Apple is in a position that’s enviable by any consumer facing company. It drums up genuine excitement for nearly every product it launches. Apple has somehow found a way to make something as small as just another processor refresh exciting.

It’s not all smoke and mirrors though. The previous generation unibody MacBook Pro posted some incredible battery life numbers. And two weeks ago Apple paired it with Intel’s Core i5 and i7 mobile CPUs, delivering the sort of desktop-like performance we’ve been waiting for.

Since the release we’ve had the time to answer a few more questions about the new systems. We updated our launch article with Core i5 vs. Core i7 results. But today, in response to many of your requests, we’ve got more battery life results and a full evaluation of the 15-inch MacBook Pro’s display quality. Apple is often the go-to manufacturer for creative professionals, we put our colorimeter on the MacBook Pro to find out if they’re making the right choice.

Battery Life: Better and Worse in the Real World

Battery life on the new MacBook Pro is a lot more varied than it was on the old one. While our light web browsing test does a good job of showing you what very light usage can give you, I find that the new 15-inch MacBook Pro spends more time at states of higher power draw than the old one. This is difficult to show as a single benchmark result but it appears to be because of two things.

The obvious cause is that the Core i5/i7 CPUs let you do more with the machine. Tasks complete quicker, the system is more responsive and as a result you end up doing more with the machine.

The second part of the problem is Apple’s automatic graphics switching technology. While it relies on applications that use specific frameworks (e.g. OpenGL, OpenCL, Quartz Composer, Core Animation and Core Graphics), many have pointed out strange behavior when doing something as harmless as browsing the web.

An attentive Mac Rumors reader pointed out that by looking at OS X’s System Profiler you can find out what GPU is being used: the active GPU will list the specs of the display it’s driving:

The inactive GPU will simply state that there’s “No Display Connected”. Start up Photoshop and you’ll see the discrete GPU kick in, close it and you’ll see Intel’s HD Graphics take over.

Readers of my first Month with a Mac article will know that one thing I quickly embraced about OS X was the idea of just leaving applications open. If you’ve got enough memory, OS X tends to do just fine with a ton of applications open. In fact, the UI is designed around it; closing all application windows rarely quits the app itself, Apple appears to want you to leave your frequently used apps open and idle. It makes switching between them that much faster. The fact that the new MacBook Pro’s discrete GPU won’t power down if you have an application like Photoshop open flies in the face of this leave-your-apps-open usage model.

So you’ve got to be mindful of what applications will trigger the discrete GPU to take over. That’s not terribly hard, but there’s just one problem: sometimes your web browser can wake up the dGPU. I’ve found numerous cases where Google Chrome will activate the discrete GPU, while our own Brian Klug found that Firefox did the same. I haven’t extensively tested Safari to see if it has the same issue. I suspect this is a software bug, but it is one that lowers battery life in real world usage scenarios. The discrete GPU remains powered down in all of my OS X battery life tests, but I found that in my using the new MacBook Pro my battery ran down much quicker than I was expecting. Part of it is the potentially more power hungry Arrandale CPU, but part of it is the fact that the discrete GPU was active when it had no reason to be.

You’ll still get better battery life compared to an older MacBook Pro, and you have the potential to get better battery life than last year’s 2nd gen unibody MacBook Pro. But as I mentioned in our review, there’s also the chance that you’ll see lower battery life than the previous model. And as I’ve come to realize, that chance is higher than I originally thought because of the issues mentioned above. It's even higher if you opt for the Core i7 model...

Core i5 vs. Core i7 Battery Life
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  • bazant - Sunday, May 9, 2010 - link

    Thanks for the review - helpful! I'm about to buy a new machine - mostly to combine a lot of photography (processor and screen important), a lot of travel (size, weight and battery important) - was looking at the 15" i7 MacBook pro but then the Asus UL30JT has been announced... Any idea how do they compare head to head? It looks like Asus put all the power into 13" body with a very similar battery life...

    Any comments would be great!
    Reply
  • NoOne1 - Monday, May 10, 2010 - link

    Anand-

    Could you elaborate on how you tested the machines' batteries?

    1. When you say you used iTunes, does that mean you played iTunes songs over the built-in speakers? What was the volume level?
    2. On all your tests, was the backlit keyboard on?
    3. When you performed your Xvid test, were you playing over the built-in speakers? Was the discrete GPU activated?
    4. Was the discrete 330m GPU ever activated or was only the Intel HD being used in all the tests?

    I just finished performing an Xvid test on my 2 week old i7, with the battery properly calibrated, with the backlit keyboard at one notch, the brightness at two bars from full brightness, and using HEADPHONES, at a little over half of max volume, and I could only squeeze out about 4 hours. One of the movies I played back once had the brightness set at one notch above MID brightness!! The discrete GPU was activated though.

    I have not been able to come close to your browsing number of 451 minutes using just Safari by itself browsing Mac Rumors forums, although I wish I could.
    Reply
  • wuju - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    Not sure if it works. Reply
  • wuju - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    Here is what I have

    Macbook Pro 15" High Res, i7 processor, 7200rpm hard drive. installed windows 7 in bootcamp.

    I wanted to test the battery with light web surfing with Mail and iCal running in the back to see if I can get close to 9 hours of usage. I've calibrated the battery and it's a week old machine.

    I get a 10% drop of battery from the battery indicator per 1/2 hour, which equals to about 4-5 hours of usage. I can see it drop 1% for every 2-3 mins. I have wifi on off course plus using the Apple bluetooth mouse (I imagine bluetooth does not drain that much battery?).

    Is my 4 hours of battery result from a full charge normal due to the hardware configuration - it's like half of what Apple claims the battery to be for light web surfing! What do you guys thing? Did I get a lemon and have a defective Apple product before I demand for a new macbook pro replacement? Thanks in advance for all your help.
    Reply
  • wuju - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link

    The brightness is set to 50% as well. Reply
  • hd_ - Saturday, June 5, 2010 - link

    Same experience, I took it to a service centre. I was nothing wrong with the battery. Reply
  • PubicTheHare - Saturday, September 18, 2010 - link

    Anand,

    I think you mentioned (not sure if it was this article) that the 15" MBPs are still running hot, and that we should wait until the NEXT generation.

    Was it the latest 15" MBPs that you were referring to?

    I have a Santa Rosa 15" and likely won't upgrade until OSX natively supports TRIM and the MBP has USB 3.0, but I'm curious about the heating issue.

    My SR MBP runs HOT.

    Thanks,
    Reply
  • lilee221 - Monday, September 20, 2010 - link

    I bought a APPLE MacBook Pro 15-inch Series laptop, but when i'm on trip, the battery cannot last a long time, so i search a replacement battery online for its relatively cheap price but good quality.
    Finally i bought one at www.all-batteries.co.uk
    Reply
  • MacManx - Sunday, October 3, 2010 - link

    On the subject of glossy vs matte screen displays for the mid-2010 15-inch Macbook Pro, I am looking for a screen protector which will fit the matte display (with silver surround) - I am aware that the Moshi iVisor AG screen guard does not fit the matte display. Many thanks for any advice. Reply

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