ned Productions Consulting

Technology musings by Niall Douglas
ned Productions Consulting
(an expert advice and services company based in Ireland)

Saturday 17th December 2016 3.01am

Finished running some benchmarks comparing my new MacBook Pro 13 with Touchbar and my old Dell E6410. My 2016 MacBook has a 3.3 Ghz (turbo 3.5 Ghz) Skylake CPU with 16Gb of DDR3-2133 RAM. My 2010 Dell E6410 has a 2.53 Ghz (turbo 3.0 Ghz) Nehelem CPU with 4Gb of DDR3-1066 RAM. The former cost me nearly €3,000, the latter €550 as it was a retired ex-corporate laptop I bought from eBay US in 2014 for €160 and I bought it a new battery, charger, SSD etc as ex-corporates don't come with any of those.

The MBP can do almost exactly twice as much integer math as the old, but only 50% more floating point math. The much vaunted "proprietary Apple NVMe SSD controller", which achieves those amazing > 3.2Gb/sec headline rates approaching the top of the range and very expensive Samsung 960 NVMe SSD, actually only delivers twice the 4Kb IOPS once it's got NTFS on top, though it delivers 12x the IOPS for 1Mb-16Mb sized i/o. So unsurprisingly the MBP doesn't feel particularly snappier than the Dell for light usage - the 3.5x lower latency thanks to NVMe isn't noticeable when even a SATA SSD can deliver in tens of microseconds.

The only really big performance win for the MBP is in RAM bandwidth. There is more than a 3x improvement. You might have noticed the RAM itself is only twice as fast, but the timings are tighter on the MBP, and the Dell always had this weird problem with unusually low max memory bandwidth for some reason, something I'd expect if the onboard graphics kept its VRAM in normal memory, but in fact my Dell has a dedicated GPU with 512Mb of RAM. I never found any good reason for the poor memory bandwidth.

In terms of raw performance, the MBP is lousy value for money. There really is no point in buying a new laptop given how little technology is improving nowadays. Buy yourself an ex-corporate retired laptop like I did which was top of its range back in its day, and you'll be spending a fifth or a sixth of the money for more than half the performance.

Now, as it happens I did not buy the MBP for performance, I was actually pretty happy with the Dell apart from its lack of RAM. The MBP does have a far better screen than the Dell which was the last generation of top of the range laptops to use crappy TN display panels. The Dell's attempt at rendering a realistic photo was usually laughable, plus I did find the 1440 x 900 resolution a little hampering in terms of workspace. The MBP quadruples the screen resolution plus this late 2016 MBP has even more gamut than most IPS displays. Photos look even better here than my workstation 27" monitor with professional grade colour reproduction. In displays, good incremental technological progress continues.

No, my main reason for this purchase was weight and battery life. The Dell is extremely durably constructed, but it weighs a ton. Forget about holding it on one hand for any length of time. Its new battery has also lost 40% of its capacity in the past two years and its runtime which was never great is now under an hour. I've found that lack of runtime, and the lack of portability increasingly inconvenient. I have to admit annoyance that Apple have lied to everybody about this 2016 refresh's battery life. It's nowhere near the claimed ten hours unless you're not really using it. And that's a big let down given the historical battery life of previous MacBook Pro's, but I guess that's my fault for being the first to buy into this new generation of MBPs.

My other main reason is gaining access to very fast storage so I can tune and optimise proposed Boost.AFIO v2, and to finally gain access to an OS X development platform which ought to make my life considerably easier going into the future. I'm still feeling like the Dell XPS 13 is a better laptop than this one, but as I calculated a few months ago here, the MBP has way better residuals.

Anyway, it's done now. I'm sure this MBP will be fine. Now I just need to find the time to get it set up and configured!