Apple MacBook Core2Duo (4GB)

The Low-Quality Screen

People have discussed Apple’s usage of low quality displays which cannot display the full 24bit range of colours. Intermediate colours are then displayed by dithering them. Which leads to things looking poorly once you look closely or the images are ‘unfortunate’. 

As gradients tend to look bad when dithering is involved and Mac OS X is full of gradients, you will see this ‘phenomenon’ on screen almost constantly (that much for the OS being ‘crafted’ to match the hardware it runs on once more, I'm sure things could be improved to not look as bad in software.

This problem is very hard to capture in photos as really sharp focus will simply highlight the structure of the screen as red, green and blue pixels, thus hiding the actual problem, while being out of focus just blurs the problem away. The following images try to highlight the issue which appears even more pronounced if you look at the screen at a slight angle.

MacBook screen grey gradient

A linear grey gradient in which each brightness step should occupy 2 pixels.

Window Shadow

Gee the shadows of Mac OS X’s windows look rather poorly shaped and ugly in the overpronounced way the screen renders them in.

Following my ‘strategy’ that it’s cheaper to buy a new MacBook every year for a more capable model and a fresh warranty than to stick to the old machine, I had a good excuse to do so. And while the new aluminium MacBooks looked pretty I still went for a white plastic MacBook in 2008.

That mainly comes down to money. Since all the trouble with my TiBook, I tried to spend as little money as possible for machines, so I wouldn’t have to be upset when they broke.

Significant changes compared to the old model are:

  • 4GB of RAM – the old model couldn't use this amount of RAM and having them really gives a discernible performance improvement.
  • Bad screen – the screen in this model seems to be one of the low-quality ‘interpolating’ ones. Some of my photos look like crap and the ubiquitous gradients in OS X can look horrible and clumsy because of this (yay for the same company ‘crafting’ both the software and the hardware!).
  • Odd keyboard layout – Apple changed the keyboard layout moving the Exposé and Dashboard keys to F3/F4. This is inconvenient both because of the change and the inconsistency when using external keyboards due to the very limited remapping features provided by Apple.
  • The silly Num Lock key is gone for good now.
  • I am a definite non-fan of Apple removing the enter key on the right hand side of the space bar (its relocation from just to the right of the space bar to the second key to the right of the space bar to nowhere hints at the clever and consistent ‘design’ they do in Cupertino). Luckily this can be remapped with Double Command, so it’s not a practical problem.
  • DVD Writer – finally even the cheapest MacBook contained a DVD writer. Not that I actually need it, but still a good thing…
  • Fan noise – the machine’s fan seems to be much noisier than the old machine’s. Even transferring vibrations to the case. I already see a point of breakage here…

While this MacBook’s screen is quite bad, and the fan isn’t exactly quiet, I was rather pleased with the machine simply because it didn’t break. … until the day it was pretty much exactly one year old, that is. Then, the screen’s backlight started turning itself off. The first time I didn’t really notice, but after a day or two I effectively couldn’t use the backlight at any brightness level higher than 50% because it would turn off. Another day later the backlight turned itself off after just a second in the lowest brightness level, rendering the screen useless. This was only a problem with the backlight as one could still see the screen’s contents when shining an external light at it.

So I took the MacBook to our local Mac store. And they couldn’t help me because, technically, Apple start counting the days of the machine’s warranty the day you place the order on. This MacBook was ordered on October 31st and, according to Apple’s invoice shipped on November 9th. The screen broke on November 7th the following year, which, being a weekend, meant I couldn’t go to the Mac store before Monday. Another call to Apple’s hotline was required to get a warranty repair authorised in that case. I loathed doing that as my previous experiences with Apple’s hotline in Germany when requiring assistance with my G4 Powerbook and a replacement for my iBook charger were extremely bad. Either I was lucky this time or Apple improved that. At least people were helpful and seemed competent this time around and I got the repair authorised.

With the authorisation I could go to the local Mac dealer again and they could order the spare part and fix the machine for me, which took over a week. It seems like they replaced at least the whole backlight as the light is much brighter now than it was before the machine broke (it seems like those backlights wear out rather quickly). I used to run it at full power to have a well-lit screen. The new one starts being too bright at about two thirds of the power when sitting inside.

So I was lucky that things broke ‘just in time’ with this one, but it also ruined my chance of having a MacBook that ‘just works’ and doesn’t require repairs once again.

A bit later the built-in DVD drive stopped being able to write DVDs – a ‚feature’ quite common for the optical drives Apple used. Luckily I already had an external DVD drive at that stage.

Eventually I upgraded the machine to a 1TB hard drive and after getting a new laptop for work in 2012, the machine became my slow but trusty iTunes and travel Mac.