What Automatic Graphics Switching is on your MacBook Pro and how to use it

By , Oct 22, 2016

Late-2013 MacBook Pro with Retina display (two up 001)

Depending on the model of MacBook Pro you have, you may be able to physically choose whether your computer uses the high power discreet graphics card for better performance or the low power integrated graphics chip for better battery life by using an option known as Automatic Graphics Switching.

The feature is only available on MacBook Pros that have two graphics processing units (GPU). The reason it only exists on certain models of the MacBook Pro is not all Macs have dual GPUs, and the desktop Macs that do don’t need a low power mode since they don’t rely on batteries and are connected to a power source all the time.

How to tell if you have dual GPUs

You can tell if you have two GPUs by going to  → About this Mac → System Report → Graphics/Displays on your Mac.

As you can see from my report, my 2012 15” MacBook Pro with Retina display has both an AMD Radeon M9 graphics card and the Intel Iris Pro integrated graphics:

MacBook Pro Two GPUs

If you only see one graphics source in this list, it means you don’t have two graphics processing units. More than likely this is going to be the case if you have a lower end MacBook Pro. You might see some variant of Intel integrated graphics, whether it’s the Intel Iris Pro or Intel HD graphics.

How Automatic Graphics Switching works

Automatic Graphics Switching is a great feature because it helps give your Apple notebook phenomenal battery life. Without this feature, your power-hungry discreet graphics card would slide your battery life to a fraction of the time it lasts right now.

Thanks to powerful software in your Mac, macOS is capable of detecting when your computer needs more graphical horsepower and it can seamlessly switch over to the discreet graphics card if you’re doing something graphic intensive, such as gaming.

When you’re done, it moves back to the integrated graphics source to save power. When it does, your computer not only uses less juice, but it also runs much cooler and the fans will be quieter as they won’t have to spin so quickly to keep the machine cooler.

Depending on how you use your MacBook Pro on a daily basis, you may or may not need to utilize the Automatic Graphics Switching setting.

If you’re always tethered to a power source, then you might not care as much about the power efficiency of your MacBook Pro. This is typically the case with gamers who want the best graphical performance. These users don’t need Automatic Graphics Switching as much as a typical user and can let the computer run off of the discreet graphics card all the time because they’re typically connected to a power source to keep their game playing from killing their computer too quickly.

On the other hand, if you want to turn it on to conserve power for an on-the-go lifestyle, like most people buy notebooks for, then this option should be important to you because you won’t want to waste battery life by using your discreet graphics card to render normal macOS interfaces and view video playback when you don’t need that kind of horsepower to drive that stuff.

How to toggle Automatic Graphics Switching on or off

To toggle Automatic Graphics Switching on or off, follow these simple steps:

1) Launch the System Preferences app on your Mac and open the Energy Saver preference pane.

Mac Energy Saver Setting

2) Locate the Automatic Graphics Switching checkbox at the top of the preferences pan you see and add a check mark to toggle it on, or remove the check mark to toggle it off.

Mac Automatic Graphics Switching

The changes are going to take effect immediately after you make your choice. You don’t need to restart your computer.

What did I just do?

If you turned the feature off, then you’ve just made it so your Mac can utilize the high power discreet graphics card 100% of the time rather than using the power-sipping integrated graphics.

Conversely, if you just turned the feature on, then your Mac can now save energy when it doesn’t need the high power graphics by switching to the low power graphics source instead, and this will yield improved battery life.

Also read:

If you have a Mac with Automatic Graphics Switching abilities, which setting do you like to leave it at? Share in the comments.

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  • Mr_Coldharbour

    There’s a great utility that can allow you to manually switch between integrated and discrete GPUs right from the Mac status / menu bar. I think it’s called gfxstatus, can’t quite remember but I use it every now and then. There’s also another utility, which I believe can be downloaded from Apple’s developer portal called Quartz or Quartz Tool or something rather, lets you do the same thing and other graphics related things.

  • CAIO MARIZ®

    The integrated graphics extend battery life of MacBook Pro Retina 15″, however without them, the quad core MacBook Pro 15 would last 5 hours instead of 9 hours as windows competitors

  • e brake

    Any recommendations to make the battery more efficient on 2010 MacBook Pro models?

  • Joel

    Adobe Acrobat/ Reader DC is using the GPU, anyone with the same problem?

  • leart
    • Chris Owen

      A blast from the past lol

      • leart

        had hard time to make it work now lol

      • Chris Owen

        How many times have you had to replace the battery in that 5?

      • leart

        that device is just one year old 🙂
        the battery practically is new..

        purchase it new in box just because i was sure that had installed ios 6 inside 😉
        the problem is with ipod touch.. not this one, i have a 4g in mint condition with almost dead battery 🙁
        no chance to replace here in my country … https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/425454a54557100b4ca2bb817cc78ddd3adc756c22f5daa0b94e2ab7e6751ce1.jpg

      • Chris Owen

        Yeah my 4g’s battery is almost dead too just like my iPhone 4s and 5s, but those batteries lasted a pretty good while so I can’t complain lol

      • leart

        the difference is that changing iphone battery especially iPhone 4s and below its a 3 minutes job… it’s much harder for iPods … can say it’s just like mission impossible

      • Chris Owen

        Yeah they’re pretty bad. I’ve heard that the adhesive in the ipod that holds the battery is really difficult to get off among other things.

      • leart

        terrible thing. have to remove everything ,, tons of screws … adhesive… and for the best, the battery is soldered on a very delicate place that if heated to much it’s damaged forever lol..
        just changed the battery on one of my iphone 4.. it had 1100 cycles lol, in 3 minutes… 4/4s probably have the best quality build ever for a mobile phone

      • leart
      • Chris Owen

        1,100 cycles wow lol. I agree the 4/4s was like brick that you couldn’t break lol

      • leart

        1100 cycles and still it was at 70-75% of designed battery life… a beast lol

      • Chris Owen

        Man… lol

    • Y2J: Keeper of the List

      Ah, glorious days

      • leart

        sadly nothing is working on older firmwares anymore, that device was on 2.2.1.. even iTunes and AppStore was crashing lol
        3.1.3 and up are still fine

    • Mr_Coldharbour

      When everything about Apple and jailbreaking was intriguing. Now it’s all lost its flair.

      • leart

        yeah… glorious days… that magic it lasted till iOS 6 i guess…

  • obada

    I have a 2014 13″ Macbook Pro Retina and I don’t have dual graphics.
    What’s the deal here?

  • Daniel Waske

    Is there any way to disable the dGPU entirely? I’m asking because since Sierra even Apps like coconutBattery make my 2010 15″ MBP switch to the dGPU for no reason…

  • Mr_Coldharbour

    You’re welcome. As for manually switching to the integrated GPU, if you only have one GPU then the app is rendered redundant because your Mac already has the one GPU which is already in itself power-efficient. Those apps / tools are made for those with multiple GPUs, hence the manual switching. I know that this is something everyone dreads, but have you considered restoring your HDD/SSD and starting over a fresh clean install of whatever current OS you have if you haven’t already done one recently? I hear Chrome (and flash – not to mention it’s unsafe for your system) is brutal on battery life on the majority of websites particularly those with video content probably have already switched to HTML5 so if you use Safari and you’re on OS 10.9.X Mavericks at the very least you should enjoy most websites flash-free which will be very lenient on battery life. Or stick with Opera or Firefox, but Chrome I hear and read is not the most battery-friendly web browser. And speaking of battery calibration, weekly calibrations is way too much, it is recommended no more than once a month. The idea is to have as little as charge cycles as possible. No need to obsess over it though. If you average about 80-100 charge cycles per year you’re good. Slightly more is not an issue but if you’re reaching the red every other day or every day then you’re wearing your battery out. As I said, if you work a lot from home or the same place and that Mac doesn’t go anywhere much, you game a lot, watch lots of videos, connecting to external displays, graphics intensive work or just overall your Mac is sitting on a desk and you work from that desk most of the time then leave it plugged in so long as you’re working from there and when you’re done unplug of course. Work from battery power about once a week. They say the battery is “happiest” when in the 20% to 80% range. Just as a reference, the MBP’s battery will retain about 80% of its overall health when it’s reached 1000 charge cycles. I hope this helps.

    • e brake

      Thanks for the reply! And I guess the only option is for me to keep my MacBook Pro running optimal until the decision of upgrading becomes a possibility. I’m highly interested in the line up of new devices Apple debued last week. I restored my hdd earlier in the year, same time around when I used keystrokes to reset the pram and other settings. Lately I’ve seen my memory usage running a little higher in idle mode if you will so I’m currently looking into that as well. Usually if Opera is open and I’m casually navigating the web with a couple of open tabs my cpu usage would be around 8-12%, which is roughly 2-3gb of memory. Now it’s between a 4-4.5gb of memory with only one open app. I’ve obtain a couple of system defragmenter apps and already my memory usuage decreased to the normal limits. I’ve noticed that to maintain equipment or anything you intend to preserve and expect performance from, you need to do routine maintenance and become more familiar with the device/component to a strong sense to know how it’s suppose to operate the way you want it to.