First Look: Benchmarks: MacBook Pro gets its Core 2 Duo boost

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Like the iMac before it, Apple’s MacBook Pro underwent an upgrade highlighted by a chip swap—the Core Duo processor that used to power Apple’s pro laptop is gone, replaced by the next-generation Core 2 Duo. And as with our iMac benchmarks, these updated Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro models show a modest performance gain when compared to older systems running on Core Duo chips with the same clock speeds.

Besides the switch to Core 2 Duo chips, the updated MacBook Pro models also received a bump in processor speed. The 15-inch models now feature processors running at 2.16GHz and 2.33GHz, compared to 2GHz and 2.16GHz in the old Core Duo systems. The 17-inch MacBook Pro now runs at 2.33GHz, up from 2.16GHz. Along with the boost to processor speed comes a jump in on-chip L2 cache—the latest MacBook Pros come with 4MB of shared L2 cache, twice the amount of their predecessors. The new laptops also ship with more RAM and higher-capacity hard drives.

So what does this all mean in terms of performance? About the same thing it meant during our iMac testing. If you remember, we found that a 2GHz iMac Core 2 Duo tallied a 10 percent higher Speedmark 4.5 score than an iMac Core Duo with the same clock speed—in line with what Intel CEO Paul Otellini predicted when the Core 2 Duo offerings were unveiled over the summer. As you can see, when comparing the now low-end 15-inch 2.16GHz MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo to its comparable Core Duo counterpart, the Speedmark improvement is the exact same 10 percent.

15-inch MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo Benchmarks

Speedmark 4.5 Adobe Photoshop CS2 Cinema 4D XL 9.5.21 Compressor 2.3 iMovie 6.0.2 iTunes 6.0.4 Unreal Tournament 2004 Zip Archive
15-inch MacBook Pro/2.16GHz Intel Core 2 Duo 209 1:16 1:01 2:17 0:54 1:11 63.9 2:48
15-inch MacBook Pro/2.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo (2GB RAM) 226 1:10 0:57 2:07 0:51 0:58 72.9 2:22
15-inch MacBook Pro/2.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo (1GB RAM) 222 1:11 0:57 2:07 0:51 0:58 72.1 2:39
15-inch MacBook Pro/2.16GHz Intel Core Duo* 190 1:40 1:06 3:02 0:58 1:38 59 2:37
13-inch MacBook/2GHz Intel Core Duo (Black) 167 1:48 1:12 3:18 1:03 1:34 17.7 3:03
>Better <Better <Better <Better <Better <Better >Better <Better

Best results in bold. Reference system in italics . * denotes model with build-to-order 7,200-rpm hard drive

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 (except where indicated), 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 6minute:26second 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 converted 45 minutes of AAC audio files to MP3 using iTunes’ High Quality setting. We used Unreal Tournament 2004’ 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 AND JERRY JUNG

Of course, that 2.16GHz MacBook Pro Core Duo was the fastest 15-inch model available among Apple’s old offerings. Now, you can get a 15-inch MacBook Pro with a 2.33GHz Core 2 Duo chip; that laptop is 19 percent faster than the older model.

Looking at individual tests, some results—specifically ones that taxed either the hard drive or the graphics card—showed smaller performance gains, while other more CPU-intensive tasks saw more substantial improvements, thanks to the Core 2 Duo’s improved processing efficiency. Compressor 2.3, for example, ran 30 percent faster on the new 2.33GHz system than on the older 2.16GHz model. The 2.33GHz MacBook Pro was 40 percent faster than the older 2.16GHz model at MP3-encoding using iTunes. Comparing the 2.16GHz Core 2 Duo to the 2.16GHz Core Duo, Compressor was 25 percent faster on the Core 2 and iTunes was 28 percent faster on the new system.

The only test where the 2.16GHz Core Duo bested its Core 2 Duo counterpart was creating a Zip Archive from a 1GB folder. As you might expect, the speed of the hard drive can play a key role in these results. So it’s no surprise that the older MacBook Pro with a build-to-order 7,200-rpm hard drive that we included in this test was able to turn in faster times than a new 2.16GHz Core 2 Duo model with a 5,400-rpm hard drive. Of course, drive speed isn’t the only factor at play in this test—the 2.33GHz model scored the best time, even with a 5,400-rpm drive. Credit the model’s faster processor speed and 2GB of installed RAM. (You might ask yourself, “What would happen if I had a 7,200-rpm drive and a faster processor and more RAM?” Well, we can only guess, as the new 15-inch MacBook Pro doesn’t have that option available. Only the 17-inch model has a 7,200-rpm drive available as a build-to-order option—it’s 60GB smaller than the standard 160GB, 5,400-rpm drive, but you knock $100 off the 17-inch model’s $2,799 price tag.)

We mentioned that MacBook Pro now ships with more RAM—2GB of memory compared to 1GB in the older models. In terms of Speedmark performance, where tasks are run and timed individually, the additional RAM doesn’t make a huge difference, as you can see by the row in the benchmark table where we removed 1GB of RAM from the 2.33GHz MacBook Pro. Unreal Tournament, for example manages to squeeze out 0.7 more frames per second with twice the memory installed. The small subset of Speedmark’s tests that were affected by the RAM upgrade include the zipping and unzipping folders and Microsoft Word scrolling. We plan to run more tests in the coming days to see if we can quantify the performance benefit of extra RAM.

One unexpected tidbit we learned in our testing was how much the recent OS X 10.4.8 update affected Rosetta performance. Intel-based systems saw dramatic gains in Photoshop and Microsoft Office tests, enough to bump up Speedmark scores by more than a couple of points. For example, the 2.16GHz Core Duo MacBook Pro took 1:40 to complete our Photoshop test suite when tested with 10.4.6. After updating the OS to the most recent version, the same system finished the test suite 21 percent faster, with a score of 1:11. We plan on publishing the full Lab report on the improvements to Rosetta in the coming days.

Speaking of test results we plan on publishing, we’re still waiting for the 17-inch 2.33GHz MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo to arrive in the Lab. When it does, you can bet that we’ll have more benchmarks to share with you.

[ James Galbraith is the director of Macworld Lab. ]

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