Core i5 MacBook Airs zoom past predecessors

Macworld Lab has received and benchmarked every standard configuration of the new Core i5 MacBook Airs released last week. We’ve found that the new processors push the Airs to new performance heights.

While we continue to work on Speedmark, our overall system performance benchmarking suite, to take advantage of Lion, we’ve been running a preliminary set of tests on all of the new Macs and a set of older Macs to use as baseline results.

The results for the new $999 entry-level 11-inch MacBook Air with a 1.6GHz Core i5 processor, 2GB of RAM, 64GB flash storage, and the integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000 (which is found across the new MacBook Air lineup), show the system to be more than twice as fast at many processing tasks than the previous entry-level 11-inch MacBook Air with a 1.4GHz Core 2 Duo processor. The new entry-level Air was 2.4 times faster in Cinebench CPU, 2.3 times faster in HandBrake, and took exactly half as long to convert files from AAC to MP3 in iTunes. Duplicating a 2GB folder was 18 percent faster, zipping a 4GB folder was 46 percent faster, and unzipping the same file was 29 percent faster. While iMovie export on the new entry-level Air was 32 percent faster, importing the footage from a camera archive was 7 percent faster on the older model. Also faster on the older model was Call of Duty and Cinebench OpenGL frame rates, due to the 2010 model’s faster Nvidia GeForce 320M integrated graphics.

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Lab Report: Huge speed gains for new Mac mini

Based on Macworld Lab's benchmark results, the new Mac mini models provide a great leap in processor performance over the previous generation. The new Mac mini was unveiled on Wednesday, and Macworld Lab has been testing the new machines that come with Lion and Core i5 processors.

The new Mac mini is available in two standard configurations: a $599 model with a 2.3GHz Core i5 processor, 2GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive, and an integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000 processor; and a $799 model with a 2.5GHz Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive, and discrete AMD Radeon HD 6630 graphics. These two models replace a single $699 Mid-2010 Mac mini ( ) model that had a 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo processor, 2GB of RAM, a 320GB hard drive, and Nvidia GeForce 320M integrated graphics.

We’re busy putting together a new version of our Mac system performance suite, Speedmark, but its not quite ready yet. The current version, Speedmark 6.5, was created using Snow Leopard and uses older versions of applications. New Macs ship with Lion, so instead of downgrading the new Macs to try and run Snow Leopard (if that’s even possible), we have updated 10 of our tests to run on Lion using the latest versions of the applications that make up Speedmark.

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More Thunderbolt speed results

Thunderbolt is quite fast, as our lab has experienced first hand. In our ongoing look at Thunderbolt performance, we tested two more configurations, as requested by Macworld readers. The first involves the new Promise Pegasus R6 Thunderbolt array configured as a RAID 0; the second is with Target Disk Mode using Thunderbolt. (Previously, we compared Thunderbolt and FireWire 800 speed. We also looked at Thunderbolt and eSATA.)

RAID 0 vs. RAID 5

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Thunderbolt RAID provides boost over eSATA

How does Thunderbolt performance stack up against eSATA? Macworld Lab's test results show that Thunderbolt’s provides a sizeable boost over eSATA—it's not as dramatic as the improvement over FireWire 800, but still very impressive.

Macworld Lab recently compared Thunderbolt and FireWire 800 performance. In response to that report, Macworld readers want to see how Thunderbolt speed stacks up against other interface technologies—specifically, eSATA.

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Thunderbolt RAID dramatically faster than FireWire 800

The wait for Thunderbolt-ready peripherals is over. Four months after the debut of Thunderbolt in Apple’s revamped MacBook Pro lineup, storage devices that support Intel’s new interconnect technology have finally arrived. And while these initial products carry a notable price tag, Macworld Lab’s first tests show Thunderbolt offering a great leap forward in terms of performance.

On Tuesday, Promise Technologies announced the availability of the Pegasus R4 and R6. These external RAID systems, with either four (Pegasus R4) or six (Pegasus R6) drive bays, feature two Thunderbolt ports and range in price from $999 for an R4 with four 1TB 7200-rpm hard drives, to $2000 for an R6 with six 2TB 7200-rpm hard drives. The necessary Thunderbolt cable is not included with either unit, but is available from Apple for $50.

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iStoragePro iT2PKTV Pocket View

Shaped liked two ceramic bricks stacked together and just as big, iStoragePro’s iT2PKTV Pocket View RAID array sports several interface options, effortless hard drive removal, and a useful LCD screen menu, making it a good choice for those who like to keep updated on the state of their device.

The front of the aluminum-encased array is the iT2PKTV’s blue LCD menu screen, where you can access a lot of useful data. By pressing the two Set buttons underneath it, you can see the temperatures of your drives and enclosure, fan speed, SMART status, RAID mode, and history of errors if there have been any in the array’s past. Though the screen is very bright, it’s a bit small and the font is a little difficult to read. Along with the screen, there are holes for ventilation, activity lights, and the company’s logo, which glows white while the array is in use.

A fan underneath the array keeps the iT2PKTV cool. While the unit was in operation, the fan emitted a slight hum that was noticeable from two feet away. The sound wasn’t loud enough to drive us up a wall, but it was a constant reminder that the unit was alive and well.

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Lab Report: Core i7 SSD iMac is the fastest Mac we've tested

While the standard-configuration models of Apple's iMac offer impressive performance, if you choose a couple of build-to-order (BTO) options, you can have a 27-inch iMac with a 3.4GHz Core i7 quad-core processor and a 256GB SSD—an iMac that's even faster than a Mac Pro.

This $2699 BTO iMac takes the top-of-the-line standard configuration iMac—a $1999 27-inch 3.1GHz Core i5 quad-core model with a 1TB 7200-rpm hard drive—and replaces the processor and hard drive. The upgrade to a 3.4GHz Core i7 adds $200 to the price. And the 256GB SSD is an extra $500.

27-inch 3.4GHz Core i7 iMac with SSD (Mid 2011): Speedmark 6.5 scores

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