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How much faster is the "Late 2008/Unibody" 15-Inch MacBook Pro than the "Early 2008 Penryn" MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo?
Please note that all Macs mentioned in this Q&A have been discontinued. The "Late 2008/Unibody" 15-Inch MacBook Pro models were replaced by the "Mid-2009" 15-Inch MacBook Pro models on June 8, 2009.
Quickly review a comparison of the "Late 2008/Unibody" MacBook Pro models to the "Early 2008 Penryn" models that they replaced and it becomes readily apparent that the "Unibody" systems have improvements in design and architecture but have processors of effectively identical speed.
The 15-Inch "Early 2008 Penryn" MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo systems -- the MacBook Pro "Core 2 Duo" 2.4 15" (Early 2008) and "Core 2 Duo" 2.5 15" (Early 2008) -- have 2.4 GHz or 2.5 GHz Core 2 Duo processors and the "Late 2008/Unibody" MacBook Pro models -- the MacBook Pro "Core 2 Duo" 2.4 15" (Unibody) and MacBook Pro "Core 2 Duo" 2.53 15" (Unibody) -- have 2.4 GHz or 2.53 GHz Core 2 Duo processors (on March 3, 2009, the 2.53 GHz model was quietly bumped to a 2.66 GHz processor).
Architecturally, however, the "Late 2008/Unibody" models use a faster architecture with a faster system bus -- 1066 MHz up from 800 MHz -- faster memory -- 1066 MHz PC3-8500 DDR3 compared to 667 MHz PC2-5300 DDR2, and faster and dual graphics processors -- a NVIDIA GeForce 9600M GT with dedicated GDDR3 SDRAM and a NVIDIA GeForce 9400M with 256 MB of DDR3 SDRAM shared with main memory compared to a single NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT.
With practically identical processor speeds and a modestly faster architecture, one should not expect a substantial difference in overall performance. For the precise difference, however, real-world testing is required.
Real-World Test Results
In its review of the "Unibody" MacBook Pro models, the industry-standard MacWorld ran Speedmark version 5 tests -- the publication's standard test suite -- as well as Photoshop tests while using the GeForce 9600M GT graphics processor and found that:
In our Speedmark test, the 2.53 GHz topped its 2.4 GHz sibling by 7.5 percent and the previous 2.4 GHz MacBook Pro by 15 percent. It bested its slower sibling by 16 percent in our suite of Photoshop tests. It was nearly twice as fast in its Photoshop operations as the previous generation's 2.4 GHz model.
The new entry level 2.4 GHz MacBook Pro scored 8 percent faster in Speedmark than the older 2.4 GHz model, and 12 percent faster at Photoshop.
In an in-depth review, the always excellent ArsTechnica subjected the MacBook Pro to a series of tests running GeekBench, XBench, and Cinebench as well as Windows and Mac gaming tests. The full test results should be read in their entirety, but two items worth noting -- reflecting the processor and graphics performance, respectively -- include:
It's evident that this MacBook Pro is not that much faster than its predecessor as far as the CPU goes. In our testing using GeekBench, the 2.53GHz, late 2008 model was only about 2.5% faster than the previous model.
For those upgrading from previous generation notebooks using the NVIDIA GeForce 8600M (Merom MacBook and Pros) will see a small bump in OpenGL performance (13-17%) but nothing mind-blowing.
No MacBook Pro performance comparison would be complete without input from the superb BareFeats, which put the "Unibody" MacBook Pro models through a battery of tests including ones focused on gaming. The site also included the "Unbody" MacBook Pro custom configured with a faster 2.8 GHz Core 2 Duo processor and concluded:
The fastest "Late 2008" MacBook Pro (2.8 GHz) is about 20% faster than its fastest [custom configured] predecessor ("Early 2008" MBP 2.6 GHz) when it comes to 3D accelerated game benchmarks. . .
Some of you are debating whether the 2.8 GHz MBP is worth [US]$300 more than a comparably equipped 2.53 GHz MBP. That is a 12% delta in price. That syncs with CPU intensive apps which average 11% faster, but when it comes to 3D games, the 2.8's advantage ranges from 0% to 10% (or 6% average for the five games [tested]).
Ultimately, the "Late 2008/Unibody" MacBook Pro models are modestly faster than their predecessors in most tasks and quite a bit faster in selected graphics tasks -- as one would expect from evaluating their respective specifications -- and provide excellent performance with a sleek design.