Apple perks up MacBooks with faster chip sets

Chip set gets upgrade, but the price stays the same

Apple quietly upgraded its MacBook laptop line last week to the same "Santa Rosa" Intel chip set used in the higher-priced MacBook Pro, but it didn't change the basic configurations or pricing.

And in a somewhat unusual move, the company also stressed to would-be buyers that the Mac OS X installation DVD included with each new MacBook is "designed for use on this computer only." It was not clear whether that announcement was a possible antipiracy move or was somehow related to the fact that Apple's new Leopard operating system was just released six days ago.

The three notebooks in the MacBook family -- two white models priced at US$1,099 and US$1,299, and an all-black system for US$1,499 -- now sport the faster 800-MHz front side bus of the Santa Rosa architecture. Apple's MacBook Pro line was updated to the faster Santa Rosa processors in June.

The least-expensive MacBook retains its 2.0-GHz Core 2 Duo processor, but the other two now sport 2.2-GHz CPUs, which are slightly faster than the 2.16-GHz processors offered earlier. All three keep the 13-in. display, come standard with 1GB of memory and can be equipped with hard drives of up to 250GB.

A change to Intel's GMA X3100 integrated graphics -- none of the MacBooks can be configured with graphics chips from nVidia Corp. or Advanced Micro Device's ATI unit -- also boosted performance; the X3100 can borrow as much as 144MB of system memory for the graphics subsystem, up substantially from previous MacBook models' chips that maxed out at 64MB.

The new laptops come with Mac OS X 10.5, a.k.a. Leopard, already installed, according to the Apple Store Web site. But a document posted on the company's support site noted the restrictions on the operating system.

"The Mac OS X 10.5 installation disk that shipped with your MacBook (13-inch Late 2007) is designed for use on this computer only and not intended for any other computer," the document states. The Leopard installation DVD included with the new MacBooks cannot be used on any other Macs, Apple added. The reverse is also now true: "Other Mac OS X 10.5 installation disks will not work on the MacBook (13-inch Late 2007)," the support note concludes.

Apple did not respond to queries about whether this was a policy for all future hardware releases or upgrades, or whether it was part of an antipiracy program.

The company also modified the build-your-own options for the MacBook Pro notebooks to offer an upgrade to a 2.6-GHz Core 2 Duo processor on the two most expensive models, the US$2,499 15-in. and the US$2,799 17-in. systems. The bump to the faster CPU costs US$250.

The tweaked MacBooks and Mac Book Pros are available at Apple's retail stores and its online shop.

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Gregg Keizer

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