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I'm doing a report and researching various Mac graphics cards and how they would work or not work with pro apps. I'm very confused by all of the terminology and specifications, so I hope I can formulate this question clearly.

I'm looking specifically at Final Cut Pro. The graphics card requirements (as described in http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4664), are as follows:

- OpenCL-capable graphics card or Intel HD Graphics 3000 or later
- 256MB of VRAM  (1GB recommended for 4K)

The top item isn't the issue. The 256MB of VRAM is tripping me up.

On this page (http://support.apple.com/kb/HT3246), Apple describes dynamic allocation for memory. For example, a MacBook Pro with Intel Iris Pro graphics "dynamically allocates up to 1.5 GB of system memory." I understand that the 1.5GB comes from regular system RAM. Does that memory act as the "VRAM" that Final Cut Pro needs? I'm confused because I read that the Iris Pro also has 128MB of its own memory.

For the discrete graphics cards (NVIDIA GeForce 320M for example), it says that a base of 256MB is allocated. Does this mean that the discrete graphics card has 256MB on its own, but can also receive more from the system memory, a la the integrated cards?

Lastly, how different would the performance be for Final Cut Pro (or similar apps) between the Iris Pro graphics and the discrete card? If someone wants to use Final Cut Pro, is the discrete card a necessity?

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Does that memory act as the "VRAM" that Final Cut Pro needs?

The integrated Intel Iris graphics chips contain onboard memory that act as L4 cache this helps speed up access to the shared system RAM, but doesn't replace it as the backing store for graphics data.

Does this mean that the discrete graphics card has 256MB on its own, but can also receive more from the system memory, a la the integrated cards?

The discrete card has its own RAM, placed near to the GPU and connected to the GPU with a private buss. Additional RAM from the system memory cannot be used with discrete cards. Really, you wouldn't want to -- it would slow down its processing capabilities.

Lastly, how different would the performance be for Final Cut Pro (or similar apps) between the Iris Pro graphics and the discrete card? If someone wants to use Final Cut Pro, is the discrete card a necessity?

This is hard to answer definitely. It depends on what a user is trying to do in Final Cut Pro. Certainly the discrete should out perform the integrated graphics setup when the workload starts to turn more demanding but OpenCL performance is proving to be almost on par for the integrated cards with the discrete cards in the latest Retina MacBook Pros.

Here is an article that has some discrete vs. integrated FCP benchmarking information in it. It points to this other article that has a choice quote in it:

In the past we sneered at the integrated GPUs and their puny performance. Not any more. The Intel Iris and Iris Pro are every bit the match or master of discrete NVIDIA Mobile GPUs -- at least when it comes to OpenCL acceleration.

Where the discrete cards win is in OpenGL-based workloads.

Ideally you'd run your own benchmarks on the hardware with representative workloads. If this isn't feasible, you're stuck relying on the benchmarks done by others like those two sites above to make your decisions.

  • Thanks for all the info. If the iris cards don't have appreciable memory, then what is the 128MB that's advertised with Iris Pro? – Halen Aug 4 '14 at 19:00
  • Where are you getting this information from? There's no mention of any onboard RAM in the Iris Pro chipsets that MacBook Pros use here support.apple.com/kb/HT3246#iris – Ian C. Aug 4 '14 at 20:05
  • "Its fourth-generation Intel Core i7 processor features Iris Pro Graphics with 128MB of embedded memory" apple.com/macbook-pro/features-retina – Halen Aug 4 '14 at 20:17
  • According to this article the extra RAM is used as an L4 cache. So it helps offset the pain of going to system memory, but not completely. I amended my answer. – Ian C. Aug 4 '14 at 20:49
  • That makes much more sense. Thanks for all your help. – Halen Aug 4 '14 at 21:00

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