Apple takes the MacBook upscale

Apple's new Macbook inherits some high-end perks from the Pro line

As before, all of the ports are on the left side of the laptop, just as they are now on the MacBook Pro -- though the MacBooks don't have the FireWire 800 port built in to the Pro models. The optical drive remains on the right side of the machine.

The aluminum MacBooks weigh 4.5 lb., about a half pound less than the earlier model, and they're a little slimmer, just 0.95 in. thick with the lid closed. That's not much thicker than the Air, which has a more tapered look but is 0.76 inches wide at its thickest.

A rival for the Air?

The MacBook and the MacBook Air fill slots in different parts of the marketplace. The MacBook is thoroughly mainstream, while the Air is a niche product for those who value style and ultimate portability at the expense of some speed and functionality. Both are solid offerings in their respective sandboxes, but I do wonder whether the new MacBook might cut into Air sales for the next few months until Apple offers a more updated Air.

Here's why: The two MacBook Air models sell for US$1,799 and US$2,499. The top-end version has a slower processor (1.8 GHz) than any of the MacBooks, including even the US$999 white one. It offers less storage space, its RAM can't be upgraded beyond 2GB, and it doesn't have the optical drive built in, meaning you'll pay another $99 for an external drive. Both incorporate the same integrated Nvidia processor -- and the US$1,599 MacBook has that lighted keyboard.

The Air is, without doubt, the better-looking laptop, almost unbelievably thin, and it only weighs 3 lb. That's fully 1.5 lb. less than MacBook. For those who carry their laptops with them constantly, that pound-and-a-half difference might be worth the extra cost. But for most people, the speedier chip in the MacBook, the array of ports, the on-board optical drive and bigger, faster hard drives will make the MacBook a more sensible choice.

In fact, it might even be a solid choice for enterprises reviewing the options for their next hardware-upgrade cycles. Such is the case here at Computerworld. Several of our editors have been evaluating the MacBook -- particularly the keyboard and the screen -- to see whether it would work as a replacement for older Windows-based laptops. Of the five people most seriously considering Apple's laptop, four of them are ready to make the switch, and one is still uncertain.

Given the perception that Macs tend to cost more than their PC equivalents, companies might not even be considering Apple hardware. They should. Our tech folks compared the US$1,599 MacBook with the Lenovo ThinkPad X200. It's a little lighter and smaller, with a 12-in. screen. But for roughly the same hardware, the MacBook could be bought for $30 less. As always, your mileage will vary, depending on the specific needs of your company. But it's a reminder that perception isn't always reality.

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