New MacBook is 'fast as all get out'

New MacBook is even better value than the model it replaces

A riddle: What's black or white and fast as all get out?

Answer: Apple Computer's latest MacBook.

Announced last week, already on store shelves and measuring up well not only to its predecessor but to its big brothers in the MacBook Pro lineup, the new MacBook is an even better value than the model it replaces. With a notable speed boost from the new Core 2 Duo processor, more standard RAM and larger hard drives, the MacBook arrived just ahead of the holiday shopping season. It's as if (insert your holiday icon of choice here) had arrived early.

A prediction: Apple will sell a ton of these, an expectation not at all lost on Apple bigwigs who rushed to tout their new consumer line as soon as it was released. Yes, they readily acknowledged, they wanted to get the updated model out before the holiday shopping season. That makes sense given the upsurge in sales of Apple's laptops this year.

The MacBook in hand was offered up by Apple for review purposes, and true to form, the powers that be sent out a top-of-the-line model. Dressed in stately black, it was tricked out with a 160GB hard drive and maxed out with 2GB of RAM. If you bought it that way from the Apple store, you'd pay US$1,774 -- a fair jump from the basic black version's US$1,499 price tag. And it's not that far away from the 15-in. MacBook Pro, which starts at US$1,999.

That's a lot of money for a consumer machine, especially since US$150 of that price is just so you can get it in black. But this is more than a mere consumer laptop. Aside from the shared graphics memory -- which is an issue only if you're heavy into gaming or planning to run Windows Vista with its high hardware requirements -- the MacBook specs are top-notch.

There are three MacBooks to choose from, although you can customize them in variety of ways. The base model, in white only, goes for $1,099 and offers a 1.83-GHz Core 2 Duo chip; 512MB of RAM; a 60GB hard drive; a combo drive that burns and plays CDs and plays DVDs; a built-in iSight webcam; and the usual retinue of features such as 802.11g wireless networking, Bluetooth, Apple's two-finger scrolling trackpad and its Sudden Motion Sensor technology.

But if I were buying, I'd go for the next model up: It's US$200 more, but it has a 2.0-GHz Core 2 Duo chip (with twice the Level 2 cache); twice the RAM; 33 percent more storage space, with an 80GB hard drive and a dual-layer SuperDrive that burns and plays both CDs and DVDs. You can add on from there if you want Apple to boost the RAM to 2GB (add US$175) or bump up the hard drive for more storage (add US$150 to US$350 depending on how much more you want). It also comes in white only.

If you want the extra cool factor of the flat black model, you'll have to pay. Cool costs. Sure, you get a 120GB hard drive, 50 percent more than in the midrange model, but otherwise the hardware is exactly the same. There is one other difference: Unlike the white models, the black version seems to show fingerprints more, though they cleans up easily. (Who knew fingertips could be so greasy?)

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