Hosting and bandwidth provided by MacAce.net.
If you find this page useful, please
Bookmark & Share
Why are "integrated graphics" in the Intel Mac mini considered to be inferior?
Please note that this Q&A was written to refer to Mac mini systems that are powered by Intel GMA 950 graphics (those released prior to the "Early 2009" model on March 3, 2009). Nevertheless, the "Early 2009" and "Late 2009" Mac mini models have "integrated" NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics and the same "general disadvantage" applies.
Intel-based Mac mini systems released prior to the "Early 2009" line have an "Intel GMA950 graphics processor with 64 MB of DDR2 SDRAM shared with main memory" compared to the ATI Radeon 9200 graphics processor (4X AGP) with 32 MB or 64 MB of DDR SDRAM in the Mac mini G4 models.
Although "integrated graphics" performance has improved substantially in the last few years, the general disadvantage is that RAM is divided between the processor and the graphics processor. This means that access can be slower than having dedicated system RAM and video RAM. It also may leave less RAM "available" for running additional applications.
In the marketing materials for the Mac mini G4, Apple boasted that:
Your Mac mini [G4] uses its dedicated graphics chip to offload visual tasks from the main CPU. . . The Radeon 9200 takes care of all that, and does a better job than a general purpose CPU since it's designed especially for such tasks. Even better, the Radeon 9200 gets to use 32 MB of dedicated memory, which lets the G4 processor use all of its RAM for other tasks. That means you can run many more programs at once. . .
An "integrated Intel graphics" chip steals power from the CPU and siphons off memory from system-level RAM. You'd have to buy an extra card to get the graphics performance of Mac mini [G4], and some cheaper PCs don't even have an open slot to let you add one. [The Mac mini also lacks a PCI slot].
In the marketing copy for the original Intel Mac mini, Apple said:
Mac mini ["Core"] features a graphics processor integrated into the system, and one that's no slouch, to boot. The Intel GMA950 graphics supports Tiger Core Graphics and the latest 3D games. It shares fast 667 MHz memory with the Intel Core processor, for an incredible value proposition.
In other words, an "integrated graphics" processor costs less than a dedicated graphics processor.
However, MacWorld points out that "while the presence of 'integrated' Intel graphics may displease users expecting radically better graphics performance, it's worth noting that Intel cites moderately faster fill rate and more robust pixel shading capabilities for the GMA950 compared to the Radeon 9200."
Cinemark 9.5 benchmarks released by MacInTouch shows the GMA950 in the Intel-based Mac mini "Core Solo" 1.5 to be faster than the ATI Radeon 9200 in last year's Mac mini G4 in three out of four tests.
PC hardware website ExtremeTech reviewed the GMA950 on May 31, 2005 and concluded that "we can state flatly that if you buy a system using Intel's GMA950 integrated graphics and want to play 3D games, invest at least US$60 in an add-on card [this isn't possible for the Mac mini]. If what you want is simply a system that can run standard office software, plus maybe play some DVD movies, then Intel's new graphics core is probably suitable."
SharkyExtreme, another PC hardware website, also came to a similar conclusion on June 15, 2005. This website stated that "older games like Quake 3 (140+ fps) and UT 2003 (100+ fps) ran very well, and we even played a few rounds of each with no framerate issues. But once we moved to newer games like DOOM 3 (9 fps) and FarCry (11 fps), this brought the GMA950 to its knees and real-world gameplay was not remotely in the playability range. This is still not a bad solution for general PC gaming, as long as you stay away from the cutting edge, fast action games."
Overall, it likely seems that the "integrated graphics" provided by the pre-"Early 2009" Intel-based Intel Mac mini systems are modestly faster, or at least no slower, than the dedicated graphics provided with the previous year's Mac mini G4. Neither are particularly high-performance.
Ultimately, the Mac mini never was intended to be a "hardcore" gaming system, and the switch to Intel-based processors did nothing to change that fact. If you are interested in an entry-level system for productivity, multimedia, and simple gaming, the Mac mini remains an excellent choice. If you are looking for a new Mac-based gaming system, then an iMac probably is a better pick.