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How much faster is the "Early 2008 Penryn" MacBook Core 2 Duo compared to the "Late 2007 Santa Rosa" MacBook Core 2 Duo?
Please note that all models mentioned in this Q&A have been discontinued. On October 14, 2008, Apple stopped shipping all but one reconfigured "Early 2008 Penryn" model and this reconfigured model was replaced by an "Early 2009/NVIDIA" model.
In Apple-published benchmarks, the company shows that the "Early 2008 Penryn" 2.4 GHz MacBook "Core 2 Duo" models are "up to" 58% faster than the original MacBook "Core Duo" 2.0 13" models in real-world tests. However, it is important to note that this is compared to the original MacBook models, rather than the "Late 2007 Santa Rosa" MacBook Core 2 Duo systems that the "Early 2008 Penryn" models replaced.
The "Early 2008 Penryn" MacBook Core 2 Duo systems -- the MacBook "Core 2 Duo" 2.1 13" (White), "Core 2 Duo" 2.4 13" (White), and "Core 2 Duo" 2.4 13" (Black) -- look effectively identical to their predcessors, but the "Early 2008 Penryn" models have modestly faster and more energy-efficient 45 nm "Penryn" processors (2.1 GHz and 2.4 GHz, up from 2.0 GHz and 2.2 GHz), but smaller level 2 caches (3 MB rather than 4 MB). The 2.4 GHz models in the "Early 2008 Penryn" series also ship with twice the default RAM and larger hard drives.
With slightly faster processors, but smaller level 2 caches, one could expect the performance of the "Early 2008 Penryn" models to be faster than their predecessors, but just barely so. How much faster requires real-world testing.
The results showed moderate yet impressive gains -- for example, the black 2.4 GHz MacBook scored more than nine percent higher overall than its 2.2 GHz predecessor. The 2.1 GHz MacBook showed an almost eight percent improvement over the 2 GHz MacBook it replaces. Perhaps most interesting, the 2.1 GHz MacBook scored one point higher overall than the older 2.2 GHz black MacBook, even with a slightly slower processor speed.
In an in-depth review from Electronista (from the same publisher as the long-running MacNN), the author did an interesting performance comparison between the MacBook "Core 2 Duo" 2.4 13" (Black) and the iMac "Core 2 Duo" 2.4 20-Inch (Al).
The iMac uses an older 65 nm "Merom" processor, but has vastly superior "dedicated" ATI Radeon HD 2600 PRO graphics compared to "integrated" Intel GMA X3100 graphics in the MacBook. In Cinebench, Geekbench, and XBench tests, the author discovered that:
The iMac takes a dramatic lead whenever the video chipset is the most important metric, such as in the Cinebench OpenGL shading test or the Xbench user interface test (a difference which skews the overall results in the iMac's favor). However, the MacBook is often near or sometimes well ahead of the iMac in raw performance, even with obstacles such as a slow notebook hard drive and having to share memory with the Intel graphics. In the Xbench thread test, which checks multi-CPU tasks, the MacBook was a clear 37 percent faster. While Apple is likely to replace this iMac with a new model soon, it can't be ignored that an [US]$1,800 desktop can sometimes be outrun by a [US]$1,300 notebook in pure CPU tasks.
Ultimately, the "Early 2008 Penryn" MacBook models are modestly faster than their predecessors -- as one would expect from evaluating their respective specifications -- and provide reasonable performance at a affordable price.
Also see: How much faster is the Intel GMA X3100 graphics processor in later MacBook models compared to the Intel GMA 950 in earlier models? Is gaming performance improved?