Review: Apple's MacBook Does Both Windows, OS X Well

Apple Computer Inc.'s (AAPL) latest laptop looks sleek, runs fast and should give makers of Windows-based notebooks considerable cause for concern.

The MacBook, which replaces Apple's iBook consumer notebooks, is the last of the mobile Macs to make the switch to Intel Corp. (INTC) chips that have powered Windows PCs for years. With extra software, the newer Macs can run Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) Windows as well as Apple's Mac OS X.

This could spell trouble for notebook makers who can't offer the best of both worlds, particularly in light of the MacBook's starting price of $1,099.

I tested a black, 2-gigahertz MacBook, which with no customization retails for $1,499. My loaner had a $100 upgrade that doubled the amount of memory to 1 gigabyte.

Apple claims the new laptops are up to five times faster than the previous PowerPC-based iBooks. While I can't confirm it performed as fast as claimed, the MacBook felt significantly speedier than the PowerPC-based system it replaced.

Running Windows XP via Apple's free Boot Camp program, the system felt as fast as any generic laptop PC. (To run Windows, however, you need to buy a copy of the operating system. Prices start at $199.)

Programs designed for the new Macs in OS X were just as zippy.

Older software designed for PowerPC Macs, however, runs in a slower emulation environment. Some of the most popular Mac programs, like Microsoft Office and Adobe Systems Inc.'s (ADBE) Photoshop, are still being converted to run natively on Intel-based Macs.

You'll want to check to see if your favorite programs have been converted. So far, many have, including Mozilla'sFirefox browser, Bare Bones Software's BBEdit and Apple's iLife suite.

My only major complaint about the MacBook is that at 5.2 pounds, it's a bit heavier than I would like. But it's still lighter than the MacBook Pro, which starts at 5.6 pounds.

Aside from the weight issue, the computer's other dimensions are perfect for users who need to have a truly mobile laptop. At just over an inch thick, the MacBook is 20 percent thinner than the iBook.

The MacBook also is the first consumer laptop from Apple to sport a glossy display. The colors on the 13.3-inch widescreen look more crisp than older Mac laptops.

An anti-reflective coating has been added to reduce glare. The screen is capable of displaying 1280 pixels by 800 pixels — providing an ample amount of work space.

Apple claims the MacBook battery will provide up to six hours of battery life before needing recharge. I found the battery lasted a little more than five hours while watching movies and surfing the Web.

The computer's integrated graphics system shares the main memory. Though my MacBook ran games and other applications without a hitch, gamers will probably want to buy a system with a dedicated graphics card, like the MacBook Pro.

Apple includes a mini DVI video port on the MacBook that is capable of driving a 23-inch Apple Cinema display, so the machine has no need for a docking station as many PC laptops do.

It also can connect, via an optional cable, to regular television sets. Combined with the included remote control and the Front Row software, it's a sweet multimedia center to display your music, movies and photos.

The MacBook includes two USB ports, one FireWire port and audio ports. It does not, however, include an expansion-card slot.

Wi-Fi support is standard on all the MacBook models, and connecting to wireless networks was no problem. The antenna range seems greatly improved over previous Apple notebooks: I was able to pick up wireless signals on the MacBook that simply didn't register with a 17-inch MacBook Pro or an older G4-based 17-inch PowerBook.

Overall, the new MacBook is a well-priced laptop that could fit the needs of most consumers. After all, it comes with the simplicity and security of Mac OS X and has many features still in the works for Microsoft's next-generation OS, Windows Vista.

It also comes with the iLife suite that includes iTunes, iPhoto and iMovie — plus a built-in iSight camera for video conferencing.

Combine the MacBook's ability to run Windows at native speed with Apple's renowned knack for elegant hardware and software, and it's a formula that should give other PC makers nightmares.