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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 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

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96 months ago
This is why I feel like waiting for the 2nd revision really is a good idea.
Rating: 128 Votes
96 months ago
Maybe this will shut up the people clamoring for retina on the new iMac.
Rating: 70 Votes
96 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.
Rating: 66 Votes
96 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 :)
Rating: 27 Votes
96 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.
Rating: 24 Votes
96 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. :(
Rating: 23 Votes
96 months ago

"Whereas I would consider the rMBP experience under Lion to be borderline unacceptable, everything is significantly better under Mountain Lion. Don’t expect buttery smoothness across the board, you’re still asking a lot of the CPU and GPU, but it’s a lot better."

ML is very important when it comes to this.

My thoughts from another thread on this very issue

I tested a rMBP today in the store for the first time. Having read nothing at all about these issues, I noticed the unit having a hard time keeping up with many animations (swiping between spaces seemed to be the worst).

Minor issue due to fixes present in Mountain Lion? Perhaps to us folks that are in the know. To a general consumer, they could see this and think, "gee, for $2200 you'd think it would be smoother than my POS Dell at home."

I don't get why Apple didn't just hold onto the rMBP until ML is ready if it is that big of a difference. It would've been easy to say, "Available July 20th" (or whatever the date is for ML) and move on. Instead they sacrificed user experience to meet an artificial demand that they manufactured. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot...

- (

Rating: 22 Votes
96 months ago

This is a poor excerpt to put on the front page without any context or clarification. I suggest everyone who is actually in the market for a new MacBook Pro in the next 6-8 months should read the article. Anand awarded the MacBook Pro Retina a Bronze Editor's Choice award... the highest award he's ever given to *any* Mac.

Yes, future versions will address some of these little speed bumps, but they are merely pimples on a supermodel. Seriously, don't sweat it.
Rating: 17 Votes
96 months ago
I want this computer really bad, but it looks like my MacBook Air will have to survive until Haswell at least. My bank account is breathing a sigh of relief.
Rating: 17 Votes
96 months ago
Pretty interesting. I'm typing this on my RMBP right now with Photoshop, Illustrator, Parallels, iTunes, and a dozen other applications open, and I've not noticed any sort of graphics limitations which are giving me any real-world fuss. Scrolling web pages has actually been a pretty smooth experience (maybe I'm missing out on some of the pages that are causing trouble). Upon reading the article I did try CTRL-zooming in and out on the page and that's not buttery smooth, but definitely more than smooth enough.

I definitely expect that any small performance issues are going to be cleaned completely or mostly in Mountain Lion.

As for scrolling, when I first started using the computer I did notice that it seemed just a touch less responsive, but now I can't even notice it (even switching between my Mac Pro and the MacBook Pro I just replaced).

I can't say the same for my Cinema display. Switching back to that after using the RMBP for a month was... jarring.

If someone's interested in buying one of these machines I definitely wouldn't get hung up on this little MacRumors article. Nothing mentioned here has given me even the slightest bit of trouble. Using this computer is a dream. It is the most enjoyable Macintosh I've ever owned.

As for AnandTech, their articles on the RMBP are fantastic. If anyone's going to take something away from them, they should read the full articles, not just snippets turned into sub-stories by third-party sites.
Rating: 16 Votes

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