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  • Not Another MacBook Review

    May 19th, 2006

    To some, the new MacBook is five months late. The rumor sites predicted its arrival at Macworld Expo in January, but we got the MacBook Pro instead. However, spending two grand on a note-book computer isn’t so easy for many of you, and the aging iBook line wasn’t the best possible alternative.

    This time, Apple held off the announcement until production was in high gear, which was a good choice, even if expected announcement dates came and went. So now we have three flavors of MacBooks that are supposedly shipping in decent quantities.

    But what about the end result? Does it meet the needs of customers for a relatively economical portable personal computer? Well, the initial reviews and benchmarks are in, and the buzz is positive. Rather than link you to a dozens of sites, I’ll simply summarize what most of the reviews reveal:

    • The MacBook performs about the same as MacBook Pro’s with the same Intel Duo Core processors, with the exception of graphics.
    • Although the use of Intel integrated graphics continues to exact criticism, comparably-equipped Windows note-books use the very same graphics chip.
    • Graphics performance is good with digital video and poor with games, but this computer isn’t marketed as a gaming machine, and the test results aren’t really that bad.
    • As with every other Intel-based Mac, it has a Front Row remote control system and gigabit Ethernet.
    • Predictably, the modem is missing, and you must buy a $50 USB modem and put up with a dongle if you’re still on dial-up or expect to need it on the road.
    • The new keyboard, with all square keys, seems odd at first, and the jury is out on whether or not it’s an improvement.
    • A few features from the professional note-books are missing, but this isn’t so big a deal for most users.
    • Apple gives you two 256MB RAM modules, and it’s a good idea to replace both when upgrading RAM. Even though this leaves you with extra stuff to store, installing memory in pairs actually provides slightly improved performance. This is one factor not mentioned very often, but you should consider it. You should also consider buying someone else’s RAM, because Apple charges far too much.
    • The internal drive can be easily swapped out, which makes it useful for educational institutions and businesses, where anything that makes the computer easier to service is a plus.
    • Abandoning the sub-$1,000 price point for the entry-level model may not sound so good from a politically correct standpoint, but the new model offers a whole lot more value than the one it replaced, so you shouldn’t fret unless that extra $100 is difficult to come by.
    • The new model is Apple’s first foray into offering a glossy screen, something already available in the Windows world. It’s also a no-cost option now for the MacBook Pro. According to Apple, going glossy makes it more suited to video entertainment, at the expense of being somewhat prone to displaying reflections.
    • There’s a possibility that the MacBook might somehow cannibalize sales of the MacBook Pro, but they cater to different markets, and Apple could gain so much in sales that it won’t matter.

    There really doesn’t seem to be a whole lot to say on the negative side of the ledger so far. The initial response is quite encouraging, although paying $200 additional for 20GB extra storage space and the fashionable basic black enclosure might seem a bit much at first glance. But I expect that a lot of you will opt for the most expensive model, and not just the Sharper Image set.

    But the biggest factor here is the fact that Apple’s sales are bound to increase to higher levels than previously expected with this new item on the shopping list. Many of you don’t like larger note-books. You find them too heavy to lug and less convenient to use on an airplane, where seating is already too tight for normally configured humans.

    Myself? I love large screens, and if I could get a 19-inch MacBook Pro, I’d strive real hard to save enough cash to place my order. But that’s just me.

    As of now, Apple has completed roughly 75% of its Intel transition, just ahead of the anniversary of the original announcement, and months earlier than previously anticipated. You will probably see the introduction of the Power Mac replacement by late summer, with an early fall introduction of the speediest model. The Xserve may not come immediately, but it should be there before the end of 2006.

    Adobe and other publishers that don’t plan to finish developing Universal applications, running on both PowerPC and Intel-based Macs, need to take notice. Maybe they can’t complete their work any faster, but if there’s a way to make it happen and still release a reliable product, they need to hustle.

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