August 31, 2010

Hands-On Report: Snow Leopard Graphics Update 1.0--Not much joy here

When Apple released Snow Leopard Graphics Update 1.0 for Mac OS X 10.6.4 on August 16, at first I thought that it did not apply to my Macs nor the software that I run since the ReadMe specifics stated it was for certain Macs running Portal, Team Fortress, Aperture 3 and StarCraft. However, the update was offered by Software Update for my 2008 2.8GHz dual quad Mac Pro and 2010 13" 2.4GHz MacBook Pro and I was encouraged by positive articles on Macworld and Bare Feats.

My Mac Pro has the currently fastest available Mac graphics card, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 285 by EVGA which is apparently no longer available. However, I will upgrade to the newer ATI Radeon HD 5870 as soon as it is available from Apple as a kit. The MacBook Pro has Nvidia GeForce 320M graphics. My major complaint about Snow Leopard (Mac OS X 10.6) was that it initially reduced OpenGL performance when compared with Leopard until the 10.6.3 update. My quick check of 10.6.4 when it first came out showed no change in graphics performance from 10.6.3 so I posted nothing on it.

Speed is good so I updated both Macs with the Snow Leopard Graphics Update 1.0 hoping that I would see some additional improvement. The Graphics Update changed the version number of the Snow Leopard 10.6.4 graphics drivers from 1.6.16 to 1.6.18. Here are the results on both Macs using several of my standard speed tests:

Mac Pro OpenGL Graphics Speed Tests (Higher is faster) w/10.6.4 Graphics Update 1.0
10.6.4 10.6.3 10.6.2 10.6.0
Cinebench 10 OpenGL Hardware Lighting
6224 6256 5978 6018
Xbench 1.3 OpenGL Graphics
189 180 97 93
Halo 2.0.3 (frames/sec)
170 171 165 122
OpenGL Ext. Viewer 3.22
143 143 - -
Red is fastest.


MacBook Pro OpenGL Graphics Speed Tests (Higher is faster) w/10.6.4 Graphics Update 1.0
10.6.4 10.6.3 10.6.2 10.6.0
Cinebench 11.5 OpenGL Hardware Lighting
11.20 11.16 n/a n/a
Xbench 1.3 OpenGL Graphics
168 163 " "
Halo 2.0.3 (frames/sec)
- - " "
OpenGL Ext. Viewer 3.22
120 - " "
Red is fastest.

The MacBook Pro has a consistent but very small performance increase but there is no clear indication in these tests that Snow Leopard Graphics Update 1.0 significantly increased the OpenGL graphics speed on my Mac Pro, at least for these tests. Bare Feats found significant increases running Call of Duty 4 (17%), Doom 3 (24%) and Halo (37%), all games that I play, plus for other games. The only common test is the game Halo where the frame rate went from 87 to 119 in Bare Feats tests which does not comport with my results. But Bare Feats' test machine was a 2009 2.93GHz Mac Pro with an ATI Radeon HD 4870 graphics card running at a resolution of 2560x1600 versus my standard 1024x768. When I increased the resolution to 2560x1600, checked all the high quality settings and set FSAA at 4x, I got a frame rate of 124 vs Bare Feats' 119. The Nvidia graphics appears to be still a bit faster on Halo than the Radeon. Last year when I compared the two cards on Leopard 10.5.7 at a resolution of 2560x1600 and high quality, I got 124 vs 84 fps, the Nvidia over the Radeon. These results are very similar to Bare Feats 87 vs 119 for the Radeon before and after the Graphics Update.

Bring on the Radeon HD 5870! [Bill Fox]

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