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Buying an Apple laptop for a visiting postdoc - can't decide on specs

post #1 of 5
Thread Starter 
Hello, all,

Did not think I'd be posting this, but having spent some frustrating hours researching Apple laptops, I've realized that I can't logically determine which would be the appropriate buy in terms of judicious spending and adequate horsepower. Having used desktops for the past few years, I have absolutely no intuition of what the current mobile processors can do and how they compare.

What I have learned so far is that the latest versions of MacBook Airs have significantly slower processors than their Pro counterparts.

MacBook Pro 15" starts with a physical quad core i7, and the 13" version comes with i5 and i7 options (both dual-core and dual-core with hyperthreadinig).

Now, there's no particular need for fancy graphics, as this will be a work machine for some data processing in Python and IDL and such--I'm not sure how well optimized the latter is for multi-threaded performace, my guess is not very well, and Haswell integrated graphics will be plenty good enough.

A 13" version could be used with an external monitor of some kind to have a larger screen at work. A 15" would be more universal for work from anywhere, of course. It's a subjective choice that we'll leave in part to the person getting the laptop, but in the meantime, what would be a reasonable baseline processor we should be looking at? It would all be much easier if there were more benchmarks for mobile processors, but mostly I just see PassMark and people discussing CPUs for gaming, which is not relevant here.

So far, the latest conclusion is as follows: we should probably go with a Macbook Pro, not Air, and get the baseline i7-4750HQ 15" version with 8GB of RAM (I don't think 16GB are needed, right?)

13" : 2.4GHz i5-4258U, 2.6GHz i5-4288U, 2.8GHz dual-core i7-4558U
15" : 2.0GHz i7-4750HQ, 2.3GHz i7-4850HQ, 2.6GHz i7-4960HQ--all quad core

The 15" processor versions have split larger cache, and the 13" processor versions have smaller and shared cache, but they are clocked a bit faster. Does anyone have a comparison between these and some desktop counterparts for reference? Something well-known like a Sandy i3 or Ivy i5, etc.?
Edited by ElevenEleven - 3/20/14 at 1:08pm
   
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post #2 of 5
Giant list of notebook processors ranked against each other:
http://www.notebookcheck.net/Mobile-Processors-Benchmarklist.2436.0.html

Yes, avoid the MBA. They use ultra-low voltage (ULV) processors which limits overall processor performance.

No need for 16 GB RAM unless the user is doing content creation (editing, rendering, encoding) or running virtual machines. Chances are, you will know for certain ahead of time if you need 16 GB RAM.

And yes, mobile i5 = dual core + hyper-threading
while mobile quad cores are only found in mobile i7 (although not all mobile i7 are quad cores).

I definitely think the baseline MBP 15" should be powerful enough.
    
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post #3 of 5
My laptop has a i7-3720QM which I believe falls somewhere in the middle of the i7's that the current MBPs come with. I'd say that all these processors are massive overkill for what you are wanting to do with them. I use it for the Adobe Suite, Solidworks/Rhino 3d modeling, Keyshot rendering and it performs quite well. I was really surprised at how well it ran all my programs since most of them are CPU dependent.

When compared to my desktop Sandy i7 3820, it's pretty difficult to compare desktop and mobile processors, I'd say in real world performance it's around 70% or so of my desktop, depending on the job. Thus being said I heave a healthy overclock on my desktop to around 4.4ghz, I've really never had any cpu performance issues on anything I've tried to do with it.

Both i5's in the 13" version are standard power versions, I don't see any problems with any of the processor options you list, all should be adequate for what you intend to do with it.

I guess it really comes down to budget and personal feelings about screen size. I personally dislike the 13" size, it's really just too small for me and my hands, not very productive with it.

If ordering from Apple directly make sure you buy the least amount of ram possible. I'm not sure if they still do, but they would massively mark up ram, like $300 or so for 16GB. If you do it yourself you'd save well over 50% with ram that's just as good. Then it's an easy swap and just putting your old ram into a drawer to put back in in-case you need to get your laptop serviced.
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post #4 of 5
Thread Starter 
Thanks guys. The person for whom this laptop is intended prefers a 15" screen, so that makes deciding a bit easier. A $90 upgrade from the base i7 to one .3GHz faster might be somewhat reasonable in the grand scheme of things, but not so sure about a $180 upgrade from 8 to 16GB of RAM (education prices). Trouble with that RAM is that it's soldered on, so you're stuck with the original order to keep the warranty too. I don't think 16GB are necessary, unless he wants to run a lot of virtual machines maybe...
   
CPUMotherboardGraphicsRAM
i7 3770 @ 4.3 GHz ASRock Z77E-ITX GTX 660 Ti + Accelero Mono Plus, 1.875V G.Skill Ripjaws X 16GB at 2133MHz 9-10-11-28-1T... 
Hard DriveHard DriveHard DriveCooling
Crucial m4 Hitachi TravelStar 2.5" SATA III Intel 330  BitFenix Recon fan controller 
CoolingCoolingCoolingCooling
Corsair H100i Scythe Gentle Typhoon AP-14 x 4 (radiator front... Phanteks 140mm fan (exhaust) Fractal Design R2 Silent 140mm fan (bottom intake) 
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Windows 7 Professional 64-bit Windows 8 Professional 64-bit (trying it out) Linux Mint Achieva ShiMian 27" IPSB (tempered glass) 
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Logitech MX518 Monoprice dual-surface aluminum IKEA Dioder light-changing LED strip on the roof Monoprice 10 x 6.25" drawing tablet 
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Intel i5 2400 3.8GHz turbo boost Gigabyte z68x-ud3h-b3 Sapphire Dual-X 7970 OC Samsung 30nm ULP  
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Corsair Force 3 LG DVD-RW Zalman CNPS9900MAX-B Noctua NF-S12B ULN 
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i7 3770 @ 4.3 GHz ASRock Z77E-ITX GTX 660 Ti + Accelero Mono Plus, 1.875V G.Skill Ripjaws X 16GB at 2133MHz 9-10-11-28-1T... 
Hard DriveHard DriveHard DriveCooling
Crucial m4 Hitachi TravelStar 2.5" SATA III Intel 330  BitFenix Recon fan controller 
CoolingCoolingCoolingCooling
Corsair H100i Scythe Gentle Typhoon AP-14 x 4 (radiator front... Phanteks 140mm fan (exhaust) Fractal Design R2 Silent 140mm fan (bottom intake) 
OSOSOSMonitor
Windows 7 Professional 64-bit Windows 8 Professional 64-bit (trying it out) Linux Mint Achieva ShiMian 27" IPSB (tempered glass) 
MonitorKeyboardPowerCase
Dell U2412M 24" LZ-GH aluminum/steel TKL keyboard Seasonic G-550 80+ Gold Fractal Design Define R4 
MouseMouse PadOtherOther
Logitech MX518 Monoprice dual-surface aluminum IKEA Dioder light-changing LED strip on the roof Monoprice 10 x 6.25" drawing tablet 
CPUMotherboardGraphicsRAM
Intel i5 2400 3.8GHz turbo boost Gigabyte z68x-ud3h-b3 Sapphire Dual-X 7970 OC Samsung 30nm ULP  
Hard DriveOptical DriveCoolingCooling
Corsair Force 3 LG DVD-RW Zalman CNPS9900MAX-B Noctua NF-S12B ULN 
CoolingCoolingCoolingOS
Scythe Gentle Typhoon AP-14 Fractal Design R2 Silent 140mm fan Bitfenix Spectre 200mm fan Windows 7 Professional 64-bit 
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Achieva ShiMian 27" IPSB (tempered glass) Ducky Shine II MX Clears Corsair AX750 BitFenix Survivor in White 
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post #5 of 5
Oh wow looks like they started embedding the ram on the 2013 models, that's really unfortunate, I liked being able to upgrade ram easily in my older macs. I know lots of people that run a virtual machine with windows on their macs, but still I think 8GB of ram would be sufficient. But as the other poster said if he intends to do any type of photo or video editing you'd really want the 16GB, especially since you can't add more ram down the line with these new models. $180 to go up to 16GB isn't an amazing price, but it's not as huge of a gouge as I thought, though I'd like it to be cheaper especially since it's embedded. Macs do hold their value much better then their pc counter parts so when it comes time for an upgrade you'd be able to get a significant amount back from it, possibly 70% of sale price depending on the time frame.
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Mini Monster
(13 items)
 
Dedicated Miner
(11 items)
 
For Sale: Oculus Rift + touch
$375 (USD) or best offer
CPUMotherboardGraphicsRAM
Intel Core i7-6700K MSI H110I Pro Nivida GeForce GTX 1080 FE G.SKILL Ripjaws V Series 
Hard DriveHard DriveCoolingOS
HyperX Savage 2.5" 240GB SSD PNY 2.5" 480GB SSD Corsair H75 AIO Cooler Windows 10 Home 
MonitorKeyboardPowerCase
Acer XB270HU bprz 144hz G-Sync Logitech G610 EVGA 120-G1-0650-XR 80 PLUS GOLD 650 W Cooler Master Elite 130 
Mouse
Steel Series Sensei 
CPUMotherboardGraphicsGraphics
Intel E5-1650 Dell OEM Gigabyte 1050 TI Gigabyte 1050 TI 
RAMHard DriveOptical DriveCooling
Dell OEM 16GB (4x4) DDR3 WD Blue 160GB Dell OEM Dell OEM 
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Windows 7 Professional Dell OEM Dell OEM 
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