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Will I notice an i7 processor on a non-gaming laptop?

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December 28, 2009 8:05:35 PM

Hi folks,

Longtime reader of Tom's Hardware forums, etc., but this is my first post here.

I'm planning on buying a MacBook Pro (and installing Linux on it). The current specs I'm looking at are:

  • 2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor with 3MB on-chip shared L2 cache
  • 1066MHz frontside bus
  • 4GB of 1066MHz DDR3 memory
  • NVIDIA GeForce 9400M integrated graphics processor with 256MB of DDR3 SDRAM shared with main memory
  • 250 GB 5400 rpm SATA HDD

    There are rumors that at February's Macworld Expo they may release a version of the Macbook pro with Core i7 processor. Y'all are the hardware people...if I were to put a Core i7 in that same lineup as above, what kind of a difference would I notice? I'm not a gamer, and am mostly looking for portability and battery life, but I sometimes do computationally intensive mathematics and simulations (I'm a physicist).

    Of course, the Apple rumors would have to be true (we all know how reliable those are, right? ;)  ) and they would have to have the i7 in the 13" I'm looking at, and it would have to be at a price range I'm comfortable with...but supposing that you could put an i7 in that lineup without a huge price increase, would it be worth the wait? And would I notice it?

    Thanks in advance,

    Mg
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    December 28, 2009 8:08:51 PM

    The i7 would make a HUGE difference in computationally intensive mathematics and simulations.
    December 28, 2009 9:16:11 PM

    OK, I would have figured that in pure computation like that the i7 would be a big impact. But I probably won't be doing a whole lot of that on my laptop...I'll ssh into my home desktop or the university's cluster or something if I'm doing extended calculations. This laptop will be mostly be used for presentations, web surfing, and the like, with occasional computations here and there. I do want it to be powerful enough to support all the Compiz effects (like Windows Aero stuff, but for Linux), but isn't the video card the most important thing in that regard? (And how is that nVidia integrated card, if anyone knows?)

    I guess what I'm asking is, even with my non-gaming, very-little-computation usage plan for this laptop, would I be a fool to not wait a few of months and get an i7-powered laptop? (Assuming one did come out, of course.) Five to eight years from now, will a Core 2 Duo be completely obsolete, as compared to a Core i7?

    I know that a lot of this is speculation, so thanks again for your time.

    Mg
    Related resources
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    December 28, 2009 9:32:58 PM

    Anything after 3 - 4 years is practically obsolete. Just like at how the AMD Anthlons VS P4 days were. Best of their days, now obsolete. ATM the only i7s i've seen benchmarked had horrible power consumption compared to the rest so if I were you, i'd basically look or wait for a lower power i7 or i5 i3 for a laptop. If you need it now, get the core 2 duo.

    For me, its either you go all out or you go for somethign that can last you a year or two.
    December 28, 2009 9:53:54 PM

    lilotimz said:
    Anything after 3 - 4 years is practically obsolete. Just like at how the AMD Anthlons VS P4 days were. Best of their days, now obsolete. ATM the only i7s i've seen benchmarked had horrible power consumption compared to the rest so if I were you, i'd basically look or wait for a lower power i7 or i5 i3 for a laptop. If you need it now, get the core 2 duo.

    For me, its either you go all out or you go for somethign that can last you a year or two.


    haha...well my current laptop is ~8 years old (Compaq Presario 906). It's got a Athlon XP-M 1.33 GHz in it...so it is pretty obsolete. :lol:  But the thing is, it still works pretty well for my (laptop) needs. My desktop is the one I upgrade frequently to the newest stuff...my laptops last a lot longer. That's kinda what I meant...in several years, will the Core 2 Duo still be able to handle the majority of everyday stuff (not like a brand new system of course), or is there such a huge change between the Core 2 and Core i7 that in 5 years the Core 2 wouldn't even be able to do the simplest of things?

    Thanks,
    Mg
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    December 28, 2009 11:43:46 PM

    cjl said:
    The i7 would make a HUGE difference in computationally intensive mathematics and simulations.


    Correct.

    In other words... unless you are doing "computationally intensive mathematics and simulations", you probably won't notice too much difference.

    As said, i7's don't have great power numbers. Also, as a mac fan myself, i would not expect to be able to BUY an i7 macbook until very late this year at the earliest. Given the fact i7's are only JUST available in a 27" mac, there MAY be an i3 available Q4 in a 17" mbp and you'd better believe it will be expensive.
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    December 28, 2009 11:46:47 PM

    mrmez said:
    Correct.

    In other words... unless you are doing "computationally intensive mathematics and simulations", you probably won't notice too much difference.

    As said, i7's don't have great power numbers. Also, as a mac fan myself, i would not expect to be able to BUY an i7 macbook until very late this year at the earliest. Given the fact i7's are only JUST available in a 27" mac, there MAY be an i3 available Q4 in a 17" mbp and you'd better believe it will be expensive.

    Read the first post. He stated that he does "computationally intensive mathematics and simulations". Honestly, I'd say get an i7. It will be faster in every way, and will last longer as well. However, a Core 2 Duo is no slouch, and you don't have to worry about obsolescence with either one anytime soon (at least for what you're mainly doing).
    December 29, 2009 12:38:04 AM

    mrmez said:
    Correct.

    In other words... unless you are doing "computationally intensive mathematics and simulations", you probably won't notice too much difference.

    As said, i7's don't have great power numbers. Also, as a mac fan myself, i would not expect to be able to BUY an i7 macbook until very late this year at the earliest. Given the fact i7's are only JUST available in a 27" mac, there MAY be an i3 available Q4 in a 17" mbp and you'd better believe it will be expensive.


    I think that you are right about the (lack of) availability of an i3/i5/i7 in the MacBooks. Like I said, the possibility of one being introduced in the MacBook Pros at Macworld is just a rumor, and I agree with you mrmez, that rumor is probably a little far-fetched. OTOH, they already have DDR3 RAM, and I've heard that a Core i7 is basically obligatory with DDR3...so you never know..... :whistle:  Also, the long battery life/low power consumption was a big draw for me with the MacBook Pro...7 hrs! (And according to other people's reviews (CNet etc.) that is a good real-world estimate, not an exaggerated figure for 10% screen brightness, wifi off, sitting there basically :sleep:  ) I would rather have a somewhat powerful laptop that also can have super battery life, than a screamer with substantially less battery.

    cjl said:
    Read the first post. He stated that he does "computationally intensive mathematics and simulations".


    Remember, I only do "computationally intensive mathematics and simulations" (that's being quoted enough in this thread, we should give it an acronym...how 'bout CIMAS? :sol:  ) every now and then, and it will by no means be my primary use for this system. But I would like for the laptop to be able to do CIMAS reasonably well for the occasions that I need it.

    cjl said:
    Honestly, I'd say get an i7. It will be faster in every way, and will last longer as well.


    I know...that's why I was a little squeamish at jumping into the Core 2 with the i7 possibility out there. But we have to remember, it's not like I'm looking at 2 laptops, one with i7, one with Core 2...I'm looking at 1 with Core 2, and the possibility of it becoming i7 in the future. It's a matter of "are the advantages of i7 (for my usage) worth the wait for a possible upgrade sometime in the future"? I'm beginning to think not.

    cjl said:
    However, a Core 2 Duo is no slouch, and you don't have to worry about obsolescence with either one anytime soon (at least for what you're mainly doing).


    That's what I was hoping for...if I'm going to invest 1,300 bucks in a laptop, I want to make sure that it will last me for a long time. Like I said, I keep laptops for a long time...and if the Core 2 is going to serve me well for a good while, I will be happy with my investment.

    I think I am going to go ahead and purchase the Core 2 Duo powered MacBook Pro in my first post...it looks like I won't be going wrong with that choice, especially for my needs. Thanks cjl, mrmez, and lilotimz for your time. BTW, anyone have any opinion on that nVidia Integrated Card? What is is more like: a regular Intel integrated GMA card, or an nVidia Discrete card?
    a b à CPUs
    December 29, 2009 2:05:14 AM

    The integrated card isn't bad. It won't be anywhere close to a high end Nvidia or ATI discrete card, but on the other hand, it's significantly faster than an Intel GMA as well.

    Oh, and is there any reason you need a macbook? I'm in college right now, and I'm fully aware of the preferences of most of the science department for macs, but if you could live with either windows or linux, you could get a significantly faster computer for the money. Of course, if you want a mac, that's your choice (and they're actually fairly nice for basic use, if somewhat overpriced), but keep in mind that you could get something significantly faster if you went for a non-apple product.
    a b à CPUs
    December 29, 2009 3:34:43 AM

    If you only occasionally use the laptop for CIMAS (lol) I'd say there's no direct reason to wait for an i7 Mac. Frankly, the i7 isn't going to suit your daily needs for a computer that has decent battery life.

    Do you currently perform CIMAS on your 8 year old laptop? If you're doing it on that thing, then the Core2Duo is going to DESTROY it's performance. That being said, you'll probably be blown away by the overall performance of the new Mac even if you get the C2D, instead of the i7.

    The MacPro should run pretty smooth anyhow, since Mac designs everything to run on very specific hardware, and therefore can optimize, etc. Won't be any slouch by any means.

    However, as cjl pointed out, you CAN get a faster laptop for the same money if you go windows/linux.

    EDIT: You mentioned in your original post that you plan to install Linux. Are you going to keep the Mac OS? If not.. there's really no point in spending too much money for a Mac. Again, you can get better for less in a "Windows" installed system.
    December 29, 2009 4:26:19 AM

    I don't use my current laptop for any CIMAS...all I can use it for is email and web, basically. Even Flash stuff pushes my CPU to 100%, though. I do CIMAS stuff on my 2 year old desktop (Core 2 Quad Q6600, nVidia 7350, 3 GB DDR2 RAM) which is pretty good for me.

    And I am a Linux guy all the way...neither Windows or OS X do anything for me. So I don't really care about the OS it comes with. I'm looking at the quality of the components, battery life, weight/thickness, and build quality. Honestly, the MBP comes out on top for those characteristics! I had thought/heard that a PC would be a comparable system for less money, but I couldn't really find a PC with the quality of internal components (it's all nVidia chipsets), battery life (real-world life of 7 hrs), portability (4.5 lbs, <1" thick), and build quality (that unibody aluminium frame cannot be flexed at all) that is in the 13" MBP, for lower cost. Plus, the MBP is perfectly compatible with Linux...every thing works perfectly. :D 

    The closest competitor I could find is the Sony SR590 (specs at http://tinyurl.com/yhptvhz ). But it's a little thicker, shorter battery, and uses ATI graphics, which are usually problematic for us Linux folks.

    If anyone has any other ideas about a MBP equivalent, please share...I am in no way filtered down to Apple.

    Thanks again,
    Mg
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    December 29, 2009 5:02:54 AM

    First, you're not going to get a real world battery life of 7 hours under linux on a macbook. The only reason they do so well on the battery life test is becase OSX has many optimizations towards that end that are not found in Linux. I've found Linux to have worse battery life than Windows on my laptop for similar reasons.

    As for the best combination of components, battery life, weight/thickness, and build quality, a macbook does not come out on top in my opinion. For a lightweight, powerful, long battery life computer, I'd get a Lenovo X200. It's only real disadvantage compared to the Macbook is that it has an Intel GMA 4500MHD, but unless you are running graphically-intensive applications, this won't make much of a difference. The reason I would get it is because it is a bit cheaper than a 13" MBP, and it has phenomenal battery life (>9 hrs in windows, probably 7.5-8+ in linux) with the optional 9 cell battery. I've also been extremely impressed with the cooling in thinkpads - they stay quite cool while making virtually zero noise. Here's the configuration I was looking at when comparing the thinkpad to the macbook - it comes to $1344:



    Oh, and thinkpads are built like tanks. This one's only 3.4 lbs (with the large battery), but it would be rock solid.
    December 29, 2009 2:47:20 PM

    cjl said:
    First, you're not going to get a real world battery life of 7 hours under linux on a macbook. The only reason they do so well on the battery life test is becase OSX has many optimizations towards that end that are not found in Linux. I've found Linux to have worse battery life than Windows on my laptop for similar reasons.


    You're right, Linux does a little worse with battery life...however, with some tweaking, you can get pretty good (~6 hours) battery life (see here).

    cjl said:
    As for the best combination of components, battery life, weight/thickness, and build quality, a macbook does not come out on top in my opinion. For a lightweight, powerful, long battery life computer, I'd get a Lenovo X200. It's only real disadvantage compared to the Macbook is that it has an Intel GMA 4500MHD, but unless you are running graphically-intensive applications, this won't make much of a difference. The reason I would get it is because it is a bit cheaper than a 13" MBP, and it has phenomenal battery life (>9 hrs in windows, probably 7.5-8+ in linux) with the optional 9 cell battery. I've also been extremely impressed with the cooling in thinkpads - they stay quite cool while making virtually zero noise. Here's the configuration I was looking at when comparing the thinkpad to the macbook - it comes to $1344:

    http://i27.photobucket.com/albums/c183/chris_lapanse/ThinkpadConfig.png

    Oh, and thinkpads are built like tanks. This one's only 3.4 lbs (with the large battery), but it would be rock solid.


    Thanks cjl, that is a good setup. And I know how well built the Thinkpads are. The main reason I decided against the Thinkpad X200 series is that it only has the TrackPoint stub (no touchpad). I've tried those, and they are just not for me...I was hoping for a touchpad. (The 13" X300 series has touchpads, but they start at $1700, even with an academic discount.) I was also hoping for a built-in optical drive...I may not use it a whole lot, but it sure is nice to have for the occasion that I need it. But it is lighter and longer batteryed than the MBP (although that 9-cell battery sticks out a hair, IIRC)

    That's kinda what I meant...when comparing to other manufacturers, I could get really good laptops for a bit less money (not much though...the macbook pro i speced out at the start comes to $1234, with academic discount), but there was always some little thing (no touchpad, no optical drive, etc.) that I was hoping for.

    Thanks for setting that up though...perhaps I will keep looking for a little while longer.
    a b à CPUs
    December 29, 2009 3:58:24 PM

    I am guessing that the chip in the mac is a P7550.

    For $989.99: Sony SR series with 6.5 hrs of battery life
    • Intel® Core™ 2 Duo Processor P8700 (2.53GHz)
    • Microsoft® Windows® 7 Home Premium 64bit
    • Classic Black
    • 250GB SATA Hard Disk Drive (5400rpm)
    • 4GB (2GBx2) DDR2-SDRAM-800
    • CD/DVD playback/burning
    • Mobile Intel® Graphics Media Accelerator 4500MHD
    • No Fresh Start
    • Microsoft® Works
    • No additional Finance Software

    The processor is more powerful then the macbook and you can upgrade the specs to be even better if you would like.
    Sony Vaio: http://www.sonystyle.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/Cate...
    CPU review: http://www.notebookcheck.net/Mobile-Processors-Benchmar...


    My friend has a macbook and he said most of the help Apple provide is useless you have to search the web for help, but they did replace his G5 out of the same stupidity; which still didn’t fix the problem. Whereas I have had experience with Sony’s customer service which is very helpful.
    December 29, 2009 5:48:34 PM

    Pro Llama said:
    I am guessing that the chip in the mac is a P7550.

    For $989.99: Sony SR series with 6.5 hrs of battery life
    • Intel® Core™ 2 Duo Processor P8700 (2.53GHz)
    • Microsoft® Windows® 7 Home Premium 64bit
    • Classic Black
    • 250GB SATA Hard Disk Drive (5400rpm)
    • 4GB (2GBx2) DDR2-SDRAM-800
    • CD/DVD playback/burning
    • Mobile Intel® Graphics Media Accelerator 4500MHD
    • No Fresh Start
    • Microsoft® Works
    • No additional Finance Software

    The processor is more powerful then the macbook and you can upgrade the specs to be even better if you would like.
    Sony Vaio: http://www.sonystyle.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/Cate...
    CPU review: http://www.notebookcheck.net/Mobile-Processors-Benchmar...


    My friend has a macbook and he said most of the help Apple provide is useless you have to search the web for help, but they did replace his G5 out of the same stupidity; which still didn’t fix the problem. Whereas I have had experience with Sony’s customer service which is very helpful.


    magnesium said:
    The closest competitor I could find is the Sony SR590 (specs at http://tinyurl.com/yhptvhz ). But it's a little thicker, shorter battery, and uses ATI graphics, which are usually problematic for us Linux folks.


    The P7550 is the chip in the MBP, AFAIK.

    The SR was really the runner-up to the MBP for me...it is a very close call, but I still think I may go for the MBP over it, if nothing else for nVidia graphics instead of Intel (or ATI). I also like the DDR3 RAM in the MBP, and especially the unibody aluminium frame.

    Does DDR2 vs. DDR3 really make much of a difference?

    One of my good friends also has a 13" MBP, which has given me a hands-on opportunity with it, and I must say that I am very impressed. But, I am still not tied down to Apple...keep the suggestions coming! Thanks.... :bounce: 
    a b à CPUs
    December 29, 2009 7:01:55 PM

    DDR2 vs DDR3 is basically no difference at all. It might make a very slight difference in battery life (DDR3 is lower power), but on the whole, you wouldn't notice the difference.
    December 29, 2009 7:10:00 PM

    cjl said:
    DDR2 vs DDR3 is basically no difference at all. It might make a very slight difference in battery life (DDR3 is lower power), but on the whole, you wouldn't notice the difference.


    Really?! I had always thought that DDR3 was a big improvement over 2...but I guess those improvements are more hype than anything? :pt1cable: 

    OK, well it's still nice to have the newer version anyway, but I guess the improvements aren't as big as I thought they were.
    a b à CPUs
    December 29, 2009 7:16:07 PM

    DDR3 is quite a bit faster in theory, but in a core 2 duo based system, you would never notice. If memory bandwidth was important, you'd get a MUCH bigger difference by going to an i7 based system that has an integrated memory controller - that would allow the CPU better access to the full bandwidth.
    a b à CPUs
    December 29, 2009 7:22:05 PM

    Hmm...

    This one's a hair bigger (14"), but it's a nice setup too. Batter life is a bit lower than some of the above though - only around 6-7 hours.


    It has a really nice screen though - 1600x900 high brightness LED backlit. It also uses the Nvidia 9400 graphics, which is good if you need higher graphics performance (and the nvidia is good for linux).
    a b à CPUs
    December 29, 2009 7:25:26 PM

    magnesium said:
    The P7550 is the chip in the MBP, AFAIK.

    The SR was really the runner-up to the MBP for me...it is a very close call, but I still think I may go for the MBP over it, if nothing else for nVidia graphics instead of Intel (or ATI). I also like the DDR3 RAM in the MBP, and especially the unibody aluminium frame.

    Does DDR2 vs. DDR3 really make much of a difference?

    One of my good friends also has a 13" MBP, which has given me a hands-on opportunity with it, and I must say that I am very impressed. But, I am still not tied down to Apple...keep the suggestions coming! Thanks.... :bounce: 

    As far as ddr2 vs ddr3 you will not notice a difference.

    It sounds like you are pretty set on the mbp. The sony is larger because it is a 13.3” not a 13” and 7 hours vs 6.5 hours isn’t going to mean more than a 15 min difference in battery life. I think you should stop at best buy or whatever is close you and play with a few different computer you will see which one you like the feel of most. I bought a Vaio for my mom for x-mas, the case is firm and the way they set up their keyboards give you a great feel. If you want exactly what’s in the mbp then get it, you will not find anything that is made exactly the same.

    Good luck
    December 29, 2009 9:36:45 PM

    cjl said:
    Hmm...

    This one's a hair bigger (14"), but it's a nice setup too. Batter life is a bit lower than some of the above though - only around 6-7 hours.
    http://i27.photobucket.com/albums/c183/chris_lapanse/Computer%20benchmarks/DellStudio14z.png

    It has a really nice screen though - 1600x900 high brightness LED backlit. It also uses the Nvidia 9400 graphics, which is good if you need higher graphics performance (and the nvidia is good for linux).


    Thanks Chris, that one does look good...a little more RAM and bigger HDD, and hdmi port, and expresscard slot...but no wireless-n, optical drive, or sd card slot. Also, according to PC World's review the battery life was about 4.5 hrs...not too bad, but less than the MBP.

    And the price is about the same, with Dell's student discount!

    I really think that at the low end, the Macs are actually competitive. Now, once we get into the bigger laptops, or especially the desktops, the usual rule applies...Macs are overpriced. But at the low end, where I am, they are pretty good.

    IMHO.

    Pro Llama said:
    As far as ddr2 vs ddr3 you will not notice a difference.

    It sounds like you are pretty set on the mbp. The sony is larger because it is a 13.3” not a 13” and 7 hours vs 6.5 hours isn’t going to mean more than a 15 min difference in battery life. I think you should stop at best buy or whatever is close you and play with a few different computer you will see which one you like the feel of most. I bought a Vaio for my mom for x-mas, the case is firm and the way they set up their keyboards give you a great feel. If you want exactly what’s in the mbp then get it, you will not find anything that is made exactly the same.

    Good luck


    Thanks for the DDR2-3 info.

    Unfortunately, the Sony SR, the main competitor IMO, is not in any of the local stores...I am sure that it is built very well as well, but I can't actually see it without traveling a little ways. :( 
    a b à CPUs
    December 29, 2009 9:50:07 PM

    Was that review with the extended battery though? The standard battery is a 6 cell, while the one I just posted has an 8 cell.

    As for whether macs are overpriced? I've found that they're most competitive in the small sizes, where all laptops of that size and weight carry somewhat of a price premium. It's not so much the low end, as it is the small size.
    December 29, 2009 10:09:52 PM

    cjl said:
    Was that review with the extended battery though? The standard battery is a 6 cell, while the one I just posted has an 8 cell.

    As for whether macs are overpriced? I've found that they're most competitive in the small sizes, where all laptops of that size and weight carry somewhat of a price premium. It's not so much the low end, as it is the small size.


    You're right, that was for the 6-cell battery I think...so the 8-cell would get me better battery life.

    And that's a better way of putting it...small size vs. low end. Size is what I was referring to, just a bad way of putting it on my part.
    December 31, 2009 1:37:05 AM

    Hello everyone...

    I think I have decided on the MacBook Pro...I played with all my options some more and I just like the MBP the most. I am pretty sure I will feel comfortable with my investment.

    One more question though...should I go with the 2.26 GHz processor or the 2.53? There is $165 difference between the 2...is it worth it? I've started a new thread here since it is a somewhat different topic, if y'all can reply there.

    Thanks again for all of your time.
    !