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Posted on March 10th, 2011 by David Bayon

Apple MacBook Pro 13in: where’s the Turbo Boost?

MacBookProsIntro

The Apple MacBook Pro 13in is a glorious laptop. It’s thin and light, gorgeous both to look at and to use, and it packs no small amount of power in its tiny chassis. Yet our tests have uncovered a performance issue that will affect every user.

We ran our new Real World Benchmarks on the top-end model, with a dual-core 2.7GHz Intel Core i7-2620M processor, 4GB of DDR3 and a 500GB hard disk. It’s a very fast laptop for its size, as a final score of 0.70 shows – that’s only around 20% slower than the top-end quad-core 17in model. Yet it’s not quite as fast as it should be.

We first noticed a problem when the benchmarks finished five full runs and the results popped up on screen: the times taken to complete several of the most intensive tests were rising with each run. This would suggest an overheating problem, so we ran a temperature monitor to find out how hot this Sandy Bridge CPU was getting. Here are the readings both when idle and under full load:

Temperatures

We should point out that 93°C is not necessarily too high for a modern CPU, but it is the root cause of the bigger performance problem. To explain, here’s that full-load temperature again, along with Intel’s own Turbo Boost monitor:

Turbo 13in

The temperature of 93°C was reached with the processor peaking at 2.7GHz. The Core i7-2620M should be able to Turbo Boost up to a maximum of 3.4GHz, but in this laptop it doesn’t top 2.7GHz at any temperature.

For comparison, here is the same reading from the Core i7-2720QM in the top-end 17in model:

Turbo 17in

Here it’s being Turbo Boosted from its stock 2.2GHz. Notice how the blisteringly fast 17in model only peaks a few degrees hotter than the 13in, and that’s with the maximum boost. As soon as the fans kicked in that settled comfortably in the high eighties.

What does this all mean? Well, if the CPU in the MacBook Pro 13in hits 93°C at stock speeds, we can only imagine how hot it would get if Turbo Boost was allowed to kick in. So we suspect Apple has disabled it completely to prevent overheating in such a tiny chassis.

It’s an issue we haven’t seen highlighted, perhaps because to the end user it doesn’t really affect the day-to-day experience – and it shouldn’t put you off buying what is in every other way a fantastic piece of kit. But Apple is promoting this on its website as a Turbo Boost-enabled laptop. We’ve asked Apple for comment and await its response.


UPDATE 11/3/11, 13:30: First, we must just clarify, it’s definitely not that the processor is dynamically choosing not to apply Turbo Boost due to the temperature under load; we’ve used this MacBook Pro for a week now and the Intel Turbo Boost monitor doesn’t report a boost at all, whatever the temperature and task.

We also now have the £999 model with its 2.3GHz Core i5 processor in the Labs. We ran the same tests on that one and can confirm that its processor is Turbo Boosting in Boot Camp as it should. The issue is unique to the i7 model.

However, secondly, we must doff our caps to Anandtech and show you our reading from a utility they used called MSR Tools:

msrtools

We stand corrected on one count: it is indeed Turbo Boosting in OS X. We ran a temperature monitor for several minutes as well, and those boosted speeds occurred with a peak temperature of 93°C, the exact same as the peak in Windows without the boost.

The Turbo Boost issue therefore looks to be one of processor cooling in Windows. That affects a far smaller group of users that an OS X flaw, but it remains a mystery: does the Core i7 model of the MacBook Pro 13in run so hot under Windows drivers that Apple has chosen to disable Turbo Boost? Our tests make that a plausible scenario.

Heat is an issue that’s difficult to ignore. Even on the Core i5 model, just unpacking a large zip file had the Turbo Boosted Core i5 quickly rising to 90°C; during a stress test that hit 99°C. And that has a knock-on effect: with an IR temperature gun we measured the aluminium underside of the laptop at a thigh-scalding 60°C!

We’re more sure than ever that Apple had a real task on its hands getting such fast processors into this chassis, and from everything we’ve seen we’re leaning away from the top-end 13in model as a purchase. If the sight of our benchmarks gradually getting slower with each consecutive run wasn’t enough to highlight the cooling problem, a heat gun pointed at the metal underside certainly was.

There is one plus to the Turbo Boost mystery, however: if you intended to buy a MacBook Pro 13in and install Windows on it, you’ll probably find the cheaper model actually runs faster than the top-end one. Save yourself £300.

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Posted in: Hardware, View from the Labs

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58 Responses to “ Apple MacBook Pro 13in: where’s the Turbo Boost? ”

  1. nicl Says:
    March 10th, 2011 at 2:27 pm

    If Apple doesn’t reply use the new ASA regulations re false advertising!

     
  2. David Artiss Says:
    March 10th, 2011 at 2:57 pm

    Maybe Apple’s anal-level of detail to aesthetics has caused them problems again – didn’t one of their earlier computers over-heat because Jobs insisted they remove a fan for just this reason?

     
  3. Lee Grant Says:
    March 10th, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    Lovely.

    Overpriced and underclocked – what a product?

     
  4. Ally Says:
    March 10th, 2011 at 3:35 pm

    Looking forward to the issue provided by Apple.

    Maybe they’ll decide to chop 10% off the cost and I’ll fly to the moon in my Vauxhall Astra later.

     
  5. BookMac Says:
    March 10th, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    There she blows:

    http://www.apple.com/uk/macbookpro/features.html#processor

     
  6. wes Says:
    March 10th, 2011 at 4:32 pm

    Awaits the…
    It’s not a problem with our laptop it’s just how your using it…

     
  7. TimoGunt Says:
    March 10th, 2011 at 4:35 pm

    There is a tiny 1 next to this statement:
    The 13-inch MacBook Pro now features a 2.3GHz Intel Core i5 processor or the fastest dual-core processor available — the 2.7GHz Intel Core i7. With Turbo Boost speeds up to 3.4GHz, these processors allow the 13-inch MacBook Pro to perform up to twice as fast as the previous generation.

    And what does that 1 mean:
    Testing conducted by Apple in February 2011 using pre-production 2.7GHz dual-core Intel Core i7–based 13-inch MacBook Pro units. 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo–based 13-inch MacBook Pro systems were production units. All systems were configured with 4GB of RAM. Modo test files: BathFaucet.lxo and Couch.lxo. MacBook Pro continuously monitors system thermal and power conditions, and may adjust processor speed as needed to maintain optimal system operation.

    Basically they’ve disabled it and covered themselves. Dirty tricks

     
  8. Al Says:
    March 10th, 2011 at 4:44 pm

    Then its not turbo boost.

     
  9. Craig Dunn Says:
    March 10th, 2011 at 10:09 pm

    Maybe they’ll release a free cover that ….errr. keeps it cool…
    And ofcourse it won’t be a fault it’ll be a overheating avoidance feature. Another Apple product not living up to it’s marketing. Thanks to PC Pro for highlighting this. Look’s like with the iPhone4 signal dropping fiasco, the whole controlling Flash nightmare scenario and now this, the sheen on the Apple logo is starting to look a bit mouldy. I don’t like laughing at other people’s perils but the phrase “What goes around comes around” springs to mind.

     
  10. Paul Sheraton Says:
    March 10th, 2011 at 10:20 pm

    I have bought a 2011 13 inch Mac Book Pro lower spec and feel a bit cheated now if PC Pro want to borrow it to run some tests give me a call. Im going to try running 3D Mark 11 to see what happends!

     
  11. Alex Woodrow Says:
    March 10th, 2011 at 11:16 pm

    I’ve bought one too. What tHey have done is dishonest and has inflUenced my purchasing decision so I shall be making a complaint.

     
  12. Paul Ockenden Says:
    March 11th, 2011 at 9:16 am

    Has anyone tried testing it in a fridge?

     
  13. Nick Palmer Says:
    March 11th, 2011 at 9:33 am

    @Ockenden – “You’re just cooling it wrong. Not that big of a deal.”? :P

     
  14. James Says:
    March 11th, 2011 at 9:58 am

    Has anyone tested the lower spec MacBook Pro 13? Intel lists the max turbo frequency of the 2.3 GHz processor at 2.9 GHz. If Apple have not had to disable turbo boost in the lower spec model, (maybe it runs cooler?), then it may have a higher performance. Would be an interesting test to see.

     
  15. Richard Hayes Says:
    March 11th, 2011 at 10:01 am

    I think a lap heat test for modern laptops should be seriously considered for future reviews. I suspect that the previous problems of reduced fertility in men and even damaged tissue on the laps of users from past laptops may get worse in the future with the higher temperatures modern CPU’s can reach.

     
  16. Dan Says:
    March 11th, 2011 at 10:31 am

    Cat amongst pidgeon time:
    .
    http://www.anandtech.com/show/4205/the-macbook-pro-review-13-and-15-inch-2011-brings-sandy-bridge/3
    .
    “I verified turbo frequencies on the 2.7GHz 13-inch. The highest I saw single core turbo hit was 3.4GHz, and dual core turbo was good for 3.2GHz. There’s absolutely no funny business going on here, the dual-core 2.7 is allowed to hit its maximum frequencies.”

     
  17. Kip Says:
    March 11th, 2011 at 10:51 am

    @Paul Ockenden – use a Smeg and make sure you have a bottle of Pouilly Fumé chilling to keep the poor thing company.

     
  18. Sarcen Says:
    March 11th, 2011 at 11:26 am

    If this gets really hot, with a metal case, does that get really hot too?

     
  19. BookMac Says:
    March 11th, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    Did PC Pro measure with a tool that showed the the ‘Max Frequency’ with tools that would not report if it was in fact running higher?

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/4205/the-macbook-pro-review-13-and-15-inch-2011-brings-sandy-bridge/3

    There could be an embarrassing climb down on the cards here from PC Pro. Reputation in potential tatters!

     
  20. BookMac Says:
    March 11th, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    Pro boys checking tools as I type….

     
  21. Ralph Hardwick Says:
    March 11th, 2011 at 3:38 pm

    Remind me why you purchased an Apple product and then decided to benchmark it under windows?

     
  22. Paul sheraton Says:
    March 11th, 2011 at 3:38 pm

    I wouldn’t bother buying the Mac Book Pro 13 2011 to run Windows 7 as the boot camp drivers don’t work correctly as they make the touch pad jump all over the place.

    I am sending back my MacBook Pro 2011 13″ and getting a refund for my £999 and will be looking at getting a Sony Vaio S series.

     
  23. BookMac Says:
    March 11th, 2011 at 3:50 pm

    Boot Camp – what did that have to do with the original claim or article. Flail, flail….

     
  24. David Bayon Says:
    March 11th, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    @BookMac: The screenshots you see in the original post are from Windows software via Boot Camp. The Intel app isn’t available for Mac.

     
  25. BookMac Says:
    March 11th, 2011 at 4:28 pm

    I see – thats was not stated. So you based stats on an application running in what basically is a virtual machine as the app was non native?

     
  26. Agrajag Says:
    March 11th, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    You are aware that a Boot Camp instance of Windows runs on the bare metal? There’s nothing virtual about it, it’s as native as its possible to get…

     
  27. j9chapman Says:
    March 11th, 2011 at 7:42 pm

    Boot Camp runs directly on the hardware, it is not virtualised.

     
  28. fingerbob69 Says:
    March 11th, 2011 at 8:51 pm

    AS an Apple fanboi might say…

    “Please, it’s JUST hot …what’s not to like?”

     
  29. mr_chips Says:
    March 12th, 2011 at 5:54 am

    The resultant exceedingly hot underside is also a design feature to keep you warm on cold winter days ;)

     
  30. Mike Baldwin Says:
    March 12th, 2011 at 10:18 am

    What you mean you did not sit it on it’s designer LN2 cooled apple heatsink pad to keep it cool.Well there’s your problem straight away.:-)

     
  31. Mark Simpson Says:
    March 12th, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    Being a casual reader, I mistakenly assumed from the original article that the processor wasn’t Turbo Boosting in any circumstances.

    It now turns out that it’s only if you’re running Windows on the Core i7 model. Which is a far less serious problem.

    I would say the running temperature is a more serious issue than the lack of turbo boost in Windows. But how many people actually use laptops on their laps?

     
  32. Mike Walsh Says:
    March 12th, 2011 at 1:34 pm

    Isn’t there a misprint in the Upgrade.

    > The issue is unique to the i7 model.

    should be

    The issue is unique to the i3 model

    surely.

     
  33. Mike Walsh Says:
    March 12th, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    Ignore me. I’m babbling again.

    Confusing i7/i3 with 17inch/13inch ..

    Sad.

     
  34. Paul sheraton Says:
    March 12th, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    @ BookMac Epic Fail !

     
  35. nicl Says:
    March 12th, 2011 at 7:18 pm

    The new iMac – also cooks eggs whilst you work! :)

     
  36. Bookmac Says:
    March 12th, 2011 at 10:10 pm

    Boot Camp is not a Hypervisor?

     
  37. Bookmac Says:
    March 12th, 2011 at 10:14 pm

    Install the Boot Camp Drivers for Windows

    After installing Windows, install Mac-specific drivers and other software for
    Windows using your Mac OS X Leopard installation disc.
    The Mac OS X disc installs drivers to support Mac components, such as:
    Â graphics
    Â networking
    Â audio
    Â AirPort wireless connectivity
    Â Bluetooth®
    Â Built-in iSight camera (external iSight cameras aren’t supported)
    Â Apple keyboards
    Â Apple Remote
    Â brightness control for built-in displays

     
  38. Agrajag Says:
    March 13th, 2011 at 10:05 am

    “Boot Camp is not a Hypervisor?”

    No. You’re thinking of Parallels or Fusion.

     
  39. Alex Says:
    March 13th, 2011 at 2:52 pm

    Thigh-scolding? Does the aluminium underside of the laptop wag its finger at my thigh while telling it off?

    Did you mean thigh-scalding, perchance?

    Cheers.

     
  40. David Bayon Says:
    March 14th, 2011 at 10:11 am

    @Alex: Good spot! Now fixed.

    David

     
  41. Terry Says:
    March 14th, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    @Bookmac/swissmac

    Stop flailing, we don’t blame you for not knowing anything about the technology you so obsess about. You’re just a typical Apple fan, after all.

     
  42. Mikhael Michaelides Says:
    March 14th, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    I’ve just had a thought. With the Turbo Boost not kicking in under Windows (on BootCamp) in the faster model, does this same problem exhibit itself if you’re running Windows under either Parallels or vmWare Fusion? If not, what’s the performance hit when running Windows under either emulator?

     
  43. BookMac Says:
    March 15th, 2011 at 9:57 am

    Windows (on BootCamp)

    ON?

     
  44. Chris Says:
    March 15th, 2011 at 10:20 am

    To put anyone here’s mind at ease, I bought a 2011 13″ MBP (i5) and yes it gets hot when you’re doing intense encoding for example, probably because of the intergrated graphics or something. But not nearly as hot as other laptops I’ve had in the past, not nearly as hot as my girlfriend’s HP Pavillion. This is still a great piece of kit, fast as hell and I’ve had no problems so far. I’ve used it it plenty on my lap for fairly processor intensive tasks and have had no porblems. Hope this helps.

     
  45. ArtofZen Says:
    March 17th, 2011 at 12:11 am

    @Chris. Tell that to your unborn child.

     
  46. BookMac Says:
    March 17th, 2011 at 12:22 pm

    @Terry

    I don’t own an Apple product not want to.

     
  47. Bookmac Says:
    March 17th, 2011 at 11:18 pm

    So what is happening on this then?

     
  48. Rob Lightbody Says:
    March 18th, 2011 at 10:49 am

    I would think 60C wouldn’t just pose a danger to one’s own lap, but also to many surfaces it might be placed on! – e.g. a nice varnished wooden table.

     
  49. Josh Wright Says:
    March 22nd, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    why would you want to install windows on a mac anyway, is it solely for games?

     
  50. pcpro_subscriber Says:
    May 9th, 2011 at 10:18 am

    Problem Solved. D/L and install this.
    http://support.apple.com/kb/DL1381

    Alternatively, run software update and let it do it’s thing.

     
  51. pcpro_subscriber Says:
    May 11th, 2011 at 9:37 am

    i’d love to see an update chaps.
    could we re-run the benchmarks and publish the results?

     
  52. David Bayon Says:
    May 11th, 2011 at 10:24 am

    I’m afraid we don’t have any of the MacBook Pros here to test with the update, I’ll see if we can prise one out of Apple again.

     
  53. pcpro_subscriber Says:
    May 11th, 2011 at 2:27 pm

    i’m sure they’d oblige. the net result for them would be positive

     
  54. saibaba75 Says:
    August 29th, 2011 at 10:53 pm

    having a 17 in. macbook pro since 2008 …..the heating problem is there….. top is 202f ……have fan control and small portable at back blowing across back….. idle is now at 115f……168f tops smc fan speed at 2000……(having switched from windows) why would you want to run windows on a mac in the first place …thats coming in from the storm with your muddy boots still on…….

     
  55. Unclum Says:
    September 5th, 2011 at 12:31 am

    they disabled it, because windows sucks and you have to be punished for going to install windows on a machine like this!

     
  56. Rohan Says:
    September 23rd, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    Hi,I am planing to buy Macbook pro 13ӣ999 version. This will be my first Mac. Is it really worth the price now with these overheating issues?

     
  57. Richard Smith Says:
    January 25th, 2013 at 12:06 pm

    Very interesting and informative

     
  58. Juegos on-line Says:
    August 31st, 2014 at 1:55 pm

    ¿Que tal todo? He estado entrando tu pagina wweb durante basstante tiempo hasta hoy
    por hoy y por fin tengo el valor de escribir desde Granada –
    Espa

     

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