MacBook Pro vs. the PC competition

About The Author

CNET Editor

Craig was sucked into the endless vortex of tech at an early age, only to be spat back out babbling things like "phase-locked-loop crystal oscillators!". Mostly this receives a pat on the head from the listener, followed closely by a question about what laptop they should buy.

Round five: performance

Who will win the multimedia drag race?

Any late-model laptop will do for basic tasks such as checking email and browsing the web, just like most any car will get you from point A to point B. But with dual-core processors, discrete graphics and plenty of RAM, these souped-up hot rods are made for more than checking out LOLcats. We tested their speed on a variety of multimedia tasks to determine just how fine-tuned they are in OS X 10.6 64-bit kernel mode, Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit, and running Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit under Boot Camp on the Mac.

Image editing

We timed how long it took for Adobe Photoshop CS3 to execute our custom Action file on a collection of seven raw images, around 12MB in size. The Action file applies a number of Photoshop's built-in filters, converts to greyscale and exports the resulting images as moderately compressed JPEG files.

Adobe Photoshop CS3
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple MacBook Pro 13
1min 54sec
Apple MacBook Pro 13 (Windows 7)
2min 10sec
Dell Studio XPS 13
2min 15sec

While the Mac takes the lead, it's only very slight. Last time we ran Vista on Leopard's Boot Camp its Photoshop score was almost double that of OS X. Windows 7 and Snow Leopard's Boot Camp obviously work better together, but it's still the native OS X that takes the crown here.

3D rendering

The Cinebench benchmark measures processor and graphics performance for rendering shaded images, taking advantage of a multithreaded, multi-core processor, such as Intel's Core 2 Duo. It should be noted that for Windows the 64-bit binary was used, whereas OS X only has a 32-bit binary provided.

Cinebench R10
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Apple MacBook Pro 13
1 CPU: 2877
x CPU: 5368
OpenGL: 4622
Apple MacBook Pro 13 (Windows 7)
1 CPU: 3057
x CPU: 5733
OpenGL: 3199
Dell Studio XPS 13
1 CPU: 3051
x CPU: 5393
OpenGL: 3066

Quite the mixed result. It looks like Windows has the CPU advantage (particularly the multi-core under Boot Camp), although the OpenGL implementation in OS X is markedly speedier.

iTunes encoding

Using iTunes, we timed how long it took to convert 19 MP3 files to iTunes Plus quality AAC files. The 64-bit binary was used on Windows, while OS X's iTunes is still 32-bit only.

Apple iTunes 8.2.1 convert to AAC
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple MacBook Pro 13
2min 33sec
Apple MacBook Pro 13 (Windows 7)
2min 47sec
Dell Studio XPS 13
2min 43sec

The MacBook streaks ahead with iTunes encoding.

Video encoding

Using our own custom 1GB raw .avi file, we timed how long it took the VLC player to convert it to a 3072Kbps H.264 file without sound.

VLC 1.0.1 convert to H.264 (3072Kbps)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple MacBook Pro 13
1min 43sec
Apple MacBook Pro 13 (Windows 7)
2min 04sec
Dell Studio XPS 13
2min 05sec

OS X takes the performance crown, leaving Windows to choke in its dust.

Gaming graphics performance

Sadly due to the small amount of titles on the Mac, comparative gaming tests are quite difficult. The newest OpenGL title on both platforms with a built-in benchmarking tool is the ageing Enemy Territory: Quake Wars; it's not the most taxing of titles. Indeed, we might be waiting until iD's Rage comes out in order to get some comparable modern gaming tests.

In the mean time, we've settled on Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (CoD4), thankfully available for OS X and Windows. A few things colour this test: CoD4 runs in OpenGL on Mac and Direct3D on Windows — while we noticed no obvious visual degradation during testing between the two, the OS X scores here should be considered as data for interest only, whereas the Windows 7 scores both through Boot Camp and on the PC should be the ones compared.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (Wet Works map)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Apple MacBook Pro 13
Min: 29fps
Avg: 49fps
Max: 87fps
Apple MacBook Pro 13 (Windows 7)
Min: 5fps

Avg: 29fps
Max: 69fps
Dell Studio XPS 13
Min: 1fps

Avg: 27fps
Max: 71fps

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (Strike map)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Apple MacBook Pro 13
Min: 31fps
Avg: 45fps
Max: 84fps
Apple MacBook Pro 13 (Windows 7)
Min: 6fps

Avg: 29fps
Max: 73fps
Dell Studio XPS 13
Min: 1fps

Avg: 27fps
Max: 75fps

Settings: 1024x768, 2x AA; Sync every frame: no; Shadows: no; Specular map: yes; Depth of field: yes; Glow: yes; Number of dynamic lights: normal; Soften smoke edges: no; Ragdoll: yes; Bullet impacts: yes; Model detail: normal; Water detail: normal; Texture filtering: trilinear; Anisotropic filtering: minimum; Texture, normal map and specular map resolution: normal.

Just like in Cinebench the Mac shows its strong OpenGL colours; but whether under Boot Camp or on the Dell, Windows 7 is pretty much identical as far as CoD4 is concerned.

Winner: Apple romps it in over Dell on the majority of our performance tests.

Round 1 Round 2 Round 3 Round 4 Round 5 Round 6 Round 7 Round 8

Add Your Comment 183

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rclemens posted a comment   

PC's require the use of a virus scanner and Mac's do not. Virus scanners use up resources. They should have placed a virus scanner on the PC and then tested the two. The outcome would have been different and Mac would have been a much better performer in all categories.


EdipB posted a comment   

Apple lets you chuck on windows. Isn't that freedom enough? :P


Ribbet06 posted a comment   

I'd rather buy a pimped PC for the same amount of the basic Macbook Pro. I do get mad at my crappy pc, but I'm just not sure about the exclusivity of Apple, I like my freedom lol.


akaked posted a comment   

I am an Engineer and University Professor. My last computer was a MacBook Pro 15.4'', 2.8 GHz and at this moment i own a MacBook Pro 13.3, 2.7 GHz i7 processor and it cost to me 1407 euros (about 1970 US dollars). The graphic card, an Intel HD 3000, it is fraud. This mac don't worth the money it cost. I need some software that don't exist for mac however, virtualization it is a crap on this mac. Ok, you could say that i should buy a MacBook Pro 15.4''! But it cost a lot and i have also to use virtualization. Ok you could say that i could use BootCamp! BootCamp??? To do dual-boot? For that i buy a PC and use linux! At this moment i switch my MacBook Pro 13.3'' for a Toshiba Tecra R840-10T that cost me 1010 euros (about 1414 US dollars)! Toshiba has an excellent processor, excellent battery life, excellent graphic card and cost less 300 euros (about 420 US dollars)! The only thing that i don't like on Toshiba is the OS, that is, the Windows OS, but i will never have to make dual-boot or virtualization. Macs are to expensive. They are well constructed, not excellent hardware but very well fitted. Another advantage of Macs is the OS. Mac OS X (Unix) is great, fantastic, but Mac definitely don't worth the money they cost!


idiotphone4lover posted a comment   

And the winner is - Windows 7 !


Mac+PC=Linux posted a comment   

I'm getting tired of reviewers. A of the time when they compare two popular products they end up with a draw.


kp posted a reply   

I agree. It's so annoying!


Craig Simms posted a reply   

Last time we ran this the Apple won -- this article is quite old now, so it's probably time for a refresh.


Somedude posted a comment   

Without being overly prejudiced against Apple, I'm not a huge fan of OSX. Installing windows isn't a concern but (from what I've heard) Apple offers terrible support driver-wise for Windows. It's been like that for a while now, so I'm starting to think that they're doing it on purpose or something. For that reason, I will never touch a Mac, because I'm essentially locked into their inflexible OS (or choose to opt for a subpar Windows experience on their machines) that offers barely any advantages over Windows. Seeing how everything on a Mac can be done on Windows, but not the other way around, I'd take a Windows-based machine any day.

If anyone wants "prestige" associated with Macs, then PCs have their options with the premium Sony Vaio line.


AnnK posted a comment   

After a year with an IPhone, my first Apple product I plunged & bought a MAC Book Pro 13". I have never been so disappointed with a computer in my life & I bought my first computer a Kay Pro XT in 1985. I would strongly recommend buying a PC product for anyone contaminating purchasing an Apple. And don't mention ITunes, OMG

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