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Updated MacBook Design Gets Metal and Glass

Apple unveiled a redesigned MacBook last week, ending a more-than-two-year period with only minor updates to the company’s most popular notebook (and indeed, the most popular Mac ever). The changes make the MacBook nearly identical in appearance to the new 15-inch MacBook Pro. The two share the same aluminum casing, LED backlit display, glass trackpad, and most of the same ports; the MacBook is just smaller and lighter. The biggest change is obviously the long-expected move away from a plastic body to one of aluminum and glass. The body has been cut from a single block of aluminum – a process intended to provide increased strength and durability, as well as slightly reducing the thickness and
weight of the notebook. The new MacBook drops half a pound to weigh in at just 4.5 pounds (2.0 kg), and is 0.95 inches (2.41 cm) in thickness – the same thickness as the MacBook Pro, though 1 pound (454 g) lighter.

Another major design change for the MacBook is the new Multi-Touch trackpad introduced with the MacBook Pro: at 39 percent larger than the previous incarnation, the entire pad is now the button – just press down anywhere to click. The trackpad is made from wear-resistant etched glass and responds to a host of multi-finger commands. You can also designate click areas through a software interface.

The display remains the same at 13.3 inches, but is now LED-backlit, which allows it to be thinner and eliminates the need to use toxic mercury. It also stretches all the way to the edge of the case, over a black bezel, which makes it seem larger than it actually is. The graphics card inside the new MacBook is the same Nvidia GeForce 9400M being used in the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air, and it can now drive external monitors at resolutions up to 2560 by 1600, a very welcome addition that will become more welcome if Apple releases a 30-inch LED Cinema Display. A $99 Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI Adapter is necessary for connecting the existing 30-inch Cinema HD Display.

The primary drawback of the new MacBook is the lack of a FireWire port (perhaps to push some users up to the Pro line). Although FireWire is starting to become less common for external hard disks, it’s still used by many digital camcorders and other peripherals. Moreover, for those of us who troubleshoot other Macs, the lack of FireWire means we can’t mount a new MacBook as a drive on another computer using Target Disk Mode. For more on the controversy, see “On the Way Out: FireWire and Matte Screens?” (2008-10-18).

The MacBook is available immediately in two configurations. $1,299 gets you a 2.0 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 2 GB RAM (upgradable to 4 GB), a 160 GB hard drive, slot-loading SuperDrive, the Nvidia GeForce 9400M graphics card, and a 13.3-inch LED backlit display. For $1,599, you get a 2.4 GHz processor, a 250 GB hard drive, and a backlit keyboard. A 320 GB hard drive and a 128 GB solid state drive are available as options.

Apple is also keeping one configuration of the white plastic MacBook for the new low price of $999, which includes a 2.1 GHz processor, 1 GB of RAM, a 120 GB hard drive, and integrated Intel GMA X3100 graphics processor; this model retains the FireWire 400 port. Larger hard drives remain available for the white MacBook, as do the old 20-inch Apple Cinema Display and 23-inch Cinema HD Display.

After unveiling the new notebooks, Apple immediately released MacBook, MacBook Pro Software Update 1.2. The update – for only the new notebooks – “improves compatibility with external displays and includes a variety of software fixes,” to quote Apple’s release notes in their entirety. The update is available via Software Update or as a 45 MB standalone download.

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