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Updated White MacBook vs. Entry Unibody MacBook

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With today’s news about the great update Apple made to the entry white MacBook, there are a couple things to wonder about.

One, of course, is why was the model updated as opposed to being phased out like many thought would occur?

I won’t dwell too much on this, but it doesn’t surprise me that Apple wanted to keep a “low-end” MacBook in the lineup, and of course they’d update it from time to time. As for why they used the newer NVIDIA chipset and graphics, it seems to me that ultimately it becomes cheaper for Apple to use the same guts in the entire lineup. Better negotiating on price due to better volumes, and of course one less old part to deal with. 

The bigger issue, to me, is discussing the relative “worth” of the $1,299 unibody MacBook in comparison to the updated white model. This comparison is interesting, and as someone who owns both a white MacBook (one year old) and a new unibody I can offer my personal experiences as well. 

Overall View

At first glance there may seem little to choose between them: 

  • Same 2.0 GHz C2D processor
  • Same front-side 1066 MHz bus
  • Same NVIDIA 9400M graphics
  • Same amount of RAM

This is in fact a significant upgrade to the white MacBook, and at $999 is a great value. 

design_keyboard20090116It should be noted that the RAM is actually the slower DDR2 667MHz variety instead of the unibody’s fast DDR3 memory. That difference may come out in benchmarks, but one wonders whether a user would actually notice it. I suspect DDR2 was used because it remains lower cost. 

Also note that the white model only employs a 120GB hard drive, which is pretty small by today’s standards. Updates are readily available as build to order components, however. If you get the white model with the same 250GB drive as the entry unibody, then the price delta shrinks to only $150. 


First, for some people there is one thing the white model has that may make it especially appealing: 

  • FireWire

For those that made a big deal out of its removal from the unibody models, here’s your chance to get the newer technical updates while keeping the FW port. 

The remaining differences all fall on the side of the unibody:

  • Unibody construction
  • Slightly smaller and thinner
  • Half a pound lighter
  • 30 minutes more battery life
  • Mini Display Port 
  • Much better LED screen
  • Glass trackpad

overview-heroWhile the slightly smaller dimensions may not mean much, the half-pound weight loss is quite nice. Combined with the bullet-proof nature of the unibody this makes for a more durable machine. For me, the white model feels almost “fragile” to me now. 

Extra battery life is always nice, especially when you can pull it off with no weight gain. 

I list the mini Display Port as an advantage because this thing can drive up to a 30″ monitor, which the white model cannot do. 

As for the remaining two items, I know the unibody’s screen was criticized as not being quite as good as those in the MacBook Air or the MacBook Pro. This was silly to me because why would you compare the new screen to models that cost $500 or more than the unibody? The only thing the new screen should be compared to is the white model’s it replaced, and in this comparision there is no contest. 

I frequently have the two models side by side, with the unibody unplugged (and screen therefore somewhat dimmed) and at 90 percent, and it’s still brighter than the plugged in white model at 100% brightness. It’s pretty obvious side by side and, trust me, once you get used to that screen on a day to day basis the while model’s looks even more flat and washed out. No, the white does not have a crappy screen, but the unibody is a vast improvement. 

As for the glass trackpad, I can’t even begin to tell you how frustrated I am with the old trackpad on the white model now. When I use it my finger just seems to “drag” since it’s nowhere near as smooth. I miss the additional three- and four-finger gestures tremendously, as well as clicking anywhere. Much like with the screen, it was nice at first, but after much day to day use it’s now much more than “nice,” it’s nearly indispensable. 


Far be it for me to dole out buying advice since everyone’s needs and budget vary. If a thousand bucks (not an insignificant amount), is your budget, you can get the white MacBook and no longer feel as if you’re buying yesterday’s model. Snap up this model because it represents a great deal. 

Further, if FireWire is critical to you, then that may push you in the white’s direction. 

However, I believe the $300 delta to the entry unibody is easily justified (remember, half of that is represented by the hard drive alone). In fact, if you’re thinking of the white with a bigger drive, than your budget is already greater than $1,000 and I’d recommend the entry unibody. The refinement of the total package is excellent. As much as I like the white model, I don’t particularly enjoy using it now, the new model is that much better.

28 Responses to “Updated White MacBook vs. Entry Unibody MacBook”

  1. Yeah, I’m using the White Unibody Macbook. Yeah, it scratches a lot. It makes me sad looking at it now, but I’m still happy with its performance. I honestly liked the Macbook’s design better than the Pro’s. My cousin had a 1 year old Macbook, the previous model, and didn’t had any discolouration.
    If you’re unlucky, you’ll most likely deal with these problems.

  2. LenaBena

    by the way the MagSafe Power Adapter on the unibody is AWESOME! the shape of it is much more comfortable. the magnetic power adapter on the macbook annoyed me because it kept getting yanked out by subtle movements. this one still comes out easily in case someone trips over it, but the way that its shaped is much better and much more comfortable.

  3. LenaBena

    I bought the white macbook 2 weeks ago, and then they came out with the unibody. i was PISSED! i went to take it back and exchange it but when I found out it didnt have firewire I was torn. I dont get why they would choose to take that out!? what would have been so hard about leaving it in?

    Eventually I did make the switch. Im glad I did. I love the look and design of the new unibody a lot better than the white macbook. the track pad takes a little getting used to because sometimes I accidentally zoom in and out of web pages. but I actually like the new trackpad a lot better. it has more convenient options, and it feels nice under my fingertips. its very smooth.

    i do miss my firewire port. now im stuck with an external firewire drive that I cant use. but i dont dont have a video camera with dv and all of that so i dont think i have a huge need for the firewire. i wish the computer still had it, i dont like it lacking that! i mean for 1000 dollars they could have just left it there. face it. the macbook may be cheaper than the macbook pro..but its NOT a cheap computer!

    i would have gotten a macbook pro if they werent so ugly. i hate the aluminum casing and more than that I hate the black keys. the white macbooks are much cuter and fun looking. im a girl and I think its more femenine for me than the macbook pro. not that the macbook is femenine! its great for males too..but i think the macbook is a cuter computer for us girly girls haha :-)

  4. this aluminum macbook is seriously the most beautiful, powerful, durable, and freaking sweet laptop i have ever had! i love how i got a rare product! and it’ll be better once i get 6 gb of ram (yes it can support that much) and a 500 gb drive! obviously these things arent coming anytime soon but i’m glad that i know this laptop will last for years and years and wont be out dated for a few years at least! right now its already outdated with 2 gb ram and 160 gb hard drive… but im fine with what i have. i love how its made of metal, and i am careful with it but i do throw it around a lot. and also when im in class and i need to hand some thing in… i dont have to leave my laptop at my desk because its so light i can just carry it with one hand no problem! the battery life on this thing is superb! i am on battery right now… is 10 pm and i have used it all day at school, i am at 5% :S but i’m gonna plug it in, in a minute. i should also note to you guys that you should use your macbooks and any laptops really… you should use them on battery until they get low and then plug them in, unless you have the battery out, this is a great tip because it keeps the battery healthy and calibrated. if anyone has any questions about the macbook or anything apple i will try to help you, just email me at [email protected]. ok thanks for the review! bye bye!

  5. I ended up buying a new 13″ MacBook Pro right after they were announced. With my wife’s student discount it was a steal! I’m very happy that I waited it out…

  6. PC2MAC

    ^^^ White computers are not good for Audio, if you choose the white model you will also need a SCSI Satellite plugged in at all times to access the internet.

    Excellent article btw, i just picked up the 160 gb polycarb mac book for $799 !!! can you beleive that ?? Best Buy had a 100 dollars off promo for students (i just told them i was a student, haven’t been to school in 4 years LMAO) ALSO, When i called they told me they had the advertised 120 gb model in stock that was going for 899, when i got there they only had the 160gb model, which wasn’t even on the website in the first place, they took like 50 mins searching the back stock for the 120gb and found nothing, i complained to the manager and got her to price match the 160 going for 999.99 to the 899.99 120gb + student discount and presto MACO. I’m a huge AMD PC guy, this is my first mac. I gotta say there isn’t a better time to get a mac in terms of PC integration, especially if you can snap up a deal like i did. I bought this to run Serato Scratch a popular DJ system, also to do location recording with my firewire audio interface :) I couldn’t be happier…

  7. Thanks for the great review and excellent forum! I am about to make a purchase…I think..

    I want to do music (Garage Band or maybe a more pro application, a few synth/guitar amp plugins etc) and some basic Photoshop, iDVD, iMovie and Dreamweaver things, and a LOT of internet surfing. I’d also need to be able to plug in my guitar via an M-Audio interface or similar.

    Any reason why the white would not suffice for these needs? Do I need additional gear to get on to the internet…I thought I read that somewhere…

  8. I’ve been having a long hard think about this one as well. I have to replace an aging iBook G4 that’s about to bite the dust. I’ve decided to go with the new white macbook. It seems to me the features on the aluminum are mostly aesthetic, except for the ddr3 memory. Anyway, the OS is the main selling point for me. I’ll use this as a portable and upgrade the disk space and memory myself, then buy an new imac as my desktop. Can’t wait!

  9. James,

    If I didn’t like the look of the new macbooks, I would definitely go with the white one. You’ll get a design you like for $300 less and Firewire. I wish I didn’t like the new design, that’d make it easy on me!

    Hope you figure it out…


  10. With Apple upgrading the graphics card on the white macbooks it makes the decision EVEN HARDER!! I can’t decide between the white macbook and the new macbook. I know it may sound lame but I think alot of Apple’s success was based on the sleekness and design of their products and I can’t STAND the new macbooks looks. The black keyboard throws the whole thing off. My sister got one not to long ago and the keys are cheap quality and they are black so it’s actually kind of hard to see them at times which is why i guess they have the backlit keyboard as an option. Apple why did you have to go and make things so hard you would have had my money a long time ago if you had just got the design right!

  11. I, like many others, am still torn. I don’t need a ton of hard drive space on the portable, so I wouldn’t upgrade disk anyways. Since I’m hoping to make the MacBook last for 4 years or so, $300 difference probably isn’t that big, especially if it’s that much more enjoyable (and attractive!) for that time.

    I’m replacing an 12″ iBook had a fall a few weeks ago… I loved it and a 13″ MacBook is the closest I’d be able to get.

  12. Hi,

    I have read many complaints from people that the new aluminum models track pad has faults. That it is a nightmare with text handling etc.

    Is this issue as bad as people are making out? These responses have really put me off the new generation of aluminum macbooks. I don’t want to be stuck with a niggling fault. Or a screen that doesn’t wake up every time even if it looks good; is light, and has a better display.

    What are your thoughts on this?



  13. Thanks for the article. You make perfect sense, but ultimately I’m still at a loss as to what to do.

    I have a white 1.83GHz MacBook, the first edition. I have four months remaining on the AppleCare. I am still using a dual 1.8GHz G5 Tower. Both of these machines are ready for updates with Snow Leopard in the wings. Ideally I’d wait until Snow Leopard arrives so it comes with any new purchases.

    I’m content to wait for a new Mac Pro Tower announcement, either getting that or a refurb dual 2.8GHz tower, depending on what’s released. My G5 tower will probably go to my mom to ween herdi off a PC.

    This updated white MacBook is tempting, especially If I could sell my MacBook for $500. I would be content to use it for a few years and jump into a unibody MacBook Pro once Solid State drives become reasonable. I’d still be stuck having to pony up for Snow Leopard if I buy in the next few weeks.

    I was at an Apple Store comparing the screens on the 13 and 15 inch MacBooks. The Pro screen is much more pleasing than the lower-end MacBook. The lack of FW on the MacBook is also disappointing. The next time I go to the Apple Store I’ll drag my white MacBook along to compare it to the screen on the 13″ MacBook. That would be interesting to see.

    Maddening choices… :)

  14. Thanks for the write-up. I’m picking up a Macbook tonight, writing this on the white one. I’ve also got a MBP but I find it too large for many circumstances.

    Despite my belief that FW was removed a year too early, I’m going Unibody with the backlit keyboard. Also risking 4GB RAM, hoping the issues are solved or will be shortly. Apple failed to address the razor sharp front edge of the white Macbook – which led to my wife hating it.

    My wish: That Apple wouldn’t differentiate Pro by the size of the machine. Plenty of users want Pro specs in the smaller size.

  15. The biggest difference is the trackpad. My girlfriend has the white MB and I have the new unibody. The trackpad on the white MB is not smooth and feels tiny when compared to the aluminum. Plus all the gestures on the aluminum are amazing. It frustrates me when I can’t do them on the white one.

  16. I am happy that minor changes are made to accommodate the thousands of firewire users. It’s all about the quality of video transfers you get using mini DV tapes against todays hard disk/SD card driven camcorders. iMovie/iDVD are two great features I thoroughly enjoy editing my home videos and more. The lack of it and the decision to drop firewire connectivity did not gel with me, personally. I will still hold back on the white Macbook until it runs on faster DDR3 memory.

  17. Michael Cheung

    Thanks for this analysis. I was really astonished to learn that the entry level White MB had got the new videocard, but still remain at the low price.
    This is very tempting, but also tempted to save for the unibody one. Trouble is… once I start that path, I can easily see that I’ll be tempted to up-sell again for the larger hard disk and the backlit keyboard! Sigh… :)

  18. SimpleLife

    Overall, an excellent, excellent and concise article.

    But . . . I think it is important to compare the MacBook screen to that of the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. Especially with the unibodies, because with the backlit keyboard the unibody MacBook is almost what many fans have been wanting–a smaller form factor MacBook Pro. Many Mac fans miss the old 12″ Powerbook. For me the MacBook deal-breakers are the display and no FireWire.

    I do agree with the Tom Reestman that comparisons should be made between the plastic and unibody MacBook displays. Yes, that’s important. But when the unibodies came out, many people, myself included, just assumed the displays would be similar throughout the Mac unibody line. I don’t think the MacBook display is “bad.” It’s just that the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro displays are simply amazingly perfect to my eyes.

    Who knows why Apple decided to skimp on the Firewire and display for the unibody MacBook. Maybe it’s due to marketing, engineering, or cost, or maybe all three.

    As this article wonderfully outlines and clarifies, the little “features” matter, along with the “big stuff” like the display, the overall package, and the build. Beyond cost, comparing and contrasting the features is what we all do in our purchasing decisions, be it between a plastic or unibody MacBook, or between a MacBook, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro. It seems Apple is fully aware of these dynamics too.

    Thanks for a great article that will help many readers with their own purchasing decisions.

  19. Rick,

    Thank you for the correction. When I did the spec check I took the base drive from the more expensive MacBook, not the entry level. My bad. The price delta between white and base unibody with equal hard drives is indeed $250.

    This changes the argument from a hard drive standpoint, but all the other differences between the models remain.

    Thanks again.

  20. Rick Huizinga

    The entry level unibody MacBook includes a 160GB drive, not a 250GB as stated in this article.

    The price to upgrade the white MacBook to a 160GB drive on the Apple Store (online) is $50, so there would be a $250 difference as opposed to $150 difference that was the basis for many of the arguments made in this article.