Following the top-to-bottom refresh of Apple’s laptop line announced in October, people paid plenty of attention to the new unibody MacBook and MacBook Pro models. Little to no attention was given to either the top or the bottom of the line.
Now that we’ve reviewed the new MacBook and MacBook Pro models, we can turn our attention to those two extremes. We rated the low-end of Apple’s laptop offerings—the 2.1GHz MacBook in the white plastic enclosure—when that system first debuted in March. As for the top of the line, we’ve now gotten our hands on Apple’s 17-inch MacBook Pro—the largest laptop in the company’s product line.
Apple made only subtle changes to this MacBook Pro. The 17-inch offering features a higher-resolution 1,920-by-1,200 screen as the standard display, 4GB of RAM, and a higher capacity hard drive. The 17-inch model’s 2.5GHz processor is actually a slower clock speed than the 2.53GHz Core 2 Duo chip that powers one of the 15-inch MacBook Pros.
Macworld Lab’s tests indicate that despite the lack of any great leap forward in the 17-inch model’s under-the-hood specs, this laptop is still a very good performer.
Unlike most of the systems we test which are standard configurations, the 17-inch MacBook Pro we got our hands on is a loaner from Apple that came equipped with an optional 7,200-rpm hard drive. Typically, the 320GB Serial ATA drive in the 17-inch model runs at 5,400 rpm. Upgrading to 7,200 rpm adds $50 to the cost of the $2,799 MacBook Pro, bringing the total cost of our test system to $2,849.
The faster spinning drive in our 17-inch MacBook Pro helped our test system post a Speedmark score of 249, 18 points higher than the new 15-inch 2.53GHz MacBook Pro ($2,499) and 10 points lower than a build-to-order 15-inch MacBook Pro with the optional 2.8GHz Core 2 Duo processor ($2,799).
17-inch MacBook Pro Benchmarks
||Adobe Photoshop CS3
||Cinema 4D XL 10.5
|17-inch MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo/2.5GHz (Oct. 2008: 4GB RAM, 7,200-rpm 320GB drive)*
|17-inch MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo/2.5GHz (Feb. 2008: 4GB RAM, 5,400-rpm 250GB drive)
|15-inch MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo/2.53GHz (Oct. 2008: 4GB RAM, 5,400-rpm 320GB drive)
|15-inch MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo/ 2.8GHz (4GB RAM, Unibody, CTO, 7200RPM HD)
|20-inch iMac Core 2 Duo/2.6GHz
|8-core Mac Pro Xeon/2.8GHz
Best results in bold. Reference systems in italics. * denotes build-to-order hard drive.
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 10.5.5 with 2GB of RAM unless specified. 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. To compare Speedmark 5 scores for various Mac systems, visit our Apple Hardware Guide.—MACWORLD LAB TESTING BY JAMES GALBRAITH, CHRIS HOLT, AND JERRY JUNG
The new 17-inch model’s Speedmark score was also higher than that of the 17-inch model released in February by an impressive 13 percent. Even after leveling the playing field by upgrading the older system to use 4GB RAM, the new model showed performance gains in hard drive-related tasks such as zipping and unzipping a 2GB folder and in our Photoshop test suite.
The new 17-inch MacBook Pro posted an identical Speedmark score to the 2.66GHz iMac, with very similar results for most tests, including Photoshop, iMovie, and Compressor. The only big difference was in our 2GB folder unzip test, in which the 17-inch MacBook Pro finished 19 percent faster.
The 17-inch may be a high-end model, but its portable size creates limitations that causes it to struggle to keep up with the Mac Pro’s 8 processing cores in many professional applications. The Mac Pro finished our Cinema 4D scene render in less than a third of the time it took the 17-inch MacBook Pro, for example. Of course, even with handles, the Mac Pro is not a practical portable.
Check back soon for Macworld’s complete review of the 17-inch MacBook Pro.
James Galbraith is director of Macworld Lab.