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Retina Display MacBook Pro Q&A - Updated August 14, 2014

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Is there a "hack" to switch between graphics processors on the Retina Display MacBook Pro models manually?

By default, the majority of the 15-Inch Retina Display MacBook Pro models (A1398) automatically switch between two graphics processors depending on usage.

For example, systems with dual graphics processors are designed to automatically use the integrated graphics processor if you only are typing a document and surfing the web and switch to dedicated graphics if you plug in an external display or fire up a game and the extra performance is needed.

However, three "Late 2013" MacBook Pro models -- the MacBook Pro "Core i7" 2.0 15" (IG), "Core i7" 2.3 15" (IG), and "Core i7" 2.6 15" (IG) -- and three "Mid-2014" MacBook Pro models -- the MacBook Pro "Core i7" 2.2 15" (IG), "Core i7" 2.5 15" (IG), and "Core i7" 2.8 15" (IG) -- only have a single graphics processor.

Specifically, these models -- which EveryMac.com notes as "IG" for "Integrated Graphics" -- only have a single "Iris Pro 5200" graphics processor, and cannot switch to another graphics processor as a result.

Additionally, all 13-Inch Retina Display MacBook Pro models (A1425, A1502) only have a single integrated graphics processor.

Third-Party Software for Manual Graphics Switching

Automatic switching is convenient, but there definitely are times when it would be desirable to be able to manually switch between the integrated and dedicated graphics processors on applicable 15-Inch models and Apple provides no such control. The company likewise provides no way to tell which applications are causing the dedicated graphics processor to jump into action.

Knowing which applications are triggering the dedicated graphics processor can be particularly useful for conserving battery life and for general troubleshooting, too.

However, Cody Krieger's excellent gfxCardStatus menu bar application makes it possible to easily switch between graphics cards manually on these models and displays which applications are using the dedicated graphics in a convenient "dependencies" list, too.

If you find gfxCardStatus useful and would like to support its continued development, a donation is strongly encouraged.

What type of video processor is provided by the Retina Display MacBook Pro models? Is it "dedicated" or "integrated" memory? Is it upgradable?

All 13-Inch Retina Display MacBook Pro models have a single integrated graphics processor with memory shared with the system, but the type of graphics processor varies.

Likewise, some 15-Inch Retina Display MacBook Pro models have a single integrated graphics processor whereas others have dual graphics processors -- one integrated and one dedicated.

This is easiest to visualize as a chart:

MacBook Pro

Subfamily

Video Card

VRAM

"Core i7" 2.3 15"

Mid-2012

HD Graphics 4000
GeForce GT 650M*

1 GB*

"Core i7" 2.6 15"

Mid-2012

HD Graphics 4000
GeForce GT 650M*

1 GB*

"Core i7" 2.7 15"

Mid-2012

HD Graphics 4000
GeForce GT 650M*

1 GB*

"Core i5" 2.5 13"

Late 2012

HD Graphics 4000

768 MB†

"Core i7" 2.9 13"

Late 2012

HD Graphics 4000

768 MB†

"Core i5" 2.6 13"

Early 2013

HD Graphics 4000

768 MB†

"Core i7" 3.0 13"

Early 2013

HD Graphics 4000

768 MB†

"Core i7" 2.4 15"

Early 2013

HD Graphics 4000
GeForce GT 650M*

1 GB*

"Core i7" 2.7 15"

Early 2013

HD Graphics 4000
GeForce GT 650M*

1 GB*

"Core i7" 2.8 15"

Early 2013

HD Graphics 4000
GeForce GT 650M*

1 GB*

"Core i5" 2.4 13"

Late 2013

Iris 5100

1 GB†

"Core i5" 2.6 13"

Late 2013

Iris 5100

1 GB†

"Core i7" 2.8 13"

Late 2013

Iris 5100

1 GB†

"Core i7" 2.0 15" (IG)

Late 2013

Iris Pro 5200

1 GB†

"Core i7" 2.3 15" (IG)

Late 2013

Iris Pro 5200

1 GB†

"Core i7" 2.6 15" (IG)

Late 2013

Iris Pro 5200

1 GB†

"Core i7" 2.3 15" (DG)

Late 2013

Iris Pro 5200
GeForce GT 750M*

2 GB*

"Core i7" 2.6 15" (DG)

Late 2013

Iris Pro 5200
GeForce GT 750M*

2 GB*

"Core i5" 2.4 13"

Mid-2014

Iris 5100

1 GB†

"Core i5" 2.6 13"

Mid-2014

Iris 5100

1 GB†

"Core i7" 2.8 13"

Mid-2014

Iris 5100

1 GB†

"Core i7" 2.0 15" (IG)

Mid-2014

Iris Pro 5200

1 GB†

"Core i7" 2.3 15" (IG)

Mid-2014

Iris Pro 5200

1 GB†

"Core i7" 2.6 15" (IG)

Mid-2014

Iris Pro 5200

1 GB†

"Core i7" 2.3 15" (DG)

Mid-2014

Iris Pro 5200
GeForce GT 750M*

2 GB*

"Core i7" 2.6 15" (DG)

Mid-2014

Iris Pro 5200
GeForce GT 750M*

2 GB*

Notebooks with "*" have graphics with dedicated GDDR5 memory for video function whereas notebooks with "†" only have integrated graphics that share memory with the system.

It is not possible to upgrade the video processor in any MacBook Pro models, Retina Display or otherwise.

How many external displays can the Retina Display MacBook Pro models support? What is the maximum supported resolution of each? Are adapters required?

Officially, Apple reports that the Retina Display MacBook Pro models can support two external displays up to a 2560x1600 resolution via the Thunderbolt or Thunderbolt 2 ports or one display with a maximum resolution of 2560x1600 via Thunderbolt and one display up to a maximum resolution of 1920x1200 (1080p) via HDMI.

On a 15-Inch Retina Display MacBook Pro, site sponsor OWC briefly tested three external displays -- two iMacs used as displays at 2560x1440 via Thunderbolt and Thunderbolt/DisplayPort and an LG monitor at 1920x1200 via HDMI -- and shared that "moving images and media didn't create any lag and we were able to play video on all four displays simultaneously."

However, in more detailed evaluation, a helpful EveryMac.com reader reported:

I have a "Mid-2012" Retina Display MacBook Pro with two 27" Thunderbolt Displays daisy chained in clamshell mode. I tried adding a third 1920x1200 Dell monitor via the HDMI port, and it actually does work. But here is the catch: with no external displays, the system fans hover around 2600 RPM. With two 27" Thunderbolt Displays, regardless of what I do, the fans hover around 2800-3200 RPM. The GPU diode temp reads 69°C (156°F). If I force it via a fan control program to run at 2500 RPM, the GPU heats up. I was afraid of damaging my computer so I turned the fans back to auto-mode.
Now the kicker. I tried with the three monitors and the fans go up to 4800 RPM. That's without doing anything. If I start running a YouTube clip, or do anything remotely CPU or graphics intensive, the fans max out at 5900 RPM (which is the max the machine will do). I exceeded that by having a few videos running at the same time, fired up 3 virtual machines, and had it compile some code. The whole system became choppy and it began stuttering.
Since then, I've never used three monitors, just the two Apple Thunderbolt Displays. Apple probably doesn't officially recommend using three displays because it gets too hot.

Ultimately, although the Retina Display MacBook Pro models are technically capable of running three external displays as well as the internal one, the above reader is highly likely to be correct. Although Apple does not formally provide a reason for why only two external displays are supported, it is clear that the system can overheat with three connected. Consequently, EveryMac.com does not recommend running more than two external displays on the Retina Display MacBook Pro models.

Also see: Are there any adapters or "hacks" that make it possible to connect a second external display to a MacBook, MacBook Air, or MacBook Pro model?


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