Wednesday, June 3, 2009

MacBook Pro 15" with SSD

Comming back
I finaly get the time to write this review. For those how might want to know, all my exams went very well and I have only one session left to do. Anyway, enough small talk and let’s get started! I’m sure can’t can’t stand the wait.

CPU for Pro needs
If it's games, converting a bunch of video files or running VMware, you'll find the T9550 very responsive. It should not be a very big bottle neck in that system. I often run many softwares at the same time (including Windows in a VM) and it generally don't go over 80%.

I would not recommend the 2.4 in anycase. There is good chances that you'll find the 2.4 MacBook Pro barelly enough for what you need. After all, we are in the Pro line here. Those are designed to do hard work. If you want a MacBook, the 2.4 model is probably the one that will give you the most for your money.

I'd say that the 2.93 gHz might be a bit overkill for this kind of computer. Even if you're working with videos, You will proably lack of memory way before you'll need a bigger processor.

Forgetting the lack of memory
The basic configuration come with 2 GB of blazing fast DDR3 memory which is nice but barelly enough to see how OS X can work at peek efficiency. If you get the small model, at least, take the 4 GB of memory option; Specialy if you plan on running VMs on your computer. On the other side, if you are very... hardcore at multi-tasking, you'll want 8 GB of ram.

Many people will stop at the Apple website and take the 17" just for that. WRONG! Never, absolutely never trust Apple specs! The 2.4 gHz is limitted to 4 GB of memory but the 2.66 does support 8 GB. You will find the memory kit on third parties websites and it generally cost 640 CAD. See? Always double check; Never trust Apple specs.

SSD for Super Storage Device
The MacBook Pro come with a 250 GB or 320 GB depending of your configuration choise. But as every Mac, there is a way to suck up evey bit of power you can get from the machine and replace it by an SSD. If the majority of people is still not convinced by SSD's life time or prices, I am. It's this kind of thing you don't know how you manage to live whitout it before have one in your hands.

Apple use Samsung SSD's which are in the world fastest and more robust ones. You have the choice between two options: the 128 GB and the 256 GB. For the first one, even if it look small, you will find it more than enough as long as you don't intend to use boot camp. If you do, you should take the 256 GB one.

There is an other reason why you should try to priorise the 256 GB SSD. Here's a rumor many people have heard: SSD do not slow down even if they are full. That's not true. Well, at least, not completely true. Yes, read speed will never go down even if there is 1 byte of free space lest on the drive. Write speed, on the contrary will be affected. To prevent SSD's from fast degradation, every sector is written on a random place in the drive. The more used sector there is, the more time it will take to find a free spot. SSD's seek time are less than a tenth of a mili-second when empty but this process can make it go as slow as an HDD when full.

The best balance of used/free space would be about 1:1. That means that if you care about your write speed, you'll need to keep about 55 GB free on the 128 GB SSD and 110 GB free on the 256 GB model. If you need more, you should check on what is really important and but the rest of you data on an external hard drive.

Two graphic cards?
Yes, many people think the second graphic processor is optional but it's not the case. NVidia developped a technology called hybrid SLI which was designed to boost battery life on laptop that use powerfull GPU. It work by switching from one GPU to an other when needed. In the MacBook Pro's case, it can give you 2 hours more of battery when doing casual work. Unfortunatly, because of software limitations in OS X, you need to do the change manually and to logoff after that. But rest assured, the 9400M is strong enough to handle most of your HD video playback and small games. Since I bought it, I didn't needed to switch to the 9600M more than two times (one to be sure that it work, a second one to do the benchmakrs).

Our config
Do you like specs? Everybody like specs! Let’s have specs!
CPUIntel T9550
Frequency2.66 gHz
FSB1066 mHz
Cache6 MB
Memory4 GB
Storage128 GB Solid State Drive
Graphics (1)NVidia 9400M with 256 MB of shared system memory
Graphics (2)NVidia 9600M with 512 MB of dedicated GDDR3 memory

Benchmarks
Here come a little surprise. As I didn't have any old MacBook Pro close to me, I had to find a replacement. I knew that this MacBook Pro was a killer but... I have to say... I didn't even see that one coming. Here we are, MacBook Pro vs Mac Pro. Yes, you didn't hallucinated, I did say that I will compare this little laptop to a monster and I have to say, they fit pretty well with the other.


Here's a resume of the results with a little explanation from myself. I will take the result from the 9400M since they are more accurate.
ComponentMacBook ProMac ProDetails
CPU179.47188.34This one is a bit tricky. It doesn't test the real computational power of the processor. It test how it handle it in a single threaded environment. It gives a pretty good way to show how architecture difference can influence the result.
Thread317.13831.36This test look at how much power it can get from a multi-threaded environment. Here, you can see the big difference between the two computers. I never saw a benchmark that give valid result on the first shot. Here, the results should be much higher on the Mac Pro side since the xBench is limited to 4 thread.
Memory186.12202.00The result is a direct comparison of DDR3 dual channel vs DDR2 quad channel. You can see that the DDR3 at 1066 gHz is a very good gain over the old MacBook Pro's that used about the same memory as the Mac Pro but with only two channels. In fact, you can see that the new MacBook Pro's memory is close to twice as fast.
Graphic suite--
- Quartz219.06278.33This test is about the same as a Direct2D test. It represent how the graphic card will render basic images, text and shape on the screen. The results are just as expected. The 8800 GT and the 9800 GT have the same overall performance so there's nothing strange at seeing a 9400M GT under a 8000 GT.
- Open GL174.20181.60This is an other strange result. How come a little 9400M GT is running as fast as a 8800 GT. I really have no clue. There is no reason for this result to be so close on both sides.
Storage suite--Ah! The interesting part.
- Sequential73.80275.81As I say earlier, SSD's benchmarks are very tricky to read. Here, we see that the Sequential read/write of the disk is way slower than the one from the Mac Pro. Here's the little surprise. The Mac Pro use a Caldigit RAID card with 4 Seagate 7200.11 500 GB HDD in a RAID 5 setup. It can read an write about 270 MB/s but remember there is FOUR HDD here not just one. The details of this test show that in average, the MacBook Pro SSD is about the same speed as one Seagate 7200.11 HDD.
- Random108.0540.95That's where we can really the SSD shine. See? Not even 4 of the faster HDD's in the world (actually in the top 10) can come close to one single SSD. The read and write speed are up to 16x faster than only one of the HDD.

Analysis
There is no way a simple laptop cpu could compare to the dual Xeon on the Mac Pro so what went wrong? In fact it seams xBench has a little trouble with newer computer. This little guy could not even peek both machine CPU's for a tenth of a second. I don't know how it test CPU speed but it's probably not a good way and there might be some serious issues in the other tests too. So How do you have to interpret those results. Just say that everywhere you could do more if you do it more time simultaneously, the result will double on the Mac Pro's side but should stay quite the same on the MacBook Pro.

Now let's talk a bit more about the storage test suites. The Apple SSD is as fast as one of the best HDD in sequential access and is up to 16x faster than the same HDD in random access. An other important detail, the default 320 GB HDD in the MacBook Pro has about half the speed than the other HDD's used in this test. That means that by adding a little $300 to your budget, you'll get a 32x speed boost in your every day use. You should then choose this option over 8 GB of ram or a faster processor since it has a better value.

Conclusion
If you plan on getting a MacBook Pro, take the SSD. This is final. It's not even a choice, it's a necessity. Next week, I'll add some other benchmarks in this review. They are real life example so they take more time to plan and process than any other benchmarks. Those tests will include a boot time comparison with the Mac Pro and it's monstrous RAID array and a laptop that use a HDD from the same series as the standard MacBook Pro.

Update 30 June 2009 11:47
I finally posted some benchmark results. If you are interested in a specific value that is not present in the list, just ask using whatever means of communication you'd prefer. I'm also open to suggestions about hardware comparison.

See you next week

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
    thank you :)

    ReplyDelete