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How much faster are the MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo "Early 2008/Penryn" models compared to the "Mid-2007/Santa Rosa" models that they replaced?
Please note that all models mentioned in this Q&A have been discontinued. The 15-Inch "Early 2008/Penryn" MacBook Pro models were replaced by the 15-Inch "Late 2008/Unibody" MacBook Pro models and the 17-Inch "Early 2008/Penryn" MacBook Pro was replaced by the 17-Inch "Early 2009/Unibody" MacBook Pro.
In Apple-published benchmarks, the company shows that the "Early 2008/Penryn" 2.5 GHz MacBook Pro "Core 2 Duo" models are as much as 74% faster than the MacBook Pro "Core Duo" 2.16 17-Inch. However, this is comparing the "Early 2008/Penryn" systems to the original 17-Inch MacBook Pro discontinued on October 24, 2006, rather than the "Mid-2007/Santa Rosa" models that the "Early 2008" systems replaced.
Nevertheless, review a quick comparison of the "Early 2008/Penryn" and "Mid-2007/Santa Rosa" MacBook Pro models, and one would notice that the differences are quite modest. The "Early 2008/Penryn" models have slightly faster and more energy-efficient 45 nm "Penryn" processors (2.4 GHz and 2.5 GHz, compared to 2.2 GHz and 2.4 GHz), and 3 MB or 6 MB level 2 caches (compared to 4 MB level 2 caches), more video memory on the same NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT graphics processor (256 MB or 512 MB, compared to 128 MB or 256 MB), and larger stock hard drives. The underlying architecture is effectively the same.
With slightly faster processors and more video memory, but the same architecture, one could expect the performance difference to be decidedly modest. It would be reasonable to wonder if the entry-level MacBook Pro "Core 2 Duo" 2.4 15" (2008), with a smaller level 2 cache, might even be a little bit slower. However, only "real-world" tests can determine the speed difference for sure.
The new entry-level 2.4 GHz model bested the last entry-level system -- a 2.2 GHz MacBook Pro -- by 10 percent in our Speedmark tests. In certain tests, like Photoshop, the improvement was even more dramatic, with the new 2.4 GHz model finishing our Photoshop suite 23 percent faster than the older 2.2 GHz system.
Even with less L2 cache, the new low-end MacBook Pro was able to compete head-to-head with last falls's more expensive build-to-order MacBook Pro, posting a Speedmark score just one point less than the older system powered by as 2.6 GHz Core 2 Duo chip.
The new 15-inch 2.5 GHz MacBook Pro was quite a bit faster across the board than that build-to-order 2.6 GHz system -- more than 8 percent faster, in fact, in Speedmark, and 23 percent faster in Photoshop.
The always excellent BareFeats also has compared the build-to-order "Early 2008" MacBook Pro equipped with a 2.6 GHz "Penryn" Core 2 Duo processor to the "Mid-2007" models, and these benchmarks likewise are well worth reviewing.
Ultimately, the improvement in real-world performance probably is not enough to justify upgrading if one already owns a model from the replaced series, but for those using older MacBook Pro or PowerBook G4 models, it is a substantial difference and a tempting upgrade.