Saturday, 28 February 2009

Notebook Review Spec : Gateway MD7818u

Gateway MD7818u Review

BY: Kevin, Editor

The Gateway MD7818u is part of a new affordable notebook line that shares most of its components with the high-style MC series. This notebook offers many of the same features as its more expensive brother; like the touch-sensitive hidden multimedia keys, classy styling, and excellent build quality. To lower the cost Gateway removed some features that not everyone needed, like the leather palmrest, all-glass display, and backlit keyboard. Does this new notebook still impress us as much as the MC7803u? Read our review to find out.

Gateway MD7818u Specifications:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo T6400 (2.0GHz/ 800MHz Front Side Bus/ 2MB L2 cache)
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit
  • 4GB DDR2-800 RAM (2x2GB)
  • 15.6" Ultrabright WXGA (1366x768) glossy finish
  • Intel 4500MHD Integrated Graphics
  • 500GB 5400RPM Seagate 5400.6 Hard Drive
  • 8x Multi-Format Dual Layer DVDRW and DVD-RAM with Labelflash
  • Intel Wireless Wi-Fi Link 5100 AGN (802.11a/g/n)
  • Built-in 1.3 megapixel webcam and microphone
  • Ports: 4 USB, Kensington Lock Slot, Modem, LAN, 2 Headphone/Mic, HDMI, VGA, SD Card Reader, ExpressCard/54
  • Power: 8 Cell Lithium Ion 48.84Whr (2.2AHr) Battery, 19V 65W AC Adapter
  • Size: 1.3"-1.70" (H) x 15.28" (W) x 10.43" (D)
  • Weight: 6lbs 12.4oz actual
  • Warranty: 1 Year standard
  • Retail MSRP: $799

Build and Design
Sharing the same body as the MC series notebook, the new MD series looks nearly identical inside and out. The only visible queues that someone familiar with both models would notice is the lack of quick launch program buttons on the left side of the keyboard, no leather palmrest, lack of backlit keyboard, and missing all-glass display. Internally they share the same chassis and alloy unibody and depending on the configuration it may or may not have a MXM dedicated graphics card. The body is built extremely well with a very durable feel and little flex. Fit and finish is excellent with no noticeable defects on our review unit.

The design is excellent, looking more like a designer notebook than previous Gateway models. The higher quality of the materials used combined with the modern design helps give this notebook a look that is usually only shared with models costing two or three times more. I like the contrasting silver and chrome trim around painted or brushed metal surface. The black glossy surface works well with the touch sensitive media buttons, completely hiding them with the lights turned off.

The 15.6” WXGA display is above average with a strong backlight for easy viewing in bright environments and great color saturation thanks in part to the glossy finish. The backlight is fairly strong with my preferred brightness setting being about 50-60%. Backlight evenness is average with only a hint of bleed through the bottom edge of the panel. Contrast is excellent at the optimum viewing sweet spot, but does get washed out slightly if you tilt the screen forward or back. Under normal day-to-day use I found the limited tilting movement of the display to be inconvenient. Most displays can be tilted back to the point of almost making the screen flat with the keyboard, but the way the hinge is designed on the MC and MD series notebooks you are limited to about 20 degrees of backward movement. Viewing angles were in line with most notebooks, with a wide horizontal viewing range but limited vertical viewing. As you tilt the screen forward the screen starts to look washed out, and leaning it back colors darken and invert.

Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard is very comfortable to type on and is spread out well over the 16” frame of the notebook. Individual key thickness feels less than other notebooks from the odd flat shape of the key top, but it is much easier to type on than a Sony/Macbook style keyboard. Key presses are very smooth, with only a light touch needed to trigger a key. Audible feedback is minimal, with only a small click with each full press.

The large Synatpics touchpad is responsive and a breeze to move around on with a lightly textured matte finish. Sensitivity was great, easily tracking my finger with no discernible lag. The surface area is larger than most notebooks, but still falls short to the gigantic touchpad surfaces found on Apple notebooks. The buttons are wide and easy to hit with the side of your thumb while they give a mild soft click with shallow feedback.

One thing I find amazing on the MD and MC-series notebooks is the illumination on/off button they include. Using this button you can toggle the keyboard backlit (on the MC-series), turn off the touch sensitive media keys (disables them), and turn off everything else including the hard drive activity and power light. If you hate blinking or shining LEDs nothing beats a feature like this. If you are watching a movie the only source of light left is the screen.

System performance was still in line with the MC7803u in every category except gaming. Offering a very similar configuration minus the dedicated graphics card the MD7818u handed day to day activities with ease and when it was time to sit back and relax it performed flawlessly in decoding HD movies and streaming video. The MD7818u has the newest 45nm Intel Core 2 Duo T6400 processor, giving it a mild bump in performance over the 64nm T5800 processor with the same clock speed. If you aren’t interested in gaming, integrated graphics offers better battery performance, so that is something worth considering. The newer system also offers a larger hard drive for increased media and program storage, which also happens to be quite a bit faster than the previous 5400rpm Hitachi drive. The faster Seagate 5400.6 drive bumped average transfer speeds up by 14MB/s with a peak transfer speeds up 17MB/s.

wPrime processor comparison results (lower scores mean better performance):

Gateway MD7818u (Intel Core 2 Duo T6400 @ 2.0GHz)
37.893 seconds
Dell Studio 15 (Core 2 Duo T5750 @ 2.0GHz) 41.246 seconds
HP Pavilion dv5z (Turion X2 Ultra ZM-80 @ 2.1GHz)
39.745 seconds
Dell Inspiron 1525 (Core 2 Duo T7250 @ 2.0GHz)
43.569 seconds
HP Pavilion dv4t (Intel Core 2 Duo T9600 @ 2.8GHz)
26.972 seconds
Lenovo ThinkPad SL400 (Core 2 Duo P8400 @ 2.26GHz)
34.628 seconds

PCMark05 measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):

Gateway MD7818u (2.0GHz Intel T6400, Intel 4500MHD) 4,535 PCMarks
Dell Studio 15 (2.0GHz Intel T5750, Intel X3100) 3,998 PCMarks
HP Pavilion dv5z (2.1GHz Turion X2 Ultra ZM-80, ATI Radeon HD 3200)
3,994 PCMarks
Dell Inspiron 1525 (2.0GHz Intel T7250, Intel X3100)
4,149 PCMarks
HP Pavilion dv4t (2.8GHz Intel T9600, NVIDIA 9200M GS 256MB) 5,463 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad SL400 (2.26GHz Intel P8400, NVIDIA 9300M GS 256MB) 5,173 PCMarks

3DMark06 measures video and gaming performance (higher scores mean better performance):

Gateway MD7818u (2.0GHz Intel T6400, Intel 4500MHD) 924 3DMarks
Dell Studio 15 (2.0GHz Intel T5750, Intel X3100) 493 3DMarks
HP Pavilion dv5z (2.1GHz Turion X2 Ultra ZM-80, ATI Radeon HD 3200)
1,599 3DMarks
Dell Inspiron 1525 (2.0GHz Intel T7250, Intel X3100) 545 3DMarks
HP Pavilion dv4t (2.8GHz Intel T9600, NVIDIA 9200M GS 256MB) 1,741 3DMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad SL400 (2.26GHz Intel P8400, NVIDIA 9300M GS 256MB) 2,211 3DMarks

*All 3DMark06 benchmark tests are set at 1280 x 800 screen resolution.

HDTune storage drive performance results:

Ports and Features
The MD7818u is packed with external ports, but missing some common features like eSATA and Firewire. With four USB ports, I would have gladly sacrificed one for an eSata port, or even an eSATA/USB combo port.

Port List:
• VGA and v1.3 HDMI
• Four USB
• Modem and LAN
• Two Headphone and one Microphone jacks
• Multi-Card Reader and ExpressCard/54
• Kensington Lock Slot and AC Power

Front: Two headphone and one microphone jacks

Rear: Display hinge

Left:Kensington lock slot, AC power, VGA, HDMI, LAN, modem, two USB, ExpressCard/54, multi-card reader

Right: Optical drive, two USB

Speakers and Audio
Speaker performance was average with bass and midrange lacking due to the small speaker driver size. The front firing speaker design was annoying at times, getting blocked by your pants or shirt; muffling the sound coming out.

This notebook offers two headphone jacks that allow you to share a movie or some music with another person. The audio output from the jacks is great, and peak volume levels were above my comfortable listening levels.

Heat and Noise
Gateway overbuilt the cooling system on the MD series notebook, since it is designed to handle high performance components including dedicated graphics. With only integrated graphics being utilized the system barely broke a sweat during heavy loads like benchmarking. Fan noise was minimal even at what could be considered its highest speed, needing an ear up against the fan grill to hear it spinning. The very cool external temperatures listed below are shown in degrees Fahrenheit.

Battery Life
Gateway lists the battery for the MD7818u has being 48Wh, far under what we found the included battery to be in our review units. Our system had a fully charged capacity of 71Wh, roughly 48% larger than its official specification. With the system set to the Vista "Balanced" power profile, screen brightness at 70%, and wireless active the system was powered on for 4 hours and 52 minutes before it shutdown at 3% remaining. If the system was equipped with a battery rated at 48Wh the estimated time would have been closer to 2 hours and 30 minutes.

The Gateway MD series notebook rated very well in our testing with good performance and great build quality. The styling is nearly identical to the higher MC lineup, but offering a more budget friendly starting price as low as $649 depending on configuration. The design is stunning for a low-cost notebook, with clean lines and a very elegant layout. Hidden touch-sensitive multimedia keys and an option to completely disable all indicator lights are some of the features that really make this notebook stand out. If you love the styling of the Gateway MC notebooks but don’t want to fork over as much money, the MD series is an excellent alternative.


  • Great build quality
  • Great styling with impeccable fit and finish
  • Good battery life from the battery supplied in our review unit
  • Excellent cooling system


  • Limited screen tilt angle from hinge design
  • Tips the scales compared to other 15” notebooks

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Notebook Review Spec : Toshiba Satellite E105

The Toshiba Satellite E105 is a new 14.1” notebook with a aluminum body sold exclusively through Best Buy. The design moves away from the current rounded styling of the new Toshiba models to a thinner design with squared off edges. With a starting price of $899 this model comes with an Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 processor, Intel integrated graphics, FM tuner, and backlit keyboard. Read our review to find out how it compares to other Toshiba models and if you should consider it for your next notebook.

Toshiba Satellite E105-S1402 specifications:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo processor P8400 2.26GHz (3MB L2 cache, 1066 FSB)
  • Intel 4500MHD Integrated Graphics
  • Windows Home Premium 64-bit w/ SP1
  • 4GB DDR2 800MHz
  • 14.1" WXGA Glossy Display (1280x800)
  • Hard drive: 320GB 5400rpm SATA 2.5"
  • 8X DVD/RW Double layer Super Multi Drive
  • Intel 5100 Link 802.11a/g/n, FM Tuner, Bluetooth
  • Battery: 14.4V 75Wh (85Wh as tested)
  • 2-Year Warranty including AC adapter and battery
  • Dimensions: 13.75” x 9.75” x 1.31”
  • Weight: 5lbs 0.9oz
  • Price: $1,099 (Currently sold at BestBuy for $899)

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Notebook Review Spec : Toshiba Tecra R10

by Jerry Jackson

The Toshiba Tecra R10 is an attractive 14.1" business notebook featuring the latest Intel processors and Nvidia Quadro NVS 150M wrapped inside an impressively thin shell. The Tecra R10 inherits its good looks from Toshiba's Portege line of business notebooks, but are good looks and an impressive spec sheet enough to meet the demands of road warriors? Take a look and see what we have to say about this sleek laptop.

Our review unit of Toshiba Tecra R10 features the following configuration:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo P9300 Processor (2.26GHz, 6MB L2, 1066MHz FSB)
  • Microsoft Genuine Windows Vista Business (64-bit)
  • 14.1-inch WXGA LED backlit screen (1280 x 800)
  • 128MB NVIDIA Quadro NVS 150M graphics
  • 3GB DDR2 800MHz SDRAM
  • 160GB 7200RPM Toshiba 2.5" HDD
  • DVD-SuperMulti drive (+/-R double layer)
  • Wi-Fi, Ethernet, and Bluetooth V2.1 + EDR connectivity
  • 5100mAh Li-Ion Battery
  • 3-Year Standard Limited Warranty
  • Dimensions: 1.13" x 13.3" x 9.9"
  • Weight: 4.34lbs
  • MSRP: $1,549

Build and Design
The Toshiba Tecra R10 is a business notebook designed for corporate road warriors who want a thin and attractive laptop with enough power to get most jobs done. The Tecra line has been popular with large business clients for years, but Toshiba realized the need to improve the overall design and decided to borrow key elements from the ultraportable "Portege" series of notebooks. Does the R10 succeed in making the Tecra line more appealing? You bet.

The main body of the laptop is made of a plastic and aluminum outer shell that is scratch resistant but suffers from some flex around the palmrests. The base of the laptop feels very strong thanks to a metal substructure that provides additional support, so this laptop should survive many bumps and bruises in your backpack or car. There is an unfortunate amount of flex in the keyboard, but not enough to cause serious problems while typing. Overall, the R10 isn't rugged enough for you to stand on, but it should prove rugged enough for average use.

The outer shell of the screen casing is made of plastic with a metal support structure underneath. The laptop screen housing sufferes from a fair amount of flex, but pressing on the back of the display doesn't cause any screen ripples or distortion.

The Tecra R10 comes equipped with a 14.1" anti-glare widescreen with 1280 x 800 resolution and LED backlighting. This certainly isn't the most impressive screen resolution on the market, but it's more than enough for a 14-inch display. The most important thing to consider might be the fact that this screen has excellent readability under bright sunlight, so if you're a road warrior it's easy to read the screen while you're on the road.

When viewing the screen from straight ahead, colors are rich and the contrast is excellent. Horizontal viewing angles are almost as impressive, but the vertical viewing angles from above and below aren't quite as impressive.

Keyboard and Touchpad
The 85-key keyboard on the R10 is nice with matte silver keys that are clearly visible in low light. Each key has a good amount of feedback but the overall keyboard lacks enough support to prevent flex when you apply heavy typing pressure.

The layout of the keyboard is just slightly different than what you might find on most 14-inch notebooks due to the location of the quick launch keys. Toshiba includes three shortcut keys for power, the "Toshiba Assist" button, and a Windows Mobility Center button. Because these buttons are located on the left side of hte keyboard Toshiba had to make several keyboard keys smaller ... which can lead to a few typos if you're a touch typist who never looks at the keyboard.

The touchpad features the same silver finish used on the keyboard and held up well during our tests. The touchpad in our review unit is an Alps touchpad, but unlike most Alps touchpads we've reviewed this touchpad was quite responsive and free from any cursor lag issues. The only negative issues we had with the touchpad were the relatively small size of the touchpad and the fact that the touchpad buttons are a little painful to use. The polished silver touchpad buttons have extremely shallow presses so if you tend to press hard with your thumb you will end up with a sore thumb by the end of an 8-hour work day. Also, since the fingerprint reader is located between the touchpad buttons it's easy to accidentally trigger the fingerprint reader with your thumb and get an error message on the screen ... if the fingerprint reader is active.

The built-in stereo speakers produce average quality sound for a 14-inch notebook with a good range of highs, middles, but virtually no bass. The overall sound quality is a little tinny, but not bad for a business notebook. The highest volume settings are more than loud enough to fill an office with sound for a presentation, but are still clear and not distorted.

The headphone jack on the left side of the R10 works well with the two different brands of earphones I used during the test. No static or other noise was noticed through the jack besides imperfections in the audio source itself. I also appreciated the physical volume wheel on the notebook which made it quick and easy to adjust volume levels.

Performance and Benchmarks
Our review unit of the Tecra R10 came with the Intel P9300 processor, clocking in at 2.26GHz, and jammed packed with 6MB of cache. For graphics, Toshiba included an Nvidia Quadro NVS 150M series video card with 128MB of GDDR3 memory. A fast 160GB 7200 RPM hard drive was also included, which helped applications load without much lag. This entry-level business laptop didn't exceed our expectations, but it certainly has more than enough computing power to handle average business tasks like working in Microsoft Office, editing photos in Adobe Photoshop, or navigating the web.

With that said, let's jump into the performance benchmarks.

wPrime processor comparison results (lower scores mean better performance):

Toshiba Tecra R10 (Intel Core 2 Duo P9300 @ 2.26GHz)
34.056 seconds
Dell Latitude E6400 (Intel Core 2 Duo P9500 @ 2.53GHz) 30.497 seconds
HP EliteBook 8530w (Intel Core 2 Duo T9400 @ 2.53GHz)
30.919 seconds
Lenovo T400 (Intel Core 2 Duo T9600 @ 2.8GHz)
27.410 seconds
Dell Vostro 1500 (Intel Core 2 Duo T5470 @ 1.6GHz)
53.827 seconds
Toshiba Tecra M9 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz)
37.299 seconds

PCMark05 measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):

Toshiba Tecra R10 (2.26GHz Intel P9300, NVIDIA Quadro NVS 150M 128MB) 4,373 PCMarks
Dell Latitude E6400 (2.53GHz Intel P9500, Nvidia Quadro NVS 160M 256MB) 5,780 PCMarks
HP EliteBook 8530w (2.53GHz Intel T9400, Nvidia Quadro FX 770M 512MB)
6,287 PCMarks
Lenovo T400 (2.80GHz Intel T9600, ATI Radeon 3470 256MB GDDR3)
6,589 PCMarks
Dell Vostro 1500 (1.6GHz Intel T5470, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS) 3,585 PCMarks
Toshiba Tecra M9 (2.2GHz Intel T7500, NVIDIA Quadro NVS 130M 128MB) 3,723 PCMarks

3DMark06 measures video and gaming performance (higher scores mean better performance):

Toshiba Tecra R10 (2.26GHz Intel P9300, NVIDIA Quadro NVS 150M 128MB) 1,822 3DMarks
Dell Latitude E6400 (2.53GHz Intel P9500, Nvidia Quadro NVS 160M 256MB) 1,818 3DMarks
HP EliteBook 8530w (2.53GHz Intel T9400, Nvidia Quadro FX 770M 512MB) 5,230 3DMarks
Lenovo T400 (2.80GHz Intel T9600, ATI Radeon 3470 256MB GDDR3) 2,575 3DMarks
Dell Vostro 1500 (1.6GHz Intel T5470, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS) 1,269 3DMarks
Toshiba Tecra M9 (2.2GHz Intel T7500, NVIDIA Quadro NVS 130M 128MB) 1,115 3DMarks

*All 3DMark06 benchmark tests are set at 1280 x 800 screen resolution.

HDTune storage drive performance results:

Ports and Features
The Tecra R10 features a good number of ports on all sides, so let us take a brief tour ...

Left side:

Here we see the VGA out, security lock slot, combo USB/eSATA port, USB port, microphone and headphone jacks, as well as the physical volume dial.

Right side:

Optical drive, ExpressCard slot, wireless on/off, USB, Ethernet, and power jack.

Rear side:

The battery and hinges.

Front side:

The only port on the front side is the SD card reader located in the middle of the notebook.

The R10 also features an 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi card and Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR, both of which always worked without any dropped signals.

If there is any problem with the port layout, it's the location of the ExpressCard slot. As shown in the image below, if you insert a typical ExpressCard device into the slot it will block the optical drive ... preventing you from inserting or ejecting DVDs.

Heat and Noise
During normal use (browsing the web or working on a text document) the Tecra R10 remained nice and quiet. Even after watching some streaming video online and after stressing the graphics the cooling fan inside the laptop barely gets loud enough to hear.

Finally, we recorded the following external temperatures using an IR thermometer after running two consecutive PCMark05 benchmarks. This should serve as an indicator of how hot the notebook will get after about 30 minutes of serious use. All temperatures are listed in degrees Fahrenheit. While the R10 isn't the coldest notebook we've reviewed, it does stay amazing cool considering the reasonably powerful processor and graphics.

The battery life is something we always want to pay close attention to when looking at business notebooks, and the Tecra R10 failed to impress in this area. During our timed tests, the laptop was set up for the "balanced" power profile, screen brightness at about 70%, WiFi on, and accessing the hard drive while listening to music files and editing documents in Microsoft Office. The laptop shut down after exactly 2 hours and 52 minutes with 3% of the battery left, which is acceptable for light use, but not particularly impressive. Battery life can also be extended via using the "power saver" power profile in Vista, or with a secondary battery.

The Toshiba Tecra R10 is the best looking, best performing Tecra notebook we've seen in years. The Tecra line of notebooks often lacked the polish of the rest of Toshiba's laptops, but thanks to some design elements from the Toshiba Portege line, the new Tecra notebooks look as good as they perform. Still, the attractive R10 is not without its flaws.

Designers seemingly had some trouble figuring out where to put things in this notebook since the ExpressCard slot, fingerprint reader, and quick launch keys all should have been located elsewhere. The touchpad buttons work great, but the shallow press of the buttons makes them somewhat painful to use over the course of a full work day. Still, the main issue that may keep some people from buying the Tecra R10 is the price. While the price of the R10 isn't completely out of line, similar configurations from other companies cost several hundred dollars less.

Bottom line, the Toshiba Tecra R10 is a great business notebook for road warriors who want a full featured notebook with sleek looks ... but it would be even better if it was a few hundred dollars less expensive.


  • Excellent configuration with plenty of performance and storage
  • Fantastic sunlight-readable screen
  • Attractive and sleek design
  • All the ports and connections you need for business


  • More expensive than some of the competition
  • Horrible location of the ExpressCard slot (blocks optical drive)
  • Subpar battery life
  • Strange location of quick launch keys results in some small keyboard keys
  • Uncomfortable touchpad buttons
  • Poor placement of fingerprint reader

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Notebook Review Spec : Apple MacBook (Early 2009) Review

by Perry Longinotti

When I looked at the Unibody MacBook a little while ago I liked almost everything about it. What I disliked most about the notebook was its sticker price. Apple decided to make the new MacBook more expensive than previous versions since it's built like a MacBook Pro but lacks some of the high-end features.

What I was hoping for from a new MacBook was a device that would be competitive with the $500 Windows notebooks crowding the shelves of most computer retailers. I don't mean something priced that low, but rather something closer to the average person's notebook budget. Most folks can live with the decent construction techniques of the iBook/MacBook design. I thought that was the whole point of having the MacBook and MacBook Pro line-ups; different strokes for different folks.

Perhaps Apple realized that they were under represented in the value segment, so they released an updated white plastic MacBook based on the Nvidia 9400M IGP chipset. A few key benefits of the new aluminum model are stripped away to bring this model down to Apple's traditional pricing for one of their starter notebooks $999.00.

Let's take a quick look at the specifications:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo P7350 2.0GHz CPU with 25 Watt TDP
  • NVIDIA GeForce 9400M IGP with shared memory
  • 13" WXGA High-Definition Display With 1280 x 800 Resolution
  • 120GB SATA Hard Drive (5400 RPM)
  • 2GB 667MHz DDR2 System Memory (dual channel mode)
  • Superdrive 8X DVD±R/RW with Double Layer Support
  • OS X 10.5
  • iWork 09 (pre-installed)

$999 MacBook (left) and $1,299 MacBook (right)

Build and Design
The first difference between the plastic MacBook and its Aluminum sibling is the elimination of aluminum and glass from the materials. This model has the white plastic polycarbonate we have known and loved through the years. Like its predecessors (of which I owned three generations) build quality is hit and miss. There are small gaps where panels come together, and the battery still sticks out a wee bit. Controlling tolerances with plastic construction is harder than when using metal.

In terms of creaks and noise while using it, this MacBook is almost silent. The flexy and fragile feeling plastic hinge on this MacBook is no match for the Aluminum model's hinge. Rather than a LCD latch mechanism all MacBooks use a magnetic latch.

In terms of size, nothing has changed. MacBooks are tough to beat if a small notebook is what you need. Dimensions are: height 1.08 inches (2.75 cm), width 12.78 inches (32.5 cm), depth 8.92 inches (22.7 cm), weight 5.0 pounds (2.27 kg). This is thicker and slightly heavier than the Aluminum MacBook. I had to check that twice because you would expect the Aluminum Body and Glass screen of the unibody MacBook to weigh more, not less.

Port layout on this MacBook is sparse; on the left side you get Kensington lock, microphone, headphone, one Firewire 400, two USB 2.0, mini-DVI and Ethernet ports. An integrated card reader would be a great addition in my opinion.

A tiny 60 Watt power adapter is included that adds about half a pound to the travel weight. MacBook uses Apple's Mag Safe connector. This innovation eliminates a few risks from notebooks; for example a sudden yank of the cord releases the magnetic connector before the notebook is pulled off the table or the socket breaks.

Another feature left off of this basic MacBook is an LED back light. As a result the screen on this notebook is nowhere near as bright as the one on my Aluminum MacBook. Its plastic screen coating is high gloss, but not as bright as the glass screen on the Aluminum MacBook.

For a screen this size, the MacBook's 1280 x 800 is a good resolution. Text size and the amount of usable screen real estate are decent. If you plan on doing any video or photo work an external monitor will be a good idea. Colors are washed out compared to the Aluminum MacBook. Viewing angles are good horizontally and poor vertically – this is what I have come to expect from consumer notebooks. Pressing fingers firmly against the back did not cause ripples in the LCD display. Above the display is the iSight webcam and what appears to be stereo microphones.

Keyboard and Touchpad
Apple's chiclet keyboard is starting to appear in many competitor's products for good reason, key travel is short and the action is quiet (although not as quiet as Aluminum MacBook's keyboard). The base reassuringly flex-free.

The next omission is the fancy touch pad from the new Aluminum MacBook. Rather than the new over-sized glass design without the customary single button, this model uses a more traditional wide aspect ratio single button pad. It is a little fussier to setup than the glass version, but it works great once you have dialed the settings to suit your preferences. While not quite as good as the new version, this is still one of the better input devices you'll find on a computer.

The omission of a glass trackpad means that you won't be using Apple's full multi touch capabilities. What you will be missing is the ability to rotate pictures, increase/decrease zoom and even change the screen magnification with the touch pad.

Technical Specs
The MacBook's CPU is common in this price range; Intel's Core 2 Duo P7350 CPU. This is a Penryn-3M medium voltage chip. What does this mean?

  • It's made using 45nm process making it smaller and cooler running
  • It has 3MB of level two cache versus 2MB in last year's value processors
  • Benefiting from the Penryn architectural advancements makes it about 15% faster than last year's Merom-based budget CPUs clock for clock
  • The latest front side bus speed of 1066MHz
  • Medium voltage means that it consumes less power, improving battery life
  • Miserly power consumption produces less heat, about 25% less than last year

MacBook uses NVIDIA's 9400M chipset (comparable to the desktop nForce 730i). This is a core logic chipset that incorporates integrated graphics (IGP). Before we get to the video system, let's look at the basic features. As a Centrino 2 alternative it features many of the same characteristics; faster Front Side Bus (FSB) speed of 1066MHz with DDR3 or DDR2. Unlike Intel, NVIDIA packages all on the chipset's features into a single small chip – it uses space more efficiently.

Apple offers the base MacBook with only 2GB of inexpensive and easy to find DDR2 667 RAM. Most competitors offer 4GB at this price so Apple's stinginess with RAM is a disappointment. Sure, you can get 4GB on sale for $30 but you shouldn't have to. Apple's operating system conserves memory pretty well and runs fine with only 2GB.

NVIDIA's GeForce 9400M video system is one of the faster integrated solutions along with the AMD RADEON Mobility 3200. However, this only gets it to the ankle level of powerful mobile GPUs. Apple and NVIDIA each claim that this solution is 5x as powerful as Intel's latest. Apple describes the chip as having 256MB of dedicated shared memory – very misleading. As an IGP it uses 256MB of system memory leaving you with approximately 1750MB free to run programs. In the Aluminum MacBook, fast DDR3 helped the 9400M post some very good benchmark scores. It will be interesting to see how slower DDR2 changes the equation.

Before we test whether it can handle recent games, here are some of the salient points:

  • 55nm fabrication process makes it smaller and cooler running
  • 16 parallel processing units
  • DirectX 10 and OpenGL 2.1 support – these are the newest graphics APIs
  • 256MB of shared 128-bit DDR2 memory running at 667MHz
  • NVIDIA PureVideo HD Technology including HDCP HDTV output
  • PowerMizer 8.0 microcontroller reduces temps and power use
  • NVIDIA CUDA processor accelerates next-generation applications
  • NVIDIA PhysX-ready

How much of these GPU features are used in OS X 10.5 is debatable. I did not see much evidence of it. Video playback was good, but that could just be the CPU doing its job. Encoding in iMovie did not appear to be much faster than previous Core 2 Duo Macs – GPU acceleration makes a big difference, so if it was on we would know. Whether future software updates enable PureVideo acceleration, CUDA and PhysX remains to be seen. Hopefully you won’t have to upgrade to 10.6 to see benefits.

Onwards, to the storage system; FUJITSU MHZ2120BH 120GB HDD has a spindle speed of 5400rpm, 8MB buffer and SATA-II 3.0 Gb/s interface. This is an OK performer but the size is a disappointment. Even basic notebooks come with 320GB now.

Optical recording is robust and the Hitachi LG Data Storage GS22N SATA burner covers all but the most exotic formats (CD-R 24x, CD-RW 4x, DVD-R 8x, DVD-R DL 4x, DVD-RW 4x, DVD+R 8x, DVD+R DL 4x DVD+RW 4x, DVD-RAM 5x). This is a slot loading model so it spares you the wimpy cheap feel of normal tray loading notebook optical drives.

Networking is handled by Nvidia chipset and RealTek RTL8211. No 56k modem here (available separately as a USB dongle). Wireless networking capabilities are powered by Broadcom's Atheros BCM4322 802.11 ABGN Wi-Fi chip. RealTek also provides the HD Audio Codec along with autosensing jacks that seem to work a little better than those of the previous MacBook which were known to get stuck on digital out mode from time to time.

First Boot
OS X Leopard's into movie is simple yet slick and 4-6 screens of info is all that is need to get up and running. If you are already a registered Apple user, simply type in your credentials and the notebook will retrieve all your info from Apple. And finally, if you still have data on your old Mac, OS X can automatically transfer your accounts, personal data and settings to your new Mac. In short, you will be using your new Mac quickly.

I have always appreciated how much you can get done with a Mac without having to buy additional software. The lynchpin of this is iLife. Apple's iLife 09 suite is included with this MacBook the suite includes the latest versions of iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD, iWeb and Garageband. Notable features in this year's update to Apple productivity suite for your life include:

  • iPhoto: Face Detection, GPS meta data support, Facebook and Flickr integration
  • iMovie: Shake reduction
  • Garageband: Music lessons

There are even more new features in iLife 09, but these are the ones that jumped out at me.

Even the built in TextEdit utility gets the job done. I had no difficulty opening Office 2007 DOCX files and for basic word processing such as writing this article it is sufficient.

Restore and recovery software is included in the form of Time Machine. This software works great if you have an external USB or Firewire HDD or a network drive (although that is painfully slow on a wireless G network). Time Machine does not help you produce bootable install discs, but the standard OS X Installer reads Time Machine backups. Overall, like iLife this represents one less thing to buy compared to what comes bundled with Windows notebooks (although Acer has a pretty good backup disc maker).

Apple computers are bloatware free--even the trials of Office and iWork that used to be part of the standard install are gone. Lack of Mac viruses is pretty well-known and continues to be a strength of the platform.

Speaking of viruses, you can dual boot Windows if you like. The ability to do so is fully supported by Apple and is administered within OS X via Boot Camp. This is great if you already have an investment in some Windows software and lessens the cost of switching (you don't have to buy Mac versions of your apps right away).

OS X Performance
Apple's OS seems to do a better job handling memory than Vista and so the Apple policy of making computers with less than industry standard amounts of RAM does not hurt performance. Immediately after booting the amount of RAM used on this MacBook was 294MB. This figure is amazing considering that you are dealing with a state of the art operating system with all the bells and whistles.

This efficiency means that the MacBook never really struggles when in its native OS. Multitasking with the included applications is a pleasant experience that is lag free. The Xbench score is 119.01 which is 20-25% faster than the first generation MacBook Pro. This score is very close to that of my Aluminum Body MacBook which gets 123.49 with all the latest patches and updates from Apple.

Battery life is exceptional in OS X. Apple advertises five hours of use. With brightness set at 75% the MacBook scored 3:59 minutes surfing including lots of YouTube streaming. Watching movies it managed 3:19 minutes before shutting off. This was with a factory fresh battery - a few more charge/discharge cycles may condition the battery to last longer.

Heat is no longer an issue with the MacBook. I watched 3 hours of movies with notebook on my lap and the temp was fine. I took some temperature readings after running Spore for over an hour. Here they are:

As you can see, the new chipset seems to have delivered not only excellent performance but cool operation as well.

Vista Performance
If you install Vista you get a peppy little notebook that only struggles when there are lots of applications open due to its 2GB of RAM (a limiting factory in Vista). On first boot, without virus scan installed, 500MB of MacBook’s memory is used, which rapid climbs up to just under 600 MB after a few minutes. This is almost double what is used for the arguably superior Mac OS X. Arguably? Who am I kidding, a few minutes in Vista will having you running back to OS X or XP. Hopefully you did not buy a MacBook to run Vista. I will only be testing the MacBook's Vista synthetic and gaming performance to give us some idea of raw performance.

When you install Vista using Boot Camp you can use the Apple recovery disk to install the required Windows drivers and hot key utility. The default driver package includes the NVIDIA 177.53 driver.

First the synthetic results - the MacBook scores 4423 in PCMark05 which is good. It scores 1733 points in 3DMark06 which is about 15% slower than the Aluminum MacBook which uses faster RAM. This puts it in the same league as Nvidia 9300M and AMD Radeon 3430/50 discrete GPUs. If gaming is important to you make sure you weigh your options carefully before buying, you will only be able to do some light 3D gaming on this notebook with details turned all the way down.

To illustrate this point I tested Fallout 3 on this MacBook because it can scale down to pretty low settings (in this case 1280 x 800 and LOW settings). This makes it look like an older title but the game play is mostly unchanged. It chugs when you get into large firefights, but remains playable with an average score of 31.7FPS, low of 17FPS and high of 64FPS. Other well optimized games such as Call of Duty 4 and GRID should run OK on the MacBook if you can live with visual quality sacrifices.

Overall, the results place this less expensive MacBook very close to its more expensive sibling in terms of performance.

With this iteration of the plastic MacBook design, I think Apple has finally got this design right. Most of the kinks are ironed out. Heat is not a major factor anymore. Construction, although not perfect, is better than the first generation MacBooks.

Performance is good, but there are speedier notebooks on the market from brands like HP, Acer and Dell at about the same price. None of them have what are the MacBook's best features; OS X and iLife. In my mind that is worth about a $250 premium over Windows based PCs. Design is tougher to quantify, but let's be really generous and value that at $100. Even with the premium, the hardware specifications are a little weak (by $650 notebook standards) and that is something I wish Apple would address.

Even as someone who has bought every generation of the iBook and MacBook (so clearly I like them), I feel that these are over-priced and under-spec'd compared to what you find in stores from Apple's rivals. I am already paying a premium for the design, OS and apps (about $300-$350). What do I get in exchange for the low 2GB RAM and small 120 GB HDD? How much would it cost Apple to bump the RAM up to 4GB and the HDD to 320GB?

You could argue that the average budget for a new computer is zero these days and that a couple of hundred dollars difference has no effect. My preference would be to see $999 Aluminum MacBooks and $799 plastic MacBooks. At those prices I think almost anyone could rationalize the premium.

I say this because I really would like to see more people using Macs, I've always considered them to be the VW of computers. Anyone who spends any amount of time on a computer deserves to own a Mac at least once and more accessible pricing would certainly help.


  • Priced like a MacBook should be (compared to Unibody)
  • Runs cool
  • Mature design, most of the kinks are gone
  • Great battery life
  • NVIDIA 9400M
  • FireWire!


  • Specs are still too low for my liking (RAM and especially HDD)