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.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Panel TypeContrast RatioPeak BrightnessColor Accuracy (after calibration)
MacBook (Sample 1)LG Philips LP133WX2180:1254 cd/m2Delta E: 3.19
MacBook (Sample 2)AU Optronics B133EW02 V0195:1255 cd/m2Delta E: 2.66
24“ LED Cinema DisplayLG Philips LM240WU6802:1377 cd/m2Delta 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.

  • 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).