MacBook Pro Graphics: More on the new graphics processors

Posted on by Mike Evans

That's the trouble with too many rumours over too many months: when the announcement is made it's almost not news any more. So it was with yesterday's upgrades to the MacBook Pro range. The inclusion of i5 and i7 processors was a foregone conclusion, though some commentators, including myself, were surprised that the 13-in model has to stick with the Core 2 Duo. However, this morning Steve Jobs has been making a valid point (at least until he decides to put the new processors in the 13-incher). Steve says that the increased power consumption of the i5 processor would not be worth the small jump in performance: "We chose killer graphics plus 10-hour battery life over a very small CPU speed increase. Users will see for more performance boost from the speedy graphics." So now you know, it must be true.

More excitement has been attached to the graphics processors. James Galbraith's in-depth review in MacWorld adds a bit of flesh to yesterday's bare announcement. He confirms that the new custom-built-for-Apple GeForce 320M in the 13-in models has three times as many processing cores as the previous 9400M. According to Apple claims, it can run up to 80 percent faster. In addition, the 320M uses up to 40 percent less power than the 9400M and this accounts for a chunk of the new 10-hour battery claim. On the larger models, the GT330M is claimed to run up to twice as fast as the 13-in laptop's 320M, while the 15s and 17s have an additional Intel HD processor for less intensive activities and yet more battery savings. Unlike in the higher-specced last-generation 15/17-in models, the dual graphics processors on the new machines feature automatic graphics switching which, again, will help get the most out of the battery.

Meanwhile, a series of quick benchmark tests by Gizmodo show that the Core i5/i7 processors in the bigger models are fast. Overall, they say, they are about 50% faster than the last generation Core 2 Duos. I'm not quite sure how this stacks up with Steve Jobs' assertion of a "very small CPU speed increase".

Striking a slightly downbeat tone, Techcrunch's Matt Burns says that the "MacBook Pro refresh left a lot of us feeling, well, bored. The new notebooks aren't particularly powerful.... They really aren't anything special compared to similarly-priced PCs...... It really seems that Apple didn't go with the most powerful hardware available to boost the projected battery life to previously unheard of levels." He goes on: "Battery life is really the only compelling feature--besides OS X, of course--in the refreshed MacBook Pros. (The claims are) impressive even if Apple exaggerated those claims a bit. ...The batteries should still last longer than the previous generation and worlds better than the MBP's PC counterparts, totally compensating for the less power hardware.  It's clearly an interesting but smart move by Apple. I'm jealous."

These are just a few of the initial impressions but we will not have to wait long for hard facts on the speed and staying power of the new MB Pros.

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