How does a new unibody Macbook Pro compare to an older Santa Rosa Macbook Pro when it comes to gaming? I put these two MBP’s to the test, running the Far Cry 2 benchmark for a head-to-head faceoff. The results were dramatic.
The late 2008 MacBook Pro loads the Far Cry 2 benchmark over 50% faster (37 seconds) than the older MBP model (58 seconds). One could say that the faster 2.53Ghz Penryn CPU trumps the slower 2.2Ghz Merom processor, but this alone can’t account for such a large discrepancy in loading times.
During the startup sequence for most games, vast amounts of data must be decompressed and transferred from the hard drive to the system RAM and video RAM. It appears that the 120GB Fujitsu HDD that comes standard in the older MBP is quite a bit slower than the 320GB HDD found in the latest MBP, although they are both rated at 5400RPM. In addition, the latest unibody notebooks feature a faster (1066mhz) system bus and use RAM operating at this high speed. These improvements combined, allow the newer MBP’s to internally transfer data faster than the older Santa Rosa based notebooks, which can lead to faster game loading.
During the actual game sequence, the late 2008 MacBook Pro produces much smoother frame rates than the older Santa Rosa model (averaging 30 FPS versus 18 FPS, under medium settings at native resolution). Similarly, in synthetic benchmarks, the 9600M GT outperforms the 8600 GT by around 45%.
For most modern games, the bottleneck in performance lies with the GPU. It is a bit surprising then, that the older 8600M GT performs so poorly compared to the 9600M GT, as both GPU’s are similar, and each have 32 shaders. Thus, it would appear that nVidia’s successor to the 8600M GT has 3D performance optimizations beyond its modest boost in core and memory frequency.
To get playable frame rates (29 FPS) on the 8600M GT, the screen resolution needs to be lowered to 960 x 600, but this also made the graphics look blocky and heavily aliased. Perhaps a significant contributor to the performance limitations of this particular GPU is its miniscule 128MB of VRAM. It would be interesting to benchmark a 512MB version of the 8600M GT to remove this variable.
So far, my findings indicate that those interested in gaming should definitely consider upgrading to the new unibody MacBook Pro; the speed benefits are greatly noticeable. In addition, it has been widely speculated that future driver support from nVidia will further enhance the GPU’s used in the Pro and also help to optimize its logicboard chipset. These parts are still very new and there is plenty of room for improvement. Geforce Boost anyone?
Do you own a MacBook Pro, new or old? How do you like it for gaming?