Well, well, well, look who came creeping out of the backdoor while our backs were turned. Not content with squaring up to the laptop market with their highly respectable Macbook Pro, Apple have now given their entry level laptops a comprehensive wash and brush up.

While the Pro models catered for Apple’s power users it was clear that sooner rather than later an entry level solution was going to be necessary and judging by what the boys and girls at Cupertino have put together the Macbook might just be what fits the bill. Taking advantage of the Intel Core Duo chipsets the Macbook comes in two flavours. On offer is the choice of 1.83 or 2.0Ghz models, neither of which are going to be slouches in the performance departments if their big brothers are anything to go by.

The most obvious difference from the outset comes in terms of appearance. Apple have ditched the traditional 12” display in favour of a widescreen 13” model. Straight away this sets the stall for a less demanding market and improves the overall portability of the machine (and if there was a criticism levelled at the Pro then portability was it).

Like the Pro, the Macbook comes equipped with some fairly tasty features right out of the box. Built into the lid is an iSight camera that means you get hassle free video conferencing with the click of a mouse. The resolution is a healthy 640 x 480 which means you can show the world your mug in a decidedly pixilation free fashion.

Built in memory starts at 512Mb with the capacity to support up to 2GB of DDR2 SDRAM. While drive storage comes in at 60GB (and its SATA drives as well, which you really feel when you’re shifting big chunks of data around) with the build to order option of anything up to 120Gb. Both models offer Apple’s slot loading Superdrive (including dual layer support and burn speeds of 4x for DVD-R and 24x CD-R).

The Macbook talks to the outside world with the usual bells and whistles, wireless connectivity is catered for with Airport Extreme (802.11g), Bluetooth and Ethernet. This time round however the traditional modem has been discarded perhaps proving that the 56k world is now truly a thing of the past. Nothing new turns up in the peripheral connectivity department, you get one Firewire 400 and two USB 2.0 ports. This is of course standard fare but dare I say it would have been nice to have a Firewire 800 port at least on the top end model. Maybe next time…

The new screen toasts a respectable resolution of 1280 by 800 natively in 4:3 aspect ratio (letterbox format). While output to an external display comes courtesy of mini DVI to VGA (although this time round Apple have got a bit tight with us and decided we have to buy it separately, tsk). There is also a front mounted infrared port for the obligatory Front Row remote control, but more of that later.

In terms of size and weight the Macbook has dieted since its iBook days. Coming in at 1.08 inches in height by 12.78 inches in width. In terms of weight the machine is a frugal 5.2 pounds so the Macbook will definitely not be straining any shoulders any time soon.

Of course one of the big gimmicks with the Macbook comes in the choice of colour. This time round you can have any colour you want as long as its white or black. Yes folks, the Macbook can now fulfil the description of being a “sexy little black number”. It will be interesting to see how the new paint job holds up under regular wear and tear, remember some of those black iPods and Nanos had a tendency to flake, but surely Apple will have addressed this…right?

Of course the Apple faithful will realise by now that the hardware is only half the package when you buy one of their machines. As standard you get the latest incarnation of OS X in its spanking new Intel form. As well as this you get Apple’s iLife 06 suite which in itself is something to be marvelled at, remember apart from iTunes you get iPhoto for the camera happy among you as well as iMovie HD and iDVD for the budding filmmakers. That’s before I mention GarageBand that is Apple’s kick arse music/sequencing package (a personal favourite I’ll add). You also get test drive versions of Microsoft Office and iWork to evaluate. It will be interesting to see which side of the fence the new generation of Mac users will fall on. Although iWork is pretty good to use lets not forget Office is still quite the powerhouse for the Mac fraternity.

The Macbook also comes equipped with Front Row, to the uninitiated this is the Apple equivalent of Microsoft’s Media Centre. With the supplied remote control you can turn the laptop into the digital hub that Apple always promised us, although I find myself questioning just how effective using a machine with a 13” display will be when you are browsing photos and films. Perhaps this is where connecting an external display will come into its own.

So it seems you get quite a lot of machine for your money. A well specced laptop at a genuine entry level price (?749). Not only do you get a powerhouse in the performance stakes but it also comes with Apple’s undeniable sense of style. The only criticism that has been levelled at Apple machines recently is the use of Intel’s GMA 950 processor for graphics work and it shows up in these models. The downside here is the Macbook makes use of physical memory for graphics work rather than relying entirely on its resources. Personally speaking I think the only people this will affect are the hardcore graphics users and the gamers, and lets be fair since when was a laptop ever an idea environment for blowing things up on Doom or Unreal Tournament.

So there you have it, Apple’s new uber laptop for the student and perhaps not so entry level crowd. Now if only there were some kind benefactor in Cupertino who was looking to field test one of these babies in the wild then I would be more than willing to undertake the task.

I’ll take mine in black, whenever you’re ready.