13-inch MacBook/2.26GHz (Late 2009)
The latest MacBook stills uses an Intel Core 2 Duo processor, but the speed of it has bumped from 2.13GHz to 2.26GHz. The new MacBook, like its predecessor, has 3MB of shared L2 cache. And although the MacBook maintains the same 1066MHz frontside bus as before, the new model supports 1066MHz DDR3 RAM as opposed to 800MHz DDR2 RAM.
The MacBook ships with 2GB, and Apple will double it to 4GB for an extra $100. Apple officially lists the maximum RAM at 4GB, but since it uses the same chipset and components as the 13-inch MacBook Pro, it does support up to 8GB as well. Of course, 4GB SO-DIMM RAM modules are still very expensive. OWC offers an 8GB upgrade kit for $476, for example, but as prices drop in the next year or two, having that 8GB ceiling as an upgrade option will be a good thing. (Apple doesn't offer an 8GB option for the MacBook, and currently charges $700 to upgrade the MacBook Pro from 2GB to 8GB.)
Graphicswise, the new MacBook uses the same Nvidia GeForce 9400M graphics processor, which shares 256MB of RAM with the main memory, as both the previous version and the 13-inch and low-end 15-inch MacBook Pros. In our Call of Duty test, the new MacBook produced almost one frame per second more than before, but a full frame per second less than the 13-inch MacBook Pro with the same specs. The MacBook still lets you mirror or extend your desktop to a second display at up to 2560 by 1600 resolution at millions of colors. You won't find any of the Mini DisplayPort adapters needed to connect to an external display, however, in the box. All are separate accessories from Apple. The MacBook also retains its 802.11n and Bluetooth 2.1 wireless networking.
To gauge the new MacBook's speed, Macworld Lab ran our full suite of benchmarks. The new MacBook's slightly faster processor speed and improved RAM speed make this MacBook a little bit faster than its predecessor, as you might expect. Improvements ranged from 5.5 percent faster for an iTunes MP3 encoding test to 17 percent faster for an Aperture import test. The new MacBook shaved seven seconds off the Photoshop CS4 test suite (12.5 percent), 13 seconds off our iMovie archive import test (10.4 percent), and nine seconds off our unzip archive Finder test (11 percent).
The new MacBook also matched or bested the 2.26GHz 13-inch MacBook Pro in almost all of our tests--somewhat surprising considering the two systems have almost identical components (although it's possible that the MacBook Pro's smaller hard drive was a factor, or that we have a test system with a somewhat wonky hard drive). The MacBook blew the latest MacBook Air out of the water in all tests except our Finder folder duplication (only one second faster) and unzip archive (16 seconds slower) tests.
Macworld's buying advice
The MacBook benefits nicely from its unibody face-lift: it's lighter and more attractive, and it performs better than the model that came before it. You can think of it as a MacBook Pro minus the FireWire port and SD card slot, for $200 less. It performs very well and doesn't feel like an entry-level system. If you have only USB-based camcorders, hard drives, and peripherals, the missing FireWire port won't be an issue for you. However, if you're still using FireWire equipment and plan to use said equipment with your laptop, you should instead look at the MacBook Pro (an SD card slot is less of an issue, since you can just buy an inexpensive card reader).
[Jonathan Seff is a Macworld senior editor.]