The launch of new MacBooks is always a headline event, much to the bemusement of the more PC-oriented among us, and this one was as hysterical as ever. But while the majority of column inches have been spent eulogising the new CNC-machined styling, the MacBook’s internals make for vastly more interesting reading.
In quite a coup for Nvidia, Apple has teamed up with the graphics giant to bring its new integrated graphics chip to the whole MacBook range. Intel may still have a stake via the Core 2 Duo processor, but that’s where its involvement ends, as the GeForce 9400M is north bridge, south bridge and GPU in one.
And that’s not all: Nvidia is also claiming it’s five times more powerful than Intel’s GMA X4500HD chip. We’ve heard claims like this before but this one is backed up by cold, hard figures.
The MacBook is a portable laptop with integrated graphics, yet it’s capable of running Crysis at a playable 29fps. That may only be at 1024 x 768 and with Low settings, but when you consider that even the highest frame rate from a laptop with Intel’s most powerful graphics chip is some way short of double figures, it’s truly remarkable.
Just as interesting – and possibly of more appeal to the Apple crowd – is the 9400M’s support for CUDA application enhancement. This may be nothing new, but it’s the first time an integrated chip has been able to take advantage. What it means is huge images in Photoshop CS4 can be zoomed and rotated on-the-fly, while HD video benefits from hardware acceleration.
And all of these advancements come without the additional power drain of a discrete graphics card. We had problems with the Windows drivers in the MacBook Pro (see opposite), but the MacBook suffered no similar issues: we achieved a little less than five hours of light use from it in our tests. A similar light-use test simulated in OS X gave us between six and seven hours, so installing Vista does appear to sacrifice some of the MacBook’s ability.
Thankfully, Boot Camp does now give you access to most of Apple’s other functions, most notably the multitouch clickable trackpad. The whole thing is essentially a button, so to drag and drop you’ll need to slide things around while simultaneously pushing down. We found this a very frustrating experience under Vista, although it works better in OS X.
Where it does work well is in applications such as Photoshop, where rotation and zooming is every bit as intuitive as it is on an iPhone. Actions match the results they produce – you rotate fingers to rotate images and pinch to zoom, but it’s clear that the new trackpad is an acquired taste.
The rest of the MacBook is merely a smaller version of the Pro. It boasts the same backlit Scrabble-tile keyboard, the same DVD writer and – just like the Pro – its pair of USB ports are joined by Gigabit Ethernet and a mini-DisplayPort. The latter won’t be of much use unless you shell out more for the necessary DVI or VGA adapter for it, though.
The design itself proved divisive in the PC Pro office. While some fell in love with the silver all-in-one finish and the clean curves, others saw it as bland and industrial. With Apple fans so quick to bring up the PC’s reputation as a boring beige box, it’s ironic that the MacBook now resembles – in some people’s eyes – a slab of dull, grey metal.
It isn’t as light as it looks, either, weighing in at 2kg. Sure, it’s a sleek design, and will fit into a bag with ease, but it’s certainly no more portable than other 13in laptops we’ve seen. You get the usual draft-n wireless and Bluetooth for communications on the move, but perhaps the nicest innovation is the battery indicator light on the left side.
But the biggest problem, as always, is the staggering price: $2549. Dell’s XPS M1330 (web ID: 128888) is the same size and offers similar power and features for $1000 less – and that’s inclusive of the price of Windows. The design is nice, but it isn’t worth that much. So, while the Nvidia graphics chip is interesting, we’d advise keeping your wallet in your pocket until it appears in a more reasonably priced Windows laptop.