New MacBook is worth consideration based on performance alone

Cimg0915_2Two days ago, I took advantage of the special "Black Friday" pricing at Best Buy and nabbed a new 2.4GHz MacBook with 2GB of RAM for $150 off the list $1,599 price. I’m certainly glad I got the price discount and didn’t have to battle the crowds later this week to get it. My first impression: it’s always good to save money, but I think I would have been happy with this notebook at full price. Seriously… let me share just a few first thoughts so you understand where I’m coming from.

As James pointed out in his first look, the new MacBook offers a few hardware tweaks over the 2.33GHz MacBook Pro: the new glass trackpad, the process to cut each chassis from a single pieces of aluminum, and of course the upgraded "guts".

Multi-touch trackpad and manufacturing process aside, it’s what’s under the hood that is most impressive to me so far. Bear in mind that for the past 1.5 years in my home office, I’ve been using the Intel Core 2 Duo 2.33GHz MacBook Pro and the only upgrade I did was move from 2GB of RAM to 3GB. Since that device is the Pro, it has dedicated graphics: the ATI Radeon X1600 with 256MB of video memory. Even with the ATI Graphics, the notebook fan would fire up "on command". By on command, I mean that every daily video Skype chat James and I have would kick the fan. Watching streaming video content from Hulu or another source for more than five minutes would fire it up as well.

Yesterday on the new MacBook, I watched the 720p HD trailer for the upcoming Star Trek movie. No fan. Last night, Barb and I realized that our DVR skipped recording "The Unit" because NFL football ran long so we watched the episode in full screen on the new MacBook. No fan. I’ve opened up a dozen apps and tried everything I can quickly think of. No fan. And everything is running flawlessly fast.

In reality we should expect better performance. After all, this is a revision of the older model, is designed to run better, has newer components, etc… I think where I’m semi-astounded is how much the new MacBook has leapfrogged the not-that-old MacBook Pro. The difference is very noticeable and unless you need a FireWire port and/or find that the 13.3-inch, 1280×800 screen won’t cut it for your computing activities, the MacBook is a cost-effective alternative to the new MacBook Pro worth consideration in my opinion.

There’s already a few things I’m not too keen about. For starters, I don’t like that Apple moved to the mini-DisplayPort adapter. I use a 24-inch, 1920×1080 Samsung external monitor in my home office… or at least I used to. The adapter I need to connect the new MacBook to the Samsung isn’t included and wasn’t available at Best Buy. I noticed that the Apple store is now shipping these, so I just ordered one for $29 plus shipping.

I can live without the FireWire port as I use an 320GB external USB drive for my iTunes library. The only time I used the FireWire port was to connect a digital video camera for the occasional video review, but most often, I simply use the integrated iSight camera. I’ll be curious if the fan kicks on when I do the next video as it would always run when recording video on the MacBook Pro.

Moving the two USB ports to the same side of the notebook might make for a cleaner look, but it could cause issue for some mobile users. There’s literally a quarter-of-an-inch between the two ports. When I plug in my USB 727 3G adapter, which is among the smallest 3G adapters out there, I can’t use the other USB port. Normally, that’s not a big deal as I don’t often use two USB devices when mobile. However, I do use SD cards for my digital camera that snap in half to expose a USB port. I won’t be able to move pictures through USB while on EV-DO, if needed. Guess I’ll have to spring for that new 4GB Eye-Fi card… since I saved $150 on the MacBook, the $99 Eye-Fi still keeps me $50 ahead of the game and gets around the blocked USB port.

All in all, with just a few hours of "playtime", I’m amazed. You certainly don’t need top-of-the-line hardware to run Mac OS X, as we’ve proven by running it on a 1.6GHz Intel Atom-based netbook. (For that matter, the test version of Windows 7 looks good on meager specs as well.) But it sure makes a difference when you do have a solid hardware package designed to run well. Apple’s done a nice job here with the MacBook and at around 1.5-pounds lighter than my MacBook Pro, I’m more apt to take this with me when I leave home.

For what it’s worth, I’m not suggesting that Apple has created the perfect device and I only like it because it runs Mac OS X extremely well. While the Lenovo X301 is twice the price, it handles Windows Vista every bit as good as the new MacBook handles OS X. They’re different devices to be sure, but each is fantastic in its own right and each offers distinct advantages over the other. Well worth a look and equally as impressive for notebook.

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