Adobe Creative Suite 3 applications launched in roughly the same amount of time on both machines. But using them was faster on the newer model. The exact increases depended on the types of tasks. Some, such as adjusting an image's color mode, were only minutely faster on the newer MacBook Pro. Others, including most renderings and filter options, were significantly faster. Again, the exact gains varied, but when using some 3-D and processor-intensive filters in Photoshop, the new hardware was up to twice as fast as the older MacBook Pro. That's even better than Apple's overall test of 45 filters implied.
The Xbench benchmarking tool also revealed a surprising degree of difference between the two machines. Overall CPU tests with Xbench indicated that the newest model offers twice the performance of the first-generation MacBook Pro. The 2008 model had a score of 175.17; the 2006 model, a score of 73.76. Memory performance was also up significantly, no doubt due to the faster bus: The new laptop got a score of 193.67; the old one, 111.88. Likewise, graphics tests revealed significantly better scores for both Quartz 2-D imaging and OpenGL 3-D imaging. Although benchmarking tools don't always translate directly to real-world observable results, there were significant gains between the models and it shows in regular use.
When it comes to speed, the overall takeaway is this: If you regularly work with professional-level graphics and video applications, you will notice increased performance that is not immediately obvious when comparing just processor clock speeds. If you've held off considering a new MacBook Pro because there aren't obvious differences between the systems, it may be worth taking one of the newer models for a spin and reconsidering. For more general use such as Web surfing, doing e-mail or online chats, you'll see an improvement, but it may not be as big.
Faster hardware isn't the only change in the new 17-in. model. The MacBook Pro line now supports all of the same multitouch trackpad gestures that were introduced in the MacBook Air. These include the ability to swipe through items (photos in iPhoto/Aperture, Web pages in Safari or songs in iTunes, for instance) with a three-finger gesture on the trackpad, as well as the ability to zoom the contents of an image or the text of a Web page by pinching, much like on the iPhone or iPod Touch. In image-related applications, it also allows you to rotate images using two fingers.
The trackpad that comes with the MacBook Pro isn't as large as MacBook Air's, however. While it is still certainly functional and cool -- not to mention a feature that is very easy to get used to if you work with it frequently -- it does work better with the MacBook Air's larger trackpad.
The whole point of a laptop is to get work done on the road -- and you can't do that without decent battery performance. So how does Apple balance that power and that brilliant screen with battery life? Surprisingly well. While Apple's assessment that this laptop should manage more than four hours for light Web use and word processing seems a bit optimistic, I have to say the MacBook Pro performed decently.