Apple MacBook review

20 Mar 2008

Not much has changed on the surface, but improved performance and battery life make the MacBook more desirable than ever

Price when reviewed 
706
5

The Mac versus PC divide used to be so unbridgeable that switching seemed as likely as a lifelong Everton fan deciding Liverpool was the team for them, but no more.

Ever since Intel processors became standard across Apple's range, there's been little architectural difference between a MacBook and any given PC laptop. What's more, Mac OS X and Windows coexist happily; there's no issue with sharing files with PC users and most popular (and non-gaming) software is available in a Mac version.

And this latest MacBook looks set to lure even more Windows users to the other side. Like the MacBooks that have gone before it, it manages to feel slick and polished in a way that only Apple can achieve. By designing the software, hardware and everything in between, it ensures that things look and run just the way that it intends and, it goes without saying, it all works beautifully.

If you do still want to run Windows, you can - Apple's slick BootCamp takes care of that. But, when the laptop comes with an attractive, stable and capable operating system straight out of the box in the guise of Apple's OS X Leopard, and the facility to install Windows is simply the cherry on top, it's by no means certain you'll go to the trouble.

In terms of styling, little has changed for this new version of the MacBook. The case is identical, with the same sturdy gloss white plastic coating and minimal design. But it's no less desirable for it: the MacBook in its current guise is a design classic and it hasn't dated at all since its first outing back in 2006.

Unlike the much-criticised MacBook Air, it includes an optical drive: the slot-loading DVD writer. The drawback is a weight of 2.2kg compared to the Air's 1.38kg. And you'd also struggle to slip the MacBook into an envelope at 28mm thick.

The screen remains untouched, too, which is more of a mixed blessing. We've no complaints with its quality - the glossy coating gives videos and images a vivid clarity - but the 1,280 x 800 pixel resolution appears a little low in a 13in screen.

The keyboard, copied by countless manufacturers since its emergence, is also identical to the previous model. The gullies surrounding each key make typing a breeze, and the low amount of travel is extremely comfortable once you get used to it.

Some new markings on the function keys are the only novelty, including a set of media playback keys that came in so handy we wondered why they weren't included on previous models.

Where the changes really lie is under the familiar cover. The mid-range model now sports one of Intel's latest Penryn-based Intel Core 2 Duos, which truly speeds along, supported by an ample 2GB of RAM. It scored 1.20 in our Windows-based 2D benchmarks, which is extremely competitive for any laptop, let alone one this slim and portable.

Storage space is also expanded, with 160GB available on this, the mid-range model. (You can specify 250GB at time of purchase.) The more power-efficient processor also helps improve battery life: sitting idle, the MacBook survived an impressive 5hrs 7mins before expiring.

Unfortunately, this speed boost comes with a price bump to match, which pushes this version to over £700. And Apple has also pulled some accessories out of the box: no longer does the purchase price include a remote to control Front Row, Apple's media centre software. This previously free and extraordinarily simple controller now costs an additional £20. A frustrating and seemingly needless change.