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Messlatte

The German term 'Messlatte' is usually used figuratively to label something which sets a standard, serves as a reference or constitutes a benchmark with which others of the same kind have to be compared to. The headline of c't 11/2016 reads 'Messlatte MacBook?', and the corresponding article has a remarkably surreal introduction: "Apples MacBooks haben sich in vielen Köpfen als die Referenz für Notebooks festgesetzt: teuer, aber schick und gut. Windows-Notebooks haben allerdings aufgeholt – und bieten in mancherlei Aspekt sogar mehr."

In my experience, nobody with an at least rudimentary ability of logical thinking would view MacBooks as 'reference' for notebooks. I'd suggest 'accessories' instead of 'notebooks', but let's see.

The c't found the MacBook 2016 to be the lightest and slimmest of all contenders. They also report that thanks to this absolutely fantastic and totally unbelievable slimness, there's only space for one port (USB-C), the keyboard has poor tactile feedback due to its insufficient stroke depth, and the CPU performance suffers from insufficient cooling.

How much does it suffer? The (fanless) MacBook 2016 has the same CPU as the (equally fanless) HP Elitebook G1, namely, a Core m5-6y54. In CinebenchR15 (Multi, 64 bit), the Elitebook scores 248 points and the MacBook 122.

One hundred and twenty two. You want to know how bad that is?

In a previous post, I've lamented on the fact that AMD's notebook top model A10-4600M launched in 2012 was not able to deliver a better performance than my low-level Pentium P6200 from 2010. Now, this A10-4600M has a CinebenchR15 (Multi, 64 bit) mark of 187 points, i.e., over 50% more than the current MacBook. Note that the P6200, which I estimate to deliver about 150 CinebenchR15 points, is in my case powering a Fujitsu Lifebook bought in 2011 for €299. Also note that Apple charges €1800 for the MacBook as tested by c't.

You get the same performance for a price tag of €300 in contemporary low-end notebooks powered by Baytrail Atoms, such as the Pentium N3540. Have a look here.

In the same volume, c't also tested two entry-level desktop processors, which are currently available for €60. The Pentium G4400 scores 140 points in CinebenchR15. Single thread. Both cores together achieve 269 points. The quad-core Athlon X4 845 gets 309 points. That's about the performance you get from the contenders of the MacBook equipped with a Skylake generation Core i7, such as the Dell Latitude E7270 (311 points).

Surprised? Always thought an i7 leaves everything else in the dust? Well, i7 is not i7. The performance of ultrabooks is limited by their design factor, and is currently not better than that of desktops available for a quarter of the price—or much worse, as in the case of the MacBook 2016. High-end desktops, by the way, deliver about 900 points and are thus about three times more performant. If you're interested in a comparison of the raw numbercrunching performance of desktop and notebook CPUs, look here.

Interestingly, c't employed an absolute scale and declared all notebooks with a price tag above the €1800 of the MacBook as expensive or very expensive. The Dell mentioned above, for example, was labeled as 'expensive' because of its price tag of €2000. The c't emphasized how much you get for that: namely, a business notebook with options for docking stations, plenty of ports, and three years on-site service, in contrast to the MacBook with none of that.

In my view, that's certainly all very nice to have, but what really counts is the 255% higher performance of the Dell compared to 'Messlatte'. A computer is a computer and should still be mostly defined by its ability to compute.

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