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I have a 2011 Macbook Pro (with a SSD and 16GB RAM upgrade) that I'm very happy with, but it's aging, some ports aren't working anymore, etc., so I'm in the market for a new device.

I do some amount of print design with Adobe CC, and web app/mobile app development. I seem to be pushing the 2011 MBP to the boundaries quite often: it will frequently (and annoyingly) start running its fans are when I work on complex, 500+-MB documents in Adobe CC, and when I code using Visual Studio (with npm, some linters, and usually an iPhone or Android simulator running at the same time).

My favourite new choice would be a 13" MBP (2015 or '16) but I worry about missing out on the performance edge that the 15" MBP offers with its quad-core processors and discrete graphics units (in some models). GeekBench has a clear opinion on which device class is more powerful, but do those benchmarks really apply 100% to the type of work I do? How important is processor speed for me? Is a discrete GPU really that relevant when doing relatively run-off-the-mill print design rather than video? Does a multi-core configuration really make a difference when the main goal is avoiding the system from heating up and running the fans? (I'm happy with most of the 2011 MBP's speed - the fans are the real annoyance.)

Are there more comprehensive benchmarks out there that allow for a performance comparison that is more tailored to specific fields of work?

closed as primarily opinion-based by IconDaemon, Allan, fsb, Ɱark Ƭ, Tetsujin Jan 8 '17 at 15:53

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You have most of what you need to optimize for listed in the second paragraph:

  • Adobe CC - lags with larger documents
  • Adobe CC and Visual Studio - together with iOS/Android simulators

For these items, you'll want to fire up Activity Monitor and or the terminal to figure out what is the bottleneck. Is it RAM / virtual memory swapping to storage or is it purely CPU and thread execution waiting or is the GPU incapable of helping with some of the workload.

  • Two terminal windows with iostat running - one over a 60 second cycle and the other over a 1 second measurement window will let you know how bursty your IO is and whether you need IOPS or need bandwidth out of your storage. (My guess is you need iops - unless you are streaming / editing 4k video). Also, a third window with top -u -s 60 can correlate the load averages you see on iostat 60 with the CPU usage and what apps are really hitting the CPU.

Next, figure out how much RAM you really need - when you have all the apps open and the simulators - is your memory pressure in yellow or still in green. For most people in your case - money spent on more than 8 GB of RAM is usually better spent elsewhere on a faster CPU or more storage or new app upgrades or AppleCare. Even our Mac Pro / iMac 27 inch developers that run development and heavy Adobe apps are finding it hard to justify more than 16 GB of RAM when we measure actual workloads on machines that run 8 hours a shift - three shifts a day.

Once you know where your current workflow is hanging up, you can make a better judgement if you will be delighted with NVMe+PCI storage over the old and slower SATA/AHCI storage. My workload is similar to you and I have a 6 core MacPro (current model) with tons of RAM, a maxed out RAM/CPU 15 inch MacBook Pro with GPU and thunderbolt 2 ports (the last rev before the TB3 models) and a 2015 MacBook (NVMe storage and i3 / 1.1 GHz CPU and one USB C port) and I choose to do the vast majority of my work on the MacBook.

  • for example, compiling mongodb from source (repeat time brew reinstall mongodb --build-from-source two or three times) my MacPro gets the job done in 9m26s using 12 threads, the MacBook Pro takes 11m7s using 8 threads, the MacBook takes 41m25s to compile. The MacBook will run into thermal stress and slow down, but it's rare I have such a large full compile to run and incremental builds are the normal for me.

Yes the others can compile large software faster in benchmarks and Adobe runs a little faster on the large files, but I'm almost never waiting for the machines and I need to take my work with me and the hassle of lugging the 15 inch due to it's physical size and added weight (power brick, adapters, and the CPU/Display) are far more a downside than the few times I can do something a little faster. I'm totally going to upgrade to the 13 inch TouchBar model when the 2017 capital budget hits and decide if I even need to keep the MacBook.

I wouldn't look at any benchmark and instead just measure your actual workload and optimize for that. The truth is - any new MacBook with a touch bar is going to be better for you than anything Apple Sells unless you want to get a 27 inch iMac for max CPU/RAM. In practice, the NVMe storage makes your real life performance great and covers up for any measurable benchmark differences. I'm also not a fan of GPU in the MacBook line - the software glitches you suffer occasionally and the extra drain on the battery never seem to make me happy as a trade off for some limited faster filters in Photoshop or a 3D render that takes 5 minutes instead of 7 to 10.

  • This is awesome, and very reassuring. I'll look at my system's resource usage in more depth with this. Thank you! – Pekka 웃 Jan 8 '17 at 18:41
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    Let me know, @Pekka웃 What you choose. I'm itching to run compiles against the new toucbar hardware. I'm hoping to have data to confirm or change my opinion that the 13 inch will be Pro enough for almost everyone I know or support. – bmike Jan 10 '17 at 16:29
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    will do! -------- – Pekka 웃 Jan 11 '17 at 22:16
  • After a lot of consideration I ended up buying a 15 inch 2015 MBP after all, with a 2.7 GHz processor, 16 GB RAM, and 512 GB SDD. Turned out screen real estate was more important to me than I initially thought. A 2016 model was then out of the question because of price (€400 difference at same specs) and the keyboard (not sure I'd get used to the new keyboard's low travel). I was itching to try touch bar and overall get a more lightweight machine but made the conservative choice. – Pekka 웃 May 9 '17 at 7:33
  • After 2 months of use, I have to say I'm very happy: I have zero perceivable performance problems (in large part thanks to the superfast storage), the fans (much much less noisy than in the 2011 model) spring into action only very occasionally and overall it's a sturdy workhorse, exactly what I needed. I might get an additional Macbook one day, if and when the budget permits, dedicated for work outside the office (avoiding the heavy stuff) if that becomes more common in my routine. Thank you for your detailed advice! – Pekka 웃 May 9 '17 at 7:38

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