To Switch or Not To Switch


Anyone with a 2010 model 15-inch or 17-inch MacBook Pro is probably familiar with the fact that they have two graphics cards/processors in their laptop. This is not a new feature for MacBook Pro owners, as previous versions also had dual graphics processors. The ideology behind it is that one of the graphics cards would be used for when the user needs intense graphics processing, such as using Adobe’s Creative Suite products, and another for running regular everyday tasks that do not have a high, or any demand on graphics.

This technology however used to be a bit of a pain, because the user would have to log out of their account, to activate the other graphics card and then log back in. I know it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, but once you begin to do it on such a regular basis, it does become quite a tedious errand. Some would just ignore and then always run on the upper-end graphics card, so they wouldn’t have to put up with the whole act of going back and forth.

Apple, decided to treat this issue by developing seamless automatic graphics switching technology in their last line of MacBook Pro’s (2010 model), running the Intel HD Graphics, which comes built-in on-die with the Core i5 and Core i7 processors, and the NVIDIA GeForce GT 330M. This means that the user will no longer have to log out and log back in, or even think about making the switch or even have to put up with the nuisance of it. Instead Apple took it upon themselves to make the user experience is absolutely seamless, where you probably won’t even notice the difference when the switch happens. Anybody familiar with NVIDIA Optimus technology knows exactly what I’m talking about.

NVIDIA Optimus is NVIDIA’s own proprietary technology that provides seamless switching as well between graphics cards. Why did Apple decide to reinvent the wheel? I’m not really sure, but I’m guessing that it probably has to do with the overall user experience or the overall efficiency in Apple’s point of view. Or they didn’t want to pay royalties for a product that they believe that they can do themselves. I’m sure you can find out if you go out there and search, but that would be beyond the course of this blog entry.

Important thing is that the technology is finally here, and I’ve been using it on my 15-inch relentlessly, testing different technologies and performance boosts. I’m going to say; the enhancement in graphics performance with the NVIDIA card running is light years ahead of the Intel HD Graphics chip.

So “Why do this?” you may ask.

Simple… POWER!

We’re talking about laptops here, so power and battery lifetime are some of the most sought-after features in any mobile computing device. Of course when it comes to a 15- or 17-inch MacBook Pro, you know for a fact that performance is also a major point on the buyers’ list. So why not give the user the best of both worlds? High-end NVIDIA graphics only when needed and the rest of the time you can run on the Intel graphics and you won’t even notice the difference. You just got yourself a laptop that is willing to manage itself in order to give you the lifetime and processing power if and when you need it.

Now this was the frustrating part for me, being that I always enjoy fiddling around with system options and testing the outcomes. First off, I’m a huge fan of having my system stats up and ready for me to examine at any given moment. Any tech geek usually has this quality; we’re nosy with this kind of stuff. Apple on the other hand in making such an effort to create this all-so-great seamless experience don’t really provide you with a straightforward way for you to know which graphics card is being used. Also, they don’t give you a direct way to manually override the switch.

Let’s assume that for performance testing purposes or just for convenience sake, I decide that I want to keep running on the Intel graphics processor to ensure a really long battery life – up to 9 hours measured so far. Running a program like VideoLAN’s VLC media player will automatically switch to the NVIDIA graphics card. I understand this is required for playing back certain HD videos, with codec offloading from the CPU etc. and that is all good; but not all video files have that intense graphics requirement. Assume I’m just listening to music; do I really need the NVIDIA graphics card to be running my system? Not really, no!

So you’re probably thinking, well that’s obviously VideoLAN’s problem. They have to be more efficient in picking when they decide to perform the switch in their media player. That’s true, and Google Chrome has to be able to switch back to the Intel graphics after you navigate away from the YouTube video you were watching; I don’t really need high-end graphics acceleration when I’m checking my Gmail.

Ok, enough complaining, what’s the solution?

gfxCardStatus

A developer named Cody Krieger, over at codykrieger.com, released an application called “gfxCardStatus”. What does this app do? Everything that Apple didn’t provide you with the means to do. With its taskbar icon, you always know which graphics card you’re running on, but what I find a lot more interesting, you can fully control the graphics switching by manually overriding the settings yourself.

Here’s a set of its technical features:
•  Real-time GPU Status Reporting
•  On-demand GPU switching
•  Power source-based GPU switching
•  Dependency process list for NVIDIA GPU
•  Supports Growl Notifications

So if you feel like you want to know more about what’s happening with you graphics card status, or if you sometimes want to take over and control things, because the computer doesn’t always know best, then I highly recommend that you use this utility.

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3 thoughts on “To Switch or Not To Switch

  1. alright bro. First, we as neighbors have to stop being busy and go grab a drink soon.
    second, I’m not a computer freak, but I do know how it works, not mac thought.
    so, where the F. have you gotten your mac from(mabrouk)? which one would you suggest to me, quality-price, knowing that I’m a frikin’ photographer that needs to post process 10 images at a time. Another thing, I’m fucking poor, so I need the best price.
    Oh.. and how do I calibrate my screen the best for my PC.. I’ve been working on some primitive calibrator programs, but I’m not satifsfied with the result.. so, yeah.. I’ve got some major issues here as you see. maybe a hab….j together can help. come on. let’s catch up next week.

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