How fast are Apple's new MacBook Pro models?

A number of review sites have been busy running benchmarking tests on the latest round of Apple MacBook Pro models. Each test offers a different view of the new models' performance picture.
Written by David Morgenstern, Contributor

A number of review sites have been busy running benchmarking tests on the latest round of Apple MacBook Pro models. Each test offers a different view of the new models' performance picture.

Of course, there are no tests for the Thunderbolt port since there are no compatible devices available for it yet. We will have to wait for the summer.

In a recent blog post, developer Primate Labs compared the latest MacBook Pro line with the previous Early 2010 line. The company is the maker of Geekbench 2 benchmarking application, which rates only raw processor and RAM performance.

The top-of-the-line 4-core MacBook Pro (17" 2011) comes in with a score of 1,0164 compared with the previous 2-core Early 2010 score of 5,837. A 74.1 percent gain.

Of course, the biggest gain is in the 13-inch line. Both have 2-core processors. The latest model has a score of 6,796 and the comparable older model a score of 3,645. This is an 86.5 percent gain.

In fact, if you look at our Mac Benchmark charts, you'll see that the fastest MacBook Pro is faster than a lot of Mac Pros (including the current generation of Mac Pros). The new MacBook Pros truly are portable workstations.

At Macworld magazine, editor Jim Galbraith checked out the new MBPs. The review used the company's Speedmark 6.5 benchmark testing suite, which comprises results from real-world applications and tasks.

For example, the test encodes video and runs a complex Photoshop Action script, all of which will bring lower percentage results than the simpler Geekbench test.

The new 15-inch 2.2GHz quad-core Core i7 MacBook Pro was 38 percent faster than last year’s fastest 15-inch model, a 2.66GHz dual-core Core i7 MacBook Pro. The new 17-inch 2.2GHz quad-core Core i7 MacBook Pro was 53 percent faster than last year’s largest Mac laptop, a 17-inch 2.53GHz dual-core Core i5 MacBook Pro.

Longtime Mac vendor Other World Computing also ran its own benchmarks. Like Macworld, the tests are a suite of application tasks and scripts. Some of the tests looked at video performance, which varies between models, especially the 13-inch models. The results came to different conclusions than Macworld for several models.

With compatibility testing on all the changes to the lineup completed, it was time to benchmark just how fast these new Sandy Bridge processors were going to be. Amazingly, all the 15? and the 17? models were found to be roughly 30 percent faster than their predecessors in both boot time and in running various Photoshop action tests; while the 13? models experienced a more modest 20 percent gain when it came to raw processing power. Where the 13? really loses out is the lack of high-performance graphics switching, as evidenced by the drop in average frame rate back to the level that the MacBook Pro line hadn’t experienced since 2009.

Of course, Other World sells various memory and storage upgrades for the MacBook Pros, including its Data Doubler bracket that lets users install a solid-state drive (SSD) in place of the built-in optical drive, and SSD replacements for the standard hard disk. The SSD storage can make the system much faster.

For example, Other World said that replacing the hard disk with one of its SSD upgrades boosted the speed of its Adobe Photoshop CS5 Medium Action Test by 50 percent; from 12 minutes in the off-the-shelf config to 6 minutes.

Take a look at all of the results, they make interesting reading.

[NOTE: This article was revised on Monday, Mar. 7, to correct an error in percentage calculations for the Primate scores (my bad math) and for clarity in the description of Thunderbolt storage devices available.  David M.]

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