First Look: Faster processor means modest bump for MacBook Pro

Apple began November introducing a revamped line of MacBook laptops. Let’s close out the month with a few words about another product announced alongside the MacBook updates—a build-to-order configuration of the MacBook Pro.

If you remember, on the same day Apple boosted the processor speeds and made other internal changes to its MacBook line, it also announced the availability a new, faster 2.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor for the MacBook Pro. The 2.6GHz processor is a $250 upgrade over the $2,499 and $2,799 models that ship with the 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo.

Macworld Lab ordered and received a 15-inch MacBook Pro with the faster processor. It should come as no surprise that this custom-built MacBook Pro is the fastest portable Mac to date.

Apart from the processor, the customized MacBook Pro shares the same tech specs as the high-end laptop models introduced in June. In the case of the 15-inch MacBook Pro we used in this test, that means a 160GB hard drive and an Nvidia GeForce 8600M GT graphics processor. For the purposes of comparison, we also included a newly updated MacBook—the top-of-the-line 2.2GHz model—in this latest round of tests.

2.6GHz MacBook Pro BenchmarksSpeedmark 5Adobe Photoshop CS3Cinema 4D XL 10.5Compressor 3iMovie HDiTunes 7.5Unreal Tournament 2004Quake 4FinderHandBrakeOVERALL SCORESUITERENDERMPEG2 EncodeAged EffectMP3 ENCODEFRAME RATEFRAME RATEZIP ARCHIVEH.264 ENCODE15-inch MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo/2.6GHz*2081:140:511:570:471:0277.851.34:472:5215-inch MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo/2.4GHz1981:170:552:070:501:0575.446.35:023:05MacBook Core 2 Duo/2.2GHz (black)1841:171:002:050:511:1325.77.85:133:14>BetterBetter>Better

Best results in bold. Reference system in italics . * denotes build-to-order model.

Speedmark 5 scores are relative to those of a 1.5GHz Core Solo Mac mini, which is assigned a score of 100. Adobe Photoshop, Cinema 4D XL, iMovie, iTunes, and Finder scores are in minutes:seconds. All systems were running Mac OS X 10.5.1 with 2GB of RAM. 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 Cinema 4D XL. We used Compressor to encode a 6 minute, 26second DV file using the DVD: Fastest Encode 120 minutes - 4:3 setting. In iMovie, we applied the Aged Film effect from the Video FX. menu to a one minute movie. 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 ran Quake 4 timedemo at a resolution of 1,024 by 768 pixels at High Quality settings. We created a Zip archive in the Finder from a 2GB folder. To compare Speedmark 5 scores for various Mac systems, visit our Apple Hardware Guide .—MACWORLD LAB TESTING BY JAMES GALBRAITH, JERRY JUNG, AND BRIAN CHEN

 

The 2.6GHz MacBook Pro showed about a 5-percent performance boost over the 2.4GHz in our Speedmark 5 benchmark. That’s a little bit less than the 8-percent difference in clock speed, but the tests that make up Speedmark measure more than just processor performance.

In processor-intensive tasks, like rendering a scene in Cinema4D, the 2.6GHz MacBook Pro beat the 2.4GHz model by more than 7 percent. In other tests, the 2.6GHz system was faster across the board, though by margins closer to the 5-percent range.

As for the MacBook, it held its own on most tests, except for 3-D games, where it continues to be penalized for its integrated graphics that share memory with the system. The MacBook Pro models have dedicated memory for graphics.

We don’t mouse-rate build-to-order models, but hopefully these results will help you decide if the extra processing power is worth the $250 when compared to Apple’s standard MacBook Pro offerings.

[ James Galbraith is director of Macworld Lab. ]

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