MacBook Pro, Aperture, and 30-inch Displays

I recognize that this blog has become very technical lately. Forgive me, ever since I was a kid in San Diego playing Ultima I through V on the home Apple ][ computer, I’ve always wanted to talk computer stuff!

Today, I tested the performance of the MacBook Pro hooked up to my Apple 30-inch Cinema Display. One reason why I chose the Pro over the regular MacBook or the Air was that it could drive a 30-inch display (2560×1600 resolution). The laptop features a Nvidia GeForce 8600M GT with 256MB of RAM; the newer Penryn-powered MacBook Pros have the same video chipset except with 512MB of video RAM. As you would expect, more video RAM typically equals better performance, especially with applications that make use of Mac OS X’s Core Image.

As I’ve known for two-years and counting, Aperture is one of the most GPU-intensive apps I’ve come across. My Quad G5’s beefy 7800GTX 512MB video card — an after-market upgrade that I purchased following my supreme disappointment with the stock 6600 card — has greatly increased the speed of Aperture’s editing adjustments. There’s only a slight delay when changing white balance, exposure, vibrancy and contrast during full-screen edits. Certain adjustments like levels and especially highlights and shadows are a little jerky, but the speed is acceptable.

Aperture Maximized

With Aperture maximized or in full-screen mode, the MacBook Pro starts to struggle when only a few adjustments (WB and Exposure) have been turned on. Don’t even think about using highlights and shadows at fullscreen! Reducing Aperture to its minimum window size results in excellent performance with every default adjustment turned on (WP, Exposure, Enhance, Levels, Highlights and Shadows, and Color).

Aperture at minumum window size

At fullscreen on a 30-inch display, four megapixel images are being displayed and manipulated in real-time by Core Image! A 24-inch Cinema Display would force the GPU to deal with a 2.25 megapixel image. At its minimum window size, Aperture only has to deal with images that are roughly 825×550, less than half a megapixel.

Having a big view of the image is great; that’s why I bought the 30-inch display in the first place. Performance is also very important, so you can be sure that the window size is getting reduced when I’m editing images on the MacBook Pro.

A great source for Aperture speed tips can be found on Steve Weller’s Bagelturf website. The list was originally compiled for Aperture 1.5, but most of them are still valid with Aperture 2.1.

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