Lab Report: 15-inch 2.3GHz Core i7 MacBook Pro speed results

James Galbraith
14 April, 2011
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We recently reviewed the standard configurations of the new MacBook Pros. And while we don’t review custom configurations, Macworld Lab bought a couple of build-to-order (BTO) MacBook Pros, and our first benchmark results for a 15-inch system with the faster 2.3GHz Intel Core i7 quad-core processor are in.

What’s a BTO computer? When Apple releases new computers, the company offers a list of preconfigured systems (often called “standard configurations”). And while these “good, better, best” systems fit the needs of most shoppers, Apple offers a lengthy list of built-to-order options for users who want to outfit the computer to better suit their needs. With options to change the capacity and type of hard drive, increase processor speed, add RAM, and even increase screen resolution, a MacBook Pro can be customised to fit just about any shopper.

15-inch 2.3GHz Core i7 quad-core MacBook Pro

The standard $2499 15-inch MacBook Pro comes with a 2.2GHz Core i7 quad-core processor with 6MB L3 cache, a 750GB hard drive, and a 1GB AMD Radeon HD 6750M discrete graphics processor. Apple offers a CPU upgrade for an additional $300 for this model: a 2.3GHz Core i7 quad-core processor with a larger, 8MB L3 cache. The custom model we purchased had the processor upgrade, but the same hard drive and graphics as the $2199 standard configuration model.

Longer bars are better. Blue bars in italics represent reference systems. Macworld Lab testing by James Galbraith, William Wang, and Mauricio Grijalva

In Speedmark 6.5, our overall system performance testing suite, we found the custom 2.3GHz Core i7 MacBook Pro to be only 3 percent faster than the 2.2GHz Core i7 standard model. As you’d expect, graphics scores and hard drive tasks times were basically identical between the two systems, but CPU intensive tasks favoured the 2.3GHz Core i7 upgrade. The biggest speed improvements were in our iPhoto import test and our Parallels test running PCWorld’s WorldBench multitasking tests—the 2.3GHz Core i7 MacBook Pro finished 8 percent faster than the 2.2GHz Core i7 MacBook Pro in both tests. In our HandBrake test (which rips a DVD movie to the hard drive), our iPhoto import test, and Aperture import and process test, the 2.3GHz Core i7 MacBook Pro was four percent faster.

Anyone who thinks that using a Mac laptop requires sacrificing performance need only look at the Speedmark results of the two current highest-end iMacs. Overall, the BTO 2.3GHz Core i7 MacBook Pro was eight percent faster than the standard $2399 iMac (a 27-inch model with a 2.8GHz Core i5 quad-core processor), and seven percent faster than a BTO $2399.01 iMac (a 27-inch model with a 3.6GHz Core i5 dual-core processor).

The BTO iMac’s individual test results show that Macs with processors that have fewer cores but faster clock speeds still outperform Macs that have processors with more cores but slower clock speeds in many tasks. Our Finder, Pages, iPhoto, and Photoshop tests were faster with the dual-core iMac, but applications like Mathematicamark, Cinebench, and HandBrake that can take advantage of the quad-core i7’s eight virtual cores were significantly faster on the MacBook Pro.

You can look at the BTO 15-inch 2.3GHz Core i7 MacBook Pro’s individual test scores below. We also have a list of recent Macs tested with Speedmark 6.5, if you’re interested in seeing how the BTO 15-inch 2.3GHz Core i7 MacBook Pro compares to other Macs not listed here.


Results are in seconds. Shorter bars are better. Reference models in blue and italics.

Results are in seconds. Shorter bars are better. Reference models in blue and italics.
Results are in seconds. Shorter bars are better. Reference models in blue and italics.

Results are in seconds. Shorter bars are better. Reference models in blue and italics.

Results are in seconds. Shorter bars are better. Reference models in blue and italics.

Results are in seconds. Shorter bars are better. Reference models in blue and italics.

Results are in seconds. Shorter bars are better. Reference models in blue and italics.

Results are frames per second. Longer bars are better. Reference models in blue and italics.

Results are in seconds. Shorter bars are better. Reference models in blue and italics.

Results are in seconds. Shorter bars are better. Reference models in blue and italics.

Results are in seconds. Shorter bars are better. Reference models in blue and italics.

Results are scores. Longer bars are better. Reference models in blue and italics.

Results are in seconds. Shorter bars are better. Reference models in blue and italics.

Results are scores. Longer bars are better. Reference models in blue and italics.

Results are in seconds. Shorter bars are better. Reference models in blue and italics.

Results are in seconds. Shorter bars are better. Reference models in blue and italics.

Results are in seconds. Shorter bars are better. Reference models in blue and italics.

How we tested. Speedmark 6.5 scores are relative to those of a 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo Mac mini (Mid 2010) with 2GB of RAM, which is assigned a score of 100. We duplicated a 1GB file, created a Zip archive in the Finder from the two 1GB files and then unzipped it. We converted 135 minutes of AAC audio files to MP3 using iTunes’ High Quality setting. In iMovie ’09, we imported a camera archive and exported it to iTunes using the Mobile Devices setting. We ran a Timedemo at 1024-by-768 with 4X anti-aliasing on in Call of Duty 4. We imported 200 JPEGs into iPhoto ’09. The Photoshop Suite test is a set of 23 scripted tasks using a 50MB file. Photoshop’s memory was set to 70 percent and History was set to Minimum. For our multitasking test, we timed the Photoshop test again, but with the iTunes MP3 encoding and file compression tests running in the background. We used Handbrake to encode four chapters from a DVD previously ripped to the hard drive to H.264. We recorded how long it took to render a scene with multiprocessors in Cinebench and ran that application’s OpenGL, frames per second test. We ran the Evaluate Notebook test in MathematicaMark 7. We ran the WorldBench 6 multitasking test on a Parallels 6 VM running Windows 7 Professional. We timed the import and processing time for 200 photos in Aperture.—Macworld Lab testing by James Galbraith, William Wang, and Mauricio Grijalva

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