The Parts of Your MacBook - dummies

By Mark L. Chambers

All laptops, including MacBooks, require some of the same gizmos. Of course, as you’d expect, a computer has a body of sorts in which all the innards and brains are stored. It also sports a display screen, a keyboard, a trackpad or other pointing device, and ports for powering and exchanging data with outside toys.


The MacBook screen

What a view you have! Today’s Mac laptops feature a 11″, 13″, 15″, or 17″ LED display (depending on the model you choose). Today’s displays are available in glossy finish (a good choice for the brightest colors and deepest blacks) and antiglare finish (the best pick if you’re working under bright lighting).

LED screens use far less electricity than their antique CRT ancestors do, and they emit practically no radiation.

Apple’s laptop screens offer a widescreen aspect ratio (the screen is considerably wider than it is tall), which augurs well for those who enjoy watching DVD movies.

The MacBook keyboard and trackpad

Hey, here’s something novel for your laptop. Whereas a standard desktop computer has external input devices, your Mac has a built-in keyboard and trackpad (which does the job of a mouse).

Much has been made of Apple’s Multi-Touch trackpad, and rightly so: Mac OS X Lion provides a truly amazing number of gestures that you can use to control and manipulate your applications. No buttons are involved, and many of the gestures are the same as you might be using right now on your iPhone 4 or iPad 2.

The keyboard is a particular favorite for a few reasons:

  • You can either control the sound, volume, or mute all that noise completely.

  • You can use illuminated keyboards, which are perfect for darkened dorm rooms and airplane flights.

  • A handy-dandy Media Eject key lets you eject a CD or DVD.

The MacBook disc slot

You’ll notice a long groove at the right side of your MacBook or MacBook Pro. (No, it’s not for your credit card, although sometimes you might feel that way.) This slot accepts full-size 120mm CDs and DVDs into your optical drive — no weird “business-card” discs or mini-DVDs, please!

If the drive is empty, loading a disc is as simple as sliding it in an inch or so; the drive sucks in the disc automatically.

A MacBook Air doesn’t sport any internal optical drive. You use either the CD & DVD Sharing feature in Lion to read discs remotely (from another Mac or PC on your network) or you can pick up an external optical drive from Apple for about $100. (Such is the price you pay for super-thin and super-light.)

“Luke, the printed label side of the disc should always be facing you when you load a disc. Always.”

MacBook sound

A machine this nice had better have great sound, and the MacBook doesn’t disappoint (although external speakers or headphones will deliver an even bigger punch). You have a couple of options for Mac laptop audio:

  • All Mac laptops sport built-in stereo speakers.

  • The built-in audio in/out jacks connect your MacBook’s audio to a pair of headphones, or a more powerful (and expensive) external speaker system, or a home stereo system.

MacBook power cable

Sorry, can’t get a wireless power system . . . yet. (Apple’s working hard on that one.) However, the MacBook Pro was the first major release of a laptop with a magnetic power connector; the MacBook and MacBook Air followed suit soon after.

The MagSafe connector reduces the chances of your pride and joy being yanked off a desk when someone trips over the power cord, because the magnetic closure pops off under significant strain. Now that’s sassy.

MacBook power button

Yep, you have one of these, too. It’s on the upper right, next to the keyboard — or, on the MacBook Air, at the top-right corner of the keyboard — bearing the familiar “circle with a vertical line” logo.

The MacBook FaceTime camera

Check out that tiny square lens above your screen. That’s a built-in FaceTime camera, which allows you to chat with others in a videoconferencing environment using Lion’s iChat and FaceTime features. You can even take photos with it, using the Photo Booth software that comes with your laptop, or set up a travelin’ Webcam.

If you bought your last Mac laptop several years ago, you’re probably looking for the Apple Remote amongst all the styrofoam. Unfortunately, today’s MacBooks do not come with a remote. This once-standard device, which looks like an iPod Shuffle, allowed you to control your laptop wirelessly from across the room.

Think DVD viewings, presentations, and lazy iTunes listening. Why no remote? It’s because Apple removed the IR (or infrared) receiver from all MacBook laptops some time ago.

The MacBook battery’s built-in

Many road warriors who constantly use their laptops for extended periods swear by extra batteries, especially if they’re on-site in the middle of nowhere and there’s not an AC outlet to be found. However, current Apple laptops feature built-in batteries that can’t be swapped out.

(Luckily, they also have a reputation of lasting up to seven hours after a full charge, so switching batteries is no longer as necessary on those long trips.) Of course, your laptop automatically charges the battery while it’s plugged in.

Only an Apple technician can replace a dead battery in today’s MacBooks.