First Look: Benchmarks: MacBooks see a modest Core 2 Duo boost

Switching from a Core Duo processor to the next-generation Core 2 Duo will yield a performance boost. Our benchmarks for the recent iMac and MacBook Pro updates revealed as much. Like those two product lines, the wildly popular MacBook laptop also got a processor upgrade to the Core 2 Duo; however, clock speeds remain unchanged from the previous installment of consumer portables. As a result, the gains from this update were much more modest than what we’ve seen from previous Core 2 Duo-powered systems.

Last week’s round of MacBook updates was highlighted by the switch to the Core 2 Duo processor. Clock speeds remained the same—the MacBook’s three configurations include a 1.83GHz system and two 2GHz models available in black or white cases. Those latter two systems included other changes as well, most notably an increase in on-chip L2 cache to 4MB from 2MB. Other improvements to the 2GHz MacBooks include higher-capacity hard drives, a faster DVD-burning SuperDrive and more installed memory.

The end result of all these changes? The white 2GHz configuration turned out to be the fastest Core 2 Duo model, with a Speedmark 4.5 score of 178. That’s a 7 percent improvement on the overall system test suite score turned in by the fastest Core Duo MacBook. (Interestingly, when we ran benchmarks on the Core Duo MacBooks back in May, it was the black 2GHz model that turned in the best Speedmark score.) Though it managed to shave off seconds off of every task, standout results for the 2GHz MacBook Core 2 Duo include the 22 percent improvement in iTunes MP3 encoding, 21 percent gain in Photoshop testing and 19 percent improvement on Compressor video encodes.

MacBook Core 2 Duo Benchmarks

Speedmark 4.5 Adobe Photoshop CS2 Cinema 4D XL 9.5.21 Compressor 2.3 iMovie 6.0.2 iPhoto 6.0.3 iTunes 6.0.4 Unreal Tournament 2004 Zip Archive
SUITE SUITE RENDER MPEG2 ENCODE AGED FILTER IMPORT PHOTOS MP3 ENCODE AVERAGE FRAME RATE 1GB FOLDER
MacBook Core 2 Duo/1.83GHz 168 1:30 1:16 2:43 1:04 1:36 1:17 17.4 3:14
MacBook Core 2 Duo/2GHZ (black) 173 1:24 1:12 2:42 1:01 1:24 1:14 17.9 3:03
MacBook Core 2 Duo/2GHz (white) 178 1:25 1:14 2:41 0:59 1:15 1:13 17.8 2:53
MacBook Core Duo/2GHz (Black) 167 1:48 1:12 3:18 1:03 1:16 1:34 17.7 3:03
15-inch MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo/2.16GHz 209 1:16 1:01 2:17 0:54 1:11 1:11 63.9 2:48
15-inch PowerBook G4/1.67GHz 132 1:35 3:57 6:59 1:51 2:04 1:53 19.9 3:30
14-inch iBook G4/1.42GHz 108 1:50 4:31 n/a 2:09 2:40 2:18 14.3 4:34
>Better <Better <Better <Better <Better <Better <Better >Better <Better

Best results in bold. Reference system in italics .

How We Tested: Speedmark 4.5 scores are relative to those of a 1.25GHz Mac mini, which is assigned a score of 100. Adobe Photoshop, Cinema 4D XL, iMovie, iTunes, and Zip Archive scores are in minutes:seconds. All systems were running Mac OS X 10.4.8 with 1GB of RAM, with processor performance set to Highest in the Energy Saver preference pane when applicable. 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. We recorded how long it took to render a scene in Cinema4D. We used Compressor to encode a 6-minute-26-second DV file using the DVD: Fastest Encode 120 minutes - 4:3 setting. In iMovie, we applied the Aged video effect to a 1-minute movie. We imported one hundred jpegs into iPhoto from the system’s internal hard drive. 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 with both audio and graphics enabled. We created a Zip archive in the Finder from a 1GB folder.To compare Speedmark 4.5 scores for various Mac systems, visit our Apple Hardware Guide .—MACWORLD LAB TESTING BY JAMES GALBRAITH, BRIAN CHEN, AND JERRY JUNG

If you’re an iBook or PowerBook user looking for a reason to upgrade, take a gander at the results from the last generation of PowerPC-based laptops. The new 2GHz white MacBook Pro was 35 percent faster in our Speedmark suite than the 1.67GHz PowerBook G4 and 65 percent faster than a 1.42GHz iBook G4 in those same tests. Even the low-end Core 2 Duo MacBook beat out those G4s in nearly every test, including Photoshop tests running under Rosetta.

Comparing the MacBook and the MacBook Pro models, you’ll see that the higher price does buy you more than just a couple of inches of screen real estate and an expansion slot. The faster processor and dedicated graphics card found in the 2.16GHz MacBook Pro helped that Core 2 Duo system beat out the fastest MacBook by 20 percent in Speedmark—a large part of that disparity can be attributed to the lackluster performance of the MacBook’s integrated Intel graphics which shares memory with the system RAM. In Unreal Tournament, for instance, the MacBook could display about 18 frames per second, compared to nearly 64 frames per second score of the low-end MacBook Pro.

One question remains from these results: With the two 2GHz MacBooks sharing so many specifications, why are their test numbers so different? The two systems were neck and neck in the vast majority of our tests, but just like the last time we tested MacBooks, we found that subtle hard-drive differences can affect the final numbers. The white 2GHz MacBook uses a 80GB Fujitsu drive while the black MacBook uses a 120GB Toshiba model. And while both spin at 5,400 rpm, we found the white’s Fujitsu drive helped that system turn in 5.5-percent faster Zip Archive results and 10-percent faster results in the iPhoto file import test.

We’ll have a full review of these Core 2 Duo MacBooks shortly.

[ James Galbraith is Macworld Lab director. ]

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