Apple's announcement: Aluminium every-thin

In the monitor stakes, bigger was always - until Apple started putting little high-resolution monitors into iPods that were so detailed, you can watch movies on them. Since then, and perhaps also due to environmental and power-saving constraints, nowadays everything new seems to have higher resolution while being slimmer.

Apple really pushed resolution in yesterday's notebook announcements, with perhaps the most notable new technology in the entire new MacBook family, across the board, being way better NVDIA video cards driving thinner, higher-resolution displays. There's even a new standalone display, the 24-inch LED Cinema Display with built-in iSight, made to visually complement all the new MacBooks (more below).

So, what was announced in toto?

All new, all-metal unibody enclosures for the MacBook and MacBook Pro supporting large glass trackpads. These are built to handle four new MultiTouch gestures. Apple's new consumer notebook, the MacBook, now ships with an LED-backlit display just like the MacBook Pro - in fact, every model is more environmentally friendly than ever before, achieving EPEAT Gold status, according to Apple.

There are two new MacBooks, two new MacBook Pros and two new MacBook Airs. Let's start with the cheapest options.

Addressing the criticism that the little (13.3-inch) MacBooks were not good for graphics-intensive gaming (or graphics intensive anything, actually), the new aluminium MacBooks come with Nvidia GeForce 9400M graphics chipsets.

This is a huge advance over the superseded integrated Intel graphics of the white polycarbonate MacBooks which drew on system RAM instead of having dedicated video RAM, causing performance lags. The new ones can now simultaneously drive great big 30-inch DVI displays!

The 2.0 GHz, 13.3-inch aluminium MacBook is priced at £719. Video is handled by an NVIDIA GeForce 9400M integrated graphics chipset and all the new MacBooks sport the Mini DisplayPort for video output - adapters will be sold separately for driving additional displays, which is now a much more attractive proposition.

There's also a 5400rpm 160GB serial ATA hard drive equipped with Sudden Motion Sensor for drop protection.

The other model is a 2.4GHz mode. It's otherwise the same, except for a bigger 250GB hard drive. Its ticket price is £1,149.

There are build-to-order options, of course - these include the ability to upgrade to 4GB RAM, put in 250GB 5400rpm or 320GB 5400rpm hard drive or even a 128GB solid state drive. There's a Mini DisplayPort to DVI Adapter, a Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI Adapter (for the 30-inch DVI display) and a Mini DisplayPort to VGA Adapter. You can get an Apple USB Modem, an Apple Remote (which used to come bundled) and an Apple MagSafe Airline Adapter.

New MacBook Pro has two video cards

The Pro laptops have had a real review, too. They also sport the new aluminium chassis designs and technology. The oddest new feature is that each Pro now carries two - yes two - video cards, one for saving battery power and one for screaming performance. You can switch between the NVIDIA GeForce 9400M integrated graphics processor for better battery life or use the powerful NVIDIA GeForce 9600M GT ‘discrete graphics processor' for higher performance.

The 2.4 GHz, 15-inch aluminium MacBook Pro will hit your pocket for a pretty reasonable £1,399. That gets you a 15.4-inch widescreen LED-backlit 1440 x 900 glossy display, 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo with 3MB shared L2 cache, 1066MHz front-side bus, 2GB 1066 MHz DDR3 SDRAM (expandable to 4GB) and new graphics chipsets too.

NVIDIA GeForce 9400M integrated graphics handles that, with 256MB GDDR3 video memory. A 250GB serial ATA hard drive runs at 5400 rpm Everything else is what you'd expect except for the big, new glass Multi-Touch trackpad and illuminated keyboard. The trackpad is all button, too - no more hunting for that button-bar.

The faster 2.53GHz aluminium MacBook Pro will set you back £1,949. It ships with 4GB 1066 MHz DDR3 SDRAM, NVIDIA GeForce 9400M integrated graphics/NVIDIA GeForce 9600M GT discrete graphics with 512MB GDDR3 video memory. The hard drive is a nice fat 5400rpm 320GB serial ATA with Sudden Motion Sensor.

But where's the new 17-inch? There isn't one (see below).

The MacBook Air has had a refresh too, if you want all-new Apple IT contents for your old-style manilla envelope. Measuring only 4mm at its thinnest point and 19mm at its maximum, the Air gets way more graphics power too. It includes a new NVIDIA GeForce 9400M integrated graphics chip with faster architecture to provide robust support for 3D games etcetera. Prices will start at an RRP of £1,299. The hard drive is bigger at 120GB (still a slow 4200rpm though), or a new 128GB solid state drive. These should be available in November.

That new monitor

Apple's Cinema displays are excellent in quality and resolution but look increasingly heavy in this thin day and age. (Maybe everything will get fat and chunky again after the economy recovers.) Anyway, the other criticism was no built-in iSight display, so if you bought a Mac Pro tower you were still bereft of a webcam even after forking out the extra for a gorgeous, big Apple display.

Apple has partly addressed this issue with the release of a new 24-inch LED Cinema Display. It has a built-in iSight video camera, mic and speakers all housed in a thin aluminium and glass enclosure.

But the catch is, the new Cinema Display is specifically designed for the new MacBook family. It even has an integrated MagSafe charger, three USB 2.0 ports and the new Mini DisplayPort, making it easy for MacBook users to quickly connect and power their notebooks as well as use their favourite peripherals. It visually matches the new aluminium MacBooks perfectly. It will be available in November through the Apple Store and Apple authorised resellers.

The 24-inch LED Cinema Display requires a MacBook, MacBook Air or MacBook Pro with the new Mini DisplayPort. (Presumably an adapter will make it work with other Macs? We don't know yet.)

So where does that leave the Apple Mac Pro tower users? Wait till the Macworld Conference January 5th 2009, I say. Apple needs to unleash some big guns at that.

Retro MacBooks

Yes, not everything's changed in the notebook stakes. You may have noticed there's no new 17-inch MacBook Pro. Presumably making an MB Pro so thin with a screen that big is too hard,at least for now. So Apple has kept the original-case 17-inch MacBook Pro, but at least it has been updated with a high resolution 1920 x 1200 LED-backlit display and a larger 320GB hard drive - For an optional 128GB solid state drive a là the MacBook Air. It will come with 4GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM, an NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT graphics chip with 512MB GDDR3 video memory and the rest as usual.

So if you really need a 17-inch Apple MacBook Pro now, at least it's more powerful - it just doesn't match the other new stuff visually and I don't know if it has the new trackpad or not, yet.

Also, with the price rises, you may think ‘how can students afford Apple notebooks now?' To address price disparities, Apple has kept a white polycarbonate MacBook in the line-up, but made it more powerful for the price. The updated 13-inch white MacBook now has a 2.1GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor and carries a 120GB 5400rpm hard drive for a recommended retail price of £719.00.

Yes - and no Mac tablet again! A bitter pill for some, perhaps - my guess is that if Apple can't get it right, it had rather not do anything.

All in all, though, a great looking range of high quality MacBooks with superb video has just become available. I can't wait to try one (or two).

No cheapie was announced, which didn't surprise me. I always thought that would be the case going by Apple's record and outlook - but Apple has narrowed the gap considerably between its consumer notebook models (the MacBooks) and the professional notebooks (the MacBook Pros), just like it did by releasing such powerful iMacs. The Mac Pro towers are still out on a limb, with professional users often opting for all-in-one iMacs instead, and now pro notebook users may surveying the new MacBooks with lustful gleams instead of considering the MacBook Pros.

What is Apple's grand strategy here? I guess all will become clear at Macworld in January.

This article originally appeared on the New Zealand Herald -

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