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The Rest Of The Hardware

Apple MacBook Review: Part 1
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Networking

The MacBook ships with Gigabit Ethernet support, a feature Apple was quick to adopt, even with its earlier generation MacBooks. Historically, Apple used Atheros 802.11n chipsets. These designs, with 3x3 radios, offered theoretically better performance at long distances than similar 2x2 modules. Real-world performance with the Atheros implementation has been benchmarked at somewhere between 10 to 15% faster than the Broadcom solution depending on the access point. The current AirPort Extreme with Gigabit uses an Atheros module as well. With that said, the Broadcom design is the first 65nm single-chip 802.11n solution and has as much as 50% lower power consumption than other designs. In theory, Apple may see additional performance savings by going to a single-chip integrated Bluetooth/WiFi solution.

We did not have any trouble running an 802.11n network on both 2.4 and 5 GHz frequencies or run into issues with dropped connections.  The MacBook was able to see 9 access points in my apartment complex whereas an Intel 3945abg was able to see 11. The two additional access points that were seen by the Intel 3945abg were labeled as “0 bars” of wireless signal, making the omission less important.

Chassis and Keyboard

The aluminum unibody design of the MacBook is superb. Not only does the laptop carry an impressive sturdiness to it, it makes the machine easier to clean. Some of the early MacBooks were affected by crooked keys, and our original unit had a sticky left shift key. Apple gave us no trouble when we asked to switch our MacBook for a new one. Our second MacBook had none of these problems.

Keyboards have gotten considerably better over the last few years. Good keyboards were once the restricted realm of the ThinkPad and MacBook Pro. The unusual appearance of the MacBook keyboard is actually very comfortable to write with once you get the hang of it. Keys have a firm, tactile response that allows for easy touch typing. Although my first keyboard was a bit mushy (especially the Left Shift button), I had trouble noticing a difference between the MacBook and MacBook Pro keyboards once I got my replacement unit. The original MacBook Pro allowed me to hit 140+ wpm at times. Using a more challenging typing test requiring more ring and small finger use of my non-dominant hand, I’ve clocked around 120 wpm for the new MacBook and MacBook Pro. Certainly for typing this entire document, the keyboard was never a problem.

Multi-Touch Trackpad

The iPhone introduced multitouch to the masses. The current MacBook and MacBook Pro’s have taken things to the next logical step. The MacBook trackpad is unquestionably the best trackpad I’ve used to date. Besides the giant surface area, the glass surface is noticeably smoother than any trackpad I’ve used. More importantly, the surface retains its slickness after extended use. Multitouch is hardly a gimmick. Besides the “use two fingers” to right click or “two fingers” to scroll, the four fingers to enable Expose and present all open windows is my most commonly used gesture.

The tap-to-click function works well in the Mac, but the integrated button is also useful if I’m doing anything complex. For example, it’s possible to swipe four fingers up to see the desktop, use the physical button to grab something from the desktop, then swipe four fingers down twice to get to Expose, pick a Finder window and then move the file into the new directory. That is, the sensor is capable of detecting all 5 fingers being used at once.

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