Mac Musings

The Santa Rosa MacBook Value Equation

Daniel Knight - 2007.11.02

Surprise, surprise, surprise! Apple quietly slipped out an updated version of the MacBook late Wednesday. The new version looks like the three revisions than went before it, but there are some real changes under the hood.

The biggie is moving to Intel's Santa Rosa chipset, the same chipset found in the more costly MacBook Pro models. In addition to moving from a 667 MHz memory bus to 800 MHz, the new MacBooks now support up to 4 GB of RAM. And they ship with Leopard, which is receiving wide praise.

The other improvement comes from switching from the Intel GMA 950 graphics processor to the newer, more powerful Intel X3100 CPU. There's a price to be paid: The new GPU ties up 144 MB of system memory, where the older one only reserved 80 MB for its use. That said, at least today's MacBooks ship with 1 GB of RAM - the earliest MacBooks came with just 512 MB.

How Much Faster?

Apple isn't making a big deal about the new MacBook, treating it more like a simple refresh than a revision. The 2.0 GHz model has the same product number as its predecessor, and the new 2.2 GHz MacBook shares a model number with the 2.16 GHz model it replaces.

We haven't seen any benchmarks on the new MacBook yet, but when Bare Feats compared the older Core 2 MacBook Pro with the new Santa Rosa models in June, they found the 2.4 GHz MBP significantly faster than the old 2.33 GHz mode - not just a few percentage points like you'd expect based on a 3% difference in clock speed. In the Photoshop benchmark, it was 16% faster. With After Effects, 15%. Compressor 3, 10%. And Motion 3, 11%. Santa Rosa makes a difference.

For the sake of comparison, let's say the 2.0 GHz Santa Rosa model averages 10% faster than the older 2.0 GHz MacBook while the 2.2 GHz averages 12% faster than the older 2.16 GHz MacBook. It's close enough for doing a value equation.

What you can't quantify is the value of being able to install 4 GB of RAM instead of "only" 3 GB. If you're working at that level, you probably want a MacBook Pro (which is now available in a 2.6 GHz build-to-order configuration).

2.0 GHz Santa Rosa MacBook Value

The differences between the new and old 2.0 GHz MacBooks boil down to the Santa Rosa chipset, 800 MHz memory bus, and X3100 graphics. Other than that the models match spec for spec.

As we go to press, nobody is discounting the older version. For about 10% more power at the same price, be sure to buy the one with X3100 graphics. However, if you can score the earlier model at less than $999 and don't care about 3D graphics performance, it matches the value of the new model.

2.2 GHz Santa Rosa MacBook Value

You get a 3% faster CPU, an 800 MHz system bus, and X3100 graphics with the 2.2 GHz Santa Rosa MacBooks. Other than that, they match the previous 2.16 GHz model - and you still have the $200 premium for black.

Again, none of the dealers we surveyed have discounted the older models, so with maybe 12% more power at the same price, buy the 2.2 GHz MacBook, not the 2.16 GHz one. If 3D gaming or 4 GB of RAM matters to you, don't even consider the 2.16 GHz MacBooks. If they aren't important to you, I'd say the value of the white 2.16 GHz MacBook should be $1,129, and the black one $1,299.

What About Refurbs?

Apple usually slashed refurb prices when a new model is introduced, but they haven't done so this time. The older 2.0 GHz model sells for $949 refurbished, making it a better value than the new 2.0 GHz MacBook if you don't need 4 GB of RAM and don't need the improved video performance.

The 2.16 GHz models are selling for $1,099 (white) and $1,299 (black) refurbished, which is what I'd peg as the value of new units, not refurbs, now that the Santa Rosa models are on the market. They're okay values, but as refurbs they should be at least $100 lower.

All that said, if you'd prefer to stick with Tiger, that's what comes with the older MacBooks, while the new ones ship with Leopard.