I’ve owned a lot of Macs. Two iBooks, one PowerMac, two titanium PowerBooks, two aluminum PowerBooks, one iMac, and now my first MacBook. Even adjusting for processor enhancements and other hardware advances, I think I’m ready to declare the MacBook the best Mac I’ve ever owned.
I agonized for days over whether to go with the MacBook Pro or the standard MacBook, and in the end, I opted for the more modest standard MacBook for the following reasons:
- Apple finally positioned the ports on the MacBook on the left where they belong (unless you’re left-handed, of course). Not ramming my mouse into a thick black DVI cable approximately 3,000 times per day was probably worth the price of the MacBook in an of itself.
- At 5.2 pounds, the MacBooks are the most portable of Apple’s Intel notebooks. Unless you plan on hiking the Appalachian Trail with your MacBook, though, you probably wouldn’t notice much of a difference between the 5.2 pound MacBook and the 5.6 pound 15″ MacBook Pro.
- The battery life on the MacBooks is about as good as it gets. Up to 6 hours compared to 4.5 for the 15″ MacBook Pro, and 5.5 for the 17″. There’s an ancient Chinese proverb which states what one gives up in screen size, one gains in battery life (except in the case of the 17″ MacBook where Apple simply shoved a big enough battery into the case to compensate).
- The new MacBooks use a magnetic latch as opposed to two tiny metal hooks to keep the machine cinched tightly closed. I don’t know about the MacPook Pros, but the PowerBooks had problems with their latches. I have a friend who has replaced his PowerBook latch with a piece of masking tape until he can get his hands on a new MacBook. As Apple has clearly learned with the iPod, the fewer moving parts, the fewer warranty repairs.
- The MacBooks have new keyboards which initially come across more like rows of buttons than keys. Presumably Apple made improvements over the old keyboards (still in use on the MacBook Pros), however I’d be perfectly happy with either. I have noticed that the keys don’t come into contact with the screen when the machine is closed which used to do terrible things to the old PowerBook screens, however I believe that issues has been fixed since the aluminum models.
- The standard MacBooks have plastic cases rather than the aluminum cases of the MacBook Pros. I learned from the iBooks that the plastic is either more scratch-resistant, or does a better job of concealing scratches. It’s also less prone to the warping that has been known to occur due to the excessive heat of some models.
Even though I love the standard MacBooks, there are several features that the MacBook Pros have that a lot of professional won’t be able to live without:
- MacBook Pros have slightly faster processors. The MacBook processor is 2.0GHz while the Pro is available with a 2.16GHz processor.
- The screen on the Pro is higher resolution. The MacBook maxes out at 1280×800 pixels while the 15″ MacBook Pro can do 1440×900, and the 17″ can do an amazing 1680×1050. I tend to use an external monitor most of the time, so the MacBook is fine for me, but if you are away from your desk for extended periods of time, or want to free up space on your desk by getting rid of your monitor altogether, you’ll want to go with a Pro.
- The optical drive in the MacBook Pro is faster. I hardly ever use the optical drive for anything (I’m much more likely transfer data over a network or store it on a flash or firewire drive), but if you do a lot of reading and writing to optical media, you will probably want the additional speed of the Pro’s optical drive.
- The MacBook Pro is available with a faster hard drive. A Pro can be custom configured with a 7200 RPM drive while the fastest you can get with with a MacBook is 5400. If you do a lot of work with large files, or do things like record digital media directly to disk, you’ll probably want the additional 1800 RPMs.
- The graphics card in the MacBook Pro is far superior to the one in the standard MacBook. The MacBook uses an integrated Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950 graphics chip while the Pro uses a much more impressive ATI Mobility Radeon X1600. The Pro also has far more video memory than the standard MacBook. I tend not to push the graphics capabilities on my machines (I’m usually either writing code, doing research, or just surfing the web), but if you’re a gamer, definitely go with the Pro. (Being a long-time Mac user, I made the switch to console gaming ages ago.)
- Surprisingly, the standard MacBook doesn’t have a PCMCIA slot. The MacBook Pro has the new ExpressCard slot which probably won’t do you any good until the standard is more widely adopted, but in the future, you might be glad you have it. The only thing I ever used the PCMCIA slot for on my old PowerBook was transferring pictures from my digital camera which I can now do just as easily with my SanDisk USB media card adapter.
Whether you decide to go with the standard MacBook or the MacBook Pro, you’re going to get several nice new features:
- All the new MacBooks have amazing screens. The new screens are far brighter than the old ones, and I highly recommend going with the glossy option for increased contrast. The screens on the new MacBooks and MacBook Pros are probably the best I’ve ever seen on any notebook computer, and may actually be the best displays I’ve ever seen, period. Connecting my MacBook to my IBM ThinkVision LCD is actually depressing since while I gain screen real estate, I lose a surprising amount of brightness and contrast. I’m wondering if Apple is going to introduce glossy Cinema Displays at which point the ThinkVision goes up on Craigslist.
- All the new MacBooks have built-in iSight cameras. Sony has been doing this for years (along with their very nice XBRITE screens), so it’s nice to see Apple catching up. Video and video broadcasting is becoming an increasingly important form of communication, but who wants to carry around an external webcam and additional firewire cable?
- And last but most certainly not least, I personally think Intel processors were the best things that could have possibly happened to Apple hardware, and if that makes me a Mac blasphemer, so be it. I’ve always considered Mac performance to be abysmal next to comparable machines running Windows or Linux, but I’ve put up with it since I found the overall Mac experience to be far superior. For the first time since switching to a Mac, however, there’s finally nothing to have to put up with. The only drawback is that there aren’t universal binaries available for all major software packages yet, however since I tend to favor smaller open source or shareware projects, I’ve actually managed to avoid running anything under Rosetta so far.
Even though I’m more or less a Mac zealot, I’m also enough of a realist to know that I can’t avoid Windows altogether. Enter Parallels. There are a lot of good reviews of Parallels out there already (Macword, NotebookReview), so I’m not going to bother getting into the details, however I will say that so far, I’ve been pretty impressed. I will also say that I know other people who have not had as much luck installing and running Parallels on new MacBooks, but so far, for those unfortunately times when I’m not given a platform choice, Parallels has proven a reasonable solution.