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Apple MacBook Black (Santa Rosa) Review

Our Verdict

Same smooth performance. Same sweet design. A few new additions.

For

  • Glossy 13.3-inch display
  • Excellent software bundle
  • Good battery life

Against

  • Below-average graphics performance
  • No PC Card or ExpressCard slots

Since its debut in 2006, the MacBook Black has been one of our favorite notebooks--and with good reason: It features smooth performance, a stellar software package that includes the new Leopard OS, and Apple's trademark minimalist design. With the adoption of Intel's Santa Rosa platform, the MacBook Black now sports a faster processor and a somewhat more potent graphics processing unit. But the MacBook Black's changes aren't just beneath the hood; Apple has made subtle tweaks to the external hardware that make the experience that much sweeter; just don't expect anything revolutionary.

Back in Black (Again)

Still just one inch thick and weighing just 4.8 pounds, the eye-catching MacBook Black is as sleek and easy to carry as ever. Popping the lid reveals a 13.3-inch (1280 x 800-pixel resolution) display that offered a smooth blend of colors and wide viewing angles when we watched our Superbad DVD. The Function keys have been retooled to include new dedicated multimedia keys (which we used to navigate chapters), and clearly labeled Dashboard and Expose keys make identifying button functions at a glance simple. The low-profile keyboard remains one of our favorites, as it's quite conducive to swift touch typing.

Weighing Your Options

Consumer-end MacBooks still come in three varieties, all of which run OS X Leopard, have 1GB of RAM, two USB 2.0 ports, FireWire, and Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR. The only differences between them are that the lower-end model ($1,099) has a 2-GHz processor, 80GB of storage, and a Combo drive (DVD-ROM/CD-RW); the middle-of-the-road option ($1,299) has a 2.2-GHz processor, 120GB hard drive, and an 8X SuperDrive (DVD+/-R DL/DVD+/-RW/CD-RW); and the top option ($1,499), which is what we tested, bumps the storage up to 160GB.

Solid Performance for the MacBook Black

The updated MacBook Black sports a 2.2-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 1GB of RAM, which combined to produce a PCMark05 score of 3527--right on target for a thin-and-light notebook. We had no problems multitasking among an iChat session, e-mail, Web surfing, and listening to The Roots' Illadelph Halflife Vol.2 album. The new integrated Intel GMA X3100 processor churned out a predictably pedestrian 3DMark03 score of 1752 (more than 300 points below average for a machine in this class), so playing the latest 3D titles is out of the question.

Wireless Performance and Battery Life

The MacBook Black serves up solid Wi-Fi connectivity; we saw data throughput rates of 17.2 Mbps at 15 feet from our access point, and 12.3 Mbps at 50 feet. On our DVD rundown test, the system lasted an excellent 4 hours and 19 minutes, almost double the endurance of the typical thin-and-light notebooks. Of course, typical usage should net closer to five hours of endurance.

MacBook Black Software Package

As with all Apple notebooks, the MacBook Black comes preloaded with the excellent iLife '08 suite, which contains the highly entertaining and productive iDVD, iPhoto, iMovie, iWeb, and GarageBand. The built-in 1.3-megapixel iSight webcam makes easy work of setting up videoconferencing sessions in iChat (where video only stuttered occasionally), and hamming it up in Photo Booth, where we took snaps and video of ourselves and overlaid them with myriad visual effects.

We also enjoyed Front Row, Apple's equivalent to Windows Media Center, which let us swiftly access photos, music, and video with the bundled Apple Remote. The system comes a one-year warranty and 90 days of toll-free phone support, both of which can be extended to three years with the optional $249 AppleCare Protection Plan.

Verdict

Apple still doesn't offer ExpressCard or memory card slots for its consumer-end line, but the MacBook Black's excellent balance of artful design and productivity more than makes up for its shortcomings. This is an excellent machine for a PC user looking to make the jump to Mac.

Related Links:
Apple MacBook Black Review
A powerful dual-core portable that's big on performance and style.

Apple MacBook Pro (15-inch) Review
Apple gives its high-end notebook a speed and graphics boost and a stunning LED display.

Your Complete Guide to Mac OS X Leopard
Everything you need to know about Apple's latest big cat.

Tech Specs

CPU2.2-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
RAM1GB
Size12.8 x 8.9 x 1.1 inches
Weight4.8 pounds
Display Size13.3
Native Resolution1280x800
Hard Drive Size160GB
Operating SystemOS X 10.5 Leopard
Ports (excluding USB)mini-DVI, Microphone, Headphone, Firewire, Ethernet
Video Memory144MB
Wi-Fi802.11a/b/g/n
USB Ports2
Warranty/SupportOne-year limited/90 days toll-free
Optical DriveDVD+/-RW DL
Company Websitewww.apple.com
BrandApple
Graphics CardIntel GMA X3100
RAM Upgradable to4GB
Hard Drive Speed5,400rpm
Optical Drive Speed8X
BluetoothBluetooth 2.0
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