Apple MacBook Review: Part 1

MacBook Display

The all-aluminum MacBook features an LED-backlit display. The use of LED backlighting allows Apple to offer slightly improved battery life and color, while also eliminating the use of mercury.

High-end professional monitors and TVs use red, green, and blue LEDs instead of a fluorescent bulb to extend the gamut (color range) of the display. You’ll see this marketed in TVs and monitors with Sony TRILUMINOS, HP DreamColor, or NEC Spectraview-LED technology. These displays allow you to see “greener greens” and “redder reds” and reproduce more of the colors that exist in real-life. A handful of notebooks such as the new 17” MacBook Pro and Dell XPS Studio 16 use RGB LED displays, but the majority of shipping notebooks with LED backlit technology use an array of white LEDs. 

Unlike the RGB technology that generates white light by combining red, blue, and green light, white LEDs are blue LEDs with yellow filters. While most LED backlit notebooks offer better color than equivalently spec’d notebooks, the main advantage to these types of screens are improved battery life, thinner screens, and more ecologically sound design.

The backlight is only one component to the ultimate picture quality. The LCD panel itself also plays a significant role. While the MacBook’s display isn’t comparable to the premium TN-film display on the MacBook Pro or the H-IPS panels of the 24” iMac or 24” Cinema Display, the MacBook still offers adequate quality for most users. We were fortunate to have two MacBooks with display manufactured by different companies. The AUO screen (9C8C) is considered to be superior to the LG-Philips (9C89) panel by most users. The differences are subtle, but the measurements agree.


Our MacBook with the AUO display had a peak brightness of 255 cd/m2 with a black level of 1.31 cd/m2. This results in a contrast ratio just shy of 195:1. Our sample with the LG-Philips display had a peak brightness of 254 cd/m2 but a black level of 1.41 cd/m2 resulting in a contrast ratio of 180:1.

While these ~200:1 contrast ratios sound like a catastrophically horrible results in a world of 1000:1 desktop displays, it’s worth putting things into context. 1 cd/m2 is equivalent to the amount of light 15 minutes after sunset.   0.1 cd/m2 is equivalent to the amount of light 30 minutes after sunset.  The differences are subtle between the two units unless comparing side by side.  Notebooks such as the Lenovo ThinkPad X300 or SL300 might only get 150:1 contrast, whereas the Dell XPS M1330 hits 550:1 and the Dell Studio 15 hits 800:1 contrast ratios.  The previous generation MacBook Pro broke 1000:1 contrast and the current model has been measured in the 900:1 range.

More important than the contrast ratio is the color accuracy of the screen (all of the colors in between pure black and pure white). Using a digital Munsell ColorChecker 24 patch chart and a DTP-94 colorimeter, the AUO screen had very good color accuracy after calibration with a residual average delta E of 2.66 (peak 6.83). Grayscale accuracy ranged from 0.69 to 2.95 (Average 1.682). The LG-Philips display was worse overall with an average delta E of 3.19 (peak 8.03) but the grayscale accuracy was better than the AUO with a range of 0.91 to 1.78 and an average deltaE of 1.376.

These calibrated numbers are respectable for a notebook display. An 8-bit Samsung PVA desktop display capable of attaining 993:1 measured contrast ratio had an average delta E of 2.52 (peak 5.10) with a grayscale accuracy ranging from 0.49 to 3.03 (average of 1.312).

By convention, a delta E < 1.0 suggests that a highly trained observer, under ideal conditions will be unable to detect a difference. A delta E < 2.0 is a difference that is only noticeable with direct A/B comparison by an average observer. A delta E between 3 and 6 is “acceptable” match for commercial reproduction on printing presses.

Panel Type

Contrast Ratio

Peak Brightness

Color Accuracy
(after calibration)

MacBook (Sample 1)

LG Philips LP133WX2


254 cd/m2

Delta E: 3.19

MacBook (Sample 2)

AU Optronics B133EW02 V0


255 cd/m2

Delta E: 2.66

24“ LED Cinema Display

LG Philips LM240WU6


377 cd/m2

Delta E: 1.76

Using it’s possible to see the gray square at Step 2 once calibrated.  The factory default setting won’t allow you to see anything until Step 5. In summary, a calibrated MacBook display has adequate picture quality for working with basic photos or movies. Like other 13” TN display monitors, viewing angles are limited with a small sweet spot, and 6-bit color prevents the same quality of color that can be reproduced with a desktop display. Out of the box, color accuracy is considerably worse.

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  • mrubermonkey
    My spider sense is telling me that Tom's is desperate to bring in more readers with the release of this article, which is bound to conger up the same epic comment wars regarding Mac vs. PC of Mac articles past.
  • mrubermonkey
  • curnel_D
    Yawn. Basically, you were just explaining a normal notebook that costs more than it should. It's slightly thinner by the standards in it's class but is 0.38" really a big deal? (No.) The famed apple screens can be outperformed and sometimes for cheaper if you shop around, upgradability is shaky at it's very best, and it is generally more expensive than everything in it's class.
    Then of course, you list the Mac OS X as an improvement over the PC's. That's where almost every single person will find error in your article. It is nothing more than a watered down version of more powerful unix/linux OS's. Anyone who has work to do, wont use this. Yawn.
  • ravenware
    I had three options, all of which would require considerable amounts of time. One was to reformat the HDD and start with a fresh install of Windows Vista. It’d be tried and true, but it was still going to take a lot of time to redo the whole thing. I could switch entirely to Linux. I had already switched from IRIX to Linux several years ago, so I was already comfortable managing and troubleshooting Linux systems. Unfortunately, I still needed a system capable of running the Adobe Creative Suite and Microsoft Office. Open source alternatives to Adobe Creative Suite didn’t have the same quality or capabilities that I needed, while OpenOffice lacked the same multi-core computation capabilities that Excel offers for some of my more complex spreadsheets. The third option was to try switching to a Mac.

    When Core i7 desktop processors were available in greater quantities, I’d rebuild my Windows PC then.

    I was too careful, too savvy, and too poor to switch to a Mac.

    This seems rather illogical. Reformatting the drive wouldn't cost anything but time and if your too poor then why spend 1300+ on a new computer? You would also still spend time and possibly more money on installing your apps.
    You also spent time and money on upgrade options.

    Who is "We"? We is used often in the article, I thought this article was one mans account/review on switching over to a mac.

    I would like to know more about what you actually do for a living and what you really use your computers for too.

    I and the majority of the Toms hardware readers are diehard windows users too and I can not afford to pick up a $1300 laptop to see if I like it or not. So I am very interested to see how this unfolds.
  • ravenware
    Oh yeah, why would the need to reformat your computer lead to building a new core i7 machine?
  • one-shot
    ..The scent of Mac-ness and the sense of power that comes with it. Maybe spending twice as much isn't such a bad idea after all.............
  • marraco

    I found lots of spam "comming" from my computer. Even when I had run Linux -Live CD only- for a month.

    Headers are easy to fake, so, are a common spam trick, to hide real spam origin.

    By the way, there are some easy fix you could had used:

    1- Use virtual machines to access Internet.
    2- Use utilities as Norton Ghost for fast "formatting". In minutes your computer restore a partition image ready to use with all your software installed.

    I don't want to hurt your feelings, but it looks like you spent an enormous effort to justify pay for an overpriced Mac OS (overpriced because the obsolete hardware you had buy does not wort a penny, so you are paying for the OS only).
  • Pei-chen
    Reads like crap only Anand himself would have written. You went Mac because someone better (a hacker, virus writer, whoever) defeated you? That's like saying you went gay because someone get the girl you're after.

    BTW, where are the reviews of web based Java game we were promised? You got a Mac so you're not reviewing SC2 that's for sure.
  • chaosgs
    Why would anyone "switch" to a mac, when pc will do everything you need for half the price. Everything you mentioned in this article, all pc's (vista pc's) in the world can do at half the price.

    As for security, i don't need security on my computer, i NEVER get any viruses, and if i did Norton or avg would take care of all that.

    Mac aint got shit on pc.
  • arkadi
    It more like an opinion (commercial stile) not a review. It a good article with all the specs and the pictures, but it far from being objective. And the suggestions that was made here...If you writing a review, you can't emphasize the superiority of your product on expanse of other (Microsoft in this case).
  • marraco
    [While these ~200:1 contrast ratios sound like a catastrophically horrible results...]
    Excuses, excuses, excuses...

    If you pay premium prices, you should not get worse hardware.

    [Using a digital Munsell... the AUO screen had very good.... The LG-Philips display was worse]

    Another puny excuse. So you buy a Mac, and need third party software to calibrate it? I remarks: Overpriced.
    Why it does not get calibrated from fab?

    And you can't compare it with some trademark PC version. There are so many PC versions that you will ever find some example to make your point. It's manipulative, and aimed only to the computer ignorant victims who can read the article.

    Smart PC buyers don't buy Dells, HP, or Lenovos. They are choices bad as Apple, because of the reason that they are overpriced, and limited.

    [There is more misinformation about ... everyone agrees with: glossy screens have more vivid color and contrast while matte screens are better at rejecting reflections from ambient light.]

    misinformation as your article.
    "everyone agrees with"? Subtle. A trick to say that you have not basis for your statement.

    "glossy screens have more vivid color and contrast"?

    Plain lie.
    "glossy screens" looks good only in stores. That is the only reason for the mac "glossy" screen.
    As soon as you need to use it, you learn the hard way than all those reflections damage your eyes, because reflections on the screen:
    -don't let you see the screen.
    -forces you to use dark rooms, and move away all reflective the objects at your back.
    -You can't choose environment with a notebook, so generally you can't avoid reflections.
    -Damage your eyes and cause headaches, because the eye interprets reflections as incorrect focus, and constantly tries to focus the screen and the reflected object simultaneously. Since it is impossible, it causes health problems. It should be prohibited. You are not a good parent if you give a glossy screen to your children.

    But Apple, who knows it, sold glossy screens anyway. Why?

    Because Apple target victimizable consumers, and don't care about consumer health.
    Victimizable consumers are those:
    -Without enough information.
    -Without ego (manipulable), who need external symbols of status to show, even when they are showing his lack of ego.

    [ On the other hand, fans of glossy displays can point out that flagship digital mammography displays such as the Eizo RadiForce GS520 are designed with glossy screens because the superior sharpness (MTF) over matte screens allows radiologists to better detect more subtle changes in the breast and identify breast cancer at earlier stages.]

    "digital mammography displays"? you are not buying a "digital mammography display". You are buying a notebook. Such convoluted argument looks like marketing investigation aimed to cheat consumers.
    A specific model of "digital mammography display" is not necessarily well designed. ¿do all the "digital mammography displays" use glossy screens? NO. Do that model also implements other measures to avoid reflections? If not, is bad design.

    "So, when it’s comes to making a life or death decision, glossy wins." A marketing lie. It implies that "when life is important, you need a glossy display, so they are better". Is a hidden deceit. Life is important for passenger jumbo jets, because if the pilot does not see the computer screens because of a glossy reflection, then the jumbo jet crashes, and all the 400 passenger die.
    That is a deceptive argument, as bad as you "mammography point your finger argument".

    [While Dell allows... Apple sticks with ...]
    Comparing Apple with Dell? not fair. PCs allows lots of choices than Apple does not allow. You can't compare a bad choice -Dell- with no choice -Apple-.

    By the way, Apple "sticks" with obsolete hardware.

    [GeForce 9400M]
    Many PC have that or better graphics if you want it, and for a lower price.
    AND if your really need a good graphic chipset, you can't choose any Apple offer. GeForce 9400M is not good enough when you need graphic power.

    [traditional GPU-intensive games such as Call of Duty 4 will run at ~30 frames per second at resolutions of 1024x768 at high quality settings]
    Another deceit.
    -Hand picked game.
    -30 fps = not enough. Based on what you pretend that it can reach it a quality settings? You are omitting that it would reach frequently lower fps, specially in the most important parts of that hand picked game, making it unplayable. you omit to tell that your "high quality" does not include anisotropic filtering, and antialiasing.
    -looks like your "digital mammography display" does not have goods graphics.

    Stop lying. Graphics is important in gaming, and your Apple is puny at best in gaming.
    Also, you omit to say that you will need to buy windows to run those games.

    [With the exception of games such as Crysis]
    And Bioshock, Far Cry 2, left for dead, Unreal Tournament 3, DirectX 10.1 ... and laaarge list.

    [it appears that the 9400M is capable of running most modern games at medium or high image quality settings at 30 fps or greater, making it perfectly suitable for casual gaming.]
    "it appears"?
    "most modern games"?. NO modern game.
    "30 fps"? wait. 60 fps is the base quality. 30 fps is not good enough. You see the image jumping, and it is only average fps. In gamming, it matters lower fps a lot.

    AND you are paying premium price. You can but a much better computer for that price.
  • miltoxbeyond
    ^ super rant. but yeah macs are ok if you do OSx86 (cuz its not costing you the premium)... but then again... windows or linux is better...
  • marraco
    miltoxbeyond^ super rant. but yeah macs are ok if you do OSx86 (cuz its not costing you the premium)... but then again... windows or linux is better...

    Now winning:
    and the prices comparisons with PCs omitted to add windows price to play games, so the Apple cost even more.
  • marraco
    Whinnying, I meant
  • I know just about everyone here is a mac hater, but you really can't judge something until you try it.

    Google OSX86 Project. This is the coolest stuff ever. this project made me love mac and i have switched to it.
  • curnel_D
    I guess this is a new traffic magnet tactic. Produce artciles so awful and mis/uninformed that everyone will be tripping over themselves to tell you what a waste this article is.

    If that's what you're going for, good job.
  • curnel_D
    Starfox5194I know just about everyone here is a mac hater, but you really can't judge something until you try it.Google OSX86 Project. This is the coolest stuff ever. this project made me love mac and i have switched to it.

    I work on macs constantly. I regularly use an 8core mac for various work, and I own a last gen of my own. Macs are NOT worth it. I dont care about the OSX86 project. And if that website seriously convinced you to switch to mac, you're either lying (Very badly), or have Zero work to do.
  • The entire article reads like marketing BS. As someone else pointed out, what's the word "we" doing in there? I thought this was one man's account of his transition from a PC to a Mac.
  • skjold
    Are you really trying to convert overclockers and pc gamers with this s***? Because I thought that's what tomshardware mostly consisted of. Maybe you should put these kind of articles on tomsguide?
  • bunnyblaster
    This article lacks any real content. If this article's intent was to appeal to PC Windows users out there, there needs to be something compelling in the article. Make it explicit so we, non "think-different", people can pick it up.
  • skjold
    AlanEd.: Keep your eyes peeled for Part 2 of Alan's MacBook review, which sees Tom's Hardware test and compare the first Hacked Mac on a Mac against the OEM software installation.

    Now THIS sounds semi-interesting, and possibly relevant to my interests.
  • What a gay article. Trying to enforce the myth that your safe from viruses and hacks just because your running mac OS. Google hacker competition and you will find an article that talks about how hackers had 3 days to hack systems and Mac OS fell on the first day in there first 3 hours. Windows and Linux made it to the very last day. Windows falling before linux but just proves Mac OS isn't all that.
  • angelkiller
    In the Windows environment, GPU-accelerated H.264 encoding for the iPhone target resolution is about 50% faster than a quad-core CPU.

    While this is true, how is this relevant to the MacBook? Last time I checked, GPU encoding was made to run on performance parts (eg 4870, gtx 260, etc). These parts may be faster than a quad core, but there's no way the Geforce 9400M is comparable to any quad in terms of video encoding.
  • unifiedonboarddecoder
    only noobs get infected by malware. you are one of them.