'Book Value

Unibody MacBook the Logical Successor to the 12" PowerBook

Charles Moore - 2008.11.05 - Tip Jar

Something that occurred to me early on after the new Unibody MacBooks were introduced last month is that here is about as close as we are likely to get to a Macintel replacement for the erstwhile, much admired and loved 12" PowerBook that the MacBook Air wasn't.

Unibody MacBook

Introduced at Macworld Expo in January 2003, the 12" PowerBook represented one of the most convincing smash-hit model introductions in Apple history back in 2003. Sharing much of the general layout in engineering and the 12" display of the 12" iBook, the baby PowerBook added an aluminum housing and G4 power - plus most (but not all) of the usual slate of PowerBook features.

While the new MacBook with its 13.3" display of necessity has a bit larger footprint than the old 12-incher, otherwise it compares very favorably as a machine for serious road warriors. It's thinner at 0.95" thick, and weighing 4.5 pounds, it's a tenth of a pound lighter than the 12" PowerBook, arguably making it the Macintel replacement for that machine - not to mention being a couple of hundred bucks cheaper to buy than the 12" PowerBook at its least expensive. (Some will argue that the footprint obligated by its 13.3" display still makes it too large for a real 12" PowerBook replacement.)

Footprint of 12 inch PowerBook and 13 inch MacBook

Joe Leo, my columnist colleague at PB Central and a 12" PowerBook owner, says no way. He'll only accept a machine with a footprint as small as or smaller than the baby PowerBook as a true replacement machine, but I expect he'd best not be holding his breath waiting. I would suggest that for Joe and other purist 12" PowerBook aficionados, this is probably as good as it's going to get - unless Apple takes my advice and engineers a netbook Mac.

I very much hope Apple will eventually address the netbook market, but a netbook would have power limitations that would rule it out as a true successor to the 12" PowerBook, while the new MacBook's only major deficiencies are its lack of FireWire, its slightly larger footprint, and, for some, its glossy display in certain lighting environments one might encounter on the road such as aboard aircraft.

The new MacBook, which shares the all-metal unibody enclosure motif with the MacBook Pro, for all intents and purposes is a downsized MacBook Pro in everything but name. No, it doesn't have FireWire (an Apple blunder, IMHO), and there is no ExpressCard slot, but the 12" PowerBook differed from its larger PowerBook siblings in not having a CardBus slot, so that aspect is a wash. I think it's small, light, trim, and cool enough to stop my griping about no Macintel 12" PowerBook successor, and I expect a lot of others' discontent on that score will feel the same way.

Here are the respective specs of the new Unibody MacBook, the 12" PowerBook, and the old MacBook:

13" Unibody MacBook

  • Height: 0.95 inch (2.41 cm)
  • Width: 12.78 inches (32.5 cm)
  • Depth: 8.94 inches (22.7 cm)
  • Volume: 108.5 cu. in.
  • Weight: 4.5 pounds (2.04 kg)

12" PowerBook

  • Height: 1.18 inches (3.0 cm)
  • Width: 10.9 inches (27.7 cm)
  • Depth: 8.6 inches (21.9 cm)
  • Volume: 110.6 cu. in.
  • Weight: 4.6 pounds (2.1 kg)

13" Plastic MacBook

  • Height: 1.08 inches (2.75 cm)
  • Width: 12.78 inches (32.5 cm)
  • Depth: 8.92 inches (22.7 cm)
  • Volume: 123.1 cu. in.
  • Weight: 5.2 pounds (2.36 kg)

In all aspects except the nearly two inches greater width, the MacBook stands in very favorable light in this comparison. And, of course, in terms of performance the MacBook blows the fastest 12" PowerBook into the weeds.

Computerworld's Scot Finnie posted a commentary this week suggesting that the 13" MacBook could turn out to be an Apple Trojan horse for the medium to large enterprise market, noting that unlike the old MacBook, the new one looks and feels like a business machine.

"I'm not predicting wholesale adoption of Macs by larger enterprises anytime soon," says Finnie, "but the new MacBook will make the most significant inroads into the enterprise market of any Apple product, probably ever. It comes down to price/performance, price point, design focus, durability, suitability to task and market timing."

Finnie further notes that "unlike the old MacBook, the new one looks and feels like a business machine. Instead of a cheap plastic enclosure, it has a slimmer, stronger one-piece aluminum case . . . It blends power and portability, with its design more carefully balancing the primary needs of the average business user."

Or the sort of user that found the old 12" PowerBook an ideal compromise between size, weight, features, and price. So if you've been waiting for Apple to replace the 12" PowerBook G4 with a Macintel machine, wait no longer - it's here.

Appendix: 13" Unibody MacBook vs. 12" PowerBook

12" PowerBook G4/1.5 GHz

13" Unibody MacBook


1.5 GHz PowerPC G4

2.0 GHz or 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo

Processor Cache

512 KB L2 cache @ 1.5 GHz

3 MB shared L2 cache @ CPU speed

System Bus

133 MHz frontside bus, 167 MHz system bus

1066 MHz frontside bus


512 MB, expandable to 1.25 GB

2 GB, expandable to 4 GB

Standard Hard Drive

60 GB Ultra ATA/1004 5400 RPM

160 GB or 250 GB serial ATA hard drive running at 5400 rpm, with Sudden Motion Sensor ( 128 GB Solid State Drive (SSD) $700 extra on the 2.0 GHz model, or $600 extra on the 2.4 GHz model)

Optical Drive

Combo (DVD-ROM/CD-RW) optical drive; optional slot-loading SuperDrive.

8x SuperDrive with double-layer support


12.1" 1024 x 768 active-matrix matte display

13.3" LED-backlit 1280 x 800 glossy display

Supported Resolutions

1024 x 768 (native), 800 x 600 and 640 x 480 with resolution scaling

1280 x 800 (native), 1152 x 720, 1024 x 640, and 800 x 500 pixels at 16:10 aspect ratio; 1024 x 768, 800 x 600, and 640 x 480 pixels at 4:3 aspect ratio; 720 x 480 pixels at 3:2 aspect ratio.

Graphics Processor

Nvidia GeForce FX Go5200 graphics with 64 MB of video memory

Nvidia GeForce 9400M graphics processor with 256 MB of DDR3 SDRAM shared with main memory

USB Port

2 USB 2.0 ports

2 USB 2.0 ports


10/100 ethernet

gigabit ethernet


1 FireWire 400 port


Video Out

mini DVI: DVI and VGA support with included adapters. S-video with mini-DVI to video adapter (sold separately). Composite video output using included Apple Video Adapter.

Mini DisplayPort. DVI output using Mini DisplayPort to DVI Adapter. VGA output using Mini DisplayPort to VGA Adapter. Dual-link DVI output using Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI Adapter. Adapters sold separately

Dual Display Modes

Extended desktop and video mirroring: Simultaneously supports up to 1024 x 768 pixels on the built-in display and up to 2048 x 1536 pixels on an external display, both at millions of colors

Extended desktop and video mirroring: Simultaneously supports up to 1280 x 800 on the built-in display and up to 2560 x 1600 pixels on an external display, both at millions of colors


  • Audio line in (minijack)
  • Headphone out (minijack)
  • Built-in stereo speakers with midrange-enhancing third speaker
  • Internal omnidirectional microphone
  • Support for external USB audio devices such as microphones and speakers
  • Built-in stereo speakers
  • Built-in omnidirectional microphone
  • Combined optical digital input/analog line in (minijack)
  • Combined optical digital output/analog line out (minijack)
  • Supports Apple Stereo Headset with microphone
  • Environmental Status Report
  • Support for external USB audio devices such as microphones and speakers

Built-in Webcam


iSight camera


Built-in 56K V.92 modem

external USB modem (optional)


AirPort Extreme 54 Mbps 802.11g

AirPort Extreme 802.11n draft


Bluetooth 2.0+EDR

Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR


50-watt-hour lithium-ion battery (with integrated charge indicator LEDs) providing up to 5 hours of battery life

45-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery provides up to 5 hours of battery life on a single charge


8.6" x 10.9" x 1.18" (110.6 cu. in.)

8.94" x 12.78" x 0.95" (108.5 cu. in.)


4.6 pounds

4.5 pounds

Bundled Software

Mac OS X 10.3, Mail, iChat, Safari, Sherlock, Address Book, QuickTime, iLife (includes iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie HD, GarageBand and iDVD), iSync, iCal, DVD Player, Classic environment, Acrobat Reader, Art Directors Toolkit, EarthLink TotalAccess (includes 30 days of free dialup service with EarthLink activation), FileMaker Pro Trial, GraphicConverter, OmniGraffle, OmniOutliner, QuickBooks for Mac New User Edition, Microsoft Office 2004 for Mac Test Drive, Zinio Reader, Xcode Developer Tools and Apple Hardware Test.

Mac OS X 10.5 (includes Time Machine, Quick Look, Spaces, Spotlight, Dashboard, Mail, iChat, Safari, Address Book, QuickTime, iCal, DVD Player, Photo Booth, Front Row, d Developer Tools). iLife '08 (includes iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD, iWeb, GarageBand)

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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