Should I get discrete graphics option on a new MacBook Pro?
October 23, 2013 7:24 AM   Subscribe

I'm in the market for a new 15-inch MacBook Pro. I'll be maxing out the RAM and flash storage. Should I spend an additional $100 to get the model with discrete graphics? Would there be any benefit at all from doing that? Or will the integrated Intel Iris Pro Graphics be sufficient? The discrete graphics option is an NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M with 2GB of GDDR5 memory.

I use Photoshop and occasionally do a little bit of video ripping or editing. I spend a fair amount of time managing photo collections. I don't use my laptop for any games.

Apple and other companies like to make a big deal about the graphics chips in their computer, but it's never been clear to me why anyone besides gamers should care.
posted by alms to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Video editing software can sometimes benefit from a more powerful video card. For instance Adobe After Effects uses the GPU to speed up certain operations leading to smoother performance and faster previewing.

Also if you are planning to run multiple high resolution monitors you might want the better card.

Otherwise I think you'll be fine with the integrated one.
posted by meta87 at 8:05 AM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Modern video cards are basically a coprocessor that Can perform highly serializable tasks very very quickly. Usually this means pushing billions of pixels per second. If we remember back a couple decades there was a time when a PC may have been equipped with a generic math coprocessor that did a lot of heavy lifting. We are moving into a world where this is again true, it just lives in your video card.

The new Mac pro specifically will come equipped with a video card that will never drive a display at all - it only exists to do math for other processes. At this point the sorts of tasks that are likely to be accelerated by purpose written software is limited to such things as video and photo processing, games and bit coin mining. Largely.

It seems likely that this will be true for awhile.

On preview: what meta87 said. If you need the discrete graphics card you probably know it, but in the mid term future that may not be the case.
posted by mce at 8:06 AM on October 23, 2013

Photoshop does use the CPU for many advanced effects. So, yes, you will probably realize some level of performance gains with a discrete GPU. That said, I've done perfectly well with my iMac and its integrated graphics set.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:09 AM on October 23, 2013

Whatever you do, know that you can't change your mind later for +/- $100.00.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:17 AM on October 23, 2013

If you already have a MacBook Pro (or have access to one), you can use gfxCardStatus to know if the Mac is using the integrated graphics or the dedicated graphics chip. It can force the Mac to use only integrated graphics so you can check 'integrated graphics' performance before you buy a new Mac.
posted by flif at 8:20 AM on October 23, 2013

The biggest issue is the RAM. The integrated graphics uses part of the main system RAM for video, and as a result it's competing with the CPU for access. This tosses in wait-states when the CPU needs to access RAM, which of course happens all the time. This slows the CPU down marginally.

If you get a discrete display card, it has its own RAM so it isn't competing for the main system RAM.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:45 AM on October 23, 2013

I would spend it. It'll extend the lifespan of your mac, and potentially open up options down the line that you may not be considering today. More and more work is being moved onto the GPU, so it'll be more and more useful as the hardware gets pushed harder. It's impossible to upgrade down the line (afaik), so $100 is quite a small price to pay for a tangible speed boost. If it was much more it would be debatable, but IMO it's a no-brainer at this price point.
posted by Magnakai at 10:21 AM on October 23, 2013

If you were buying the base model and had that usage pattern i'd say no, but if it's only a $100 bump then yes

both photoshop and any of the mac video editing suites(premiere, fcp, etc) will leverage an nvidia gpu and as far as i know, with the exception of maybe fcp x soon, will not use the intel card. In addition to this, anything like that which engages it can use it's 2gb framebuffer.

If it was the $500 difference i'd say meh, but for $100 go for it. The iris igp only has 32mb of it's own(admittedly, extremely fast) ram. the 750m has 2gb. Anything you'd do that's gpu accelerated in photoshop or video editing is going to be limited by memory, not compute power in this scenario.

Also, video encoding/decoding uses it depending on the software. Yes, there's acceleration for that in the modern intel CPUs too, but still.

Oh, and this will add more than $100 at purchase time percentage wise worth of resale value post deprecation down the road. Give it a couple years and the basic one will be going for $800, while this ones still $1000. That kind of thing. Go check out variations of the i7 macbook pros from 2011 to see what i mean. This will be like getting the antiglare screen when that was an option, or something.
posted by emptythought at 2:03 PM on October 23, 2013

If it were $400 or something closer to that, I'd be a bit hesitant, but a sizable upgrade for just $100? Any modern video editing software will benefit from the discrete video card.
posted by Sphinx at 4:58 PM on October 23, 2013

I have a (2011) Macbook with the (older) integrated Intel HD 3000 GPU. It's abysmal for 3D gaming, but it seems fine for everything else (I use Photoshop and Bridge, but not heavily). The newer Intel chips ought to be more capable.

Personally I would totally go for the upgrade, but I'm a gamer type. For other uses I don't think you'd notice much difference.

It's my understanding (but don't take my word for it) that the newer Mac laptops with discrete GPUs only bother activating them when they really need to -- i.e. when running demanding 3D graphics.
posted by neckro23 at 11:27 PM on October 23, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for all the feedback and common sense. I just ordered the machine and sprung the extra $100 to get the model with the discrete graphics.
posted by alms at 12:34 PM on October 29, 2013

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