Back in black: MacBook has great features, annoying issues

My PowerBook has been on its last leg for quite some time now, so last week I finally took the plunge and ordered a new Apple MacBook. I had my credit card at the ready several times for a MacBook Pro over the last couple of months, but just couldn’t make myself do it. I think it had something to do with the fact that the one I played with at Macworld Expo in January felt like the south side of the Sun. Or maybe it was that looked nearly identical to my two-year-old PowerBook. Or maybe I wanted something a little more portable.

Regardless, I got the MacBook, and below you’ll find some observations on its main features and problems. (By the way, if you’re in the market for one, the best deal I found was at Amazon.com—$1500 (retail), but no tax in the majority of U.S. states, free shipping, and a $100 rebate. Plus, Amazon is an authorized Apple reseller, so you get the same warranty as buying direct from Apple.)

Casing
For the first time since Apple’s PowerBook G3, a Mac comes in black. And oh, how I love black. (See the above pic of my current daily essentials—black MacBook, black iPod nano with black Power Support case, black Moto RAZR, and black Koyono Slimmy wallet.) I was super disappointed to hear that the MacBook’s casing wasn’t shiny black like the nano. After the whole iPod nano scratching fiasco, my guess is that Apple didn’t want to have to deal with a whole bunch of complaints—and possibly lawsuits—over the scratch-attractiveness of their $1500 laptops. As evidenced by the years of covering iBooks and iPods, the glossy white finish does not show scratches anywhere near as much as the nano and 5G iPod’s glossy black finish. I do, however, like the satin finish on the black MacBook more than I thought I would—it even matches the RAZR perfectly—but I have major problems with the greasy-looking finger and palm prints that get left all over it after normal use. I swear, it looks like I eat buckets of chicken wings all day while writing iPod news.

Intel Core Duo + RAM
This thing is fast. Hella fast. The fastest computer I’ve ever really used. Everything from startup time to application launch times to web surfing; the performance of the two processor cores is not just hype. Unfortunately, the processor does make the MacBook literally too hot to place on your lap. (A laptop that you can’t use on your lap? Ironic, save that Apple’s now calling it a “notebook,” not a “laptop.”) My MacBook is unbearably hot—it can only be used on a desk. Just doing a little emailing from bed made my comforter feel like it was ready to spontaneously combust.

The crazy speed of my MacBook is also aided by 2GB of RAM (2 x 1GB sticks) that I picked up from Other World Computing. (Again, the best deal from a trusted and reliable store for RAM can be found at OWC – other iLounge editors have bought there too with satisfaction.) Installation of RAM is easy, but takes more time that I had thought. You have to take the battery out and remove an L-bracket with three ultra-tiny screws, then insert the RAM sticks. Tiny screws are always a pain.

Display
As I had hoped, the 13-inch screen looks much better in a normal environment than it did under the Apple Store’s lights; the colors are richer and seemingly easier on the eyes. I didn’t ever think I would say it, but I prefer the glossy finish to that of my old PowerBook’s matte screen. Also, thanks to the screen bezel and new keyboard (see below), there’s no chance of the display coming in contact with the keyboard—a major problem of many past Apple laptops. Finally, if you have a MacBook or end up getting one, I offer one tip about the display: go into System Preferences and change the color Display Profile to “Apple RGB” from the default “Color LCD.” Trust me, the default setting is too pale.

Keyboard
After seeing the photos of the MacBook on the day it was announced, the one thing that stood out to me was the keyboard. It just looked so… odd. But like every PowerBook and iBook I’ve owned, the MacBook’s keys felt great. Again, I prefer the MacBook keyboard to any past Apple portable keyboard. Smooth and solid sums it up.

Mooing
Yes, mooing. While agonizing over the buying choice between a MacBook Pro and MacBook, I read about all of the issues people were reporting after using their new machine for a couple days—heat issues, processor sounds, etc. But the one I scoffed at the most was the mooing. Like a teenage MySpace junkie, I would think to myself, “LOL. What losers. You think your MacBook is mooing at you.” Then, on the second day of real use, my MacBook mooed at me. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

The sound is the internal fan spinning up quickly and then spinning back down just as quickly. It happens when you’re doing processor-intensive work and the temperature inside the laptop rises to a certain degree. And yes, it sound just like a cow mooing. So far, I’ve only heard the short moos five or six times a day. But if it gets any worse, I’m calling to see if there is something wrong. According those who have called Apple Support about the issue, Apple reps claim a future firmware update will fix the mooing, and that it is not a hardware issue. So, your days might be numbered, iCow.

MagSafe Adapter + Power Brick
The MagSafe power adapter is simply awesome. If you haven’t heard, it uses magnets to attach to the side of the MacBook (and MacBook Pros), allowing it to break away if you trip over the cord instead of pulling your MacBook off the desk and see it crash to the floor. It’s also just easier to plug into your MacBook than trying to line up a tiny plug and insert it into a tiny hole, like on my old PowerBook. You just get the MagSafe somewhere near where it attaches, and the magnets pull it into place.

The Power Brick that came with my MacBook, on the other hand, appears to be downright dangerous. After about three days of use, the Power Brick began making a hizzing/sizzling noise. A loud noise. Like, the loudest thing in my home office. And it started getting really warm. Hot actually. So I called Apple, and they’re sending another one out for free. They didn’t say to quit using it, but I’m not risking it. Now if I can just save this little bit of battery power I have left until tomorrow…

Overall, I’m very happy with the MacBook. I love the size. I love the screen. I love the speed. And I love the price. It’s easily the most Mac for the money that Apple has ever offered. And now that it can run Windows (with either Boot Camp or Parallels), I would recommend it to anyone. The Power Brick and mooing concern me greatly though. I’ll update this story once I get the new Power Brick from Apple (it should be here tomorrow) and report if it emits the same noise and heat. Things aren’t looking good, however—Rob Griffiths had the same problem and his second Brick acted the same as his first, so he’s sending his MacBook in to Apple. I’ll also decide within the next couple days if the mooing is too annoying, or if I think it the mooing and extreme processor heat are related—in which case I would really want it fixed. Any iLoungers out there buy a MacBook? Do you have any issues?

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