Apple's new MacBook arrives

Apple Computer has unveiled the successor to its highly popular iBook line of entry-level laptops, taking the wraps off three versions of its newly renamed MacBook.

Prices for the models, which all sport either 1.83GHz or 2GHz Intel Core Duo processors and 13.3-in. widescreen LCD screens -- with a new glossy sheen -- start from $1749. And to paraphrase Henry Ford when asked about colours for the Model T, buyers can get their MacBooks in any colour they want, as long as it's black or white.

Despite rumours preceding the launch that Apple would release MacBooks in a variety of colours, Apple chose to stick with white for the base model and a midrange version. The high-end iteration sports a new shiny black case and an 80GB hard drive -- 20GB larger than the drive in the less-expensive models.

"It's an entirely new design," Apple's senior vice-president for worldwide product marketing, Phil Schiller, said. "This completes our transition of our portable line to all Intel-based. It's taken 90 days to complete that transition. We're pleased. We feel very good at how fast we're getting it done."

Schiller stressed the use of dual-core chips throughout the company's laptop line.

"You don't have to make any trade-off [in processing power]. The performance is pretty stunning compared to the iBook it replaces," he said.

In benchmark tests, the new MacBooks are up to five times faster than their predecessors, he said.

"And in real-world, day-to-day application use, we see anywhere from two to four times the performance jump," he said.

As for the glossy screens, which are standard in the MacBooks and now a no-cost option on Apple's MacBook Pro line, Schiller said the vendor believed the positives now outweighed the negatives for the vast majority of customers.

"You get richer colours, you get higher contrast ratios, you get blacker blacks," he said. "The downside has been the reflection of ambient light -- you had to adjust the screen to deal with that. So you have to push more light [by making the screen backlight brighter]. It's 79 per cent brighter than the iBook it replaces.

"One other difference is you'll get some colour shifting, but with the latest generation of the glossy [screen] technology, that is reduced."

Asked why the new screens are an option on MacBook Pros rather than part of the standard configuration, Schiller said some graphics professionals prefer the company's antireflective screens.

"We didn't want to just change it, because so many professional graphics designers and photographers are used to the antiglare screen," he said. "But many customers aren't graphics professionals and would like the glossy look."

In addition to releasing MacBooks, Apple dropped its aging 12-inch PowerBook G4, upped the standard processor speeds on its 15-inch MacBook Pro models and effectively reduced the price of the top-end 15-inch configuration by $US300.

The latest changes mean the base 15-inch MacBook Pro now has a 2GHz Intel Core Duo processor and sells for $US1999; the faster model sells for $US2499, with the upgrade to a faster hard drive still a $100 option.

"This pulls [the pricing] back in line," Schiller said.

Unlike Apple's professional laptop lineup, which has dedicated graphics cards offering either 128MB or 256MB of video RAM, the new MacBooks offer 64MB of integrated video graphics memory. The Intel GMA 950 graphics processor drives a native screen resolution on the MacBook line of 1280-by-800 pixels.

"In our tests, the integrated graphics on the MacBook are faster than the graphics on the iBook for things most people use these for, like surfing the Web," Schiller said. "The place where discrete graphics shine is if you're doing high-end games like Doom 3, or working with professional [programs] like Aperture or Final Cut."

Dedicated graphics cards also allow the more expensive MacBook Pro models to run Apple's 30-inch Cinema Display LCD monitor. The new MacBooks can only power the smaller, 20-inch and 23-inch Apple Cinema displays.

Schiller also said the new MacBooks were about 20 per cent thinner than the iBooks they replace, checking in at 1 inch thick when the display was closed.

Like the rest of Apple's laptops, the new MacBooks offer an integrated iSight webcam, Gigabit Ethernet networking, a dual-finger scrolling TrackPad, sudden motion protection for the hard drive, and dual-screen video support. They all come with 512MB of 667 DDR2 SDRAM, which can be expanded to 2GB. But the stock memory is supplied on two chips that take up both RAM slots, meaning one or both RAM sticks would have to be removed to add more memory.

As for the decision to offer the top-end MacBook in black, Schiller said that move stems in part from the fact that the 12-inch PowerBook has been discontinued.

The new MacBooks are available immediately.

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Ken Mingis

Computerworld

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