MacBook Pro

How to Improve Video Performance on Your Retina MacBook Pro

Jared Kosanovic writes:

I have a question about your MacBook Pro with Retina display. I bought one last October (15 inch), which was a significant upgrade over my old black MacBook. You uploaded a video talking about the new 13 inch MacBook Pro with Retina display a couple of months ago, and talked briefly about your own MacBook Pro’s resolution.

You mentioned using QuickRes to change the resolution, and to increase the performance of your MacBook. What resolution, or series of different resolutions, do you select on QuickRes to enhance the performance?

Thank you for the excellent question, Jared.

I use the free QuickRes tool to push the rMBP screen resolution higher than what Apple supports by default in the System Preferences.

Along with others, I’ve incurred decreased video performance on my Retina MacBook Pro (rMBP) due to the GPU (in conjunction with the CPU) not being able to support a Retina display as well as one might hope. Either there’s a severe lack of optimization on the latest version(s) of OS X, or rMBPs need to wait for hardware to get even faster for those pixels to get pushed across the screen without lag or stutter — prevalent while scrolling.

MacBook ProSo, I’ve found fantastically better screen performance at 2880 x 1800. Others have as well. This is not a perceived difference — it’s absolute. The answer isn’t as simple as going to the Preference Pane and setting a lower resolution. Any resolution you set will continue to push a Retina image through the screen. You basically have to use something like QuickRes to force a non-Retina image onto the screen.

There is another step you can take that might help improve performance on your MacBook Pro. It involves resetting the System Management Controller, which can help in cases where the CPU is responding sluggishly. Apple has provided an outline of the process on its support site. It’s not exactly a fix specifically intended to resolve this issue, but if you notice a dropoff in performance after some time, this could help.

This problem is commonly experienced by PC gamers attempting to push the latest and greatest games out of older and underpowered hardware. Often, reducing the resolution of the image will have a positive impact on your frame rate. Every pixel requires some effort on the part of your hardware, and pushing double (or triple) the amount of pixels without some considerable improvements being made to the graphics processor will result in issues.

I’d imagine this would be addressed by Apple in future updates to the MacBook Pro line. For now, this is the price we pay for being early adopters. Unfortunately, it’s a fairly big one and we can only hope a driver update will eventually mitigate the problem.

Apple didn’t fail with the rMBP, but a smoother screen does not imply smoother performance.