Lately, many of our customers have been asking about the precise differences between the MacBooks with the new aluminum case design, and the $999 MacBook that has the older white, polycarbonate case design. Below I cover the most significant differences, then give a summary of what it all means.

Aluminum specs in bold on the left, vs white plastic specs on the right:

Unibody aluminum enclosure vs plastic white polycarbonate enclosure

2.0 or 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Penryn processors vs 2.1 Intel Core 2 Duo Penryn processor

– Both have 3MB level of “on chip” 2 cache

1066 MHz frontside bus vs 800 MHz frontside bus

NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics with 256MB of shared RAM, vs Intel GMA X3100 with 144MB graphics

2GB of RAM (as two 1GB chips) standard vs 1GB of RAM (as two 512MB chips) standard

Faster PC8500 SO DIMM RAM vs slower (but considerably less expensive) PS5300 SO DIMM RAM

Max of 6GB of RAM (with one 2GB chip and one 6GB chip) vs max of 4GB RAM

DisplayPort connector vs mini-DVI connector

Glass trackpad with new and advanced multitouch input vs trackpad limited to two-finger input

Glossy glass display vs glossy plastic display

Instant-on LED backlighting vs LCD backlighting

No FireWire 400 port vs one FireWire 400 port

Both MacBook models have very similar processor speeds (indeed, the white model has a very-slightly faster processor). However, the newer MacBooks have a significantly faster bus speed (which is important, as the internal bus dictates how quickly the other components on the motherboard can communicate with the processor, and each other.) The newer MacBooks also use faster RAM.

More significantly, the aluminum MacBooks use the Nvidia 9400M chipset and boast graphics performance up to 6.2x faster over the white MacBook which uses the integrated 144MB Intel graphics chipset. Video gamers and image / video editors will see the improved graphics performance. Also, speed and responsiveness of core graphics in OS X are also improved with the Nvidia chipset, though most people will not notice the difference.

Even with these improvements, real-world testing shows that the aluminum MacBooks are only modestly faster than the white plastic MacBooks. Benchmarks show about a 9% speed difference. MacWorld magazine ran Speedmark version 5 tests on the aluminum MacBooks and the 2.1GHz white MacBook and reports that “Comparing the top of line 2.4 GHz MacBook to its less expensive, lower-powered 2 GHz sibling, we find the high-end model nearly 9 percent faster in overall Speedmark performance, with narrower performance gaps in graphics tests and wider gaps in processor tests, like Cinema 4D.”

It’s also interesting to note that Macworld magazine showed that the current white MacBook is about 4x faster that the final, top of the line PowerPC-based PowerBook – for half the price.

Ultimately, many people are going to choose the newer, aluminum MacBooks simply for their innovative design. Others will want to save a little money, don’t mind (or enjoy) the older white design, or need a compact notebook with a FireWire 400 port to support older video cameras.

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