MacBook: Second Look

by Volker Weber

I've worked with the MacBook for a few days now, and while I am still very impressed, I also have a few issues. One of those I saw coming, the other two were a surprise.

The one I was expecting is heat. The MacBook does warm up, considerably more that the iBook. If this is a problem depends on how you use it. If you always place it on a flat table you will be fine. If you place it on your lap once in a while, you won't. It heats up considerably on the left side of the keyboard and underneath the MacBook all the way to the f key. Since I balance the MacBook so that it rests on my right leg and my belly, I touch it only where there is no excess heat, and thus I can live with it.

Now for the surprising issues: The MacBook drops from my wireless network a few times every day. I have never had this before with any computer. I don't know when it happens or why, but I sometimes find it disconnected. Then I click on the Airport icon in the task bar, reconnect, and everything is fine. The other issue is that the trackpad is sometimes unresponsive for a second. I have not tracked this down either, but again a few times each day, the pointer just does not move when I try to. This is just a little bit annoying, since it does not happen often.

With these exceptions, I am very, very, very impressed by this machine. And in contrast to what I expected, I like the black one much better than the white one, and I am willing to pay more just to get the black machine. Actually, I also like it better than the alumin(i)um MacBook Pro. The build quality is excellent, the design is reduced "to the max" and it just feels "a million".

Compare these two Dashboard widgets:

macbookairportwidget.png ibookairportwidget.png

The left one runs on the MacBook, the right one on the iBook, both of them in exactly the same place. The widget looks confused as to what the connection speed is on the MacBook, but it clearly picks up a lot more networks. This is reflected in the Airport menu, where the same networks are available. Impressive, isn't it?

So, what am I going to do? I will return the machine next week, and then I will go back to my iBook. I tried today, and I feel that I am still very much OK with it. While the MacBook looks fantastic, it does not make me more productive. I will eventually buy a black MacBook, but for now I decided that I will wait for the second revision. Maybe with a Core Duo 2?

But then again — I might as well just ignore this post and rush to buy it anyway. Sheesh.


The drop-outs from the wireless network are strange. I didn't experience any, not even when roaming between my access points - I always had issues with this on the iBook. Did you by chance upgrade to 10.4.7 and miss the upgrade to the upgrade? I don't experience the unresponsive Trackpad either.

Stefan Rubner, 2006-07-03

Reading your post confirms my suspicions on the reliability of Airport products. I use a Powerbook G4 12" and experience problems with the built-in Airpot Extreme card on a daily basis. At the university I have absolutely NO reception in some spots where my fellow students have 100% connectivity with their Windows machines.
At the office we just set up the third Airport base station, because the last two died. Though, every iBook I've worked with so far had perfect wireless reception and even my Powerbook seems to work flawlessly in combination with Apple access points. Did anybody else experience problems with the Powerbook's Airport card?

Dennis Kirschner, 2006-07-03

I am not surprised, Dennis. The 12" PowerBook has the worst reception of all machines I ever worked with. But iBooks were supposed to be very good actually. The MacBook proves you can do much better than an iBook.

Volker Weber, 2006-07-03

Exactly my observations. I have a MacBook Pro and just as in your case my network drops out a couple times a day as well as the inresponsive trackpad.

Christoph Rummel, 2006-07-03

So presumably this all has to do with the length and format of the built-in wireless aerial? Do you get the same results if you try a wireless card in the PCMCIA slot (not that you'd want to be doing that all the time)?

Nick Daisley, 2006-07-03

Which PCMCIA slot?

Volker Weber, 2006-07-03

Oops - sorry, I see what you mean!
Sometimes it's not such a bad thing to be somewhere behind the 'bleeding edge' of technology.....

Nick Daisley, 2006-07-03

Anybody else picturing vowe in a seat balancing his MacBook on his right leg and his belly? I can hardly hold back...

Ragnar Schierholz, 2006-07-03

Don't have to. I *know* how it looks ;)

Stefan Rubner, 2006-07-03

The macBook is not alone with Airport problems - my iMac has similar problems as well. Some days it will find the wireless modem, other days it refuses to pick it - quite frustrating and I have to dig out the network cable and run it from one end of the house to the other end ... :-(

Richard Civil, 2006-07-03

I can only confirm the MacBook's great reception. My MacBook connects to a router three floors above my apartment with several (7 to 8) intercepting networks in between on neighboring channels. My desktop windows machine wasn't able to do the same without an external beam antenna. Fortunately I haven't experienced any irregular connection drops so far connecting both to a Linksys WRT54G and several AirPort networks.

My MacBook also develops disquietingly high temperature at times. I wonder how long the inner workings of the machine are going to keep up with this. I feel teesed to take the whole thing apart and reapply the thermal paste, but don't feel good about losing warranty on a brandnew (i.e., unrevised) product at the same time.

As for the "question of color": the BlackBook really looks great. If the 1.8 GHz version would have been available in black, I certainly would have gone for that. I just don't want yet a hotter CPU in there that'd make me wonder when the plastic casing actually starts melting. Besides, the CPU load on my current MacBook is less than 10% most of the time anyway and rarely reaches more than 50%. Not to forget the extra minutes of battery time one presumably gets with the 1.8 GHz version:-)

Martin Switaiski, 2006-07-03

I have none of the issues you describe. WLAN works very well all day long on different access points (CISCO, LinkSys, FritzBox). The Trackpad works also flawlessly. I had an issue with the time the MacBook needed to recover from standby and to actually find WLANs, but those seem to be resolved by the recent 10.4.7 update.

Markus Weimer, 2006-07-03

After similar problems (but not identical), MacBook Pro not accessing automatically the default network, I smply deleted th respective location in System preferences, defined a new one, and bingo, it works like it should.

As the two locations are defined identically, I have no idea WHY this worked, but I´ve taken a hint from one of the forums. Sometimes I wonder what Apple is doing with these locations after all, as I do remember some strangeness dating back to the corresponding implementation in OS 9.

No problems wih the trackpad, in the contrary, since the last update I can do the two-finger-right-click-trick as well on my 15" MBP.

Armin Roth, 2006-07-03

Ah, yes: My MBP picks up a lot more networks than I want it to, and does it a lot stronger than my 17" PowerBook. Reception increased by a felt 20%.

Armin Roth, 2006-07-03

We experienced drop-outs of Powerbooks (12" and 15") in my former office. Because the SMC WiFi Router seemed to slowly die anyway, I did not investigate those drop outs y further.

How do the manufacturers succeed to design failures of hardware just after the warrantee runs out? It never ceases to amaze me....

Moritz Schroeder, 2006-07-03

That's strange, because I keep hearing about "planned wear" but I don't have any warranty problems. Either the hardware breaks within the first three month or it'll keep going. I'm running some equipment here that's well beyond warranty by some years and is still going strong. And trust me, the environment the hardware has to cope with isn't exactly what normal stuff is designed for. That said, wireless equipment is special in many ways. Although there's the WiFi consortium and mutual interest by the manufacturers to make their hardware talk to each other, there *are* incompatibilities everywhere and obviously some hardware *does* die slowly. Never had that happen with acces points, though.

Stefan Rubner, 2006-07-03

I've just seen my first black MacBook at a local store [1], and now it is obvious to me why charging extra for the black case is, through the vendor's eyes, a wise move: the desirability factor of the black version is so high that I, too, would be willing to pay for it. Overall, my first impression was excellent, including the keyboard (sans the very small arrow keys), the mirroring screen (under the giving lightning conditions) and the general look and feel.

[1] Longer shopping hours due to soccer world cup - could get used to it :-)

Haiko Hebig, 2006-07-03

i by the black one - because it is black ,-) PS: You need Sidoline!

thomas meier, 2006-07-03

Volker, if I had known that BEFORE buying the damn thing, I would have picked an iBook. Next time I buy a new system I'll make sure to be able to test it a couple of days.
But besides the wireless issues I can recommend this machine to everybody who needs a durable and highly mobile machine. Could be a bit faster, though. As soon as I can afford it, I will go for a MacBook. It seems to be the best choice out there at the moment (for me, at least).

Dennis Kirschner, 2006-07-03


I have the same problem with my Powerbook, same spot in the house, an IBM X31 will have perfect reception and the Powerbook will have none.



Ido Pollak, 2006-07-04

Airport seems to behave very strange. I've heard from a friend that a MacBook Pro has better connection rates with Windows XP (via BootCamp) than with Mac OS X.

Jens Matheuszik, 2006-07-04

Old archive pages

I explain difficult concepts in simple ways. For free, and for money. Clue procurement and bullshit detection.


Paypal vowe