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Fact or fiction: What does (and doesn't) actually speed up your Mac

James Galbraith | Feb. 7, 2014
You hear about ways you can make your Mac faster, but do they really work? Macworld Lab puts these to the test.

MacBook Pro

A faster Mac is always a better Mac, and there are many things you can do to get the most performance from your computer. But what really works? Here are some common myths about Macs and what does—and does not—affect performance.

1. More processing cores always means better performance.'
To test this theory, we ran benchmarks on two 2012 Mac Pros, one with 12 processing cores running at 2.4GHz and one with a quad-core processor running at 3.2GHz. With a MathematicaMark score of 5.70, the 12-core Mac Pro's result was twice that of the quad-core Mac Pro. The 12-core Mac Pro also finished the Cinebench CPU test in the half the time of the quad-core Mac Pro.

But despite all of those extra cores, the 12-core Mac Pro posted slower times than the quad-core system in our iTunes encode, Aperture test, and file compression tests.

While some professional applications can benefit greatly from multiple processors, most applications aren't designed to take advantage of more than four cores. For the majority of applications, fewer but faster processors are preferred.

2. Having an external monitor plugged into your MacBook will slow down performance.'
We tested a late 2013 11-inch MacBook Air, with and without a 27-inch Apple Cinema Display attached, and found almost no performance differences between the two configurations in the 14 tests in our Speedmark 9 benchmarking suite.

We thought switching to an older, slower, MacBook Air might show more or a difference, but we were wrong. The only test to show any real difference was our iMovie test, which was less than 4 percent faster on the 2013 MacBook Air without the external monitor and just over 2 percent faster on a 2011 Air without the external monitor. Differences like that are hardly worth mentioning, much less unplugging a monitor over.

3. Lower capacity SSDs are slower than high capacity SSDs.'
When it comes to solid-state drive (SSD) performance, capacity matters. We took a pair of Toshiba Q series Pro drives and two Samsung EVO 840 drives and ran our performance tests on them.

The 512GB Samsung EVO 840 was 39 percent faster than a 256GB EVO 840 in our 10GB large file write test and 26 percent faster than the lower capacity drive in our 10GB files and folders test. Read speeds, however, were unaffected by the capacity. Black Magic and AJA tests both showed the 512GB drive's write speed to be about 32 percent higher than the 256GB model, with read speeds again showing little change.

The difference in write speeds were even more pronounced in our Toshiba tests. Testing two Q series Pro drives—one at 128GB, the other at 512GB—the 512GB Toshiba was 2.5 times as fast as the 128GB SSD in our large file write tests and 2.3 times as fast in our files and folders read test. Read times were within a percent point of each other.


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