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Spotlight Is On Notebooks

October 20, 2008
By Dave Hecei,
On October 14th, Apple hosted a press event at the main campus on Infinite Loop in Cupertino, California. During this event, Apple showed off new MacBooks, MacBook Pros, and MacBook Airs. They also announced a new 24-inch LCD monitor. While some thought that there would be updates on only some of the notebooks, I think most were surprised to find that the entire line has been updated. The Macintosh notebook lineup has changed significantly with a new look and some nice improvements. One big change is the dividing line between the MacBook and MacBook Pro, which has narrowed. The MacBook has been marketed to home/student/consumer users and the Pro to the, well obviously, the Pro user. Now even Pros might take a closer look at the MacBook first. Apple is now using a new way to manufacture the MacBook and MacBook Pro’s case. This new manufacturing process deals with how the main body of the notebook is made. Most notebooks have some sort of ‘cage’ inside with a top and bottom piece made of pressed metal or molded plastic. Apple has decided to use a solid piece of extruded aluminum for the top piece and then machine out the cavity for the parts, plus the holes for the different ports and keyboard keys. This finished piece is said to be much less susceptible to flexing and denting, making it much more durable. The three lines of notebooks now look identical, except for size. Since they are all made from a solid piece of aluminum, they are now only available in silver. When you open the notebook you are faced with a beautifully thin screen that looks similar to the iMac. The screen has a full piece of glass going right out to the edges and has the same iMac like black border. The LCD screens now use LEDs as the backlight. Having an LED backlight allows the screen to light up faster and gives it a much brighter and more uniform appearance. Another significant change is the trackpad. The trackpad is used like a mouse and Apple’s new notebooks have one made of glass. Missing in action is the button. On the new notebooks, the entire trackpad acts as the button. It will be interesting to see how people react to this system. I know I used to have trouble with the ‘tap to click’ feature used on other trackpads. The new trackpad also has the same multi-gesture function as the last batch of notebooks, but adds some more (there are some 3 and 4 finger gestures added). Let’s start with the MacBook, Apple’s entry-level notebook with a 13.3-inch display. To keep competitive, Apple has decided to keep a base model, priced at $999, unchanged. It does, however, come with a SuperDrive DVD burner instead of a CD burner/DVD player combo drive. The new aluminum MacBook is available in two models. At $1299 you get a 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 2 GB of RAM, 160 GB hard drive, and an 8x dual-layer SuperDrive. For $1599 you get all that but with a 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo processor, a 250 GB hard drive, and a backlit keyboard. The new MacBooks are now a half-pound lighter at 4.5 pounds. The new aluminum MacBook finally has a decent video system, the NVidia GeForce 9400M. While it is still considered ‘on board’ graphics because it shares its video RAM with system RAM, it is stated to be up to 5 times faster than the previous Intel based video. This puts the MacBook in a much better spot for 3D graphics and 3D gaming, something that the intended audience will appreciate. Plus, the release of Apple’s OS X Snow Leopard, sometime next year, is said to take advantage of the graphics processor to help speed things up. While there are some nice additions to the MacBook, there are a few misses. A major feature now missing, for some users, is Firewire. Firewire, also called iLink by Sony or IEEE 1394a by engineers, is a port used heavily in digital video cameras. It is also used in external hard drives and CD/DVD burners. Apple states that with the latest digital camcorders using flash memory, hard drives, or mini DVD-Rs, Firewire is not as important as it used to be. While this might be true in some cases, knowing that your mini-DV camcorder can’t connect anymore is important. The new aluminum MacBook Pro is available in a 15.4-inch (the 17-inch model has been updated but will not have the aluminum redesign). The 15.4-inch model has the same ‘glass-to-the-edge’ look as the MacBook. Something new to the Pros is a very unique video system. Apple has included both an on-board NVidia 9400M, like the MacBook, plus a separate NVidia 9600M GT video card with its own 512MB of VRAM. The reason for two video systems is battery life. You don’t always need super 3D performance so the 9400M will do just fine and is stated to add an extra hour to the battery life, compared to running the 9600M video card. Switching the video system, according to Apple, is done through the Energy Saver system preference panel. MacBook Pros are priced at $1999 for a 15.4-inch, 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo, 2GB DDR3 RAM, 250GB hard drive, and 8x DL SuperDrive. The upper 15-inch model has a 2.53GHz Core 2 Duo, 4GB DDR3 RAM, 320GB hard drive, and 8x DL SuperDrive. The new MacBook Air has changed the least. The processor has been upgraded to the newer Intel ‘Penryn’ chip, which uses the new 45-nm chip size. This should make the chips faster and use less power. However, since the Air now uses the new NVidia 9400M, like the MacBook, this power savings may be offset. The new Air is available with bigger hard drives, either a 120 GB spinning platter drive, or the new 128 GB solid-state device (SSD) drive. RAM size has not increased, but it now uses the newer DDR3 chips, which run on a faster bus, 1066MHz compared to 667MHz. Unlike the other new MacBooks, the Air does will not have the glass ‘clickable’ trackpad. Mac notebook sales have outperformed the industry standard over the past couple of years. Apple notebooks have been selling exceedingly well even before this update so these new MacBooks will just add to the fire. Looks like the spotlight is definitely on Mac notebooks.

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