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Apple graphic switching may be cause of battery life issues

Apple recently (finally) released new Arrandale based MacBook Pros with battery life of up to 9-10 hours. With this release they also announced their own automatic graphics switching technology which toggles between the onboard Intel integrated graphics paired with the i5 and i7 processors and a discrete graphics processor. This automated solution was Apple’s solution to remove the previous  log in and out changes via the  ‘energy saver’ panel.

A few of my contacts however have mentioned that there are in fact some possible issues with the system which could be causing reduced battery life.

Early reports have indicated that the automatic switching seems less than perfect with applications such as Skype, Unison (Newsgroups client) and Transmit (ftp) enabling the discrete GPU. While we can appreciate enhanced graphics performance with applications such as iMovie there really is not much of a need to have a GT 330M running to power an ftp transfer. A colleague of mine even claims that the Googletalk plugin for Firefox and Yahoo Messenger are triggering a switch to discrete.

If you have one of the new machines and are interested to find out when your discrete graphics is enabled, then make sure to install gfxCardStatus from developer Cody Kreiger which displays an ‘i’ for Intel IGP or ‘n’ for nVidia graphics when in operation. This is also a good guideline to ascertain which programs are causing discrete GPU implementation.

So what is causing this issue? Most of these applications are making use of ‘Core Animation” which is a framework for developers to provide smooth transitions and animations to improve the user interface experience. Core Animation, along with Open CL, Open GL, Core Graphics and Quartz Composer are frameworks which can cause graphics switching – when an application is loaded it sends out a register command to the OS which in turn enables nVidia graphics.

Unfortunately Apples claims of 9 to 10 hours battery life is actually translating to real world results of around 5 hours in total. Latest news however has reached us that a system cracker has found a way to ‘hack’ Apples Graphics Control system to force either integrated or discrete and the developer of gfxCardStatus will be updating his application shortly to offer this directly to the end user via his straightforward user interface.

KitGuru says: It was a nice idea from Apple, however like most things entirely ‘automated’ they are never entirely foolproof.

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