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MacBook and MacBook Pro: Penryn, Battery Life, Updates Sooner than Later?

Apple released new MacBooks and MacBook Pros today which incorporate the new 45nm Penryn processors, an upgrade from the older 65nm Merom processors. The jump from Merom to Penryn is not a dramatic one as previous benchmarks demonstrate.

Penryn Advantages

Overall, the high end Penryn's may have marginal improvements in performance due to higher L2 cache (6MB vs 4MB), though the low-end Penryns (2.1GHz and 2.4GHz) actually have less L2 cache (3MB vs 4MB) than their Merom counterparts. Whether this results in any real world difference is unclear. Early benchmarks of the new Penryn 2.4GHz MacBook Pro reveals a comparable GeekBench score (3086) to the older Merom 2.4GHz MacBook Pro (3094) despite this L2 cache difference.

One new feature all Penryn processors share is the SSE4 instruction set. Similar to the PowerPC's Altivec instruction set, SSE4 can provide dramatic speed increases (40% faster) for applications specifically written for it.

Battery Life

There's been some discussion about the fact that Apple's battery ratings for the new MacBooks and MacBook Pros are significantly less than previously published ratings. The new ratings are listed below with old ratings in parenthesis:

MacBook: 4.5hrs (6hrs)
15" MacBook Pro: 5hrs (5hrs)
17" MacBook Pro 4.5hrs (5.75hrs)

Apple PR clarified to Arstechnica today, however, that this is simply due to a difference in reporting the numbers, and the new Penryn-based MacBooks and MacBook Pros' battery life has actually improved -- which would be expected with the more power efficient processors:

Anuj went on to explain that Apple has always done three separate battery tests when coming up with this metrica DVD playback test, a wireless productivity test, and a "highway test," which got the best battery life and Apple used to advertise. However, the highway test is "hard to reproduce, and people got confused" he said, which is why Apple ditched it and started going with wireless productivity instead. "The wireless productivity test is the closest to normal usage, right in the middle of the road with WiFi, text editing, sending e-mail, etc." Anuj said.


Other Notes

- The new MacBook Pros have a Multitouch trackpad, but the MacBook does not.
- The Apple Remote control is no longer included, and must be purchased separately ($19).
- Teardown photos of the new MacBook Pro.
- BestBuy's inventory system incorrectly reported the MacBook part numbers as MacBook Pros, leading to some confusion about the planned updates. For future reference, BestBuy may be fed part numbers ahead of time, but has no actual knowledge of specs or price points, and clearly used placeholder information in this instance.
- Unboxing of new MacBook Pro

Why Now?

The biggest question is why Apple bothered speed bumping the MacBooks which were not yet due for revision. According to our sources, Apple was forced by Intel into upgrading the MacBooks at this time. Intel is aggressively phasing out the older generation 65nm Merom chips over the coming months. As a result, Apple needed to upgrade the MacBooks in the interim to maintain a proper supply. One could speculate that, consequently, the next MacBook refreshes may occur mid-year, ahead of their expected product cycle.