Get the Right Graphics Processor in Your New Mac - dummies

Get the Right Graphics Processor in Your New Mac

By Arnold Reinhold

All current Apple models come with graphics processors (GPU) designed to perform the intricate mathematical calculations needed to render 3D objects realistically at speeds fast enough to keep up with real-time game play and capable of driving two high-definition displays simultaneously at full resolution. Virtual reality becomes more real than life.

Apple supports a variety of models in its Macintosh line:

  • Integrated GPU: Lower-end Apple models use an Intel HD 3000 graphics processor that’s integrated with the processor chipset. The integrated graphics processors are fast and quite respectable for watching and editing videos, engaging in moderate 3D game play, or visiting 3D virtual-reality worlds such as Second Life.

    The integrated GPUs are a compromise, however. They share memory and the CPU, and they can’t use too much power, which further limits their performance. High-end videogames have to be set to lower resolution to work properly with integrated GPUs.

  • Graphics cards: Separate graphics cards have their own memory, offer significantly better graphics performance, and can keep up with more games. The iMacs and the 15- and 17-inch MacBook Pros add a second ATI Radeon graphics processor, and you can order them with even better graphics cards. You can also order a Mac mini with fast Radeon graphics.

If you’re into serious game play or professional video work and need the highest performance, the Mac Pro blasts out graphics with top-end PCI Express graphics cards. ATI, now owned by AMD, and NVIDIA vigorously compete to be king of the graphics hill. Each has loyal fans. You likely have used one or both of these companies’ products in your PC experience, and you may have your own opinion.