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Buying advice: MacBook laptop or Mac desktop? Choosing between Apple's MacBook range and desktop Mac range

Lou Hattersley | Feb. 29, 2016
In this feature, we look at Apple's Mac desktop and MacBook laptop range of computers and help you work out which option is right for you.

Mac laptop or desktop: Graphic performance

Alongside the Intel processor in each Apple Mac sits a GPU (Graphics Processing Unit). This is often referred to as a "graphics card" although they are not always separate cards. The GPU is primarily used to manage visual effects, and a good GPU enables games and other graphic intensive programs to run more effectively.

At the entry level, the Mac mini features the older Intel HD Graphics 5000 card introduced with Haswell in 2013, while the entry-level 21.5in iMac boasts slightly better Intel HD Graphics 6000. The MacBook Air also has the newer HD Graphics 6000. The MacBook Pro with Retina Display has a newer, and faster, Intel Iris Graphics 6100 card. All these graphics cards are integrated graphics cards, which means that they run on the same die as the main CPU and share the RAM with the rest of the computer.

The 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display and second-cheapest 21.5-inch iMac (£1,049) both feature Intel Iris Pro GPUs. The Intel Iris Pro is the same system as Intel Iris but with 128MB of dedicated RAM that acts as a buffer to improve performance. The top-end MacBook Pro with Retina Display boasts Intel Iris Pro Graphics with an AMD Radeon R9 M370X featuring 2GB memory - putting it just beneath the graphical power of the entry-level 27in 5K iMac.

There's nothing wrong with the Intel HD or Iris integrated systems (they run most modern games) but if you are a keen gamer or work in a visual effects field, then you might want to consider a step up. The Intel Iris Pro offers a marked upgrade in performance, but if you work in professional 3D, video editing or are a keen gamer then consider getting a Mac with a discrete graphics system.

Apple also offers some discrete graphics cards in its Macs, usually from AMD. You'll find these in the top of the range MacBook Pro, the 27in 5K iMac range, and the Mac Pro. If you see AMD on your Mac, it's going to offer better performance.

The top-of-the-line 15in 2.5GHz MacBook Pro with Retina Display (£1,999) comes with an AMD Radeon R9 M370X with 2GB memory.

These all offer vastly improved graphics performance over Macs with Intel HD 5000/600, Intel Iris or Intel Iris Pro graphics.

The Mac Pro comes with two graphics cards: Dual AMD FirePro D300 with 2GB GDDR5 VRAM on each card (4GB in total) on the quad-core model and 3GB GDDR5 VRAM each (6GB in total) on the 6-core unit. These are impressive numbers, and that sort of power is needed if you want to edit 4K video.


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