Thu, 24 Nov 2011 MacBook Pro 17in 2.4GHz review
Apple’s latest MacBook Pros offer a subtle performance boost and better value
Apple’s announcement of updates to the MacBook Pro was so low-key you might have missed it. And truth be told, it wasn't the flashiest update, with new processors and graphics the biggest changes. While the improvements in the new MacBook Pros are modest when compared to the models they replace, there's plenty to like about the upgrades – especially if you’re the owner of an older laptop and you’re mulling over an upgrade.
It should be noted that since the last round of MacBook Pro updates the MacBook Air has seen significant changes that mean, when it comes to the 13in MacBook Pro, comparisons with the 13in MacBook Air aren't all that favourable. The Air gains higher Speedmark scores and costs just £100 more, although you will have to sacrifice capacity.
While MacBook Pro prices stayed the same as the models introduced earlier this year, the components inside received subtle, yet welcome, updates. The £999 entry-level 13in MacBook Pro upgrades its 2.3GHz dual-core Core i5 processor to a 2.4GHz dual-core Core i5 chip; its 320GB hard drive has been swapped for a 500GB model. The £1,299 13in MacBook Pro now has a 2.8GHz dual-core Core i7 processor and a 750GB hard drive; it previously had a 2.7GHz dual-core Core i7 processor and a 500GB hard drive. The 13in models use the same Intel HD Graphics 3000 integrated graphics as the previous versions.
The 15in models sport 2.2GHz (£1,549) and 2.4GHz (£1,849) quad-core Core i7 processors, up from 2GHz and 2.2GHz, respectively. Graphics in the 15in systems also saw an upgrade. The £1,549 model now has a 512MB AMD Radeon HD 6750M, while the £1,849 model has a 1GB AMD Radeon HD 6770M. Storage capacity hasn’t changed on the 15in models, with a 500GB hard drive in the £1,549 model, and a 750GB hard drive in the £1,849 model.
As with the previous generation of MacBook Pros, the 17in £2,099 model matches the £1,849 15in model in all specifications, aside from screen size and the addition of an ExpressCard/34 slot.
Battery life also seems to be similar to the last set of MacBook Pros. We got between 5.5 and 6 hours of battery life in our full-screen video playback test at full brightness.
In terms of performance, the differences between the latest MacBook Pros and their immediate predecessors are, for the most part, as low-key as the upgrade announcement. The new £999 13in 2.4GHz Core i5 MacBook Pro is a little over 4 per cent faster than the 2.3GHz system it replaces. The £1,299 13in 2.8GHz Core i7 model is about 9 per cent faster than the system it replaces.
The most interesting results were in our Photoshop and Aperture tests, where the older systems were faster. According to Apple's website, the MacBook Pro may adjust processor speed to avoid running into thermal issues. That could have happened in these tests. It's also possible that the hard drives may be affecting the results.
The £1,549 15in 2.2GHz Core i7 MacBook Pro is a little more than 12 per cent faster than the 2GHz model it replaces, with graphics performance being the biggest change. With its Radeon HD 6750M graphics, the £1,549 model displays 85 per cent more frames per second in Cinebench’s Open GL test than last year’s comparable model and its 256MB AMD Radeon HD 6490M graphics processor. Our Portal 2 tests also shows great improvement, with the new £1,549 model displaying 160 frames per second, compared to the 68.6 frames that last year’s £1,549 model was able to display. The graphics in the new £1,549 model are identical to that found in last year’s £1,849 model, and the Portal and Cinebench OpenGL test results of those two models are also practically identical.
The new graphics in the £1,849 15in 2.4GHz Core i7 MacBook Pro perform a little faster than the graphics in the previous £1,849 model, a 15in 2.2GHz Core i7 MacBook Pro. Overall, the new £1,849 model’s graphics run about 7 per cent faster overall than its predecessor. The new £1,849 model displayed nearly 12 per cent more frames per second in the Cinebench OpenGL test, and 8 per cent more frames per second in our Portal 2 tests.
The new 17in model is a little more than 4 per cent faster overall than the early 2011 17in MacBook Pro.
Air versus Pro
July’s updates to the MacBook Air saw considerable improvements to that range, which meant the slim Mac laptop that was previously noted for the things it sacrificed came into its own as a fully-specified machine. Following the MacBook Pro updates, the differences between the Air and Pro lines are slightly more pronounced, but there are still some surprises. For example, the entry-level £999 Pro gains the same Speedmark score (146) as the £849 11in MacBook Air, and the £999 11in MacBook Air actually sports a higher Speedmark score (152) than the identically priced Pro.
Of course, there are some sacrifices. The Pro has 4GB RAM as standard, compared with 2GB on the Air; the 11in Airs sport 64GB and 128GB Flash-based drives, while the Pro has a 500GB hard drive; and all the MacBook Airs feature the i5 processor (while all but the entry-level MacBook Pro, sport the i7).
If it’s a 13in laptop you're looking for, there are also little difference between the 13in Pro and the 13in Air models. In fact, the £1,099 Air costs £100 more than the entry-level £999 Pro, but scores far higher, a Speedmark of 166 compared to 146. Similarly the £1,299 13in Pro scores almost the same Speedmark (164) as the £1,099 13in Air.
It’s the 15in and 17in MacBook Pros that really warrant the name Pro. The 13in MacBook Pros seem more suited to the now defunct MacBook range. Even the 15in MacBook Pro's days may be numbered; there are rumours that Apple is working on a 15in MacBook Air.