April 14, 2009

A note about MacBook Pro graphics

I know this is an incredibly specific thing to blog about, but as it recently affected me, I thought I’d mention it: If you’re using Photoshop CS4 on a new MacBook Pro (as I am; thanks, ‘Dobe), I recommend turning on the beefy GPU (graphics card) you paid for.
The new MBPs ship with two GPUs, and they default to running the lower-power embedded GPU that’s also in these machines. You have to switch on the faster one by choosing System Preferences->Energy Saver, then setting Graphics to “Higher performance.” Doing so requires logging out of the machine–kind of a drag.
I made the switch, and I see a noticeable difference in the smoothness of rotating the canvas & zooming. There’s a very large difference when running the Pixel Bender Gallery plug-in. In terms of battery life, I haven’t been able to notice a difference. Apple.com shows the higher-power GPU taking battery life from 8 to 7 hours. I wasn’t getting anything like 8 hours of life using the slower GPU (more typically 3-4 with WiFi on, maybe 5-6 with it off), so I’d read those number in percentage terms (i.e. the faster GPU should cost you something like 12% battery life). Were I taking a cross-country flight, I’d switch off WiFi & revert to using the lower-power GPU.

Posted by John Nack at 9:43 AM on April 14, 2009
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