Apple's redone MacBook is another winner

Apple's plastic white MacBook computer has been the most-popular-selling Macintosh to date. So it's hardly a surprise that Apple plans to keep right on offering the notebook, now for $100 less at $999.

But MacBooks are climbing in status. Last week, Apple unveiled two redesigned versions, including the $1,599 model I'm testing. (The other fetches $1,299.)

Spending the extra loot buys you a bold new metal design with a glossy backlit widescreen LED display, spacious buttonless trackpad and souped-up Nvidia graphics for gamers. You get extra memory and storage, too. But Apple giveth and taketh away. The company removed the FireWire port that connects some camcorders and other devices. That's a deal-breaker for some people.

In many ways, these posh computers resemble smaller-screen versions of their even more expensive cousin, the MacBook Pro. Indeed, MacBooks and Pro models are similarly crafted from a single slab of aluminum through a new manufacturing process called "unibody construction." That makes them thinner, lighter and, according to Apple, more durable.

The MacBook I've been testing certainly feels sturdy. It's less than an inch thick and weighs 4.5 pounds, compared with 5 pounds for its plastic predecessor. Apple is also trumpeting the machine's toxic-material-free eco-friendliness.

But Apple risks ticking off users who rely on FireWire. Like many people, I still have a FireWire camcorder, not to mention an external FireWire hard drive. Apple may want to drive customers to the FireWire-capable MacBook Pro — models that start at $1,999 — which are certainly better equipped for video editing.

The company also figures many of the folks who would do a lot of video editing own newer camcorders that more likely use USB rather than FireWire. Apple isn't generous there, either: There are just two USB ports on the new MacBooks.

You can still get FireWire on the entry-level plastic MacBook, but it doesn't have the muscle for heavy-duty video editing.

I also wish Apple had included a memory card reader in its notebooks. It didn't.

Apple's laptops tend to be more expensive than their Windows counterparts. But it's difficult to make a direct comparison. Windows Vista doesn't come close to measuring up to Apple's rock-solid OS X Leopard operating system. Microsoft and its partners don't have a great answer for Apple's iLife digital multimedia software suite, either, which is loaded on all new Macs.

A closer look at the latest MacBook:

•Design. My test configuration has a glossy, 13.3-inch screen, 2 gigabytes of RAM, 250 GB hard drive and a 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, the same processor as in the least-expensive MacBook Pro. As with other Mac laptops, it has an integrated iSight camera, DVD burner and a magnetic power plug that breaks safely away if you trip over it. The LED screen is bright, though I noticed my reflection while watching a movie.

The most dramatic change — besides, perhaps, the metal enclosure — is the spacious new trackpad, made of smooth glass. There are no buttons. Instead, this entire surface area is the "button." You can press anywhere on the pad, which may take a little getting used to. I tended to press the bottom of the trackpad, where the mouse buttons might have otherwise been. You can even "right click" by pressing in the bottom right area of the trackpad.

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