A Depressing Comparison Between the New Kaby Lake MacBook Pro and Four Other Windows Laptops

For the past few months I've been looking for a new laptop to edit videos on. As you probably know, I'm a Windows user, but because Apple just refreshed their MacBook Pro line two days ago, I decided to throw one into the mix as well. The results of my tests were both shocking and depressing. 

Let me first tell you what I wanted in a laptop. I wanted it to cost less than $3,000 (because I don't use laptops very often), I needed at least 16 GB of RAM, 512 SSD, a fast quad-core processor, an accurate 4K screen, SD card reader, and an Ethernet port. As laptops are getting thinner and thinner, finding a new machine that still has Ethernet is very difficult. I would have been happy to buy another Alienware but for some reason they have kept the Ethernet but have gotten rid of their SD card readers. Sadly, I was not able to find a laptop with all of these features that I was happy with, but I did compare five of the most popular laptops on the market today and I came to some very interesting conclusions. 

Here are the five computers I tested. 

Dell XPS 15 9550

  • i7 6700HQ
  • 16 GB RAM
  • GTX 960M

We've owned this computer for one and a half years and it has been amazing. We have had issues with our USB to Ethernet dongles but I think we finally got to the bottom of the issue by updating drivers and purchasing a Dell USB C to Ethernet adapter. This is Patrick's main computer and I would have purchased another one if it had Ethernet but I was really excited to remove all dongles from my life and therefore I wanted a new computer that had all of the ports I needed. 

Surface Book

  • i7 - 6600U
  • 16 GB RAM
  • GTX 965M

I've owned this computer for a while now and it really is a fantastic laptop. The only reason that I wanted to purchase another machine was because this laptop doesn't have Ethernet (without a giant hub that is a pain to travel with) and it only has two underpowered USB ports which struggle to power my Logitech mouse dongle and anything else at the same time. With the dock this laptop works perfectly, I just hate having to travel with it. 

HP Zbook Studio G4

  • i7 7700HQ
  • 16 GB RAM
  • Quadro M1200

I purchased the Zbook because I thought it was the perfect laptop. It had everything I wanted plus two thunderbolt ports, Ethernet, and a fingerprint reader. Sadly when I got it I noticed that the screen had significant dimming on the edges. Everyone else in the office said I was crazy for even noticing this but I couldn't justify spending $2,500 on a laptop with a crappy screen. 

Dell Inspiron 15 7000

  • i7 7700HQ
  • 16 GB RAM
  • GTX 1050 Ti

The next laptop I purchased was the new Dell 7000. It was almost the same laptop as the Zbook above minus the fingerprint reader and two thunderbolt jacks and it was also $1,100 cheaper. This laptop would have been perfect for me except that the screen was even worse than the Zbook's. Instead of edge dimming, the colors of the screen were so inaccurate that I had trouble working on it. I tried to calibrate it and I couldn't get it close to looking right. 

MacBook Pro 15-Inch

  • i7 7700HQ
  • 16 GB RAM
  • Radeon Pro 555

I was ready to run the test with the four computers above but Apple literally updated their laptops two days ago and so I decided to run to the Apple store and buy a MacBook Pro with and identical processor to the Zbook and Dell 7000. The MacBook literally cannot be used without dongles because it only has USB type C ports which is my biggest nightmare, but I added this for test purposes only. 

The Test

This laptop will be used almost exclusively for Adobe Premiere and so I only cared about how it performed with this program. I transferred the same project to all five computers' local SSD drive and I exported the footage with the same encoding options. Surprisingly the oldest computer, the Dell XPS 15, was able to render the footage the fastest and the new MacBook Pro was by far the slowest. 

Results (Less time is better)

1. Dell XPS 15 9550: 3:35

2. Dell Inspiron 15 7000: 3:44

3. HP Zbook Studio G4: 4:35

4. Surface Book: 5:01

5. MacBook Pro 15-Inch: 6:04

I then ran the test again without GPU acceleration disabled and got almost identical results. This seems to prove that either the GPU didn't help in any way in the first test or that the GPU was still helping on all computers in the second test even though I turned it off.

I tried one other test on each of the computers that I failed to mention in the video. I tried to play back the 4K footage in the timeline at double speed on each of the machines. The only laptop that struggled with this was the Surface Book because at times it would start to drop frames but it wasn't a significant problem, nothing like the first one that I tested over a year ago. All of the other four laptops performed almost identically. 

Conclusion

The new Kaby Lake processors may not be a significant jump over their predecessor on either Windows or Mac platforms. When it comes to Adobe Premiere, they may actually be worse. I've seen similar results with other benchmark tests but I was shocked to see our one-and-a-half-year-old laptop beat four of the newest, and most expensive laptops currently on the market. I decided to give up on my search for the "perfect laptop" and instead I went on eBay and purchased a used XPS 15 which is identical to ours and has a two year warranty for just $1,100. If you don't want to deal with a used laptop, B&H is currently selling this laptop for just $1,500 brand new. It's always nice when the most affordable option is also the best. 

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87 Comments

Well, you will get the best results and save money. Life is good it seems.

Yep, that's the bright side

Kawika Lopez's picture

I wonder if this comparison is a bit premature. I think a huge factor in the upcoming months is Metal 2. I don't imagine the version of Adobe that was used for this test was built for that architecture. I may be completely off on this since I have no developer experience so correct me if I'm wrong. I do know that a new version of Davinci Resolve will be able to take full advantage of Metal 2 once High Sierra is released.

Frederic Dupoux's picture

@leemorris this comparison doesn't make sense. Your using a software that is known for not being to use the resources available in macs to do the task in hand. You ought to do the same rendering test in that line up with Final Cut Pro instead and see the time difference.
Try again.

Tam Nguyen's picture

This is a very good comparison Lee. I bet this video took forever to make with all the prep work.

How would this translate to photo editing and exporting performance? I wait quite some time during the export process from lightroom.

First off, Apple has abandoned all pretense of being a "professionals-friendly" company a long time ago. They are NOT about content creation, but content consumption. Yeah, they make a lot of money doing it that way, but still... Sure they role this thing out with some nods hear and there to editing or coding but really, they can't fool those who actually compare. And plus, as you said, EVERY slot and port that makes a laptop useful has been pulled out of it! Who pays more for less and thinks it's "awesome"?

But back to your comparison: It's mostly the GPU in my opinion, though there could be some other CPU and IO things going on too. On the MacBook, ATI is not nearly as optimized as Nvidia has been for Adobe products. Also that GTX 965 you have in your older machine is just plain better than (and probably was more expensive) than the GPUs in the the other laptops on your list.

Another thing to know is that newer Intel mobile CPUs often have a GPU built-in on the chip, which for professionals is like putting square wheels on a race car. I have a Lenovo Yoga which I "now" love for doing both 3D animation work and video editing, which has a high-end Nvidia GPU, but also a lower-end GPU on a chip in there as well!. So first I needed to put anything Intel GPU-related on the lowest power mode possible, so as to have the Nvidia chip do all the work. Weird I know, but I did several before and after tests and sure enough it was the built-in GPU that was a drag on the system. It also made the fans go at 100% almost all the time before that too.

While I'd normally agree with you Doug, and your 'idea' it would be a 'GPU thing' ...however, the 'oldest' computer that's performance is the best is actually using the oldest (and lowest configuration of) architecture of the nVidia series, the 960 - not 965. That's in the Surf Book. And performance is 30% 'faster' on the 960 (throttling?)
But overall it speaks mainly to Adobe's lack of keeping their code updated and efficient with the current hardware! Seriously, the generational 'bump' nVidia had beteeen 9 and 10 series was massive! As large as we've seen in ....forever? Yet the newer architecture GPU, along with a proven faster CPU, the 1050 is underperforming? As, is, the Z ok with a Quadro card?
I understand using the fastest, most efficient tool for your gig (I also produce A & V and have the full Adobe CC Suite as I use AE & Audition, as well as PS, Premier rarely as FCPX is/has again become my default option and works incredibly well on Apple hardware).

To the author, I found the same situation with the 2015/2016 15" MacBook Pros, and saved a $500 bill buying the top shelf 15" (2015) w/2.8GHz, 16GB, & 1TB PCIe SSD w/AMD discreet GPU - from its $3,099 retail, paying the same amount as the new 15" entry, 512GB model and kept USB 3, Ethernet, SD slot, audio, and Thunderbolt (2) ports -- and for FCP-X/AE/PS workflow, I've had great luck with the MacBook Pros, and the current update brings some excellent improvements over last fall's ...but I'm not ready, like you, to carry a bag of dongles.
I also own a Dell XPS 13, easily the best Windows laptop I've ever owned and there've been plenty over the last 25 years! I left Windows (personally, professionally I was relegated to corporate choices, and Windows XP @ the time) during the PowerPC transition to Intel w/Apple and the Windows Vista period with Windows. A pair of BTO Compaqs for my wife and I with amazing specs at the time ... and were well north of $5,000 (for the pair) - ended up frustrating me to the point I tried OS X with a 13" MacBook I'd bought my wife, quickly followed a month later with the purchase of the 17" MacBook Pro... as well as learning FCP (3 or 4 @ the time), unlearning Adobe and Autodesk - and here we are today. I've found, with my business, I can't afford to be picky and today (last decade) - I've kept feet in both Win 7-8/8.1-10, OS X/macOS, and Avid, Premier, and FCP - Resolve, AE and Audition/Logic X. A weird conglomeration, but some clients/houses are pretty specific as to their personal opinions.

The test was interesting and I'm sure took some time to put together. But a more comprehensive test would be very interesting as the conclusion... as I'm sure you'll agree, makes no sense taking the hardware into account. That said, cooling is a HUGE factor when en/decoding and finalizing a project and could've played a factor with your outcome. It definitely shows how the lack of OpenGL support affects it's performance on the Mac, a nice justification for adding a TB external, powered PCIe card box. Whether for using a Red Rocket or a 1080ti (for Adobe compatibility) or, if editing high resolution... cards able to draw the near 15 million pixels on a 5K display (like the new MacBook Pro 'can' run TWO of!).
I'm not trying to discount your findings, quite the opposite. I think the race to thinner and lighter and longer lasting laptops is to blame along with Adobe's obstinance when it comes to updating their code and using/building compatibility into their software to the present times. They've done a phenomenal job with their iOS apps but I think the 40% of their employees now dedicated to Mobile development is hampering their ability to enhance some of the primary desktop CC programs.

Off soapbox,
Tl/Dr, How in the hell does the oldest, slowest and weakest GPU equipped computer render your video files the fastest? ;)

Anthony Ojo's picture

Adobe has to write software between 2 different platforms with identical performance and features. Final cut only has to deal with its own so of course it is optimized for macs. Since this review is coming from a person who doesn't build computers this review is like going to best buy and talking to an ignorant best buy employee about computers.

All of these CPUs have built in GPUs and unless you tell the computer to use the GPU it will use the crappy built in GPU which the Mercury Engine in Adobe uses to accelerate certain things in certain programs. Hell even illustrator is GPU accelerated now. And then there is also the power options that make a difference in performance. And then there is HDD speed. Are they NVMe drives, are they in RAID? What about background running programs? What about heat? Is there any throttling going on?

And when it comes to the "USB-C confusion" its simple think harry potter if it has a thunder bolt its Thunderbolt that can also do USB, if it has no thunder bolt then it is just regular old USB! Whats the confusion!

>> But back to your comparison: It's mostly the GPU in my opinion,

Do you have any EVIDENCE for your opinion? Because my first glance at bencmarks online seems to show that Premiere is relatively insensitive to GPU performance.

Eg https://www.pugetsystems.com/recommended/Recommended-Systems-for-Adobe-P...

Bill Larkin's picture

My problem with the PC's isn't the hardware, it's the operating system. The Linux (BSD) system that mac runs on, with it's Journaled file system just offers so much security and productivity both. I couldn't dream of using a PC even if the hardware was twice as fast. :)

Oh wow such ignorance :).

Bill Larkin's picture

The windows operating system is so horribly buggy and full of security holes, it's a very antiquated OS, They need to abandon it and start over if they want to have a decent product.

Ben Perrin's picture

So by your definition a Windows machine with hardware that's twice as fast is less productive than a Mac at half the speed? I swear these Apple zealots are from a different planet sometimes...

NTFS has Journaling (transaction and shadow) and many other features for enforcing file and volume security. Overall NTFS is a very robust and reliable file system that's over 20 years old.

Which journaling system are you comparing it to? HFS+? Because HFS+ has numerous issues. Even Linus Torvalds has stated it's the worst file system out there.

I just wonder how blind Apple fanboys are. They seem to have the misapprehension that their ecosystem is far superior to Windows. I understand why of course. There must be a justification for paying far too much for a system that continuously shuts out meaningful features and charges more for it.

Robert Nurse's picture

I've been using Windows since 3.1; since before OS's came with an IP stack and have scoffed at Apple and their "fanboys". That is, until I actually used one. Hardware speed doesn't always necessarily equate to increased productivity. If you're constantly jiggering around with this driver and that and messing around with something gone wrong on a Windows machine instead of working on editing those great photos, where's the productivity? You're basically going nowhere really fast.

Peter Guyton's picture

IBM has moved 90,000 windows users to Macs. They saved so $26m over 4 years and I bet the bulk of it is in support time saved wasting time with device drivers and such (as you mention).

https://9to5mac.com/2016/04/11/apple-mac-market-numbers-idc/

IBM also have a large contingent of Windows engineers and support staff on remote sites, and most of the people migrated to Macs was through a deal with Apple and are mostly for RDP and in-house software. IBM also outsources a lot of it's external contracts now. You also notice there's been no real follow up. When I worked for IBM I was issued a Lenovo laptop and had to use the browser to integrate to IBM server through a browser and/or a VPN to get the information I needed and/or e-mail. If was often quicker to rely on the client than it was for IBM for e-mail or rely on IBMs virtual desktop system.

I support Apple and Windows, with Apple laptops they have to be sent away often with users data and they have no centralised way of encrypting/decrypting volumes (mandatory when dealing financial and client data). With a Windows laptop I can generally swap out the SSD/RAM or WiFi card if needed to get it working again or just change the chassis. Same with desktops. Driver faults are rarer now especially under Win 10 which has compartmentalised them and to be frank Apple has it's own fair share of glitches with the OS especially when they had a habit of securing user credentials in the clear for the iTunes software or unable to make use of Proxies.

Robert Nurse's picture

Now, this is what makes Apple so successful and their achilles heel simultaneously: interchangeable hardware. Being in control of the entire product top to bottom is what makes Apple machines so nice. But, when you want to upgrade/expand, not so much.

True, every advantage has a disadvantage. The same component that you can buy in a Windows computer, costs probably double in an Imac.
Look at the price of ram, a faster cpu or whatever. Macs charges you more.

>>>

IBM has moved 90,000 windows users to Macs. They saved so $26m over 4 years and I bet the bulk of it is in support time saved wasting time with device drivers and such (as you mention).

https://9to5mac.com/2016/04/11/apple-mac-market-numbers-idc/

<<<

Your link doesn't even make this claim, let alone substantiate it.

Peter Guyton's picture

Sorry , wrong link. Dang.... here are a couple that support the point.
http://www.computerworld.com/article/3131906/apple-mac/ibm-says-macs-are...

Here's the one with the $26m in savings
http://blog.code42.com/ibm-touts-macs-in-the-enterprise-it-professionals...

Ok: you now have a link. To effectively an ad for a division of IBM trying to get people to pay them to install Apple machines. So the questions are

1. Do you have a source that anyone should take seriously???

2. Did you actually attempt to compare the alleged saving per machine per year to the difference in cost between machines in this case? Because spending thousands of dollars to save an alleged 300 bucks a year

https://www.extremetech.com/computing/238002-ibm-claims-moving-to-mac-dr...

..Does NOT strike me as an act of smartness.

3. Did you attempt to sanity check IBMs claims? The world is full of Windows machines and, as much as I hate them, most run on a support cost of $0 a year for their entire lives...

Peter Guyton's picture

1) I presented a good source, Computerworld, who quotes an IBM VP directly. "IBM VP of Workplace as a Service, Fletcher Previn, told the conference that 90,000 employees are now using Macs, up from 30,000 in 2015. 100,000 of IBM’s global workforce will be using Macs by the end of the year, he said, and the number is climbing.

There are lots of reasons for this, not least that better OS software means Apple needs to update its systems far less often than Microsoft updates Windows. 'We have to go out and manage the Mac environment 104 fewer times a year than PC,' Previn said.

2) I didn't compare anything. IBM did, that's the point.

3) I used to manage a fleet of several thousand Windows machines as an IT Director. I'm very aware of their prevalence and believe me their support cost is nowhere near $0. Not even close.

Your article asks for more specifics and raises legitimate questions. But it doesn't answer them and I know of no other relevant study that would suggest the IBM findings are faulty. Help Desk ticket metrics in a population that large is a hard thing to argue with, but I'm sure you will.

>>1) I presented a good source, Computerworld, who quotes an IBM VP directly. <<

This is no way an intelligent answer to the point that IBM was trying to sell something...

You might as well say "Gee, that article on the health value of sugar load carbonated beverages HAD to be reliable - the source was the Coca Cola's CEO!"

troublesome drivers is a thing from the past. Has been since Windows 7.

Kolade Agunbiade's picture

Lool, that's a new one. Give yourself time. Just hoping you didn't love Kodak too.

Bill, you do know that Linux and BSD are totally different operating systems right? MacOS is a BSD UNIX derivative.

Totally different is a little strong. They're very close cousins. The Apple version of BSD has been dumbed down in some worrying ways though.