Our Xbench benchmark tests confirm Apple’s claims for the 9400M, indicating that OpenGL 3D graphics performance is indeed several times faster than the integrated graphics of previous models.
Longer bars are better
The good news for users on the move is that the improved performance hasn’t affected battery life too badly. Apple claims a maximum of five hours' use, even with the 802.11n Wi-Fi turned on. As always, that ‘maximum’ rating is a little optimistic, but our own tests didn’t fall far short of this number. We got three full hours playing H.264 movies with the Wi-Fi turned on and the screen brightness turned up full, and performing less demanding tasks such as word processing or surfing the net gave us close to four-and-a-half hours.
The metal casing and improved graphics are the key changes in the new MacBook, but a quick look around the unit reveals a few other differences too. The MacBook’s trackpad has increased in size, swallowing up the button that used to run along the lower edge of the pad. Instead, the entire surface of the trackpad now acts as a button, allowing you to press down on it in order to ‘left-click’ items on the screen.
Made out of glass for an appreciably smoother finish, the new trackpad also allows you to make more extensive use of multi-fingered ‘gestures’, such as pushing upwards with four fingers to activate Mac OS X's Exposé feature, which instantly hides or recalls windows on the Mac desktop. Trying to make gestures using three or four fingers at a time can seem a bit odd at first, but they do speed up many routine tasks for which laptop users might often buy a separate USB mouse. We also like the ability to customise some of these gestures, such as being able to specify one corner of the trackpad that acts as the ‘right-click’ button.
The keyboard has been updated too, with the same low-rise, lozenge-style keys found on the MacBook Air, as well as a backlight that makes the keys glow in the dark. An ambient light sensor can detect when you’re working in a darkened lecture theatre or airline cabin, and will automatically illuminate the keyboard so that you can keep on typing.
"Writing on the wall" for Firewire?
I don't know where anyone else has been looking, but for the music recording industry the wall reads "we are hugely dependent on Firewire audio interfaces, and unless something better comes along will remain so for a very long time."
USB 2.0 doesn't cut it all, as for one thing it lacks a proper isochronos transport (software emulation is not good enough) and for another lacks the 65W of bus power needed for some of the larger, portable multi-IO devices.
If Apple are phasing out Firewire, then they are phasing out one of their core customer demographics. Madness.
FireWire+DV Cam+iLife=selling point
So now the home user who has been sold on the iLife/iMovie import and editing is out of luck? Are more cameras now coming with USB 2.0 than I recall?
Arguably FW would have taken off far more if it hadn’t for its royalty-system… which Apple pressed for and backtrack (e.g. see http://www.theregister.co.uk/1999/01/15/apple_caught_charging_crafty_firewire/ - although the $1 per port was a much-trumpeted figure but off the mark considerably)
Looking at various Mac forums, although there are a lot of ‘hey, what’s the big deal?’ comments, there are far, far more unhappy bunnies posting. The EFI-X USB device has attracted a lot of attention (especially for those whose hardware needs aren't met by Apple) and a laptop version is in the pipeline supposedly…. I suspect this announcement will further increase interest in this product.