the unibody MacBook, available for $999 has often been seen as a starter laptop or something better suited for students than professionals. to dismiss it as such is a mistake: it’s a powerful machine that’s capable of throwing just about whatever comes at it. and while it may lack the panache of its aluminum-clad cousins, the resilient white MacBook has plenty to offer even the most demanding user.
Under the hood is a 2.4 GHz Intel processor paired to Nvidia GeForce 320M graphics. The 320M is an integrated graphics processor (IGP) on the motherboard that shares memory with the main system. Integrated graphics have been maligned in the past as being slow. That’s certainly the case for older MacBooks, like those produced in 2008 and earlier. But today’s models can handle whatever you throw at them, whether it’s a game from Steam or Photoshop.
The MacBook comes equipped with a 250 GB hard disk drive, 8x “SuperDrive,” Gigabit Ethernet, two USB ports and mini DisplayPort to connect an external monitor. That’s a pretty full suite of connectors – you can attach any kind of external monitor, if you need one, using a variety of adapters available from the Apple Store.
The one thing the MacBook is missing is FireWire. This may be important for users who have external hard drives that use only FireWire–and there’s no easy way to connect those devices to the MacBook. If that’s the case, a MacBook pro may be a better choice.
So who’s this MacBook for? Just about anyone who needs a Mac laptop for general use, from students to professionals. It’s a rock-solid workhorse that stands up to abuse thanks to its tough polycarbonate shell, and as Mac laptops go, it’s inexpensive.
MacBook Air: the new lightweight champion
The recently redesigned MacBook Air is a marvel to behold and to touch. It’s tiny, much less expensive than it used to be, and so light it’s practically like carrying an iPad – yet it’s a full-featured MacBook computer with a full-sized keyboard and everything you’d expect from Apple.
The entry-level MacBook Air is priced the same as the MacBook at $999. It’s smaller, with an 11-inch screen, and at least on paper, it doesn’t look as fast or as robust – a 1.4 GHz processor and a scant 64 GB of internal storage. But that doesn’t tell the whole story, because the MacBook Air product line now depends entirely on flash-based storage, the same kind of storage technology used in the iPhone and iPad.
The MacBook Air boots very quickly and runs much faster than its specs suggest, but if you’re planning on keeping all of your music, photos and apps together in one place, you might find the storage capacity of the MacBook Air to be a bit too small.
You can configure the MacBook Air with more storage and more RAM (neither of which are user-upgradable, so you’ll need to do this ahead of time if you’re going to at all). Apple also sells the MacBook Air with a faster processor and a larger (13-inch) screen, though you’re going to pay more: a fully loaded MacBook Air costs $1599 or more depending on options.
Don’t forget, the MacBook Air doesn’t come with Ethernet or with an optical drive either. If you need to connect it to an Ethernet network you’ll need a USB adapter. Apple sells an external USB optical drive designed for the MacBook Air, also, but you can also use Mac OS X’s CD and DVD Sharing feature to share files on a disc residing in another networked Mac’s optical drive.
So who’s the MacBook Air designed for? Throughout its life the MacBook Air has been for road warriors who are looking for usability in a slick, easy-to-carry package. That still holds true, but Apple’s latest design makes the MacBook Air a more palatable choice for general consumers who are looking for something smaller, sleeker and maybe just a bit cooler than the MacBook has to offer.
MacBook Pro: diversity and power
The “Pro” in MacBook Pro means different things to different people. Like the MacBook Air, all of the Pro machines are clad in aluminum. They also all sport backlit keyboards, an amazingly handy feature when you’re working in low-light conditions, like late nights in the living room or on the red-eye back from a business trip. They come standard with more RAM pre-installed than Other MacBooks do, as well.
Available in 13-, 15- and 17-inch configurations, MacBook Pros are also the most diverse laptops in Apple’s product line. From the $1199 13-inch to the $2299 17-inch model, you’re going to be spending quite a bit more money.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro is very reminiscent of its white-clad cousin, though that extra $200 nets you some nifty extras, like twice as much RAM, the backlit keyboard, an SD card slot – very handy for downloading photos or movies from a digital camera or camcorder – and a FireWire 800 port. If you want to pay a bit more you can get a faster processor, too.
The 15-inch MacBook Pro is Apple’s most diverse laptop model; no wonder, as it’s long been one of the company’s best-selling machines. Apple offers the 15-inch MacBook Pro with 2.4 GHz or 2.53 GHz Intel Core i5 processors, a 2.66 GHz Intel Core i7 processor or an optional 2.8 GHz Intel Core i7 processor. These processors are built for more speed and better parallel processing capabilities than the processors found in the 13-inch MacBook Pro or any of the MacBook or MacBook Air systems; this means you get more done in less time, in industrial-strength apps that take advantage of them.
The 15-inch MacBook Pro also introduces a discrete graphics card – Nvidia’s GeFoe GT 3300M graphics processor. This can be shut off if you’re interested in power conservation while you’re on the road; integrated graphics on the motherboard will keep the system working. Otherwise the discrete graphics will make many applications run faster – and this isn’t just for games. Apple leverages OpenGL graphics technology throughout the operating system, and it’s used by many different applications for graphics processing. Between this and the i5 or i7 processors, there’s a marked difference in the 15-inch MacBook Pro’s ability to serve as a serious multimedia workhorse – working in Photoshop or InDesign, Final Cut Studio, Logic Pro, Aperture, and other professional apps.
Who’s the 15-inch MacBook Pro for? This one is the mainstay for the serious Apple professional, especially for people in the creative market or others who depend on the Mac to make their living. With prices ranging from $1799 to $2199 (or higher, if you customize), the MacBook Pro comes in a range of configurations to suit different wallets, too.
And finally, the grande dame of the MacBook line: the 17-inch MacBook Pro. It’s the Cadillac Escalade of MacBook systems–unapologetically huge, but still sophisticated and sleek. Despite its massive size, it’s still remarkably thin and light for a 17-inch laptop.
The 17-inch MacBook Pro provides you with a staggering 1920 x 1200 pixel display –enough to view two pages of data side by side. And unlike its 13- and 15-inch siblings, the 17-inch model has an ExpressCard 34 slot–an expansion interface that lets you connect other devices, such as super-fast eSATA hard disk drives and USB 3.0. It lacks the SD card slot found on those other MacBook Pro models, however.
Although it starts out only being $100 more than the 15-inch MacBook Pro at $2299, storage and memory options, faster CPU speeds, antiglare finish on the display and other options can make the 17-inch MacBook Pro tip the scales at up to $4500, making this the most premium-priced laptop Apple has to offer.
The MacBook Pro is really Apple’s creme de la creme, the no-compromises laptop for the Apple professional that absolutely needs the fastest, biggest portable system Apple has to offer. Filmmakers, videographers and some other media professionals can certainly make the claim that the 17-inch MacBook Pro is the one for them. For everyone else? It’s certainly luxurious – but is it absolutely necessary? Probably not.