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MacBook Pro i7 Test Configurations

Last updated 2010-04-20 - Send Feedback
Related: laptop, MacBook, MacBook Pro, Macs, memory, Photoshop, RAID, Seagate, SSD

This page covers the configurations used for testing.

General considerations

Performance varies by:

  • CPU speed and type (the new Core i7 vs previous Core 2 Duo);
  • Drive type (hard disk drive vs solid state drive);
  • Drive speed — HDD or SSD, single or RAID;
  • Memory (amount) and speed (bandwidth).

Memory has a huge impact when there is too little: while 4GB is OK for many tasks, adding 8GB is a no-brainer for significant Photoshop and other work, and it also allows the system to cache disk I/O for enhanced responsiveness. All MPG Pro Laptops always use 8GB memory.

System configuration

Abbreviations:

Core 2 = MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo 2.93GHz with 8GB memory
Core i7 = MacBook Pro Core i7 2.66GHz with 8GB memory
MPG Pro Laptop = for this test, dual solid state drive as RAID-0 stripe with 8GB memory

Please note that the prior model MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo was/is available at 3.06GHz , which is 4.4% faster than the 2.93GHz model, but it was not available. Multiply the time for CPU-bound tasks by 1/1.044 = 0.958.

All tests used Mac OS X 10.6.3 with identical (cloned or equivalent) startup drive.

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32-bit vs 64-bit mode

Unless noted, tests were run with the 32-bit Snow Leopard Kernel, which is how Apple ships and installs system software. In general, gains in performance are possible by running in 64-bit kernel mode, but some software and/or drivers might not be compatible (uncommon but possible).

I experienced one glitch with 64-bit kernel mode (the keyboard stopped working, cause unclear), so I stuck to 32-bit mode for most of the tests, where I encountered no issues. It’s quite likely that the glitch had nothing to do with 64-bit mode, but one never knows for sure.

Memory

All tests with 8GB memory. Memory of 8GB is not standard (costs extra), but it is foolish to spend $2500 on a MacBook Pro (more when you count extras including AppleCare), then cripple it with 4GB, at least if you’re a Photoshop or Lightroom or photography user.

All test machines used the OWC 8GB memory upgrade. OWC offers a rebate on the two 2GB modules that the MacBook Pro comes with by default, further reducing the cost.

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MPG Pro Laptop

The MPG Pro Laptop configuration use dual OWC enterprise grade 200GB solid state drives as a RAID-0 stripe for a 400GB boot volume. More about solid state drives.

Using RAID with most SSDs is NOT a smart move. Enterprise-grade over-provisioning for performance and reliability is critical to RAID striping, where data is split across drives.

Note that older MacBook Pros (2008 and older) use PATA not SATA for the optical bay, and dual SSDs are not possible.

Hard drives and SSD for boot volume

The HDD (hard disk drive) configuration used the Seagate 500GB Seagate Momentus.4, the 7200rpm drive Apple supplied with the MacBook Pro Core i7. It is a good fast drive, as laptop hard drives go.

The drive was 93% empty, so this is as fast a performance as you’ll see from a hard disk drive in the MacBook Pro (see Why You Need More Space Than You Need).

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Graphics

High performance graphics were forced on for both models.

There is no evidence that these “faster” graphics do anything at all for performance in any of the tests documented here, including Photoshop and RAW file conversion. It’s marketing hype, plain and simple, unless you’re doing 3D games or HD video.


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