What Is a MacBook? How Does the MacBook Work?

What Is a MacBook? How Does the MacBook Work?

A MacBook is a notebook computer made by Macintosh. The first MacBooks were released in May of 2006 as a way for Apple to transition from the iBook and 12-inch PowerBook laptop models into their new line that run on Intel processors. Despite being extremely popular (the MacBook is the fastest selling Macintosh to date), the unibody version of the MacBook has been the target of plenty of criticism. Even so, the MacBook was, at one time, the best-selling laptop computer in the USA for six months in a row.

The model known simply as “MacBook” represents the low end of the notebook range for Macintosh. It is Mac’s cheapest laptop computer, has one of the smallest screens of any Mac, and is encased in a (somewhat controversial) polycarbonate¬†unibody shell. Because it is the low end Mac notebook, its audience trends younger — college students in particular.

MacBook Basics

What is a Macbook?

The MacBook is 13 x 9 x 1 inches and weighs in at just under 5 pounds. This means the MacBook is a little larger and a little heavier than the 13-inch MacBook Pro (which weighs in under 4.5 pounds) but the difference isn’t really noticeable, and the MacBook fits comfortably in most shoulder bags or messenger bags.

The MacBook has the typical Apple aesthetic — the brilliant glossy white exterior is clean and bright all at once. The MacBook is very thin and light, and the all-white look makes the MacBook look almost friendly. The bottom panel of the notebook is held in place by 8 screws, and is covered in a rubbery material that prevents the device from slipping easily.

For more MacBook basics, see How to Use a MacBook.

Different Models of MacBook

There have been three separate designs of the MacBook itself — the original model was modelled after the iBook G4 and was encased in a combination of polycarbonate and fibreglass. The second MacBook style came out in late 2008 in a unibody aluminum casing. This version of the Macbook eventually became the MacBook Pro 13-inch version. The most recent MacBook redesign came out late in 2009 featuring that infamous unibody polycarbonate shell.

Aside from the MacBook, Macintosh makes four “higher end” models of notebook as well.

MacBook Pro 13 inch — This is the “high performance” version of the MacBook, using the exact same display down to the screen size. The biggest difference is the aluminum body and the option for slightly better performance (for an extra $400). This notebook model comes with either a 2.4or 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, and either a 250 or 320 G hard drive.

MacBook Pro 15 inch — Same as the 13 inch, only the screen size is larger and you can get up to a 500 G hard drive. Intel HD graphics kick in at the 15 inch level. MacBook Pro 15 inch models cost about $1,000 more than the low end MacBook.

MacBook Pro 17 inch — Larger screen, but otherwise identical to the MacBook Pro 15 inch. This is the most expensive notebook Macintosh makes.

MacBook Air — Advertised as the “thinnest and lightest Mac notebook ever,” the MacBook Air is a strange model. Offered at two price points, the MacBook Air model that costs the most is still much less powerful than even the cheaper MacBook. Many critics complain that the MacBook Air is typically Macintosh — style over substance.

MacBook Keyboard

The first thing you’ll notice about the MacBook’s keyboard is that it is not backlit. To get a backlit keyboard, you have to upgrade to a MacBook Pro. The MacBook uses an “island-style” keyboard that’s been heralded for how well it responds to touch, and how generally easy it is to use.

The touchpad on the MacBook is the same as on other notebook s– it acts as both touchpad and touch button. The trackpad on the MacBook is the largest in the industry at 4 x 3 inches, and as Macintosh is known for putting together great trackpads, you should not be surprised that the same is true here.


The MacBook has come under fire for a few different features over the years. The MacBook lacks two things that baffled critics — a FireWire port and an SD card slot. The lack of a FireWire port seems strange, considering that the first FireWire ports were in Apple devices. You can get a FireWire port with the MacBook Pro, but that means spending hundreds more dollars for something that should be on the MacBook in the first place.

If you’ve not spent time around a MacBook, you may not realize it, but the speakers are awful. The MacBook is quiet and the sound is noticeably “tinny”, pretty much demanding that you use peripheral speakers for even day to day activities like listening to music.

Other complaints about the MacBook included a great deal of attention on the frailty of the notebook itself. Customers complained that the USB ports are fragile and get bent out of shape easily, that the white unibody cracks from the slightest bit of pressure, and the bottom of the notebook itself gets worn out and stained from regular use. Macintosh has not had good luck with their white colored unibody cases, and it would be nice to see them take care of that with any new releases.

The new generation of MacBook has another strange problem — it gets extremely hot. The bottom of the laptop hits about 94 degrees at its hottest, but near the rear hinge of the MacBook, temperatures as high as 120 degrees have been recorded. Make sure your MacBook has plenty of air, especially when you watch videos or perform any other task that causes the computer to warm up.

This post is part of a series we’re doing on various gizmos and gadgets. Other posts in this series include:

    1. What Is an iPod? How Does the iPod Work?
    2. What Is an iPhone? How Does the iPhone Work?
    3. What Is an iPad? How Does the iPad Work?