Review Apple MacBook 6.1 Unibody 10-2009 Notebook

By: Klaus Hinum 11/09/2009

Plastics Unibody

After the latest revision of the cheapest Apple notebooks, a stable Unibody case is now also used in Cupertino. The small White could convince in our test with excellent input devices and exemplary emissions.

Apple MacBook 6.1
Apple MacBook 10-2009 Notebook

Case

Apple counts on a completely white design with many glossy surfaces in the new MacBook model. Unfortunately these are very sensitive to scratches and finger prints. The shape is brought more in line with the Unibody MacBook models and pleases by its simple grace.

Although polycarbonate (high-quality plastics) is used instead of aluminium, the stability of the case is very good. Only the area of the slot-in drive slightly yields under pressure. But, we could not provoke creaking or deflections.

The rubberized bottom side of the MacBook is interesting. Its inner part is reinforced by an aluminium sheet and it also replaces the feet. As this Apple notebook aspirates and blows off the air at the rear a distance to the desk top is not absolutely necessary.

The new plastic MacBook weighs a little bit more than the Unibody Macbook Pro 13". The 2.1 kg are still very portable and common for a 13" multimedia laptop (e.g., the Dell Studio XPS 13 weighs about 2.2 kg).

Simple and elegant design
Simple and elegant design
Rounded shapes
Rounded shapes
High-gloss surfaces - sensitive to fingerprints
High-gloss surfaces - sensitive to fingerprints

Equipment

Typical for Apple, the wired connectivity of the new white plastics MacBook is rather poor. Compared to the predecessor, Apple even scratched the FireWire port. Again it only provides two USB-2.0 ports, which could be quickly too less for the user. The built-in mini-display port drives external digital screens at high resolutions, but, all displays, besides the new ones from Apple, need an adapter for a charge.
The single audio port is not absolutely ideal too. It supports optical or analogue input or output with standard phone jacks. On the contrary, it works as input and output with the Apple headset. Furthermore, there are the common Kensington security slot and the ingenious MagSafe power socket. The new MacBook finally uses the same plug than the MacBook Air, whose cable leads straight towards the back.

All interfaces are on the lef: Kensington Lock, optical / analogue audio-port, 2x USB, Gigabit LAN, Mini Display Port, MagSafe power socket
All interfaces are on the lef: Kensington Lock, optical / analogue audio-port, 2x USB, Gigabit LAN, Mini Display Port, MagSafe power socket
The right side houses only the slot-in DVD burner
The right side houses only the slot-in DVD burner

As usual the 'Unibody' MacBook offers the following wireless communication features: (draft-)n from Atheros and Bluetooth 2.0+EDR. But, the infra-red receiver, which was built-in until now, was omitted in the new model.

The Atheros WLAN adapter proved to be reliable in our test against a Trendnet TEW-633GR and achieved a transfer rate of 3.6 MB/s during copying data in Windows at a distance of 3m and separated from the router by an exterior brick wall.

The software equipment of the new Unibody MacBook is typical for Macintosh computers. It comes with the newest Mac OS X operating system (in this case 10.6.1 Snow Leopard) and the software suite iLife 09 (iMovie, iPhoto, GarageBand, iWeb, and iVDVD) for common tasks. In addition it is as usually possible to install Windows via Boot Camp assistant. But, you'll need a Windows license.

Input Devices

Tastatur & Trackpad
Tastatur & Trackpad

Keyboard

Compared to the old white MacBook the single-key keyboard was not change at all. Despite a slightly firmer feedback than in our MacBook Pro test devices, it is also ready for long typing sessions. In the beginning the thin enter key and the layout optimized for Mac OS X are a bit odd. The key labeling is meager (e.g. labels for [ ] { } are missing) and you'll also have to do it without the appealing background light of the MacBook Pro models.

Touchpad

The white unibody MacBook now also got the glass pad of the MacBook Pro models as touchpad (called trackpad by Apple). So, you can enjoy the currently best gliding traits and surface structure in the market. Because it does it without dedicated button, the size is also more than sufficient and it's easy to work with its multi-touch gestures. Under Mac OS X it is possible to use up to 4 fingers at the same time to trigger different actions. As in all MacBooks this works excellent.

The Windows support of the touchpad was raised to a serviceable level by the current Boot camp drivers. Unfortunately, most of the multi-touch gestures are still not supported and the error detection is also not as sophisticated as under Mac OS X.

Display

Display in the sun
Display in the sun

The glossy 13.3" screen of the entry-level MacBook model still uses a resolution of 1280x800 pixel. What's new is that it uses a LED background light. This saves energy and should ensure an even illumination during the whole lifetime. The brightness too  profits from the new background light. A maximum of 360 cd/m² (beside the center) should be sufficiently bright to outshine most reflections in rooms. However, because of the glossy surface, outdoor usage is a problem. As the glass plate in front of the display, known from MacBook Pro models, was not used in the smaller MacBook, it subjectively reflects less.

265
cd/m²
305
cd/m²
270
cd/m²
290
cd/m²
325
cd/m²
316
cd/m²
261
cd/m²
289
cd/m²
274
cd/m²
Distribution of brightness
Information
Maximum: 325 cd/m²
Average: 288.3 cd/m²
Brightness Distribution: 80 %
Center on Battery: 325 cd/m²
Black: 0.43 cd/m²
Contrast: 756:1

Typical for a TN panel, the viewing angles are rather limited from top and from bottom. From the sides the stable range is bigger. In particular from bottom up the colors appear quickly dark respectively black.

Viewing angles of the TN display
Viewing angles of the TN display

The possible color space of the built-in screen (LP133WX2-TLC7) is clearly worse than of the current MacBook Pro series and can only be called 'average'. With factory settings the calibration is very bluish and optimized for best viewing angle stability.

Rather small representable color space.
Rather small representable color space.
About on par with the Fujitsu Siemens U9200...
About on par with the Fujitsu Siemens U9200...
... or the MacBook Air 2009.
... or the MacBook Air 2009.
The one of the MacBook Pro 17" is clearly bigger.
The one of the MacBook Pro 17" is clearly bigger.

Performance

Under Mac OS X we have already used the somewhat aged XBench 1.3. Since the release upgrade to Snow Leopard unfortunately not all results are comparably any longer. Especially the OpenGL and the User Interface results clearly declined (10.5 versus 10.6).
In comparison we checked the new Unibody MacBook against the old MacBook White (unfortunately still under Mac OS X 10.5), the current MacBook Air, and the old MacBook Pro with 2.2 GHz Core 2 Duo. Regarding CPU performance the new MacBook just got ahead of the old MBP. In the threading test this gets much more apparent. In the memory test,  the DDR3 models win by a clear margin (new MacBook and MB Air). All in all, because it uses DDR3 RAM, the new MacBook can leave its predecessor slightly behind and reaches the level of the former MacBook Pro of 2007.

XBench Comarison. The new MacBook is on par with the MacBook Pro of 2007.
XBench Comarison. The new MacBook is on par with the MacBook Pro of 2007.

In practice the performance of the built-in components prove to be sufficient for all common tasks under Mac OS X. Because of the mediocre performance of the 9400M video card, 3D games might be ailing a little bit (more information about this in the gaming section under Windows). At the time of writing the CPU performance is, e.g., also sufficient for HD Videos from Youtube, which cannot utilize GPU performance.  In our test both cores were used at 80% of their capacity and the video ran judder-free.

CPUZ CPU
CPUZ Mainboard
CPUZ RAM
CPUZ RAM SPD
GPUZ
GPUZ Sensoren Idle
GPUZ Sensoren Load
HDTune
System information Apple MacBook 10-2009
Cinebench R10 Rendering Single 32Bit
2439
Cinebench R10 Rendering Multiple CPUs 32Bit
4645
Cinebench R10 Shading 32Bit
3011
Help
PC Mark
PCMark 054946 points
PCMark Vantage3248 points
Help

We checked the application performance of the built-in components under Windows Vista Business 32 Bit (installed via Bootcamp). As expected the PC Mark values (Vantage and 05) lie, due to P7550 and DDR RAM, in the upper middle class.

3D Mark
3DMark 053871 points
3DMark 06
 1280x800
2148 points
Help

Considering the GeForce 9400M G is an on-board graphic solution, its gaming performance is very good. Compared to the predecessor models the graphics performance even improved as the new Unibody MacBook now also uses DDR3 RAM for main memory (which is shared with the GPU). Therefore, the performance does not longer differ from the Pro models (without dedicated GPU).

In our gaming test under Windows the 9400M proves to be capable for undemanding games. The new Fifa 10 could, e.g., be smoothly played at an average of 40 fps (minimum 12 fps, maximum 67 fps) in the native resolution of 1280x800 and with high details (all options on or high). At minimum details and 800x600 resolution the frame rate raises to 106.7 fps (minimum 70, maximum 166 fps).

However, older demanding games, e.g., the old World in Conflict, can just be played at medium details. In our test only 18 fps could be achieved at a resolution of 1280x800 pixel in the integrated benchmark. Because of the game design, at least the first player mission should be just playable with these settings.

The limits of the integrated entry-level graphics card and the moderate CPU quickly get apparent with demanding modern 3D games like, e.g., Armed Assault 2. Even after reducing all options to the minimum (3D resolution: 800x600, minimum details and visual range) only an unplayable framerate of 7 pictures per second was achieved in the single player mission "Trial by Fire".

Our article "Computer Games on Laptop graphic cards" lists which games should run (at which detail level) with 9400M video card in detail.

Fifa 10 Demo: 1280x800 high details, runs smoothly, only repetitions studder
Fifa 10 Demo: 1280x800 high details, runs smoothly, only repetitions studder
World in Conflict: 1280x800, medium details, 1st level, just playable
World in Conflict: 1280x800, medium details, 1st level, just playable
Counter-Strike Source
 ResolutionSettingsValue
 1024x768high, 0xAA, 0xAF35 fps
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in comparison
Fujitsu-Siemens Esprimo Mobile U9200 (min)
 T2390, Graphics Media Accelerator (GMA) X3100
4
   ...
Asus Eee PC 1015PN
 N550, ION 2
21.7
HP ProBook 4510s
 T6570, Graphics Media Accelerator (GMA) 4500M
23.6
Apple MacBook 2009-10
 P7550, GeForce 9400M (G) / ION (LE)
35
Apple MacBook Air 13 inch 2009-06 MC234*/A
 SL9600, GeForce 9400M (G) / ION (LE)
44
Acer Aspire M3-581TG
 2637M, GeForce GT 640M
65
   ...
MSI GT628 (max)
 Q9000, GeForce GTS 160M
242.6
Toshiba MK2555GSX
Transfer Rate Minimum: 32 MB/s
Transfer Rate Maximum: 76.4 MB/s
Transfer Rate Average: 59.2 MB/s
Access Time: 17.8 ms
Burst Rate: 91.6 MB/s
CPU Usage: 2.1 %

The Toshiba MK2555GSXF hard drive in our test sample works at a velocity of 5400 revolutions per minute and achieves a maximum of 76 MB/s in the test. Faster 5400 rpm hard drives accomplish a maximum of 90 MB /s (Seagate ST9160310AS - 160GB in the Eee PC 1002HA). So, the performance is rather average. An SSD would clearly speed up the system. For example the HDD score in XBench 1.3 (see above) was clearly better in models with SSD (MacBook Air with integrated SSD and MBP 2.2 GHz with Patriot Memory Torqx).

The USB-transfer rate of 33MB/S, tested with a Corsair Survivor USB Stick, is within a normal range.

DPC Latency Checker
DPC Latency Checker Apple MacBook 10-2009

DPC Latencies

Much to our surprisse, the new MacBook is the first Apple Notebook which also achieves serviceable latencies under Windows (without deactivating the keyboard manager).

If you want to use an external sound card under Windows at least the latencies should not cause a problem.

Emissions

System noise

In our test the fan most of the time ran at 3000 rpm, whereas the maximum was 4500 rpm. The minimum noise level is the ambient noise when the notebook is switched off. This is only marginally exceeded by the minimum noise of the fan under normal load of 3000-3500 rpm. The top line is the measured maximum noise level. The fan only ran at 6000 rpm after we had changed the settings accordingly in the "smcfancontrol" tool (never during our tests).

Noise qualities of the integrated fan: 3000 - 6000 rpm
Noise qualities of the integrated fan: 3000 - 6000 rpm

Noise Level

Idle 30.2 / 30.2 / 30.2 dB(A)
Load 30.5 / 36.0 dB(A)
 
    30 dB
silent
40 dB
audible
50 dB
loud
 
min: , med: , max:     (15 cm distance)

Temperature

In the older MacBook Pro models Apple accepts high temperatures in the favor of low noise. This does not really apply to the MacBook White. While we could actually measure the high temperatures in our diagram after a 12 h stress test (Furmark + Prime 95) on a soft surface, the temperatures are very low under normal load (browsing the Internet, benchmarks, games, idle) or even after high load but on the desk. So generally the temperature was not an issue with the MacBook.

If you use the small Mac on your lap and the surfaces get inconveniently hot on the bottom side (the palm rests stay always sufficiently cool), you can manually increase the fan speed by the smcfancontrol (Freeware tool).

Max. Load
 45.6 °C46.6 °C46.9 °C 
 41.9 °C42.8 °C39.7 °C 
 32.2 °C32.2 °C32.8 °C 
Maximum: 46.9 °C
Average: 40.1 °C
42.0 °C49.4 °C46.2 °C
42.2 °C46.5 °C46.3 °C
40.6 °C43.9 °C42.8 °C
Maximum: 49.4 °C
Average: 44.4 °C
Power Supply (max.)  39.8 °C | Room Temperature 22 °C

Loudspeakers

The mono speaker in the MacBook is located in the right back area and sends its sound via display towards the user. The maximum volume suffices most fields of applications. However, it's not possible to use it as sound machine during a party. Because of the small diameter, the loudspeaker presents  nearly no basses and so, the quality of the music replay is somewhat limited.

Battery Life

The Lithium-Polymer battery with a capacity of 60Wh is now no longer removeable and can not be replaced by the user. It is sufficient for a mobile use of up to 7h and 55 minutes in our test (reading of a text is emulated, min. brightness, WLAN off). During WLAN surfing a battery life of  5.5 hours was possible. In the worst case the notebook at least ran 1h 50 min on battery (Battery Eater Classic - full load - Windows Vista).

A sad thing about the battery is, that Apple saved on the integrated LED charge status indicator. It can only be found on the Pro models anymore.

During partly usage, the Li-Po battery was recharged within about two hours.

Battery Runtime
Idle (without WLAN, min brightness)
7h 55min
WiFi Surfing
5h 33min
DVD
3h 55min
Load (maximum brightness)
1h 48min

The small white notebook also convinces in terms of energy demand. If you compare it to the Dell Studio XPS 13, the values appear especially good. With 0.2 W and 0.5 /0.8 W (Windows) the switched off notebook even stays below the EU limit of 1W.

Power Consumption

Off / Standby 0.2 / 0.5 Watt
Idle 7.2 / 12 / 15 Watt
Load 35 / 52.5 Watt
 
Key: min: , med: , max:         

Verdict

The white Unibody MacBook is a well-done 13" notebook and offers a nice start into Apple's mobile notebook world. In particular the low system noise and the long battery life convince. In addition the good input devices, first and foremost the excellent glass touchpad are clear pros.
However, we did not like the meager connectivity and the glossy display that much.

Compared to similarly equipped Windows notebooks the price is competitive and adequate to the equipment.

Compared to the more expensive aluminium MacBook Pro 13 the keyboard light, a FireWire port, and the LED charge indicators are missing. In addition the display of the MacBook Pro features a bigger color space (wide gammut) and reflects more because of the glass plate in front of it. Naturally, the Unibody aluminium case is the biggest optical and haptical difference. It is a little bit slimmer and smaller and also weighs slightly less (2 kg). In return the poly-carbonate MacBook is clearly cheaper and comes with a bigger HDD at the time of writing.

MacBook versus MacBook Pro 13
MacBook versus MacBook Pro 13
MacBook versus MacBook Pro 13
Apple MacBook 10-2009

Specifications

Apple MacBook 2009-10

:: Processor
:: Mainboard
Nvidia MCP79MX (9400M G)
:: Memory
2048 MB, DDR3
:: Graphics adapter
NVIDIA GeForce 9400M (G) / ION (LE), Core: 450 MHz, shared Memory (256 MB in Mac OS X), 186.47
:: Display
13.3 inch 16:10, 1280x800 pixel, LP133WX2-TLC7, glossy: yes
:: Harddisk
Toshiba MK2555GSX, 250 GB 5400 rpm SATA-II
:: Soundcard
NVIDIA MCP79/7A HD Audio - Cirrus Logic CS4206A (AB77)
:: Connections
2 USB 2.0, 1 DisplayPort, 1 Kensington Lock, Audio Connections: opt./analog. output (with apple headset also input), integrated omni-directional microphone,
:: Networking
nVidia nForce 10/100/1000 (10/100/1000MBit), Broadcom 802.11a/b/g/n (a b g n ), 2.0 + EDR Bluetooth
:: Optical drive
Matshita DVD-R UJ-898
:: Size
height x width x depth (in mm): 2.74 x 33.03 x 23.17
:: Weight
2.139 kg Power Supply: 0.244 kg
:: Battery
60 Wh Lithium-Polymer, not replaceable
:: Price
899 Euro
:: Operating System
Microsoft Windows Vista Business 32 Bit
:: Additional features
Webcam: iSight, Mac OS X 10.5, iLife 09, 12 Months Warranty

 

The new MacBook 6.1 in Unibody dress.
The new MacBook 6.1 in Unibody dress.
The multi-touch trackpad is one of the highlights.
The multi-touch trackpad is one of the highlights.
It has excellent gliding traits.
It has excellent gliding traits.
The single-key keyboard is comfortable in use and does not clatter.
The single-key keyboard is comfortable in use and does not clatter.
Apple MacBook 6.1 Notebook
Apple MacBook 6.1 Notebook
Due to the high brightness the display stays legible, but the reflections are annoying.
Due to the high brightness the display stays legible, but the reflections are annoying.
The two DDR3 modules can be replaced by the user.
The two DDR3 modules can be replaced by the user.
Rubberized bottom side instead of feet
Rubberized bottom side instead of feet
Very quiet fan of the MacBook 6.1
Very quiet fan of the MacBook 6.1
It only seldom exceeds a velocity of 3500 rpm.
It only seldom exceeds a velocity of 3500 rpm.
There are only six ports on the left.
There are only six ports on the left.
Small power switch as in the Alu MBP.
Small power switch as in the Alu MBP.
Apple MacBook 6.1 Notebook
Apple MacBook 6.1 Notebook
Apple MacBook 6.1 Notebook
Apple MacBook 6.1 Notebook
Apple MacBook 6.1 Notebook
The bottom cover is reinforced by an aluminium sheet.
The bottom cover is reinforced by an aluminium sheet.
Fingerprints and fine scratches quickly "decorate" the glossy parts.
Fingerprints and fine scratches quickly "decorate" the glossy parts.
New MagSafe plug known from the MB Air.
New MagSafe plug known from the MB Air.
Apple MacBook 6.1 Notebook
Apple MacBook 6.1 Notebook
The integrated battery cannot be replaced by the user.
The integrated battery cannot be replaced by the user.

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Links

Compare Prices

Pro

+Glass trackpad
+Very quiet system noise
+Design / workmanship
+Bright display
+Long battery life
 

Cons

-Poor connectivity
-Sharp front edge
-Glossy display
-Battery not replaceable

Shortcut

What we liked
The quiet system noise and the good input devices.

What we missed
Interfaces, interfaces, interfaces - and a matte display

What surprised us
That the low system noise does no longer result in high surface temperatures and that we did not miss the aluminium case at all.

The competition
Besides the 13" MacBook Pro these Windows Notebooks: Dell Studio XPS 13, Toshiba Satellite U500 but also CULV notebooks like the Acer Aspire 3810T.

Rating

Apple MacBook 2009-10
11/06/2009
Klaus Hinum

Chassis
93%
Keyboard
90%
Pointing Device
98%
Connectivity
70%
Weight
84%
Battery
96%
Display
85%
Games Performance
69%
Application Performance
85%
Temperature
85%
Noise
98%
Add Points
90%
Average
87%
86%
Multimedia *
Weighted Average

> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > Reviews > Archive of our own reviews > Review Apple MacBook 10-2009 Notebook
Author: Klaus Hinum, 2009-11-13 (Update: 2013-06- 6)