A day with the new Apple MacBook

So after almost three years with a first generation 2GHz MacBook Pro with 2GB of RAM, I decided to “downgrade” to a new MacBook with 4GB RAM, some notes from the first day…

Rationale for going to a MacBook from a Pro is this:
I spend 95 per cent of my time with an external monitor. A 24-inch display at work and a 30 inch monitor at home. The two extra inches of built in display, while nice, aren’t necessary if the normal MacBook can drive a 30-inch display. The size and weight reduction are a nice bonus.

The majority of time I am without an external display is late at night checking emails from bed or the couch and on airplane trips. Both of these occasions, I would rather have a 13 inch display. Even when presenting on a projector, I am happy on a 13.

I am not a big gamer and I don’t do any 3D apps so the integrated video is more than enough for my mild Adobe CS4 dabbling. I don’t need the 9600 chip that the Pro has.

Also, the economy isn’t doing terribly well (as you might have heard), so I thought it’d be prudent to cut my employer a break instead of knee jerk requesting the most expensive laptop Apple makes (like I normally do).

I got the new base aluminum MacBook model with 4Gb of RAM. Normally, I get 3rd party RAM but Apple has lowered its memory prices to within reason ($140 extra) and it is part of the Apple warranty so a few extra bucks is worth it. 8GB would be nice but not cost effective.

Lighted keys are cool but not necessary for me. The base model is not lit. Your mileage may vary.

I opted for the base 160Gb drive because most of my media is on a media server at home and my work files are available from anywhere via VPN. I know it is easy and inexpensive to upgrade the hard drive in a year or so if I feel I need to. The new case design means the upgrade process takes about a minute.

I use my jailbroken iPhone with PdaNet for 3G access which works as well as any Bluetooth/ExpressCard 3G modem I’ve ever used. It would have been nice of Apple to include 3G and WiMAX but they think I am nuts to want this.

The unveiling
The packaging is first-rate as always. Apple never ceases to amaze in this area. I am sure there have been books written about first impressions going a long way in product design. Skip the book and open an Apple MacBook box.

The machine is smaller (captain obvious) than my 15 inch MacBook Pro and much thinner than the plastic MacBooks. It is dense and feels extremely solid. Almost like a *brick*. While the top and bottom are rounded, once you open it, the front is actually sharp. Like a metal 90 degree angle.

I think this MacBook is going to take some MacBook Air customers away. It is .95 inches thick vs. .76 for the Air at its thickest point. It performs better and has capacity for double the RAM, three times the hard drive, a speedier processor and an optical disc drive…for less. That is a very expensive .19 inches. Yes, it is almost two pounds heavier as well.

Turning it on is like the commercial. Instant glossy light. My coworker lives for the startup song so I blasted it for him. The speakers are better than the first generation MacBook Pro but not as good as the current “club edition” 17 inch MacBook Pros.

The gloss. OK. Hit the breaks on the fanboy love. I hate the gloss. The colors are different at different angles. The matte diffused this effect. Gloss pipes you directly into the pixels which change based on angle. It is also showing distracting reflections all around the edges where there is no light. I can now see my coworkers making fun of me behind my back (bonus).

To be fair, in low light, directly on, I like it more – but that isn’t my work environment. I’ve promised myself some time to get used to it. I am sure in a few weeks, I’ll be fine…I hope.

The migration process has changed. Normally, when migrating laptops, I’d start my old one in Firewire Target Disk mode and connect to the new one via Firewire. I am not sure if you’ve heard, but the MacBook no longer has Firewire. The new process is pretty much as easy.

Connect the two machines via Ethernet cable. At 1000Mbs, it should theoretically be faster than Firewire 800Mbs. Then start the migration assistant on both machines and follow a few step process. A 80GB transfer took just under 3 hours.

Usability. Just a few notes here.

  • VMWare Fusion is eerily quick now. I would say maybe 3 times faster. Something under the hood is going on that I don’t know about I think. Or it was all bad before.
  • CS3 runs about the same as the first generation MacBook Pro – no noticeable speed difference until enough apps are open for the extra RAM to kick in.
  • Quicktime movies play well. The much-publicized NVIDIA H.264 video has much to do with this. No problems running HD videos while running other apps.
  • It also has no problem with running 15 apps at the same time where my previous MacBook Pro would falter. Probably due to the 4Gb of RAM over 2Gb previously.
  • The trackpad is cool, but it is going to take awhile to get used to. Seriously, give yourself a few days. Clicking doesn’t work like it did before. The hinge is at the top and the0 I know I will get used to it, but for the moment, I am all thumbs.
  • The keyboard is nice but the keys don’t feel quite as solid as the external keyboard I am used to.
  • Battery life is great. I used it aggressively for about four hours with normal brightness and still had some power left over.
  • The magsafe power feels more secure. I think it is a stronger magnet.
  • It runs way cooler than my nuclear reactor core generation one MacBook Pro. Apple has been making steady progress on this and with it, the fertility rate of MacBook users is going back up as well (har).

That’s it for now. I’ll report back in a week on how I am doing with the gloss, the trackpad and um, I think my Dual DVI adapter should be shipping in…Oh, it says November 26th!!! grrr….

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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