Monday, May 22, 2006

MacBook: First impressions and 10 quick comments

My MacBook is still en route from Suzhou so I don't have it in my hands yet, but the good news is that it's already in the local FedEx sort facility so I should have it in a few days. In the meantime I checked out the MacBook at the local Mac store...

1) When I first looked at that MacBook on display, for a split-second I was confused as to why the OS looked so strange. Then I realized it was running Windows XP. :p For basic usage, Windows XP is very fast on the stock MacBook with 512 MB RAM, but Mac OS X often is not. With the additional RAM needed for the GPU and for Rosetta, Tiger is starved for memory. After loading several applications to memory, the MacBook needs to page out to disk, slowing the whole system down. While I consider 512 MB memory to be the minimum for a usable PowerPC Mac, I'd say the minimum for an Intel Mac with GMA 950 is significantly higher. 768 MB would probably be OK for basic usage, but unfortunately for video performance reasons, the MacBook needs paired RAM, and thus the minimum memory effectively becomes 1 GB.
2) The MacBook uses the Intel 945GM chipset.
3) Microsoft Word speed seems acceptable. It is not fast on the MacBook, but it is fast enough enough for everyday usage.
4) The glossy screen is very irritating to use under certain lighting conditions. In the store there was relatively bright overhead lighting and I had to keep moving the screen and/or my body position slightly to eliminate glare while still maintaining a good viewing angle. The glossy screen in my opinion is probably the MacBook's worst "feature", because of the glare. I do admit that the contrast is somewhat better than the old 12" iBook's screen, but that doesn't make up for the glare. Viewing angle on both screens are similarly poor.
5) The look of the black MacBook is quite nice. The matte black finish is very pleasing... until you see the fingerprints. The surface of the black MacBook looked like somebody had smeared grease all over it. And actually that's true... The grease from our human fingers was painfully and disgustingly obvious on the black MacBook. It was still there on the white MacBook of course, but it's much, much harder to see. For this reason, and along with the fact that the black MacBook costs significantly more, I think most people would be better off purchasing the white MacBook. The good news is that I did not see any flaking of the black finish, but I did not try to scratch the finish.
6) The MacBook does seem heavier and bulkier than the 12" iBook and 12" PowerBook, but that's not surprising since the MacBook is heavier and much wider. However, despite the greater weight, the 13" MacBook is actually smaller than the 12" iBook. Because the MacBook is much thinner (and sleeker looking) than the 12" iBook, it takes up less overall volume (2029 cubic cm) than the iBook (2242 cubic cm). However, it still takes up more volume than the 12" PowerBook (1820 cubic cm).
7) "Right-clicking" on the new MacBook: Sticking two fingers on the trackpad and then clicking the button brings up the contextual menu. This the best thing since sliced bread... Well, not quite, but it's certainly the best thing since two-finger scrolling (which was introduced on recent iBooks and PowerBooks). It's very intuitive, and it eliminates the requirement for an annoying second button, or use of a CTRL key.
8) The built-in iSight seems of reasonable quality. The camera is barely noticeable, but it is surprisingly effective despite its small size.
9) Contrary to popular belief, the keyboard spacing/sizing is normal, despite the different design and shape of the keys. The feel is a slight improvement overall, but nothing special in my opinion. It's mainly just different. It does look like it may not touch the screen though when the screen is closed. If true, that's is an improvement.
10) The SuperDrive in the MacBook I tested was the Matsushita UJ-857. It is the same 4X DVD-R 9.5 mm tall drive found in 15" MacBook Pros, and it does not support dual-layer burning.

By the way, it was interesting to see a young teenage customer in the store eyeing the MacBook, while clutching a copy of World of Warcraft. Fortunately, the salesperson eventually steered him away from the MacBook and pointed him towards the iMac.

Contrary to popular myth, gaming is very popular for customers in the iBook and MacBook market. It's reasonable not to expect a MacBook to run Quake 4 smoothly, but it's unfortunate that older generation games such as World of Warcraft can be still be problematic 2006 Mac hardware, especially when that hardware has such a fast CPU in the Core Duo. The option of a better GPU in a higher cost MacBook (like the black version) is still desirable. This would be the perfect machine for those in the market for a small portable machine and who do not wish to be forced to buy a desktop or a bigger, bulkier, and more expensive MacBook Pro.


Anonymous said...

the apple website lists the macbook as using the intel gma 950 chipset.

Eug said...

"the apple website lists the macbook as using the intel gma 950 chipset."

GMA 950 is one component of the Intel 945GM chipset.

Jay said...

I agree about the matte finish on the black MacBook. I saw it in the London Apple Store, and from most angles you could easily see the smeared grease from peoples hands on the trackpad. The extra £100 isn't worth it... The white one actually looks totally cool and Starwars Storm Trooper like anyway. The Black one, actually a bit 'too' like my old Pismo.

I'd also say you can get your memory for roughly £100 less for the 2gig setup from a good memory vendor, than from Apple. If you're keen with a screwdriver.

Anonymous said...

is it actually intel 945GM...coz in that case it has scope for upgradablility and can we by some means connect a high end graphics card or video memory to the macbook...

Anonymous said...

I play WOW on my 4 year old Powerbook 800mhz all the time, and it runs fine, not as fast as my newer desktop, but a perfect solution for playing in bed!