook, so I'm pleasedwith its unplugged performance.

Heavy for Travel

What I am not pleased about is its weight. I've said this before:Apple needs a lighter laptop.

I just sold my Ultralight ThinkPad X32, so I now find myself withouta lightweight travel machine. I'm not sure if I'll travel with theMacBook when I go to Korea in December or buy something smaller. I canprobably get a used Rev. B 12" PowerBook for under $700 now that theG4s are history, or an older X-series ThinkPad for even less.

The MacBook would work well on an airplane (hopefully it won't meltthe tray table), but at 5.2 lb. it's almost as heavy as the 15"PowerBook. Of course, it does add Windows gaming to my in-flightentertainment, thanks to Boot Camp. Windows XP is fast, though a bitawkward to use. It runs at full speed, just like on a regular PC, butthere is no "delete" key or right mouse button function in Windows, andthat came make for some difficulty.

Well, there it is. So far I'm impressed and happy with the MacBookoverall. Its screen is large and bright enough to replace the 15"PowerBook, while its size is handy enough to replace the 12" PowerBookfor the typical workday. While the 12" PowerBook is far more portableoverall, the 1024 x 768 screen was far too limiting for it to be myonly computer, and the inconvenience of using two computers somewhatovercomes many of the benefits of a smaller and a larger machine.

I'll check in after a few months to keep everyone posted. Will the13.3" MacBook really replace the smaller and larger pair of PowerBooks?Time will tell. LEM

Andrew J Fishkin, Esq, is a laptop using attorney in Los Angeles, CA.

Today's Links

Recent Content

About LEM Support Usage Privacy Contact

Follow Low End Mac on Twitter
Join Low End Mac on Facebook

Page not found | Low End Mac

Well this is somewhat embarrassing, isn’t it?

It seems we can’t find what you’re looking for. Perhaps searching, or one of the links below, can help.

Most Used Categories


Try looking in the monthly archives. :)

Page not found | Low End Mac

Well this is somewhat embarrassing, isn’t it?

It seems we can’t find what you’re looking for. Perhaps searching, or one of the links below, can help.

Most Used Categories


Try looking in the monthly archives. :)

Favorite Sites

Cult of Mac
Shrine of Apple
The Mac Observer
Accelerate Your Mac
The Vintage Mac Museum
Deal Brothers
Mac Driver Museum
JAG's House
System 6 Heaven
System 7 Today
the pickle's Low-End Mac FAQ

The iTunes Store
PC Connection Express
Macgo Blu-ray Player
Parallels Desktop for Mac

Low End Mac's store


Well this is somewhat embarrassing, isn’t it?

It seems we can’t find what you’re looking for. Perhaps searching, or one of the links below, can help.

Most Used Categories


Try looking in the monthly archives. :)

at BackBeat Media (646-546-5194). This number is for advertising only.

Open Link