Desktops

17-inch Unibody MacBook Pro 2.66GHz

It took its time getting here, but the 17-inch unibody MacBook Pro announced during Apple's keynote address at Macworld Expo last January is in our lab and the Speedmark results are in. Many of the changes found in the new 17-inch MacBook Pro debuted in earlier Mac laptop models, including the new aluminum unibody design that is used by the MacBook Air (), MacBook (), and 15-inch MacBook Pro ().

The most dramatic change, unique to the 17-inch MacBook Pro, is its new battery design. No longer user swappable, the battery is larger, longer lasting, and can power the laptop for up to 8 hours (according to Apple). We are in the midst of the time-consuming process of testing the new battery and the results will be included in our soon-to-be-published full review with mouse rating.

This article provides a sneak peek at the laptop's Speedmark performance. Compared to the 17-inch MacBook Pro () released in October 2008, the changes in the processor, hard drive and RAM are subtle--and so are the performance differences.

17-inch MacBook Pro

Specifications

The new 17-inch MacBook Pro comes standard with the same 320GB 5,400 rpm hard drive and 4GB of RAM as its predecessor, though the memory is now of the DDR3 variety running at 1,066MHz, instead of the 667MHz DDR2 RAM used previously. The new laptop uses a 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, up from 2.5GHz in the last generation, though with the same 6MB of L2 cache. The new 17-inch MacBook Pro also features a 1,066MHz front side bus, up from the 667MHz front side bus in the previous 17-inch MacBook Pro.

Both the new and the old 17-inch MacBook Pro use a LED backlit display with a widescreen native resolution of 1,920 by 1,200 pixels. Like the 15-inch unibody MacBook Pro, the new 17-inch MacBook Pro has a dual graphics subsystem--a high performance Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT chip with 512MB of dedicated GDDR3 memory, as well as a lower-performing, battery-saving GeForce 9400M that shares 256MB of RAM with the main processor. The previous 17-inch MacBook Pro had a single graphics engine, the Nvidia GeForce 8600M GT with its own 512MB with GDDR3 memory.

As you'd expect, with a slightly faster processor, the new 17-inch MacBook Pro outperformed its predecessor, but just a tad; the new system was about 1.8 percent faster in our all-around system performance tool, Speedmark 5. Processor intensive tests like Cinema 4D and Compressor benefitted from the increased processor speed with about a 5 percent increase. The new 17-inch MacBook Pro was also able to squeeze out 4.3 more frames per second than the previous 17-inch MacBook Pro. Most tests, however, like Photohop, iMovie and iTunes were all within a second or two of each other. The only test that the older 2.5GHz 17-inch MacBook Pro did better on was our Zip archive test, finishing about 4.6 percent faster, which is interesting, since they used the same hard drive.

Comparing the new 17-inch MacBook Pro to the 2.53GHz 15-inch MacBook Pro (which was the previous top of the line 15-inch MacBook Pro before yesterday's announcement of the new 2.66GHz MacBook Pro), we find the larger-screened system running a little behind, mainly in hard drive-related tasks like the Zip, Unzip and file duplication tests. Both of these systems have 320GB, 5,400 rpm drives, but the 15-inch model uses a Hitachi drive and the 17-inch uses a Fujitsu. In our Speedmark testing, the 17-inch model only beat the top of the line 15-inch model in two test, our Cinema 4D render test and Quake frame rate scores.

Looking at the rest of the reference systems, you can see that there's still a performance benefit to using one of Apple's desktop or tower systems. Even with only half of the RAM of the new laptops installed, the faster-running full-sized hard disks make quite a difference in drive intensive tasks like Zip, Unzip, duplicate and even our Photoshop tests.

Our final reference system is the last of the PowerPC laptops, the PowerBook 1.67GHz G4 model, which had a Speedmark score of 91, 133 points behind the new 17-inch MacBook Pro.

Check back soon for Macworld's full review of the new 17-inch MacBook Pro, including battery tests.

[James Galbraith is Macworld's lab director.]

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