Apple MacBook 13in (2009 nVidia) full review

At £719 the 13in, white Apple MacBook is the most affordable way of getting an Apple laptop.

When Apple updated its notebook range late last year, the headline news was a move to a unique aluminium unibody construction. These portables made good use of a chassis milled from solid metal, creating a strong shell around which to construct a durable laptop.

But this design came at a cost, namely a rise in price such that the entry-level machine now costs £949. Thankfully Apple also decided to keep one plastic body MacBook model in the range, making the cheapest Apple laptop you can find now a slightly more accessible £719.

But in line with the newer models, the older-style white Apple MacBook has been quietly updated, and now comes equipped with the same nVidia graphics chipset found in the unibody MacBook. This is a power-efficient graphics engine, integrated onto the motherboard and promising five times the performance of the outgoing Intel part.

Other changes include a new processor clocked at 2.0GHz - which represents a drop in specification, as the previous plastic MacBooks were available in 2.1GHz and 2.4GHz form. Bluetooth has been upgraded to 2.1+EDR version and the machine is now fitted with 2GB DDR2 RAM instead of 1GB.

We used Boot Camp to install Windows Vista Home Premium, in order to benchmark its performance with our usual processor and graphics tests. In WorldBench 6, the revised Apple MacBook scored 79 points, a good result typical for a modern 2GHz notebook.

Unfortunately our usual MobileMark 2007 test does not run on Apple's new nVidia-equipped portables, so we conducted a less formal assessment, based on web browsing and intermittent high-definition video playback, where the Apple MacBook kept going for 262 minutes - nearly 4.5 hours.

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To test the Apple MacBook's graphics performance, we used our standard FEAR test, set to Maximum quality for both processor and graphics options. This gave a result of 10 frames per second, a score that would make the game too stuttering for real use.

But, considering that the Intel X3100 graphics chip it replaces has never exceeded 2fps in the same test, Apple is justified here in advertising ‘five times better' graphics. Simply dropping graphics quality to Medium in FEAR, a most playable framerate of 37fps was recorded.

Of more tangible everyday benefit is the way that Apple has now coded QuickTime to decode video via the nVidia GPU, reducing the drain on the main processor. We found a 1080p H.264 video file could play back entirely smoothly on the Apple MacBook, with only around 25 percent CPU usage on one processor core.

We found the Apple MacBook to be generally well constructed, with the exception of its trackpad, which lacks the precision we expect from Apple, and the trackpad mouse button, which was disappointingly gritty in use. And do note that this trackpad does not offer full multi-touch gestures, only two-finger scrolling.

At 2.2kg though, the Apple MacBook is a powerful notebook in a relatively lightweight form with a useful array of ports, and excellent long battery life.


Apple MacBook 13in (2009 nVidia): Specs

  • 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7350
  • 1066MHz FSB
  • 3MB Level 2 cache
  • Mac OS X 10.5.6
  • 13.3in (1280x800) 16:10 glossy LCD display
  • nVidia GeForce 9400M graphics with 256MB shared RAM
  • mini DisplayPort video output
  • 2GB (2x1GB) DDR2 RAM
  • 120GB 5400rpm SATA HDD
  • 802.11a/b/g/draft-n
  • Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
  • 2 x USB 2.0
  • FireWire 400
  • gigabit ethernet
  • MagSafe power connector
  • SuperDrive (slot-load DVD±RW DL drive)
  • webcam
  • built-in mic
  • audio-in/headphone out jacks, both with S/PDIF optical
  • power consumption 22W idle, 42W load
  • 55W/hour lithium battery
  • 325x226x27mm
  • 2215g