Laptops

Benchmarks: 15-inch 2.4GHz Core I5 MacBook Pro

Earlier this week, Apple unveiled its updated line of MacBook Pros. We received our first of these new MacBook Pro models, the $1799 entry-level 15-inch model with a 2.4GHz Core i5 processor, and our test results show a dramatic improvement over the $1699 Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro it replaces.

Even though the processor speed has actually decreased from 2.53GHz in the previous entry-level 15-inch MacBook Pro to 2.4GHz in this new entry level model, the new system was 23 percent faster in our overall system performance test suite, Speedmark 6. The new 15- and 17-inch MacBook Pros use Intel's Core i5 and Core i7 processors rather than the Core 2 Duos previously found throughout the MacBook Pro product line.

These Core i5 and Core i7 processors have a few interesting performance features, including Hyper-Threading, which uses virtual cores to double the amount of processing cores presented to the operating system. These Core i5 and Core i7 processors have dual cores, but OS X treats them as having four cores. Another Core i5/Core i7 technology, Turbo Boost, allows the processor to speed up for a short period of time (when necessary) or shut down unused cores and give the resources to the cores in use. Turbo Boost can increase the clock speed of the 2.4GHz Core i5 processor up to 2.93GHz.

The new entry-level 15-inch MacBook Pro features a 320GB, 5400-rpm hard drive, up from the 250GB, 5400-rpm hard drive found in the model it replaces.

The 2.4GHz Core i5 MacBook Pro was a little more than 10 percent faster than the mid-2009 2.53GHz Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro in our Photoshop test suite, 26 percent faster in the Cinebench CPU test, 29 percent faster in Aperture, and 38 percent faster in the MathematicaMark 7 test.

The 15- and 17-inch MacBook Pros feature a new graphics switching technology that automatically and seamlessly switches between Intel HD integrated graphics and discrete Nvidia GeForce GT 330M graphics. Apple claims that this graphics subsystem is much faster than Nvidia GeForce 9400M integrated graphics found in the previous entry-level 15-inch MacBook Pro, which did not have a second discrete graphics chip. In our Call of Duty 4 test, the new 15-inch 2.4GHz Core i5 MacBook Pro impressed us by displaying 3.5 times as many frames per second as last year's entry-level 15-inch MacBook Pro with the 2.53GHz Core 2 Duo and Nvidia GeForce 9400M graphics.

Not only was the new entry-level MacBook Pro faster than the model it replaces, but it was also faster than the previous "better" and "best" configurations in the 15-inch lineup, which used 2.66GHz and 2.8GHz Core 2 Duo processors, respectively. Comparing the new 2.4GHz Core i5 MacBook Pro with the previous top-of-the-line 2.8GHz Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro, the new entry-level 15-inch was 5 percent faster in our Speedmark 6 testing, with 7-percent faster scores in our Photoshop test, a 17-percent faster Cinebench CPU score, a 16-percent faster MathematicaMark 7 score, and a 19-percent faster Aperture score. iPhoto and Compressor scores between the new entry-level and the previous high-end 15-inch MacBook Pro were very similar. The only test that the i5 MacBook Pro didn't prevail in was our WorldBench 6's multitask test (a Windows test run in Parallels Desktop), which the 2.8GHz MacBook Pro won handily.

When comparing the i5 MacBook Pro to a 27-inch iMac 2.66GHz Core i5 iMac, things didn't go as well for the MacBook Pro. The results underscored the iMac's advantage of having four processing cores all running faster than the MacBook Pro's i5 chip and a faster spinning 7200-rpm 1TB hard drive. (The iMac uses the desktop version of the Core i5 that has four cores but no support for Hyper-Threading. The MacBook Pros use the mobile version of the Core i5 and i7.) We found the i5 iMac to be 44 percent faster than the new 15-inch MacBook Pro, finishing the Cinebench CPU render 41 percent faster than the laptop did. Even the Call of Duty 4 frame rate tests were about 28 percent faster on the iMac.

Will the faster 2.53GHz Core i5 or 2.66GHz Core i7 MacBook Pros give the iMac a run for its money? Check back soon for more results--we now have the entire new MacBook Pro lineup in our Lab undergoing testing.

[James Galbraith is Macworld's lab director.]

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