Apple markets the MacBook as a consumer product, and says that USB 2.0 is now being used on most consumer devices. And it is true that most hard drives and camcorders now have USB connections (not to mention the fact that iPhones and iPods now charge and sync using only USB). But for anyone with lots of legacy devices (FireWire-only hard drives, tape camcorders, and audio interfaces, for example), the lack of FireWire on the MacBook will definitely figure into your buying decision. If you need to use FireWire devices with your laptop, the MacBook isn't for you. It's sad that Apple is starting to abandon a technology--one it invented--that has many benefits over USB (drive power and higher actual speeds, to name a few), but like SCSI and ADB before it, nothing lasts forever. In the long run, as people replace FireWire-based devices with USB-based ones, the change will be less important. For now, the MacBook Pro is your only portable option from Apple if you need a FireWire port.
The loss of FireWire also means you can't access a feature I frequently use for transferring data between two Macs-FireWire Target Disk Mode. With it, you connect two Macs via a FireWire cable and mount one as an external hard drive on the other. This mode was particularly useful for copying large files without relying on a network, as well as cloning one system to another or migrating data with Apple's built-in software.
What to do? One solution is to run Apple's Migration Assistant software over a wired or wireless network, or with two Macs connected directly via Ethernet. To test how well it worked, I connected my first-generation MacBook to a new MacBook using a Cat-5 Ethernet cable and transferred my user to the new system. The process worked pretty smoothly, although it failed (twice, with two different Ethernet cables) to move my 9.34GB Parallels Windows XP drive image, saying it couldn't be copied because it was too large (at the end, it suggested that I copy the file manually in the Finder). Apple told me there was no size limit using Migration Assistant, but didn't have an immediate explanation for why I was having that problem. When I connected my original MacBook to the 2.4GHz model of the previous generation via FireWire, however, I was able to migrate all my data without a hitch. Another solution: You can create a Time Machine backup of the old Mac, and perform a data restore on the new MacBook using a USB drive.
Apple (and other technology companies) have received a lot of bad press over the last few years regarding environmental factors. Steve Jobs was quick to point out, at the launch event for the new laptops, that Apple had put a lot of effort into making its products safer. The aluminum and glass shell is highly recyclable, there's no mercury in the display or arsenic in the glass, the packaging is smaller, and so on. So your conscience needn't be the deciding factor in whether or not purchase a MacBook.
Even with a slower processor than previous MacBooks, the new 2.0GHz model beat the older 2.1GHz model by 14 points on our Speedmark test suite, and even the older 2.4GHz model by five points. The new 2.4GHz model fared even better-perhaps most significantly, it scored only three fewer points (a difference of less than two percent) than the 2.4GHz MacBook Pro, which costs $400 more.
Most gains over previous models were minor, and in some cases non-existent. The new 2.4GHz MacBook was 13 percent faster than the previous 2.4GHz model in our Photoshop CS3 suite, but only two seconds faster at MP3 encoding, and a second slower in Cinema 4D rendering and our iMovie HD test. In our iPhoto test, the new 2.4GHz MacBook beat the old 2.4GHz model by 19 percent, and even the new 2.4GHz MacBook Pro by 10 percent. Yet the 2.0GHz MacBook was slower than either of the last MacBooks in the same test (with a similar pattern in our Compressor testing as well). The biggest improvements were in our game tests.
Macworld's buying advice
The latest MacBooks are a big improvement over the previous models--as long as you can live without a FireWire port. If not (or you absolutely must have a matte screen) the MacBook Pro might be your best bet. And battery life wasn't as strong as the previous model. Otherwise, the sleek new case design, major graphics improvements, power-sipping LED display, and Multi-Touch glass trackpad make the MacBook a very strong upgrade.
[Jonathan Seff is a Macworld senior editor.]
This story, "Aluminum MacBook Core 2 Duo/2GHz and 2.4GHz" was originally published by Macworld.