Retina MacBook Pro Pushes the Limits of its Graphics Capabilities

Just after the launch of the Retina MacBook Pro earlier this month, AnandTech provided a first glimpse of the machine's display performance, noting the various resolution options available to users and examining how its color and contrast compares to other notebooks.

After having more time to analyze the new machine, AnandTech last week published its full review of the Retina MacBook Pro, bringing its thorough and technically-detailed perspective to the report. While the whole review is definitely worth a read, the section on graphics performance bears special attention.

With the integrated Intel HD 4000 and discrete NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M graphics units responsible for driving 2880x1800 pixels in standard Retina mode and as many as 3840x2400 pixels before downscaling to display 1920x1200 at its highest non-Retina resolution, Apple is clearly pushing the limits of the machine's graphics capabilities.

At the default setting, either Intel’s HD 4000 or NVIDIA’s GeForce GT 650M already have to render and display far more pixels than either GPU was ever intended to. At the 1680 and 1920 settings however the GPUs are doing more work than even their high-end desktop counterparts are used to.

AnandTech goes on to assess this graphics performance, noting that the Retina MacBook Pro at times struggles to maintain a "consistently smooth experience".

At 2880 x 1800 most interactions are smooth but things like zooming windows or scrolling on certain web pages is clearly sub-30fps. At the higher scaled resolutions, since the GPU has to render as much as 9.2MP, even UI performance can be sluggish. There’s simply nothing that can be done at this point - Apple is pushing the limits of the hardware we have available today, far beyond what any other OEM has done.

Focusing on browser scrolling behavior, which also involves substantial CPU load, AnandTech notes that the resource-intensive Facebook news feed pages can display at over 50 frames per second on a 2011 MacBook Pro, but that the new Retina MacBook Pro struggles to hit 20 frames per second as it pushes so many more pixels.

retina macbook pro scrolling
Retina MacBook Pro at 21 frames per second while scrolling (See meter at top left)

The report notes that OS X Mountain Lion will help address some of these issues by leveraging Core Animation, but in AnandTech's testing it was still only able to achieve 20-30 frames per second under Mountain Lion. Further improvements in performance will have to wait for hardware capabilities to catch up with demands imposed by these new ultra-high resolution displays.

Top Rated Comments

Andy-V Avatar
112 months ago
This is why I feel like waiting for the 2nd revision really is a good idea.
Score: 128 Votes (Like | Disagree)
HurtinMinorKey Avatar
112 months ago
Maybe this will shut up the people clamoring for retina on the new iMac.
Score: 70 Votes (Like | Disagree)
GREEN4U Avatar
112 months ago

Hmm... This is a little bit frustrating. I NEED a laptop for college this year (current is a 08 MBP on its last legs). I'm most likely going for the MBPR simply because it's barely cheaper to get the MBP with the specs I want. Frustrating knowing Apple decided to ship with hardware that isn't ready./sigh.


Get the Air.
Score: 66 Votes (Like | Disagree)
musicpenguy Avatar
112 months ago

Hmm... This is a little bit frustrating. I NEED a laptop for college this year (current is a 08 MBP on its last legs). I'm most likely going for the MBPR simply because it's barely cheaper to get the MBP with the specs I want. Frustrating knowing Apple decided to ship with hardware that isn't ready./sigh.


I wouldn't worry about it too much - actual users aren't complaining just people that are trying to get all analytical about it - none of the reviews I recall mention a bad experience due to lag - reviews mention Diablo 3 runs at native resolution lag free - many have mentioned you can run 2 thunderbolt displays without any noticeable lag - this is not a problem :)
Score: 27 Votes (Like | Disagree)
wickerman1893 Avatar
112 months ago
I hope in a couple years every tablet/phone/computer maker puts these high res screens on them. After using the iPad 3 and rMBP it's impossible to go back to something not retina.
Score: 24 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Piggie Avatar
112 months ago
And this is exactly the problem with Apple computers for, dare i say it Decades.

They pretty much always have fitted poor graphics cards.
Probably the main reason why the Mac almost died when the PC gaming was zooming ahead. Apple just did, and do fit poor sub par graphics to their consumer machines.

Even the top iMacs have laptop graphics are they are obsessed about saving the extra half an inch of thickness on a desktop machine.

It's been Apple computers weak spot for so many many years and STILL they never seem to get it. :(
Score: 23 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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