Review Apple MacBook Aluminium Notebook

PowerBook 12" Successor

Apple actually introduces a 13.3" MacBook Pro with the new Aluminium MacBook. In contrast to its bigger brother this smaller consumer laptop does neither have a dedicated graphics card nor FireWire nor ExpressCard slot. In this review you'll find out whether this new design notebook is to be recommended.

Apple MacBook Aluminium 2008

Case

The new Aluminium MacBook is the eagerly awaited successor of the 12" Powerbook. Its design follows the design of the bigger MacBook Pro and the top models of the Apple MacBook series create a new quality category. Actually the Aluminium MacBook is rather a 13.3" MacBook Pro. The design is based on the MacBook Air's and sets standards in design and workmanship.

Especially the rounded display lid reminds very much on the MacBook Air. Also the power button and the keyboard are the same. The only contrasts to the aluminium case are the black bordered display (with glass pane in front of it) and the black plastic cover of the hinge (in order to guarantee WLAN and Bluetooth reception).

The full-body aluminium case has an excellent haptics and appears to be of very high quality. The display lid was improved and closes absolutely flush (a point of critique of the former MacBook Pro model), because it utilizes the same closing mechanism which was new in the MacBook Air. The magnetic lock works excellent and holds the display sufficiently tight if closed. Also the gaps between the parts are precise and even.

Only the look of the 'old' Magsafe socket (I know like in former times) does not match the new look of this Apple laptop.

Summarizing the above, the MacBook was clearly improved by the new design and the new production process, which uses only one aluminium block and is therewith clearly better than the already good predecessor model (in black and white).

Connectivity

As so far Apple locates all interfaces on the left side of the case. Apple further reduced the already rather low number of interfaces of the black and white plastic MacBooks. It's in vain to look for a FireWire port on the new model. Compared to the MacBook Pro also an ExpressCard slot is missing.

The new mini DisplayPort replaces the mini DVI port of the former model and is due to the a higher maximum resolution of 2560x1600 cleary advantageous. However, you also need to add further costs for a display adapter (VGA, Video, DVI), because Apple does not provide any.

Alike in the MacBook Pro you'll especially miss the dockingstation port, which would help connecting all peripherals in an easy way at home or in the office.

Front Side: MacRemote Irda, Indicator LED
Front Side: MacRemote Irda, Indicator LED
Left Side: MagSafe (power), Gigabit LAN, 2x USB 2.0, Mini DisplayPort, Line-In (analogue / optical), Headphones and Line-Out (analogue / optical), Kensington Lock, Battery indicator LEDs
Left Side: MagSafe (power), Gigabit LAN, 2x USB 2.0, Mini DisplayPort, Line-In (analogue / optical), Headphones and Line-Out (analogue / optical), Kensington Lock, Battery indicator LEDs
Right Side: Superdrive (DVD RW Drive)
Right Side: Superdrive (DVD RW Drive)

The provided software consists of the newest version of the Mac OS operating system, that is Mac OS 10.5 Leopard,  and the application suite iLife 2008. Therewith the beginner is actually prepared for all standard applications.

By default Apple extends a warranty of 12 months. This can be directly enhanced to 36 months for a surcharge of 349.- Euro (including support) at Apple. This is 50.- Euro less than for the old MacBook models. Apparently Apple relies more on the new construction than on the old one or Apple reacted to the animadversion on the high warranty prices. In Austria the speciality retailer, McShark offers a cheaper solution with the geniuscard, which costs 149 Euro (99 Euro for students). However, this warranty is only valid in Austria (i.e., the notebook has to be brought to a McShark retailer).

Input Devices

Single-Key Keyboard

The new keyboard of the MacBook Pro is also based on the research done for the MacBook Air and is the same as the  new MacBook Pro aluminium keyboard. The keys are now directly embedded in the case and have a soft yet clear feedback. Similar to the MacBook Pro also the MacBook has the keys lighted from below. Because the keyboard unit is screwed to the full body the keys are tightly embedded in the case an do not clatter. It also does not give, because of the aluminium shell. Compared to the similarly looking keyboard of the MacBook Air, the key feedback appeared to be somewhat softer in our test.

The layout of the Apple keyboard is very good for Mac OS X. In our test we were able to touch type immediately without problems. The cursor keys stayed small (which is especially inconvenient for gamers) and so did the very small enter key.

As usual we have to warn Windows PC switchers. The layout is optimized for Mac OS X and characterized by being only sparsely labelled (e.g., the labels for the following characters are missing: '[]|{}' ). So, you'll need to find them by trial and error at the beginning.
Whether you like this keyboard better or the one of the former MacBook depends on your individual preferences.

The new glass - trackpad

One of the biggest innovations is the new trackpad made of glass without dedicated touchpad button. Apple successfully improved the already very good sliding properties once again. The glass surface obviously pays off, even though it does hardly look like glass. Using the multitouch functionality is also easy and intuitive. Compared to the predecessor the functionality was enhanced by some functions requiring four fingers (expose and task switch by default), which certainly need some time to get used to.

The Apple designers created a completely clickable touchpad  (actually only 4/5 because it is a rocker switch), because the button was missed out for a bigger touchpad area. About one thumb from the upper edge, the touchpad can be clicked like a button (not only the tab-click, which all touchpads can). It turned out that the new trackpad can even be used in a traditional way (as if the button still were in the bottom part).
Summarizing the above, the already very good touchpad was further improved and can so probably be called today's best touchpad. An exception is the touchpad of the new MacBook, which is actually identical to the one in the MBP.

small cursor keys
small cursor keys
excellent glass touchpad (picture: Apple)
excellent glass touchpad

An Software liefert Apple dem MacBook das neueste Mac OS 10.5 Leopard Betriebssystem und die Anwendungssuite iLife 2008 mit. Damit ist ein Einsteiger eigentlich für alle üblichen Anwendungen gerüstet.

Standardmäßig bietet Apple eine Garantie über 12 Monate an. Diese kann bei Apple direkt um 249 Euro auf 36 Monate erweitert werden (inklusive Support). Dies ist um 50 Euro billiger als noch bei den alten MacBook Modellen. Anscheinend vertraut Apple der neuen Fertigungsweise mehr als noch der alten oder Apple reagierte auf die Kritik an den hohen Garantiepreisen. Eine günstigere Methode bietet in Österreich der Fachhändler McShark mit der geniuscard um 129 Euro (99 Euro für Studenten) an. Hierbei gilt die Garantie jedoch nur für Österreich (muss zu einem McShark Händler gebracht werden).

Display

In the course of the redesign of the MacBook Apple now also equips the smaller models with LED background lighting. The advantage is that the screen is immediately bright after power on and that the brightness stays the same over the whole life cycle. Furthermore, the maximum brightness clearly improved compared to the former MacBook model (which is still available). (178 cd/m2 vs. 300 cd/m2 in the centre of the screen).

Alike its bigger brother, the MacBook Pro 15", and the iMac, also the MacBook got a scratch-proof and stable glass pane in front of the display, which extends over the black border. This leads to a seamless look. As in former models, the display is 'glossy' and reflects. However, the brightness is sufficient for working in usually bright environments without big problems.

Our measurements show a moderate illumination of 76% and a relatively high black value of 1.67 cd/m². The later gives a clearly worse contrast than the MacBook Pro and therewith less strong colours. Nevertheless, our personal impression was that the colours are rather good. Also skin colours appeared to look like in reality.

301
cd/m²
318
cd/m²
301
cd/m²
289
cd/m²
305
cd/m²
281
cd/m²
256
cd/m²
268
cd/m²
234
cd/m²
Information
Maximum: 318 cd/m²
Average: 283.7 cd/m²
Brightness Distribution: 74 %
Black: 1.67 cd/m²
Contrast: 183:1
Distribution of brightness

The viewing angles are marginally worse than of the MacBook Pro, but still do not restrain (single) users much. The reaction speed was subjectively also alright, because there was hardly any stuttering.

Viewing Angles of MacBook vs. MacBook Air
Viewing Angles of MacBook versus MacBook Air
Viewing Angles of MacBook versus MacBook Air

Performance

Another big change (except of the uni-body aluminium case) is that this notebook utilizes the new Nvidia chip set GeForce 9400M. This is a shared memory graphics chip, which utilizes 256 MB of the fast DDR3 RAM under Mac OS X. According to Apple this change results in an up to five times better performance than the old GMA X3100. In the Cinebench OpenGL test the new MacBook was about 2.3 times faster (nearly 2000 points for the old black MacBook). In many games (Nvidia listed e.g. Call of Duty 4) it should be possible to actually reach a performance increase of 5x. So, the performance of this graphics solution is about equally high than of entry-level graphics solutions with dedicated memory (e.g., GeForce 9300M GS). Current games, e.g., Spore, should therewith at least run smoothly on low details (this does not hold true for demanding games like Crysis).

The CPU was not that rigorously updated. The built-in Core 2 Duo P8600 runs at the same clock speed than the T8300 in the former MacBook top model, that is at 2.4 GHz. The only change is that the clock rate of the frontside bus was increased to 1066 MHz (from 800 MHz). So, the CPU is marginally faster. Furthermore, this CPU is produced in 45 nm technology, and, so, it demands less energy (max. 25 Watt TDP).

Cinebench R10 Comparison MacBook / MacBook Pro (old and new)
Cinebench R10 Comparison MacBook / MacBook Pro (old and new)

The total performance of this system is close to the performance of the small MacBook Pro model when running applications that do not demand much graphical power. The fast Core 2 Duo CPU and the 9400M graphics chip are sufficiently fast for standard applications like browsing the internet, office, picture editing, or videos (even HD).

In the Xbench benchmark the result is somewhat lower as expected, because the test sample achieved surprisingly only 14 points in the UI test (we expected above 200). Unfortunately it was not enough time left to find out why. The total score should therewith be slightly lower than of the MacBook Pro with active 9400M graphic.

XBench Benchmark Comparison - Note: There's probably an error in the UI test of the new MacBook. The total score and the UI score are clearly lower as we expected.
XBench Benchmark Comparison - Note: There's probably an error in the UI test of the new MacBook. The total score and the UI score are clearly lower as we expected.
Cinebench R10
 SettingsValue
 Rendering Single 32Bit2817 Points
 Rendering Multiple CPUs 32Bit5528 Points
 Shading 32Bit5177 Points

The built-in 250 GB hard drive runs only on a revolution speed of 5,400 rpm and is therewith quieter than HDDs with 7,200 rpm. In the Xbench 1.3 HDD test this mass storage devices reached a maximum writing speed of 59 MB/sec (reading speed 54 MB/sec). Therewith it is good average (today's fastest hard drives, which we reviewed so far, achieved 90 MB/sec) and marginally worse than the 320 GB hard drive in the MacBook Pro (63 bzw. 58 MB/s).

Emissions

Temperature

The test sample ran without big interruptions for more than a day, but without high load (screen saver or customers in the McShark store, because the test sample is a demonstration object). Immediately before measuring the temperature we ran Cinebench R10 and XBench.

The results of the measurements were very positive. Especially the palm rest areas stayed with 28°C very cool. This is because the battery is in the front part. The maximum measured temperature of 35.4°C (on the bottom side) can also not be called hot.

However, the temperature could be higher in hot environments and if running under full load for a long time.

Max. Load
 38.7 °C39.3 °C28.8 °C 
 34.6 °C33.8 °C28.3 °C 
 27.9 °C27.5 °C27.1 °C 
 
29.2 °C34.0 °C35.4 °C
28.4 °C31.0 °C32.2 °C
27.7 °C27.7 °C27.8 °C
Maximum: 39.3 °C
Average: 31.8 °C
 Maximum: 35.4 °C
Average: 30.4 °C
Room Temperature 22 °C

System Noise

Because the test was done in a rather loud environment, we do not have precise measurements. During our several hours lasting test we ran this notebook most of the time with 9400M graphics card and could never hear the fan running. This fits well to the other Apple notebooks, which are also very quiet unless run under high load for a long time. However, Apple fans are known to turn into small turbines under high load. But, in standard operation such periods will be rare.

Loud speakers

In contrast to the MacBook Pro, the loudspeakers emit their sound through the vent holes on its back side, so their sound is slightly worse. Due to the same reason as above (see system noise), we can only provide a detailed evaluation with a coming test sample.

Battery Life

According to Apple the battery life is up to five hours. In our first test we could browse the Internet via WLAN for a little more than 4 hours without needing to recharge. This is a good value and about the runtime of the first Core 2 Duo generation (the direct predecessor should have a marginally better runtime). This is, because the Lithium Polymer battery inside this notebook has only a capacity of 45 Wh, while the former generation had a 55 Wh battery.

This are good values for a light, thin, and powerful notebook, which are comparable to the battery life of the MacBook Pro (with integrated graphics chip). Unfortunately Apple does not offer any battery with more capacity.

Mac OS X Switcher

Alike with all Apple products, Windows switcher should be warned that Mac OS X follows some different concepts. If you are new to PCs it might well be that the Macintosh concept is even easier to learn. Detailed information is available in our MacBook Pro long-term review. One important thing first, Windows programs only run under Mac OS X with pre-installed Windows (via emulation) or in a multi-boot system if you boot from the Windows partition.

Verdict

The new MacBook is clearly a coup. The new uni-body aluminium case convinces by workmanship, design, and stability. Furthermore, we liked the excellent trackpad made of glass and the graphical performance of the 9400M (today's fastest integrated graphics chip). Although the application performance did not really improve, it stays on a high level.

A disadvantage is the mediocre interface equipment. We feel that Apple might have done this on purpose, so that the MacBook does not compete with the MacBook Pro too much.

We would like a matte display version of this bright screen too, because this would avoid reflections in bright environments.

Compared to the former MacBook model, the Aluminium notebook clearly appears to be of higher value. Considering the test values, it is closer to the 13" MacBook Pro and a worthy successor of the 12" Powerbook, which has not been in the market since a long time.

Summarizing the above, the new MacBook is a very interesting alternative to the 15" MacBook Pro. Due to its smaller size it is clearly mobiler, furthermore, it is cheaper and except of the optional graphical performance of the 9600M GT (switchable in the Pro) comparably fast. Furthermore, also the small MacBook Air is a serious competitor of the new Aluminium MacBook.

MacBook Pro versus MacBook - Compared the to MacBook Pro, the MacBook is only missing the second, more powerful graphics card, FireWire 800, and an ExpressCard slot.
MacBook Pro versus MacBook - Compared the to MacBook Pro, the MacBook is only missing the second, more powerful graphics card, FireWire 800, and an ExpressCard slot.

Mac OS X Umsteiger

Wie bei allen Apple Produkten muss man Windows Umsteiger davor warnen, dass Mac OS X einige unterschiedliche Bedienkonzepte verfolgt. Für PC-Neulinge dürfte das Macintosh Konzept jedoch eventuell leichter zu erlernen sein. Detailliertere Informationen findet man in unseren vorherigen MacBook Pro Dauertestbericht. Eines vorweg, Windows Programme laufen in Mac Os X nur mit einem installierten Windows (per Emulation) oder auf einer parallel installierten Windows Partition.

 

Many thanks to the company McShark Multimedia AG (especially to the store in Linz), who kindly allowed us to test the new MacBook Pro model in detail. As all other Apple notebooks also the MacBook is available in each store of McShark.

 

Vielen Dank der Firma McShark Multimedia AG (im Besonderen der Filiale in Linz), bei denen wir freundlicherweise das neue MacBook Modell ausführlich testen durften. Wie alle Apple Notebooks, ist das MacBook in jeder Filiale von McShark erhältlich.

Under Review: Apple MacBook 13.3“ Aluminium
Under Review: Apple MacBook 13.3“ Aluminium
Rating Apple MacBook

Specifications

Apple MacBook Aluminium

:: Processor
:: Mainboard
Nvidia MCP79MX (9400M G)
:: Memory
2048 MB, DDR3 1066 MHz
:: Graphics adapter
NVIDIA GeForce 9400M (G) / ION (LE), Core: 450 MHz, 256MB shared Memory
:: Display
13.3 inch 16:10, 1280x800 pixel, glossy, glossy: yes
:: Harddisk
250 GB - 5400 rpm, 250 GB 5400 rpm S-ATA
:: Soundcard
Realtek ALC885/889A
:: Connections
2 USB 2.0, 1 DisplayPort, 1 Kensington Lock, Audio Connections: optical /analogue audio in- and out, Unidirectional Irda for MacRemote
:: Networking
10/100/1000 LAN Card (10/100/1000MBit), Broadcom 802.11a/b/g/n (a b g n ), 2.1+EDR Bluetooth
:: Optical drive
Matshita DVD-R UJ-868 ATA
:: Size
height x width x depth (in mm): 24.1 x 325 x 227
:: Weight
2 kg
:: Battery
45 Wh Lithium-Polymer
:: Price
1400 Euro
:: Operating System
Apple Mac Os X 10.5
:: Additional features
Cleaning cloth, printed manual, iLife 08, 12 Months Warranty

 

The new MacBook 13.3" is ...
The new MacBook 13.3" is ...
... , as all notebooks of the Aluminium family, ...
... , as all notebooks of the Aluminium family, ...
... completely made of one aluminium block.
...  completely made of one aluminium block.
The new case has many design elements ...
The new case has many design elements ...
... of the MacBook Air ...
... of the MacBook Air ...
and convinces by excellent stability, look, and feel.
and convinces by excellent stabilit, look, and feel.
The countersunk hinge finally allows a bigger opening angle.
The countersunk hinge, can finally be opened a little more.
The hard drive can be easily accessed in the new model (beside the battery).
The hard drive can be easily accessed in the new model (beside the battery).
However, in order to replace the memory modules, you'll need to unscrew some screws.
However, in order to replace the memory modules, you'll need to unscrew some screws.
We were especially pleased by the new touchpad, which is made of glass, in our test.
We were especially pleased by the new touchpad, which is made of glass, in our test.
The reflecting screen (behind glass) is clearly brighter.
The reflecting screen (behind glass) is clearly brighter.
The performance of the 9400M is in graphical applications clearly better than of the Intel GMA X3100, yet they have a comparable energy demand.
The performance of the 9400M is in graphical applications clearly better than of the Intel GMA X3100, yet they have a comparable energy demand.
The applications performance stays comparably high.
The applications performance stays comparably high.
The new MacBook is a strong competitor of the bigger MacBook Pro ...
The new MacBook is a strong competitor of the bigger MacBook ...
... and also likely to win some potential MacBook Air buyers.
... and also likely to win some potential MacBook Air buyers.
The new MacBook is recommendable and due to recyclable materials also 'greener' than the former model.
The new MacBook is recommendable and due to recyclable materials also 'greener' than the former model.

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Pro

+Design
+Workmanship
+Stability
+Best touchpad so far
+Very bright display
 

Contra

-Reflecting display
-Key labelling of the keyboard only meets minimum requirements
-Price
-Only few interfaces

Links

Rating

Apple MacBook Aluminium
10/30/2008
Klaus Hinum

Chassis
99%
Keyboard
90%
Pointing Device
98%
Connectivity
80%
Weight
88%
Battery
87%
Display
80%
Games Performance
77%
Application Performance
86%
Temperature
87%
Noise
87%
Add Points
90%
Average
87%
89%
Subnotebook *
Weighted Average

Preisvergleich

Price Comparison

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> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > Reviews > Archive of our own reviews > Review Apple MacBook Aluminium (Unibody, 13", 9400M)
Author: Klaus Hinum, 2008-10-22 (Update: 2012-05-26)