Review: Aluminum MacBook Kicks Serious Ass

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I walked into the Apple Store in San Francisco tonight fully expecting to walk out with a brand-new MacBook Pro — the 2.53 GHz model, if at all possible. After 30 minutes playing with all of Apple’s latest laptops, I was stunned to find myself instead walking out the door with a 2.4 GHz MacBook and a smile on my face.

The Top Line: The Aluminum MacBook is the perfect heir to the 12″ PowerBook G4. It’s light, rugged, and meant to be used as a true laptop — it actually runs cooler than my 12″ PowerBook from 2003. Apple hit it out of the park with this thing, and I couldn’t be more delighted. To learn why, click through.

A Lust Object With Strength to Spare

If you were wondering just why Steve Jobs was so obsessed with the manufacturing process on the new MacBooks, five seconds with the new line should clear up any confusion. The new MacBooks are beautiful, strong, and lighter than I could have guessed. I would say my new lappy is impossibly thin, but I have played with a MacBook Air, so I won’t pretend that’s the case. In every regard, it’s stronger, less flexible, and more rugged than any consumer laptop in history. Seriously. You could throw this thing against a wall, and you would break the wall, not your MacBook. And it’s so nice to have a magnetic latch on an aluminum Mac the interaction is just phenomenal. This is a road warrior’s dream.

Stunning Screen and Magnificent Keyboard

Switching over from a 12″ PowerBook was a snap. If I didn’t know better, I would say that Apple has positioned the top of the trackpad at the same distance from the keyboard, which has meant I’ve started typing more rapidly on this thing than on any new Mac I have ever picked up. The LED glossy screen is also significantly prettier than I was expecting. Reflections are less than I anticipated, and movies look really pretty here — nice dark blacks and incredibly popping colors.

Setting iPhoto (And Everything Else) to Overdrive

I know this will make me sound like someone who’s moving on from a six-year-old computer, but I can’t believe how much better iPhoto performance is now. I can scroll through thousands of photos in seconds and have all of them render. The graphics performance is so much better than the previous generation that it feels like a completely different kind of machine. HD video performance is absolutely flawless — dramatically better than what I’ve seen on the past White MacBooks. I’m in the process of downloading the Doom 3 demo to test 3-D performance, and I’ll report back once I’ve gotten a chance to mess around with it.

A steal at well, OK, at its own price

As many others have mentioned, this computer is not cheap — it’s a bit more expensive than the previous generation black MacBook, but it also delivers so much more, it’s hard to be bothered by the price difference. In addition to everything previously mentioned, hard drive upgrades are a snap — all you do is flip it over, pop a hatch, and swap. It’s really great. RAM upgrades are trickier, but I’ve got 4GB on the way from Crucial right now, so I’ll let you know how that goes, too. For now, the performance with only 2GB is excellent.

Mini DisplayPort is Still Stupid

Yeah, I’m not going to let this go.

82 responses to “Review: Aluminum MacBook Kicks Serious Ass”

  1. ATMB says:

    So, why didn’t you take the MacBook Pro?

  2. faBy says:

    Hej Pete,

    what’s your opinion to the lack of fw?

    greetings from germany – faby

  3. daniel says:

    How can you play Doom on a native Mac OS ?

  4. Xenex says:

    You’re complaining about Mini DisplayPort? Physically, it’s undoubtedly the nicest display connector ever. They have adapters available for VGA and DVI, just like the old MacBooks (and the PowerBook G4 12″ you’re upgrading from).

    Ah well, I guess it’s a nice change from FireWire whinging! ;)

  5. Mike C. says:

    Hi Pete,

    Thanks for the review.

    I’m wondering your impressions on the new buttonless track pad. How does it feel/work in practice? Is it an “ahhh… why hasn’t anyone done this before” feature (like the iPod clickwheel,) or does it take some getting used to?

    Do you think it likely to be incorporated on the MacBook Air?

    Thanks!

  6. Nadia says:

    Thanks for the review, I was also thinking of getting a pro as this will be my first mac but I think I’ll go with the macbook for a cheaper price and better portability.

  7. Camperton says:

    It seems the overwhelming reaction from the Mac community on these new notebooks is negative to disappointed.

    Yes they look pretty and some of the hardware upgrades are terrific, but with no firewire and the glass screen they are pissing off and alienating a huge portion of their market — creative professionals and amateurs.

    I have very mixed feelings myself.

    It’s like 2 steps forward 1 step back and it’s infuriating.

    On the Pro — Where’s the Blu-ray drive option? Where’s the 1920×1200 screen option? This is 2008 and these things should be available to professionals who want and often need them as they have been on cheaper PC’s for well over a year.

  8. Paul says:

    How did you get on migrating from the powerbook to the macbook without firewire?

  9. William says:

    Wow, this is great to here, maybe I’ll go for a macbook instead of a macbook pro aswell. Although, there is no firewire….

  10. deepkid says:

    BTW, I still plan to use my 12″ inch powerbook once I replace the power connector. It’s still a loverly mac too.

  11. Pete Mortensen says:

    I meant MacBook and not MacBook Pro because I preferred the size and weight of the MacBook and wouldn’t miss the high-end features of the Pro all that much. I’m not a big gamer, and I don’t do professional video.

    For the migration, I took everything off my old Mac to an external FireWire hard drive, and then I sucked it down to my new machine via USB — it’s the first time I’ve really understood why all those third parties make hard drives with both USB and FireWire. It was a life-saver here.

    I also played Doom 3 on here last night — it runs pretty darn well. High-quality video, 1024×768 with only minor stuttering. If I were serious about it, I would probably drop the resolution and video quality, but it’s eminently playable on this thing.

    I love this machine.

  12. Pete Mortensen says:

    Oh, and the buttonless trackpad was another factor. For whatever reason, it was intuitive and felt like my old trackpad in the store, while the MacBook Pro trackpad kept misclicking.

    For the time-being, I have it set to use the lower right corner as a right click, but it’s not working so well. I might turn it off. Other than that, I think they got this one right. It’s very intuitive and familiar.

  13. Aaron says:

    Pete,

    I am glad you wrote this piece as I am also trying to decide whether to get the macbook or macbook pro. My one problem is that you come from a 12″ powerbook, which is a huge upgrade even for the old white macbooks. I was wonder what someone that is already on intel think of the new machines and how much of a performance difference they are. Thanks again and if you have any information on this let me know.

    Cheers!

  14. deepkid says:

    In the store I found it a bit odd not to have a trackpad button, but once I got mine home I forgot all about there wasn’t a raised metal piece to click.

    I didn’t know that the whole trackpad moves when clicked and that you can click from several sides.

    I would never have known it was glass and it feels quite nice.

    I can’t even tell that the screen is glossy except for when I look at the black bezel.

    I migrated from my Time Machine backup via USB hard drive. Went very smoothly and quickly.

    I have no complaints and that’s a big deal because I LOVE my 12″ powerbook. The new 13″ macbook is sent from heaven (for me, at least).

    The case is so rigid it feels like a small government vehicle, yet elegant.

  15. deepkid says:

    Oh, here are some pics I took just in case you want more comparisons:

    http:/chrisgraydeep.com/nosear…

  16. Andrew says:

    Glad you like your new MacBook. I almost bought one, but went with the previous generation MacBook Pro instead. I wanted the matte screen, and the new line just won’t give it to me.

    More importantly, I’ve been burned by Revision A products before, an original 12″ PowerBook that ran so hot it damaged the finish on a desk, and the first generation MacBook that was so bad Apple replaced it THREE times before I got a working one.

    I am sure that the new MacBook and MacBook Pro models will be incredible, but I’ll wait until my next laptop purchase in around 2011 to make the move. No more early adopter headaches for me.

  17. macalex says:

    Glass screen is sucks from my point of view.

  18. Zeke M says:

    I am still trying to decide whether the absence of Firewire Target Disk Mode is a deal breaker. I “downgraded” from a 15″ Powerbook to a 13″ Macbook for the improved portability … and I really don’t want to go back to a larger notebook. But TDM has saved my butt so many times … and saved me the hassle of having to take a machine in for service … I just can’t imagine life without it.

  19. Adisty says:

    Thanks Pete…
    You’ve just helped me confirm my next purchase.
    I was also thinking of going for the macbook pro, but thought that the 15″ screen and extra graphics card wasn’t all that necessary.
    Can’t wait to finally get my hands on one. I live on the other side of the world, so i gotta wait a couple weeks. But i’m sure it’ll be worth it. Especially since i’ll be upgrading from a 12″ g4 ibook.

  20. DAG says:

    It was so nice of His Steveness to decide that we do not need FireWire…
    Well, it’s also nice of me to decide that I don’t need to buy a new MacBook without it. The Vampire Video, crappy polarized gloss screen and yet another change to the video out port is bad enough, but lack of FW is a deal breaker.

    Yes, I know I can overpay for a MacBook Pro, but my laptop is not my main computer. Nothing can touch a desktop for serious work. I have a significant investment in FireWire HW that is used with my laptop and desktop, and I will not downgrade to USB2 which sucks when moving large files around on external drives.

    Can Steve Jobs retire now? I’m tired of Apple kowtowing to the MySpace/Facebook crowd that will abandon the Mac when the enter “Corporate Amerika”. Meanwhile, Apple will have thoroughly pissed off it’s longtime customers with one more autocratic decision.

    A $1,299 laptop is not entry level and should have better specs,starting with FireWire.

  21. Paulyn says:

    your shadow on your laptop screen is scary. no head then torso then your arms. looks like a machorror. it’s comin’ out of the screen!!! haha!

  22. Neil Anderson says:

    Congrats on the lovely machine!

  23. Nickbob says:

    I’m surprised there haven’t been annoucements from a thrid-party aftermarket vendor for matte-screens. Seems the market is there for the hard cores even with the premium involved. Much as I hate His Steveness’s decisions with the FW and glossy screens, anyone who knows his history at NeXT ought to know how he gained his obession with keeping inventories simple and small.

  24. ChKen says:

    Thanks for the report. I’ve decided to upgrade from my 12″ PB that is now 5 and a half years old! I was planning on getting the MBA, but the new MBs will be more versatile.

  25. Raremage says:

    Hey Kid,

    What are the three laptops n your pics – the new Macbook, your old PB12, and what? A 15″?

  26. thomas040 says:

    ONE THING I’m REALLY curious about:

    How did you transfer all your stuff from the PowerBook G4? There is no firewire? Did you do it over airport, with the migration assistant? And didn’t that take FOREVER!? :)

    Please enlighten us.

  27. thomas040 says:

    Oh Sorry, read it now. By the way. The entry model is the white one which they oddly enough still sell. The entry into laptop mac heaven is $999. A 100 less than before… but that computer sucks now…

    Strongly believe that they wont maintain TWO seperate macbook lines. Sooner or later the white will perish, and the macbook aluminum will drop to the same price, with some alternate configs.

    like 1GB of memory, and 120GB hard drive… $1099
    or if they upgrade the mid macbook to 250GB it would make even more sense

  28. Mike says:

    Hey Pete,

    Remember when you said (regarding the MacBook and MBP): “will it be milled from a single block of aluminum? Not in this lifetime”

    How do you like THEM APPLES?! :)

    (oh I just couldn’t resist)

  29. hedgeland says:

    How did you possibly see this Mac in your lifetime? So much for Mac punditry.

  30. Evan says:

    Yeah this really helped me confirm my purchase as well. I am a pretty heavy gamer, so I was originally thinking about getting the Pro, but I saw some YouTube videos about gaming on the normal aluminum MacBook and the reviewers said that they were stunned.

  31. Cole says:

    I just bought one two days ago and it is the most superb mac of all, you get everything you need in the new macbook, its like a 1300$ mac pro

  32. Alex says:

    A machined aluminum block is about as strong as, um, …… aluminum.

    Apple manufactured a Titanium notebook a few years ago that from a materials standppoint was MUCH stronger than cheesy aluminum. A Macbook machined from a solid block of Titanium would have been impressive!

    While the new aluminum notebooks may feel strong, don’t be lulled into thinking that a nice ugly dent will not show precisely where it makes contact with the wall mentioned above!

  33. DoneWithMac says:

    The reason Apple makes crappy products these days is because Steve knows fanboys like yourself care more about aesthetics than function. “A lust object,” as you say. Aluminum = shitty Wi-Fi. Glass = most reflective laptop screen ever invented. No FireWire, even though Apple creates products like iMovie, Final Cut Express, and Final Cut Pro… The majority of video cameras, ALONG WITH THE MAJORITY OF USERS OF THOSE PROGRAMS, have FireWire cameras.

    Go suck Steve Jobs’ dick, you fanboy, and then wipe the cum from your lips with his pubes!

  34. Freddie Bårström says:

    I love my new macbook, I hve everything importent on burnt dvds and the dokuments fits snuggly on my USB-memory. The grafix are greate and if you hate the luxurious glas buy a thin mate film that you put on the screen )those are sold and cheap and works, problem solved. I agree that remove firewire were a poor decision because i use external audio interface. But there are good ones that uses USB 2.0, you dont get as many chanels but most of us can live with that. I mainly use real hardware synths and midi and the USB port is perfekt for that so i´ll get by. The people that complain do so mainly because the prise I think and then blame other stuff. I mean a unibody computer with led screen, backlit keys, dvd burner that suports all formats. DDR3 memory and 1066 buss, both are still rare in the laptop market not to mention the new grafic chip, it´s GREAT!! Have tryed many games booth in windows xp under bootcamp and Leopard abd halflife 2 work with everything om max and so does farcry and doom3, spore, CoD4 works great to! What more could you ask? The benefints in the new macbook far outnumbers the negativ aspekts.. very far and I have used mine for 2 weeks and not one single problem or “just released syndrome” //Fredde

  35. arik says:

    Every laptop can’t have all features to make everyone happy. The Pro is for the pros, and if you need a firewire you can get a Pro– you can’t have it both ways!!

  36. ipad 2 accessories says:

    The thing is, the old Macbooks had Firewire 400 (heck even the older ibooks had them) so I can’t really blame those who upgraded to the alu MB only to find out that FW has been removed.

    Also there are quite a number of Pros using Macbooks because of its small size which is lighter and easier to carry, especially for the pros who does field work.

  37. Steven says:

    I’ve got the 2.4 Macbook myself, and I think this is possibly the best notebook computer ever built. Personally I like the dvi port on it. Compared to most consumer laptop computers, which only have vga out, it’s a treat to be able to take full advantage of external dvi compliant displays. So what… you have to buy an adapter. I also disagree that this computer is expensive, unless you mean money out the wallet only, but if you mean value, then it’s amazing value. Compared to plastic Macbooks, for a few hundred more, you get a state of the art notebook. Compared to the average PC notebook, it’s root and branch better value. I couldn’t find a PC notebook under $3000 that I wanted to take home. There’s been a long drawn out race to the bottom by HP, Dell, Sony, Acer and Toshiba. They keep making worse junk every generation, while Apple keeps improving their machines and improving their operating system. And then there’s Windows Vista as the icing on the cake! Switching to Apple is a political issue for many people; I guess that explains why it’s so irrational. From a rational perspective there’s no other way to go at the moment unless you’re crunching numbers on your box, you’re stuck on Windows because someone told you to avoid Macs 10 years ago, or you just insist on living irrationally.

  38. Scott says:

    He probably didn’t take the Macbook Pro because of size. Since the new generation of MacBooks have almost the exact same specs as the lower priced Macbook Pro. I used to have one of those black Macbooks from Early 2008 and I really like the 13″ screen, great specs for such a small laptop. Although, it lacks the bigger speakers, but that’s not a big deal. When I got my 15″ Macbook Pro, the 2.43 GHz version; even though it is light and a fantastic laptop, i’m still wishing it had the 13″ screen. Oh wells, it’ll take a little bit of time to get used to the screen again.

  39. Scott says:

    Should of mentioned this in the last post…but I definitely am not a fan of the mini-display port. Its good to keep the casing a little less crammed, but still.