Apple 13-Inch MacBook Benchmark Results

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We recently posted our review of Apple's latest generation of entry-level notebook computers--the 13-inch MacBook. In it, I promised we'd provide a more detailed look at the machine's performance in a battery of CPU-intensive benchmark tests. We now have those benchmarks ready to go, and the results should surprise you.

Based around a dual-core, 2.16 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU, the 13-inch MacBook (third generation) is entry-level only in the sense that it's the least expensive of the notebooks offered by Apple. By performance measurements, it holds its own against some fairly serious competition. We put it up against two G5s, including the G5 Quad, as well as other MacBooks and some Windows-based systems as well.

For these benchmarks, we've conducted tests based on processor-hogging applications running CPU-intensive operations, including rendering video, motion graphics, particle effects, and 3D scenes and performing a wide range of operations in 2D graphics apps. Applications tested include some fairly unlikely candidates for those who choose to go with a MacBook rather than a MacBook Pro or a workstation system, but the results are telling nonetheless. They include Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and After Effects; Apple Final Cut Pro and Motion; Maxon Cinema 4D; NewTek LightWave; and Autodesk Maya.

Few K-12 schools will ever need to put notebook computers through this level of processor torture, but some with programs in animation and video certainly will. For those that do not use these specific applications, these tests should at least give you an idea of the relative performance of the MacBook versus earlier Macs and some other systems when used for digital content creation--which is, of course, the main reason you'd use a Mac.

Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects
We'll start things off with a look at its performance when running applications from Adobe's Creative Suite, including Photoshop, Illustrator, and After Effects.

With Photoshop, the MacBook beat every single system we tested in terms of the time it took to complete three sequences of operations, including two quad-core workstations that are not exactly the pinnacle of computing power today but that are nevertheless formidable machines. Here are the test results. Descriptions of the tests follow.

And here's an explanation of the tests.

  • Test 1: A 4,000 x 4,000-pixel document was created, and on this document I applied 47 commands, including 28 individual filters and 19 image adjustments, layer and canvas transformations, and various other actions.
  • Test 2: A 2,000 x 1,500-pixel document was created, with a variety of commands applied, including several canvas- and layer-based transformations in succession.
  • Test 3: An 800 x 600-pixel document was created, and to that document every filter that ships with Photoshop was applied, with the exception of Reduce Noise and Displace. The test also included transformations, selections, fills, and the manipulation of text.

The story was similar with Adobe Illustrator. The MacBook fared well against other systems except in the case of the second test.

  • For the first test, I ran a series of transformations on an object that had a gradient applied to it. This included duplicating, rotating, and moving the object so that, in the end, I wound up with 3,721 gradient-filled objects spiraling out from the center of my canvas. Almost needless to say, this is an extremely taxing sequence of operations.
  • Test 2 involved 3D objects with complex shading. The objects were transformed, aligned, rotated, and duplicated multiple times.
  • For the final test, I created and duplicated more simple objects, then aligned and transformed them several times, rasterized them, and finally applied some Photoshop filters to them.

With After Effects, I ran the latest Intel-native version of Adobe's motion graphics suite on the latest MacBook and compared it with performance on other systems running After Effects 7 in their native environments (Windows on Intel-based Macs and on the quad Opteron system and Mac OS X on PowerPC-based systems). All tests gauge rendering and encoding (QuickTime) performance only, not GPU performance.

  • Test 1 was a cel-style animation that involved a PICT file and tracing paths.
  • Test 2 was a composite scene using several effects. Some systems could not complete this test, and I have indicated that in the results with an "NA."
  • Test 3 used Photoshop and Illustrator images in an animation and used 3D effects and random sequencing of numbers across the screen.
  • Test 4 is a 2D composite from an Adobe Illustrator document rendered out at 720 x 486.
  • Test 5 used a 3D composite comprising various 2D shapes undergoing transformations over time.
  • Test 6 used a 3D environment created entirely in After Effects from 2D images, animated and rendered to the QuickTime format.

Apple Final Cut Studio
Now, before I get started with Final Cut Studio benchmarks, I have to put in my standard disclaimer. Apple does not officially support Final Cut Studio on 13-inch MacBooks. Yes, Final Cut Studio can be installed and run on a MacBook, despite hat some reseller will tell you, and, yes, it runs it pretty well compared with some older systems. My advice, however, is that if you intend to use Final Cut Studio on a regular basis, you ought to invest in a MacBook Pro or a desktop/workstation system--something, at least, that Apple supports.

These tests are using Final Cut Studio 1. I have not tested Final Cut Studio 2 yet and do not know whether it will run on a MacBook.

We'll start it off with Final Cut Pro 5.1, in which the third-generation MacBook outperformed generation 1 MacBooks and MacBook Pros, as well as the dual-processor G5 it was tested against. Note that I could not conduct test 3 on the MacBook owing to footage that went missing just prior to this benchmark project. I include it here just for continuity, assuming I'll be able to relocate it for next time around.

  • The first test used a project with DVCPro HD 720p60 clips in a sequence. The first clip had a Color Corrector 3-Way applied to it. The second had a Curl effect applied to it. The sequence also used a Swing transition.
  • The second test also used two DVCPro 720p60 clips. The first clip used Pond Ripple, and Lens Flare effects. The second used Gaussian Blur, Fisheye, and Color Balance filters. There was also a Ripple Dissolve transition applied between the clips.
  • The third test used seven 720p HD clips spread across three video tracks and included Page Peel, Center Split Side, Channel Map, and Ripple Dissolve transitions. Filters used in various parts of this project included Color Key, Luma Key, Pond Ripple, Lens Flare, Gaussian Blur, Fisheye, and Color Balance.
  • The fourth test rendered D1 footage and used Wind Blur, Color Offset, and Unsharp Mask filters.

Apple's Motion 2.1 tests came out a bit different. Motion relies heavily on OpenGL, which is not one of the strong points of the 13-inch MacBook line. You don't see a whole lot of improvement between the generation 1 MacBook and the Generation 3 MacBook, since they use the same graphics processing engine. It was beaten by the first-generation MacBook Pro, which does have excellent graphics capabilities; but it did beat the older AGP-based G5 desktop.

  • Test 1 was purely a test of rendering particle effects in an NTSC DV project. Particle systems included Cloud Transport, Clockwork, Heavy Sparks, Spiral, and Star Tunnel.
  • Test 2 used six particle systems in a DVCPro 720p-format project. Particle systems included Magic Dust, Meta Wash, Smoke Cloud, Shell, Rocket, and Spiral.
  • Test 3 rendered a variety of effects--Radial Blur, Bevel, Refraction, Echo, and Fun House--over multiple layers and clips in a D1-resolution project.
  • Test 4 rendered multiple layers of video, text, shapes, and replicators with behaviors and effects in a D1 project. Behaviors included Randomize, Grunge 4, Spring, Wind, and Sequence Replicator. Effects included Echo, Fun House, Black Hole, Refraction and Radial Blur.

3D Performance
In the category of 3D, we turned to three high-end applications that have made the transition to Intel Mac-native status. We begin with Maxon's Cinema 4D, which we've tested using Cinebench. Now, Cinebench is constantly under development to fine-tune performance for the latest systems out there, so results can vary. If you want to compare other systems using the latest version of Cinebench, you can download it from the Cinebench site.

For these tests, Cinebench runs a battery of hardware and software operations, including OpenGL hardware, OpenGL software, CPU performance, and Cinema 4D software-based shading.

With Autodesk Maya, we rendered (or attempted to render) several 3D scenes. However, for the third-generation MacBook rendering Mac OS X, we had to use the latest version of Maya (8.5), and some of the scenes simply would not load. These are noted with an NA. Of the two we were able to load successfully, the third-generation MacBook performed admirably. The MacBook isn't even close to being on Autodesk's list of certified systems for Maya; but you never know when you'll need a system like the MacBook to kick in a little extra rendering power.

  • Test 1 rendered a smoke scene using highest-quality anti-aliasing.
  • Test 2 rendered a fog scene with anti-aliasing set to high quality.
  • Test 3 rendered a scene with a soft-body object and particles with anti-aliasing set to high quality.
  • Test 4 rendered several objects, including a cutaway of a building, with anti-aliasing set to "highest quality."
  • Test 5 rendered a complex object with anti-aliasing set to "highest quality."

NewTek LightWave is the latest to make its way into a native Intel Mac format. On the first test, the third-generation MacBook outperformed all other systems at rendering the scene, while in the others it turned in respectable, but not overwhelming, results.

These tests used the following scenes, which were included with LightWave:

  • Test 1: Radiosity_BOX.lws (/Content/Scenes/Benchmark/);
  • Test 2: SunsetSample.lws (/Content/Scenes/);
  • Test 3: Teapot.lws (/Content/Scenes/Benchmark/);
  • Test 4: The_Matrix5.lws (/Content/Scenes/Abstract/);
  • Test 5: Virus_DOF.lws (/content/Scenes/Surface/).

Conclusions
For digital content creation--particularly in design applications--the MacBook is an affordable and formidable tool. Its raw CPU performance is outstanding. For 3D, motion graphics, and video, machines with pro-level GPUs will fare better on the whole, although the MacBook certainly shows that it can lend a hand in rendering tasks and can certainly be considered an excellent addition to a render farm, where graphics performance isn't an issue.

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About the author: David Nagel is the executive editor for 1105 Media's online education technology publications, including THE Journal and Campus Technology. He can be reached at dnagel@1105media.com.

Proposals for articles and tips for news stories, as well as questions and comments about this publication, should be submitted to David Nagel, executive editor, at dnagel@1105media.com.

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