Jumping from an Ivy Bridge into Ice Lake
May 4, 2020 10:28 AM   Subscribe

Please help me understand how much better the processor is in the new 2020 MacBook Pro is as compared to one from 2012.

Apple did the announcement today that I was waiting for: New MacBook Pros with a magic keyboard. My computer is from mid-2012, and likely getting to the end of MacOS support so I've been thinking it's time. However, my outdated experience with comparing computers was from the days when GHz meant something, and that doesn't seem to be the case with modern processors. When I buy a new computer I hope to semi-future proof, which has served me well in getting 5-8 years out of laptops. I've been looking at articles comparing processors, but I'm not really understanding what benefits the newer processors with similar Ghz have beyond moar cores (not to discount that as valuable). So, I would appreciate help in understanding the benefit for my specific uses.

Old Computer:
MacBook Pro Mid-2012 13-Inch
Ivy Bridge 2.9Ghz Intel Core i7 (with 2 cores, pretends to have 4 cores)
Turbo Boost to 3.6Ghz
Intel HD Graphics 4000 1536 MB Video Card
I upgraded the HD to an SSD, and the RAM to 16GB a few years ago

Possible New Computer:
MacBook Pro 13-inch
Either the (I think Ice Lake) 2.0 Ghz quad-core i5 / Turbo Boost up to 3.8Ghz (4 cores)
Or 2.3 Ghz quad-core i7 / Turboboost up to 4.1Ghz (4 cores)
Intel Iris Plus Graphics
Continued SSD, could do either 16GB or 32 GB of RAM

General features I can see would be improved:
Moving to retina display (what a nice upgrade)
1lb lighter, a bit thinner
Increased battery life
Support for Zoom backgrounds without a greenscreen
Support for Sidecar (but I'm already doing that with Duo)
Touchbar (meh)
Move to USB-C (I know it's The Future, but for now this is in the hassle category for me)
Continued MacOS support (though I've been procrastinating moving past Mojave because of the 64-bit application reqs, so hassle there too)

Software I use regularly:
Photoshop, InDesign (which run fine on my old computer)
iMovie (occasionally)
Microsoft Office (mostly)
Scrivener, Bookends, R Studio
The occasional Minecraft is about as far as I get in games (tragically, I know this upgrade would not support raytracing whenever it would be available on MacOS because laptop)

Cost-wise I can make either option work fine, but it is still a lot of money so I'd like to feel like the investment is worth it. So, my questions: Would I see the improvement in daily use? Is there an advantage in use/likely length of use for going to the i7 over the i5? Thanks!
posted by past unusual to Technology (13 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Haswell, just after Ivy Bridge, brought some significant power efficiency improvements. Performance isn't all that much better than it once was, but the performance per watt has steadily increased after the big jump with Haswell.

If you really will get two extra cores, that will make a huge difference to overall performance in many workloads. Even web browsers are multithreaded these days.
posted by wierdo at 10:31 AM on May 4, 2020

Performance improvement you'll most likely notice is SSD speed. Going from a standard SATA device to a modern integrated SSD with the controller embedded in the custom T2 chip is a considerable upgrade. My 16-inch MacBook Pro shows read and write speeds of around 2800 MB/sec on Blackmagic's disk speed test app.

The downside is that the SSD is no longer a removable (and thereby end-user upgradable) device, so make sure you specify enough storage up front.
posted by HillbillyInBC at 10:52 AM on May 4, 2020

USB-C turns out to be pretty nice, at least for me so far (~8 months into a new rMBP).

Everything will be faster. There are shorter upgrade intervals (say, 3-5y) where the difference might be subtle, but if you go look at Geekbench & etc benchmarks, you'll see the speed bump on the new chips is pretty significant vs. a model from most of a decade ago. I found a pretty serious bump in Lightroom with only a 4-year gap, for example.

If you buy new, I'd get a TB SSD. Remember, you can't upgrade later, and you seem to be the sort who might keep things a while.
posted by uberchet at 11:42 AM on May 4, 2020

It will be significantly faster when you're running anything that's CPU-bound. I believe these are what you have vs. the higher end option on the new one. It will be obviously peppier during day to day stuff, but if you're just web browsing it won't be _that_ noticeable. Photoshop will be a lot faster.
posted by Candleman at 11:44 AM on May 4, 2020

Benchmarks suggest the new machine will be not quite 2x faster on compute limited tasks. The SSD and USB-C are bigger improvements so if storage is a big factor for you they indicate more of a reason to trade-up.

Remember that most of the time these days your computer is just sitting there waiting for you to do something, so unless you're doing a lot of video or photo rendering, or are doing hundreds of audio tracks simultaneously, you probably won't be as impressed as you were when you got the thing 7-8 years ago.

I'm still using a 2012 Retina MacBook Pro 15" with 16G RAM and an external monitor and while sometimes it stutters, it's still quite adequate to most of my work.

I am personally okay with waiting until there is a non-Intel processor Mac to consider before I upgrade. I am tired of Intel's garbage. There will likely be an ARM powered macbook next year, but I'm looking for a ARM Mini hopefully sometime in 2022. That's where it would make the most sense as a desktop inroad (and also for my work).
posted by seanmpuckett at 12:13 PM on May 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

Thank you all for the good points and links! The message I'm getting is that I likely wouldn't see that much of a difference outside of resource-intensive processes but with those I would see a ton of difference.

I am open to waiting for the next computer too if that makes more sense. My current computer continues to work pretty well since I had updated the hard drive to an SSD and increased the RAM a few years ago. In terms of rumors for the next generation, I think I had read that an Apple-developed ARM processor wouldn't necessarily be faster, and in fact might be a little slower, but would run cooler (perhaps even not needing a fan) and likely help with battery life. Is that likely right?

Also, wouldn't the ARM processor also bring up issues with applications needing to be updated to work? I remember the Intel transition, and it was honestly rather annoying. I think I'd probably then be waiting a couple of years for the sweet spot of enough programs updated to function but not so long that everything I use is completely sans updates.
posted by past unusual at 1:13 PM on May 4, 2020

I'm in almost the identical situation to you - I have a refurb....the last pre-retina Macbook 13" from 2012 that has a magsafe 1 adaptor, 2.9GHz i7 maxed out at 16GB ram and 1TB SSD i installed myself. The new toys ARE shiny BUT:

Even though I shlep it everywhere and the weight/screen/battery life are inferior to the new toys, I still like the fact I can repair and replace the ssd, ram and use the 10 magsafe adaptors (FAR superior to USBc) that I have lying around home office etc.

It's plenty fast for virtually everything that I use it for, and I can buy its replacement if I spill coffee on it for ~600 bux! refurbished, all in, excluding HD (which, if I needed a new one I can buy for like 200 bux for a 2TB! SSD HD). That's like 50-70% cheaper than the new mac.

Reluctant mojave user here desparate to keep 32 bit access.....When apple stop supporting intel chips with some sort of mandatory MacOS upgrade to make browsers/adobe/ms packages work..... I suppose I'll have to upgrade. Till then...not likely.
posted by lalochezia at 2:15 PM on May 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

I have a similar model to yours and mine upgraded to Catalina easily. Because I am an all-in kind of person I went ahead and did a full wipe and reinstall of the operating system and clean installs of everything else and did see a performance improvement. I use Adobe Acrobat and Photoshop and am very guilty of multiple tabs across multiple browsers simultaneously. My machine with 16GB of Ram and 4TB of RAM does fine. I would wait until the Intel free future is here before shelling for similar specs for a new MacBook pro Intel.
posted by jadepearl at 6:08 PM on May 4, 2020

Also, I was with you on the touchbar being "meh" until I found out how to bend it to my will using BetterTouchTool. Now I have a custom configuration with exactly the functions and buttons and swipe gestures I want, and the system default touchbar is just a keystroke away when I need it.
posted by HillbillyInBC at 7:22 PM on May 4, 2020

Because I am an all-in kind of person I went ahead and did a full wipe and reinstall of the operating system and clean installs of everything else and did see a performance improvement.
I really hate to see this kind of advice. People think that a wipe-and-reinstall process is something all computers need because it really IS something that Windows often needs, but I've never seen a situation on OS X/MacOS that required it (outside of things like actual disk failure).

MacOS doesn't have the internal constructs that lead to slowdowns and cruft (e.g., the Registry, or the way Windows handles DLLs -- which leads to an inexorably expanding C:\Windows folder).

I've been on OSX/MacOS for nearly 20 years, and I've literally NEVER done a wipe-and-reinstall. It's just not necessary. It will banish leftover run-at-startup / run-at-login processes, but there are FAR easier and FAR faster ways to take care of that.

Wiping the drive, restoring your data, and reinstalling and reconfiguring all your apps to solve that problem is akin to burning down the house to get rid of a mouse.

(However, if you take possession of a used computer, I probably would wipe it -- Macs have malware and trojans, too, and if you don't know the computer's history you don't know that it's clean. But that's a different question.)
posted by uberchet at 1:46 PM on May 5, 2020

Thank you everyone for the thoughts and information! I do carry my computer places, so definitely going to stick with the Macbook Pro, but I'm back to being on the fence about whether to bother to upgrade at this point with my use and knowing the limitations of the new formfactors. Which that's probably a sign, especially in this time of uncertainty, to wait. I'll see how I feel in a month and go from there.

I marked a few answers that matched my thinking, but thank you again for the answers.
posted by past unusual at 7:58 AM on May 6, 2020

If anyone is curious, I now have one of the new Macbook Pro M1 machines with 16 GB of RAM and a 1TB harddrive on order. I'm glad I ended up waiting, even as I expect some level of transition headaches and #donglelife.

Thanks again for all the feedback!
posted by past unusual at 2:22 PM on November 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

I was wondering about you! Appreciate the update. I'm waiting on the M1S or M1pro or whatever the bump chip will be, to get my Mac Mini. Also would prefer 32G RAM.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:01 PM on November 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

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