Apple has come through with Intel-based MacBook laptops (replacing the iBook), and the bottom line is, they’re a terrific bargain. As a portable music machine, unless you prefer bigger screens, it’s hard to go wrong with these computers. The only big downsides: black costs you extra, and like the mini before them, the integrated graphics are pretty limited for 3D. Here’s a quick look at what I think the big issues will be for musicians, though, of course, we’ll want to chat this one up in comments and on the forums.

First impressions . . .

What’s Hot: Blazingly-fast Core Duo performance, plus Windows (and Intel Linux!) compatibility, at $1099 in a laptop form factor? What’s not to love? The 13″ display should please many, too, who were tempted by the cute micro-size of the 12″ iBooks but couldn’t bring themselves to squint at something quite that small. (1″ sounds small, but it adds a lot of additional space.) Apple is also making these screens really bright. Add in reasonably-fast 5400 rpm drives and the usual USB 2.0 and FireWire, and there’s really very little you can’t do as a mobile musician with this machine. I expect a lot of CDM readers will be picking one up.

What’s Not: First off, unless you’re Darth Vader and need to coordinate your laptop with your body army, US$200 is a big premium for 20GB of extra hard drive space and a black color, so I’d stick with white. The glossy screen should look gorgeous, but they are known to cause glare issues. But the big dealbreaker for me is that, like the Mac mini, the new machine uses an integrated Intel graphics chip. They’ll run basic Quartz / OpenGL 3D graphics, but not nearly as well as the video cards on even the previous PowerBook G4, let alone the fantastic ATI cards in the MacBook Pro. I realize this doesn’t matter to most of you, in which case the MacBook is a great deal, but if making cool 3D interfaces in Jitter or Pd/GEM or Quartz Composer, or running customized game engines as sound interfaces, or even running sound processing on your graphics card GPU appeals to you, you should think MacBook Pro instead of the new mini and MacBook. (And if I forgot about you guys, this wouldn’t be CDM, would it? Of course, boot your MacBook Pro into Intel Linux, and you can run this.)

PC, anyone? I have to say, Apple’s Core laptop lineup looks stronger than comparable models I’ve seen from PC vendors, unless tablet capabilities are important to you. I wouldn’t buy a Mac just to run Windows, but the ability to supplement the Mac OS with Windows is, of course, fantastic.

Caveats aside, this looks like it could be a fantastic machine. I’m saving my pennies for the bigger screen, better graphics, and expanded expansion of the Pro model, but the real story here is that Apple’s $500 and $1000 Intel computers give users on a budget nearly all the pro audio power of a more expensive desktop. And that’s great news. Now, about the Power Mac Core . . . er . . . MacPro . . . er . . . Intel desktops. We’ll be watching.