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It’s so … black!

MacBook pictureA new MacBook has joined the stable here at macosxhints’ HQ–this one’s all mine, though, not a Macworld asset like the mini! And yes, I chose to pay the $150 color tax, and bought the black one (five bonus points to the first reader to identify the source of the title of this post). I chose to upgrade because, with two kids in the house, I’m doing more work from my laptop in various rooms of the house, and the 12″ PowerBook G4’s 1024×768 resolution can be quite limiting. I was tempted by the 15″ MacBook Pro, but the one I would want was well over $2500. When the MacBook came out at $1,500, I decided it was time…

I had two major concerns prior to purchasing–the keyboard and the glossy screen. It took but a couple seconds of typing in the store to allay the keyboard issue. The keys, though they look decidely non-standard, have very standard spacing. I had no troubles at all with touch typing, and I loved the amazingly solid feel of the keyboard.

The glossy screen has some definite pros and cons. On the pro side, it’s amazingly bright, with very crisp colors. On the con side, it’s a glossy screen. That said, I only found it to be really bad when there’s a bright light source directly over your shoulder, and the screen is displaying something that’s more dark than light. In the Apple store, there was definitely some reflection, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I was expecting it to be. At home, it’s been perfect–I use diffuse lighting (windows and lights off to the side) more than overhead lighting, and the screen looks astonishingly nice.

Games: The use of a graphics chip (as on the mini) instead of a graphics card means this is not a machine for bleeding edge gaming. That’s OK; I have my Dual G5 for that. But that doesn’t mean the machine won’t play games. It just means you have to stick to things that don’t require the latest video cards. For me, that means mainly MacMAME (via Rosetta) and X-Plane (Universal), both of which run great on the MacBook. Older games such as Quake3 and Jedi Knight II will also work quite well, I assume, based on my testing on the Core Duo mini. The Universal version of Jedit Knight II pushed 90fps on the mini, which uses a 1.42 1.66GHz Core Duo, versus the 2.0GHz chip in the MacBook (with the same integrated graphics chip). But if you want a laptop on which current games will play somewhat acceptably, you’ll want a MacBook Pro.

Heat: One of the things I dislike about all the aluminum PowerBooks is that they tend to get warm all over–in particular, the area where your wrists will rest (if you’re being a lazy typist) can get quite warm if you’ve got the machine’s CPU and hard drive cranking. The MacBook has none of those problems–the wrist pads stayed very cool during my use of it yesterday. However, like its MacBook Pro cousin, there’s an area of the machine that does get very warm–the bottom left portion of the unit. I stuck a temperature probe under it yesterday, while installing Boot Camp and Windows XP, and after a few minutes, it leveled at 117F. (My PowerBook G4 gets warm, too, but not quite that warm.) No wonder the manual advises you not to use it on your lap! I’m going to buy a piece of laminate and some bean bag material, and make my own simple lap table for it.

Design: I love the latchless lid, and the “sunken” keyboard that lets the screen float above the keys when closed. The easily-accessible RAM slots and hard drive are a nice change from PowerBooks of old. The mag safe power adapter sounds gimmicky at first, but it really does work–and has already saved the machine once, when my daughter tripped over the cord. The case doesn’t seem to show fingerprints, but the trackpad does get a bit of a shine to it after some usage.

Overall: So far, I love this thing. The black case looks very professional (the white was too “plasticky” to my eyes), the speed is great, and the screen is wonderful (except in certain lighting conditions). It’s much faster in typical usage than the PowerBook it’s replacing (excluding Photoshop in Rosetta!), noticeably so in many apps (jEdit, for one, is actually smoother than it is on my Dual G5). I have some RAM on order, which will help with the multitasking. I still hope Apple chooses to introduce a true sub-notebook someday, as that’s what I’d prefer to travel with. But for now, this black Mac will fit the bill nicely, with the somewhat larger size making it usable at home, too.

BTW, if anyone’s interested, I’m selling our 1.0GHz PowerBook G4–all reasonable offers considered. It really is in pristine condition; it belongs to my wife, and has seen only light use in the home office over the last couple years.

16 Comments

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  1. 1.42 GHz Core Duo on a mini? I thought the 1.42 GHz processors were G4’s. Details aside, thanks for the review.

  2. “Its so.. black!” said Ford Prefect, on seeing the Haggunenon Admiral’s spaceship parked in the car park at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe. (The radio series is obviously definitive on this. :-) )

  3. > five bonus points to the first reader to identify the source of the title of this post

    If it’s not the Spinal Tap reference that jim mentions above, maybe you are referring to the moment in Escape from Monkey Island, when swashbuckler Guybrush Threepwood looks in amazement at his new boat. He says “But…It’s…Pink”

  4. Five bonus points for Paul Durrant…well, maybe four. My reference is from the printed version, where Ford Prefect is describing Hotblack Desiato’s stunt ship.

    Hence the new MacBook has been christened desiato :)

    -rob.

  5. Umm… The universal version of Jedi Knight? Where on Earth did you get it?! I can’t find it anywhere! Please share…

    Please…

  6. Actually, from what I’ve seen of benchmarks, even in Rosetta Photoshop should outstrip the Powerbook at only 1Ghz.

  7. #9:

    I can’t share, it’s not yet released. I had access to a beta build for testing for a Macworld article. It’s coming :).

    #10:

    Not sure about the 1GHz, but in a test I ran, the Rosetta version of Photoshop took 77 seconds to apply a filter — that same filter applied to the same photo on the mini running Photoshop in XP took only 36. I’m not sure even a 1GHz PowerBook will be at 77 seconds, but I’ll try to test it…

    -rob.

  8. The willingness of seemingly sane folks to pay $150 to get it in black truly blows my mind.

    I would pay the extra $150 if my wife also had one so they aren’t identical. Otherwise I wouldn’t. However many many people pay significantly more to get a car in the color they want. Also it isn’t like the black ipod, it isn’t the exact same but in black, the finish is different, it may actually cost more to make. Besides acer makes notebooks that differ from normal notebooks only by being in Ferrari red and having the logo, or by being leather wrapped, or… so it isn’t unheard of in other laptop lines, this is just the first time Apple has done it (at least that I know of!).

  9. Can’t wait to buy mine, I’m still debating between a MacBook and MBP 17″. In all honesty, it depends on cost and which one I believe will last me the longest vs cost. But, that’s not until 2007. We already made our one computer purchase for this year, an HP Pavillion laptop for my wife…. needless to say, she’s kicking herself for not following my advice and waiting the 1 week for a MacBook.

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