Apple MacBook

We thought the MacBook Pro was the ultimate portable music machine, but its little brother might be about to steal its thunder

The arrival of a new Apple Mac always arouses interest in music production circles, but we're particularly intrigued by the Intel-powered machines.

From the moment you take the new MacBook out of the box, you can't take your eyes off it. You've probably seen the pictures, but nothing quite prepares you for the experience of holding it.

It's so small, solid, light and compact that it makes the iBook range it replaces feel like a throwback to the last century.

First impressions

As soon as you open the MacBook, the first design enhancement reveals itself: there's no clasp to lock the screen down. It stays shut magnetically, so there's one less thing to break.

And then there's the keyboard! Think Sinclair's ZX Spectrum. Okay, Apple have stopped short of including rubber keys, but each button emerges from its own hole in the front panel.

Initial reactions have been mixed, but just about everyone we know who's actually tried the keyboard thinks it's great. The spacing is good and it's a joy to type on.

Another landmark in Apple laptop design is the glossy 13-inch widescreen. Again, opinions have varied, but we didn't have any problems using it and we reckon it improves the display quality.

Hands on

Of course, the MacBook's key features aren't all cosmetic. When you switch this bad boy on for the first time, you'll be staggered by the speed at which it fires up.

This isn't surprising, as the top-end MacBook offers almost the same amount of raw CPU power as its bigger brother, the MacBook Pro.

It features an Intel Core Duo 2GHz processor with a 667MHz frontside bus. This is a seriously powerful piece of technology, that offers far more than merely speed.

As you investigate deeper, the MacBook continues to compare very favourably with the Pro.

It can accommodate 2GB of swift PC2-5300 SDRAM (we had 1GB installed) and has the same configuration of one FireWire 400 and two USB 2.0 ports.

It doesn't have the ExpressCard 34 slot, but we doubt that this will perturb musically-minded buyers particularly.

In fact, there are only two areas in which the MacBook is properly outclassed by the Pro.

The first is graphics – the MacBook sports a modest 1200x800 display driven by an Intel GMA 950 graphics processor with 64MB of DDR2 SDRAM, and this is shared with the main memory.

What this means is that RAM will be borrowed from the system if you're using graphics-heavy applications, reducing the amount that's available for other tasks.

Fortunately for us musos, most music programs aren't too heavy on the visuals, so this shouldn't be an issue.

The second area is potentially more problematic. The maximum hard drive speed offered by Apple for the MacBook is 5400RPM (a 7200RPM upgrade is available for the Pro).

This reduces the amount of track-freezing you can do, as well as impacting on the number of audio tracks you can record and play back simultaneously. However, some users have reportedly upgraded their machines with 7200RPM drives.

Elsewhere on the MacBook, things are back to form. The iSight camera, OS X and iLife software suite, sensitive two-finger X-Y scrolling and clickable trackpad, MagSafe power cord, mic and stereo speakers are all the same.

Onboard sound quality is good and there's digital I/O via the combined analogue and digital 1/8-inch jacks.

You get onboard Airport Extreme 54Mbps wireless connectivity and Bluetooth 2.0, and even the IR remote is included (so you can squint at movies from across the room and stay where you are when you want to turn the volume up).

The 2GHz model comes with DVD burning as standard (although only single layer). And while the MacBook does gets 'fry-an-egg-on-me' hot after extended use, it's whisper-quiet.

Summary

In conclusion, the MacBook includes most of what made the Pro the ultimate portable audio computer in a smaller package and at a vastly reduced price.

As far as the musician is concerned, the comparative lack of graphical grunt isn't too much of a problem, and the only other concern might be disk speed.

However, when you factor in the price difference, other design enhancements and reduced size, we'd have to say that the MacBook is probably the most desirable bit of portable music-making kit on the market right now.

MusicRadar Rating

4.5 / 5 stars
Pros

Very powerful. Absolutely tiny. You can dual boot XP and OS X. Great value (particularly in white). Very quiet.

Cons

Slow hard drive. Runs very hot. Black model costs more. Reduced graphics power.

Verdict

The MacBook sports more refined ergonomics than the Pro model and its spec isn't that much worse. If you can live without powerful graphics, this is the one to go for

Review Policy
All MusicRadar's reviews are by independent product specialists, who are not aligned to any gear manufacturer or retailer. Our experts also write for renowned magazines such as Guitarist, Total Guitar, Computer Music, Future Music and Rhythm. All are part of Future PLC, the biggest publisher of music making magazines in the world.