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HolidayBuyer's Guide

MacBook Pro XP vs. the PC competition

The reader response to Apple's new Boot Camp utility, which lets you install Windows XP on a MacBook Pro or an iMac Core Duo, has been mixed so far.

Me, though? Man, I'm psyched. This makes my job a lot easier. As a laptop reviewer at, I've always been frustrated by the apples to oranges (insert Bronx cheer) comparisons I've been forced to make when pitting PowerBooks and iBooks against the PC competition. Boot Camp finally provides a baseline for a true head-to-head contest of Apple hardware vs. PC hardware, without operating systems or Rosetta or anything else qualifying the results.

(For complete coverage of Boot Camp's debut, click here.)

We went out and bought a 2.0GHz MacBook Pro on Wednesday night (shout-out to the Stonestown Mall Apple Store). Then we dug up some good PC competitors, one of which has almost identical specs. Thursday morning, we started testing. Here's what we found.

Well, first, a disclosure of the specs. For the most part, they match up perfectly. We were using a MacBook Pro running Windows XP Pro and equipped with a 2.0GHz Intel Core Duo (T2500) processor; 2GB of DDR2 SDRAM (666MHz); an ATI Mobility Radeon x1600 graphics card; and a 100GB hard drive spinning at 5,400 rpm.

The Acer TravelMate 8200 was also running Windows XP Pro and was equipped with a 2.0GHz Intel Core Duo (T2500) processor; 2GB of slightly slower DDR2 SDRAM (533MHz); an ATI Mobility Radeon x1600 graphics card; and a slightly larger 120GB hard drive spinning at 5,400 rpm.

For additional context, we've also included the HP Pavilion dv1000t, another solid laptop running the same Intel Core Duo T2500 processor, as well as the original MacBook Pro we tested back in February, which was running the Mac OS on a 1.83GHz Intel Core Duo T2400 processor. Note: this MacBook Pro was running Mac versions of all software; when testing the MacBook Pro running Windows XP, we used Windows version of the software.

And now, without further delay, the results.

In our Photoshop test, the original MacBook Pro struggled, forced to process the application through its Rosetta translation program, which resulted in performance that was about five times slower than the PC competition--slower than on even the lowest-end iBook. Because a native version of Photoshop for OS X isn't expected until sometime next year, the ability to run Photoshop smoothly on a MacBook Pro running Windows XP is a crucial step forward.

In our iTunes conversion test, the original MacBook came at the top of the heap, slightly ahead of the HP, the Acer, and the MacBook Pro running Windows XP. We'll chalk this up to the fact that Apple's applications will always run best on Apple hardware. Still, the difference is nominal.

Perhaps the best news is that Boot Camp shows the potential for gaming on a Mac. Where the MacBook Pro running OS X Tiger turned in only 13.8 frames per second (fps) in our standard "Doom 3" benchmark, the MacBook Pro running Windows XP notched 21.6fps. Yes, this is likely partially due to the difference in the processor speed, but more so due to the fact that "Doom 3" was built to run on Windows XP. There's no question: You're going to have a noticeably better gaming experience on a Mac running Windows XP than Mac OS X.

The remainder of our tests--Sorenson Squeeze, Dr. Divx, and Cinebench--all test encoding performance. (Click here to see the charts, which speak volumes. ) The MacBook Pro running Windows XP delivers performance power that's identical to the PC competition.

We'll be running some more benchmarks, including MobileMark and SysMark, during the next few days. But Talk back to me now: What do these results mean to you? Are you ready to buy a MacBook Pro?