Benchmarks: PowerBooks see subtle gains

The latest PowerBooks feature higher-resolution displays, longer battery life, and dual-layer SuperDrives—but not much in the way of substantial jumps in performance over their predecessor in Macworld Lab testing.

The subtle effects on performance weren’t surprising, given the nature of the changes introduced by Apple earlier this month. After all, the update to the 15-inch and 17-inch laptops didn’t include any increase in speed from the 1.67GHz PowerPC G4 chip featured in previous models. Meanwhile, two of the most prominent additions—increased battery life and the ability to burn dual-layer (DL+R) DVDs—are not measured by Macworld ’s Speedmark performance testing tool. Other improvements, like increased drive capacity, higher screen resolution, and faster DDR2 memory contributed to only minor differences from the results posted by the previous generation of 1.67GHz G4 PowerBooks.

Nevertheless, there were some performance differences between the new generation of PowerBooks and their predecessors released earlier this year. (To differentiate between the similar configurations, we’ve designated the just-released PowerBooks as “late 2005” models and their predecessors as “early 2005” versions.) The highlights include the new systems’ small gains in iTunes MP3 encoding and our 3-D rendering test. The old 15-inch PowerBook did manage to squeak past the new PowerBooks in our MPEG-2 encoding test and our Photoshop CS2 suite.

1.67GHz PowerBooks Tested

Speedmark 4 Adobe Photoshop CS2 Cinema 4D XL 9.1 Compressor 2.0 iMovie HD iTunes 6.0.1 Unreal Tournament 2004
OVERALL SCORE SUITE RENDER MPEG-2 ENCODE RENDER MP3 ENCODE FRAME RATE
15-inch PowerBook G4/1.67GHz (late 2005) 135 1:36 4:19 17:55 0:52 1:59 22.1
17-inch PowerBook G4/1.67GHz (late 2005) 134 1:36 4:14 17:54 0:50 1:59 20.6
15-inch PowerBook G4/1.67GHz (early 2005) 133 1:33 4:26 17:44 0:52 2:05 19.7
>Better <Better <Better <Better <Better <Better >Better

Best results in bold. Reference system in italics .

Speedmark 4 scores are relative to those of a 1.25GHz Mac mini, which is assigned a score of 100. Adobe Photoshop, Cinema 4D XL, iMovie, and iTunes scores are in minutes:seconds. All systems were running Mac OS X 10.4.2 with 512MB of RAM, with processor performance set to Highest in the Energy Saver preference pane. We converted 45 minutes of AAC audio files to MP3 using iTunes’ High Quality setting. We used Unreal Tournament 2004’s Antalus Botmatch average-frames-per-second score; we tested at a resolution of 1,024 by 768 pixels at the Maximum setting. The Photoshop Suite test is a set of 14 scripted tasks using a 50MB file. Photoshop’s memory was set to 70 percent and History was set to Minimum. To compare Speedmark 4 scores for various Mac systems, visit our Apple Hardware Guide .—Macworld Lab testing by James Galbraith and Jerry Jung

The late 2005 15-inch model also received a substantial upgrade to its video memory, jumping to 128MB from 64MB. And though this upgrade was primarily aimed at enabling the ability to drive Apple’s huge 30-inch Cinema HD display, the new 15-inch PowerBook did manage to score a couple of more frames per second in our Unreal Tournament 2004 benchmark than the previous 15-inch model, which has only 64MB of video memory.

Click here for a full review of the revamped PowerBooks.

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