New MacBook Pro speed tests

I had been looking forward to this past week for months. I imagined immersing myself in session after session at Apple’s annual Worldwide Developer Conference, getting an under-the-hood look at where the Mac platform is headed. Alas, just a few minutes into the WWDC keynote address, the reality became clear that I would instead spend a week in the Macworld Lab testing new Macs. Why? Because early in the WWDC keynote, Apple executive Phil Schiller announced the company’s new laptops. After a mad scramble, we got our hands on the six new MacBook Pros and ran them through our benchmark tests. (In this article, I’ll look mostly at speed. Full reviews with mouse ratings that also consider the laptops' design and features are in the works.)

13-inch MacBooks go Pro

In case you forgot about the MacBook Pro announcement as soon as the iPhone 3G S was unveiled, the biggest change to the MacBook Pro line was the addition of two 13-inch models. Essentially, Apple took the unibody MacBook and added a FireWire 800 port to the laptop and the word “Pro” to the name. The new 13-inch models feature a 2.26GHz or 2.53GHz Core 2 Duo Intel processor, a boost over the 2GHz and 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo processors found in the unibody MacBooks. The white plastic 2.13GHz MacBook ( ) is currently the only laptop in the MacBook line.

The $1,199 13-inch 2.26GHz MacBook Pro ships with 2GB of 1,066MHz DDR3 RAM and a 160GB hard drive. The $1,499 13-inch 2.53GHz MacBook Pro ships with 4GB of 1,066MHz DDR3 RAM and a 250GB hard drive. Both models ship with the Nvidia GeForce 9400M graphics subsystem.

We tested the two new 13-inch MacBook Pros using Macworld’s overall system performance test tool, Speedmark 5. The new 13-inch 2.53GHz MacBook Pro was a little more than 12 percent faster overall than the new 13-inch 2.26GHz MacBook Pro. The 2.53GHz laptop was about 21 percent faster at Photoshop CS3 and Cinema 4D.

Of course, some of this performance difference is due to the 2.53GHz system’s additional RAM, so we also tested the 2.26GHz model with 4GB of RAM. Most of our tests (which are run one at a time) don’t benefit much from additional RAM, and the two-point improvement in the Speedmark score bears that out. The biggest performance difference with the additional RAM was in our Photoshop suite times, which improved the new 2.26GHz MacBook Pro’s score by about 10 percent.

Comparing the new 13-inch MacBook Pros to the last unibody 13-inch MacBook, we see that the new 2.26GHz MacBook Pro is about 12 percent faster overall than the 2GHz unibody MacBook.

Benchmarks: 13-inch MacBook Pros

Speedmark 5 Adobe Photoshop CS3 Cinema 4D XL 10.5 Compressor 3.0.4 iMovie HD iTunes 7.7 Quake 4 Finder Finder
OVERALL SCORE SUITE RENDER MPEG ENCODE AGED EFFECT MP3 ENCODE FRAME RATE ZIP ARCHIVE UNZIP ARCHIVE
13-inch 2.53GHz MacBook Pro (4GB) 239 0:53 0:50 1:52 0:46 0:58 39.3 4:11 1:14
13-inch 2.26GHz MacBook Pro (2GB) 213 1:07 0:56 1:52 0:49 1:05 39.1 4:48 1:40
13-inch 2.26GHz MacBook Pro (4GB) 215 1:00 0:56 1:52 0:49 1:05 39.5 4:46 1:40
13-inch 2.13GHz MacBook (2GB) 198 1:08 1:00 2:02 0:56 1:07 33.5 5:15 1:29
13-inch 2GHz MacBook unibody (2GB) 190 1:10 1:04 2:10 0:57 1:12 38.7 5:34 1:35
15-inch 2.53GHz MacBook Pro (4GB) 237 0:53 0:50 1:42 0:45 1:00 37.4 4:11 1:18
>Better <Better <Better <Better <Better <Better >Better <Better <Better

Best results in bold. Reference systems in italics.

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. The two white MacBooks and the MacBook Pro were running Mac OS X 10.5.7. 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 6minute: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 Quake’s 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 duplicated a 1GB folder, created a Zip archive in the Finder from the two 1GB files and then Unzipped it.—Macworld Lab testing by James Galbraith, Chris Holt, and Helen Williamson.

Looking at the performance differences between the new 2.26GHz MacBook Pro and the lowest priced Mac laptop, the new 2.13GHz white MacBook, we find about a 7.5 percent improvement in Speedmark scores with the 2.26GHz MacBook Pro. Highlights include somewhat faster frame rates in 3-D games, thanks to the faster 1,066MHz DDR3 RAM that the MacBook Pro uses (the white MacBook uses 800MHz DDR2 memory).

Maybe the most interesting comparison is between the 13-inch 2.53GHz MacBook Pro and the new 15-inch 2.53GHz MacBook Pro. There is less than a one percent difference in the Speedmark scores for these two, and their specifications are nearly identical. The $200 price difference essentially buys you two more inches of diagonal screen real estate.

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