Thoughts on MacBook Specs, Design, Name

Apple's consumer portable line just seems to get better over time. If you go purely by specs and design, the new MacBook (which replaces the iBook) looks like a big leap over previous models. It could even be a game-changing machine, drastically faster with a dual-core processor at an $1100 price point.

This really is the machine for many entry-level consumers. The Mac mini is certainly cheaper, and the iMac is a bit more powerful with a better display, but laptops have won hearts of mainstream buyers.


The specs for the MacBook are strikingly strong. The main factors in performance tend to be CPU, bus speed, hard drive and graphics. The only one the machine skimps on is graphics, opting for integrated Intel graphics instead of the Radeon X1600 in the MacBook Pro. To some, this might be a deal breaker, but it's just about the only major difference between the consumer and Pro models.

The MacBook also makes some minor concessions on storage and the SuperDrive is optional, but once again, you have to get the price down somehow. The one area that the MacBook actually wins out is the estimated battery life, which is as high as 6 hours, versus 4.5 for the 15" MacBook Pro and 5 for the 17" MacBook Pro.

I don't believe this is linked from the product page, but the store page has a nice comparison chart for the entire MacBook and MacBook Pro family.


Of course we can't talk about this machine without mentioning this is the first time Apple has released a portable in black since the Pismo. This is actually pretty surprising to me. If any machine was to go black, you'd expect it to be the higher-end machine (although black is extra in the MacBook).

In fact, nearly all of Apple's packaging now reserves black for pro machines and uses white for consumer models. It's also somewhat ironic that the MacBook Pro page is in black, but the MacBook page is in white.

The MacBook is about half a pound lighter than the 15" MacBook Pro, and about an inch smaller in both width and height. The size difference is even more striking compared to the 17" MacBook Pro. It makes me wonder if Apple intentionally gave the black case only to the MacBook to encourage some people to purchase a second, more portable laptop. It's just on the cusp of being small enough to make me believe it, but not quite.

The keyboard is also a bit different than that of the Pro model. I haven't seen it up close yet, but the photos make the keys look a bit flatter with extra spacing (no backlighting here, by the way).

Finally, the MacBook display has a glossy coating. I'm not sure how I feel about this. I don't know what the theory is behind this sort of thing, but it always seemed a bit gimmicky to me when I saw it on a PC at Fry's. I assume it's supposed to make things look better somehow, but I'm not sure it works for me. Has anyone had a good experience with this sort of thing?

What About the Name?

Overall, this machine looks like a winner, but I'm unsure about the naming scheme. On paper, the names MacBook and MacBook Pro seem like reasonable, logical choices. I also appreciate the emphasis on the word "Mac" in all the models.

My reservation is about the fact that a single three-letter suffix (which is easily left out) is the only verbal barrier between two very different machines. When we had the PowerBook and the iBook, the name difference was apparent in the first letter. iMac and Mac mini have enough contrast as well.

The problem isn't just that the difference is after the first word, it's that the term "Pro" has lost all meaning, to the point that people really may not even see it. Does anyone think Final Cut is a different product than Final Cut Pro? Apple addressed this ambiguity in their midrange video product by calling it Final Cut Express, which I think works nicely.

The bottom line is I'm not sure the names "MacBook" and "MacBook Pro" are different enough to avoid repeated confusion. What do you guys and gals think?
Design Element
Thoughts on MacBook Specs, Design, Name
Posted May 16, 2006 — 21 comments below


Julian BH — May 16, 06 1246

MacBook Express?

alaskamike — May 17, 06 1247

Actually, I think the naming convention makes sense. It looks like the hard lines between the PowerBooks and iBooks is softening - this new MacBook appears to be a PowerBook replacement at an iBook price! I definitely want one!

Jeroen Leenarts — May 17, 06 1248

Personally, the name MacBook has already grown on me. I really like the name.

Let just hope Apple can keep this one consistent. You know the whole Web kit/WebKit drama. ;)

I do think the MacBooks are nice little machines. Making a total replacement for the iBooks and PowerBook 12" is a right choice. How can they make a pro line machine that stands above the current MacBook without beating the 15" MacBook Pro?

Only thing that comes to my mind is a better GFX chip. That intel thing in the MacBook is perfect for office and video appliances, but not very nice for your 3d framerates.

Jesper — May 17, 06 1249

Sure beats "MacBook Con". :)

SeoxyS — May 17, 06 1250

Does it mean that i won't be able to play games such as warcraft 3, quake, etc.???

Joshua — May 17, 06 1251

My main concern is how well it performs with only 512MB RAM, while sharing it with the graphics. I'm not sure how I feel about the glossy screen either.

MJ — May 17, 06 1253

The integrated graphics bothers me but I won't make a final decision until I see one - which will likely be in a couple of weeks anyway.

I want a smaller laptop with min 1200x800 resolution. I just don't see why, to get a smaller machine, we have to sacrifice quite so much. I'd have been happy with a 1.6 GHz Core Duo, but the Integrated Graphics is a real downer especially when you look at the specifications of the machine. It's solid.

The most telling and most disappointing thing?

The line is complete. There will be no subnote.
We've gone from five models (2 sizes of iBook, 3 sizes of Powerbook) to 3 models (1 MacBook and 2 MacBook Pro models). I'd have hoped that there would have been some room for flexibility?

I guess we have to now wait for Apple's "one more thing" in the portable line. Is this going to be a "high end" iPod or do you think they will revisit tablets. Tablet-based computing has been a total hash here and Microsoft's attempt to make it more accessible with the UMPC has shown they are just so far behind the usability curve - it ain't funny.

I'm dissatisfied with my MacBook Pro. I was just ready for a MacBook. Pity.

Christian Machmeier — May 17, 06 1255

I feel overwhelmed by yesterday's release of the new MacBook – so much, that I definitely would want to get one in my hands. The pricing, regarding the power you'll get, seems very reasonable to me, although that 200 extra-bucks just to get the black one… well, that's Apple. But to clarify that, please refer to the latest JoT-Comic.

Anyway, I think the specs read pretty impressive, so that the MacBook becomes a choice only the PowerBook was once before – to go with a portable machine as your desktop replacement by utilizing a "big" screen. I mean that really is feasible using the MacBook.

Jeroen Leenarts — May 17, 06 1256

About the GFX card, I've heard (yes, heard not read) rumors that the ATI 9200 GFX chip has better performance compared to the Intel GFX chip in the new MacBook.

Adrian Cooke — May 17, 06 1257

Nice computers. The iPod and iPod Nano comes in glossy black or white. This seems kind of like that except for the weird price difference for the black one. Why not just release two models, each of which is available in either black or white like the iPod? Also, glossy screens I do not get. Perhaps they are more durable? Harder plastic? Glossier?

Zsolt — May 17, 06 1265

I think trimming the line makes perfect sense. I remember when Apple came out with the 14" iBook and the 12 and 17" PowerBooks I was thinking they have too many models. Remember the number of models Apple had before Jobs came back ? And shortly after ? If you have too many different models the customer gets confused, and it's much more expensive to maintain the product line. I like Apple's simplicity and clarity in their current laptop line.

BTW I wish I did not get a MacBook Pro a month ago, because then I could get a MacBook now ! Hmm. Maybe I'll sell my Pro.

Jussi — May 17, 06 1267

The MacBook looks like a good step forward design wise. They actually made Macbook quite like 12" Powerbook in a slightly bigger white casing. DVI, dual head, audio in; the ways they used to cripple iBook are gone.

The main concerns seem to be the glossy display and GPU. I don't se any possibility to go worse than the crappy 12" screen of iBooks and PowerBooks or the ATI 9200[1] and GeForce Go5200, of which are slow and hot, respectively. I'm watching at the screen right now, it's awful in many ways, almost anything else is better.

This leaves just the 512MB issue at table and that I must agree with. 512 MB is not enough even for the entry level Intel Macs, which seem to need even more memory than PPC macs, even without taking Rosetta or shared graphics memory in consideration.

MacBook surely looks quite good, but I'll wait for Core Duo 2 and at least the Rev.B. By the way, where is the Macbook *Mini*? Apple needs a real subnotebook, I've been waiting for it years, because I've got no muscles nor need to carry the optical drive with me where ever I go :)

[1] I will not comment the GPU of last iBook as I've not tried it.

Scott Stevenson — May 17, 06 1268 Scotty the Leopard

where is the Macbook *Mini*? Apple needs a real subnotebook

This would certainly be 'cool' in a cube sort of way, but is there really a market for it beyond the early adopters?

Ken — May 18, 06 1269

Apple doesn't have to make another notebook to get to sub-notebook size. All they have to do is keep the 13 in screen, trim the fat of the edges around the screen, dump the optical drive, and slim the battery down to be more flat, and apple can have a super thin, much lighter and nicer MacBook. Just give it a generation or two... thanks to high-speed internet CD's are already becoming obsolete except in times of software installs... it'll happen.

Ken — May 18, 06 1270

And just as a side note, if Apple wants to make *any* headway in Asia, they'll have to slim the MacBook down over time. 13" maybe ok, but its the weight and thickness that will kill them.

Jussi — May 18, 06 1271

Scott, you are right. The problem from Apple's point of view is exactly that.

I would think there is a market for it, at least based on discussions with other Mac users, many people I know have bought an 12" iBook because the good price and size ratio, now the smallest Mac got a bit bigger so there would be even more space in the lower end of the product line. I'm also told that in parts of Asia subnotebooks are really hot so it could help Apple there.

It would not be selling like an iPod, but I'm sure it would sell enough to be profitable, if not priced in the cube sort of way. :)

scott Stevenson — May 18, 06 1273

thanks to high-speed internet CD's are already becoming obsolete except in times of software installs

There's this issue of CD ripping and DVD watching, though. I see the value in a subnotebook, the question is whether there are enough people that want one to justify the engineering effort. The Asia market is an interesting point, though.

Zsolt — May 18, 06 1274

I spent six months in Tokyo in 2003. There was this one guy I saw sometimes on the commuter train who used a cellphone pc card in a 15" PowerBook to be online while doing his daily commute. Most people (90% of teenagers, and maybe 25% of adults) were constantly texting on their cellphones. And there was the odd duck with a miniature pc notebook on-line. Yes, they do like a lot of things small over there. But most people don't have a laptop out on their commute. I think the 13" is adequate for Japan.

Ken — May 19, 06 1278

I think the 13" is adequate for Japan.
Oh I agree, 13 size is fine. I just think its the weight and some of the thickness is a point to watch (its almost as heavy as the 15"), thats all. People walk a lot more over there, and these things like weight and bulkiness do count...

IOW if you had the choice of a 1 kg 13" razor-thin laptop with no cd or a 3kg laptop thats a little chubby and has a cd, I think there's a good chance the 1kg one, if it had the same battery life as the heavier one, would sell very well. (Just look at how many people have all those mini dells (even if ugly) in coffee shops and campuses.)

I think eventually with TV and Movie downloads on the horizon, the optical disc format is gonna go like the floppy, when apple decides its going to jump with both feet, I would expect a killer laptop from them.

lseven — May 19, 06 1279

I'm a PC/Linux user looking to get my first Mac. Sorry, but I'm not into the white computers. I love the black on the iPods, but I was really bummed about the black Macbook. It has a dull black matte finish that doesn't make it stand out from all the other black laptops out there. In fact, it is even more dull than others since it has no aluminum trim on it. Certainly not worth an extra $150 for a dull black laptop!

Jon H — May 28, 06 1339

Jussi writes: "512 MB is not enough even for the entry level Intel Macs, which seem to need even more memory than PPC macs, even without taking Rosetta or shared graphics memory in consideration."

Ah, but at least the MacBook can go up to 2 gigs, just like the MacBook Pro


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