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Lab Tests: Apple boosts performance in new 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pros

Apple recently overhauled its entire line of laptops, including its 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pros. And while much of the surrounding hoopla focused on the new Retina MacBook Pro ( Macworld rated 4.5 out of 5 mice ), the more familiar-looking 13 and 15-inch models also received some welcomed upgrades.

Macworld Lab's results for these new systems are in. To see the differences in performance, the Macworld Lab turned once again to its all-around system performance benchmarking suite, Speedmark 7.

New 13-inch MacBook Pro

The new 13-inch MacBook Pro now ships either a 2.5GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 (Ivy Bridge) processor, 4GB of memory, Intel HD Graphics 4000, and a 500GB hard drive for $1199, or with a 2.9GHz dual-core Core i7 processor, 8GB of memory, Intel HD Graphics 4000, and a 750GB hard drive for $1499. Their predecessors shipped with dual core Sandy Bridge processors, Intel HD Graphics 3000, and 1333 MHz DDR3 SDRAM; a 2.4GHz Core i5 with 4GB RAM, and a 500GB hard drive were in the low-end model, and a 2.8GHz Core i7, 4GB RAM and a 750GB hard drive were in the high-end model.

Comparing the new low-end 13-inch MacBook Pro to its predecessor, we found the new system to be 9 percent faster overall, while the new high-end 13-inch MacBook Pro is 15 percent faster overall than its predecessor. The greatest improvement is in graphics performance, with the new high- and low-end 13-inch MacBook Pros (with the Intel HD Graphics 4000) displaying 42 percent and 52 percent more frames per second, respectively, in Cinebench's OpenGL test, over the older laptops with the Intel HD Graphics 3000. Both new laptops have a 33 percent higher frame rate in Portal 2.

Both new 13-inch models are 10.5 percent faster than the earlier models in our Handbrake tests.

If you're comparing the new 13-inch MacBook Pros to each other, the high-end 2.9GHz system is 17 percent faster overall than the new low-end 2.5GHz model. Photoshop results for the new 2.9GHz model showed more improvement due to the 8GB of RAM that comes standard, as opposed to the 4GB of RAM standard in the low-end 13-inch and the previous models.

New 15-inch MacBook Pro

The 15-inch MacBook Pro now comes with either a 2.3GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 (Ivy Bridge) processor, 4GB of memory, integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000, Nvidia GeForce GT 650M discrete graphics, and a 500GB hard drive for $1799, or with a 2.6GHz quad-core Core i7 processor, 8GB of memory, Intel HD Graphics 4000, Nvidia GeForce GT 650M graphics, and a 750GB hard drive for $2199. The previous 15-inch MacBook Pro models came with quad-core Sandy Bridge processors, integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000, discrete AMD Radeon HD 6770M graphics, and 4GB of memory.

The new low-end 2.3GHz Core i7 model with 4GB of memory stands out; it's 14 percent faster than the previous low-end model, which had a 2.2GHz Core i7 (Sandy Bridge) processor and 4GB of memory. The new high-end 2.6GHz Core i7 model with 8GB of memory is 8 percent faster overall than the previous high-end model, which had a 2.4GHz Core i7 (Sand Bridge) processor and 4GB of memory.

A benchmark in particular that stands out: Portal 2. The frame rates are much improved on the new MacBook Pros. The new low-end model is 21 percent faster than its predecessor. The new high-end model is 18 percent faster than the previous high-end MacBook Pro.

Comparing the new 15-inch models, the 2.6GHz laptop is 8 percent faster than the 2.3GHz version. As we saw in the 13-inch laptop results, the high-end 15-inch model benefits from having more memory than the low-end model, as shown in our Photoshop results.

When you throw the Retina MacBook Pros in the mix, you'll notice that the fancy new laptops with the Retina screens benefit greatly from having flash storage instead of hard drives. Overall, the 2.6GHz Core i7 Retina MacBook Pro is 38 percent faster than the new 15-inch regular 2.6GHz Core i7 MacBook Pro. The 2.3GHz Core i7 Retina MacBook Pro is 30 percent faster than the new 15-inch regular 2.3GHz Core i7 MacBook Pro. In disk-based tests, such as our Duplicate 2GB folder test, our Zip 4GB folder test, and our Unzip 4GB file test, the Retina MacBook Pros fly by the regualr laptops.

One test where the regular laptops have an advantage over the Retina laptops is with the Portal 2 frame rate test, even though they have the same graphics cards. (The Retina laptops and the regular MacBook Pros have the same graphics hardware, but the regular 2.3 GHz MacBook Pro's GeForce GT 650M has 512MB of memory, versus 1GB in the other three laptops). The low-end 2.3GHz regular MacBook Pro was 14 percent faster than the 2.3GHz Retina MacBook Pro. The high-end 2.6GHz regular MacBook Pro was 8 percent faster than its Retina counterpart.

Check back soon for Macworld's full reviews of the 20120 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pro models. And as always, comments and test suggestions are always welcomed in our comments section.

James Galbraith is Macworld's lab director. Roman Loyola is a Macworld senior editor.


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