Snow Leopard Battery Life Issues with Flash: Fixed

Snow Leopard brought forth 64-bit versions of many Apple applications. Finder, TextEdit and Safari (among others) could now run in x86-64 mode. However, last year I found that browsing websites that used Flash with 64-bit Safari dropped battery life by over 40% in Snow Leopard compared to 32-bit Safari in Leopard. To fix the problem you had to force Safari to launch in 32-bit mode.

While Apple never recognized the problem nor discussed why it happened to begin with, it appears that it’s since been addressed in OS X 10.6.3. The results below tell all:

Snow Leopard Battery Life Improvement
Flash Web Browsing Battery Life OS X 10.6.1 OS X 10.6.3
15-inch MacBook Pro (Mid 2009) - Core 2 Duo 2.53GHz 277 minutes 344 minutes

Flash web browsing battery life improved tremendously from the original release of Snow Leopard. While it's still not as high as in Leopard, it's a definite improvement.

Windows 7 Battery Life

A handful of users asked that I look at battery life under Windows 7. Being your humble servant, I of course obliged. I attempted to recreate my OS X benchmarks under Windows 7 as best as possible, using Chrome and Windows Media Player in place of Safari and iTunes of course. You can’t draw any conclusions about OS X vs. Windows 7 battery life from these numbers however. As I mentioned in the original review, under Windows 7 the MacBook Pro keeps the discrete GPU enabled 100% of the time. There’s no way to shut it off. Battery life will inevitably be lower than OS X.

Windows 7 Battery Life
  Light Web Browsing Flash Web Browsing XviD Playback
15-inch MacBook Pro (Mid 2010) - Core i7 2.66GHz 255 minutes 255 minutes 153 minutes

It appears that the dGPU being on all the time is the reason we can't get better browser battery life regardless of workload. The XviD playback test also takes a hit compared to OS X thanks to the discrete GPU. In our previous articles we found OS X to be roughly equal to Windows 7 in XviD battery life.

Core i5 vs. Core i7 Battery Life High Resolution, Matte Display: Tested
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  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Saturday, April 24, 2010 - link

    Thank you!

    Take care,
  • BanditWorks - Saturday, April 24, 2010 - link

    I don't have the new MacBook Pros, but I do have a year old regular MacBook and while I was giving the new Adobe Flash 10.1 beta (the one that utilizes the GPU and CPU) I definitely saw a noticeable difference in battery life.

    As I wasn't doing anything that intensive on my MacBook I went back to the most stable version of Flash and it felt as if I had installed a newer, longer lasting battery instantaneously.

    PS - Yeah, glossy screens suck big time. They're as tacky as a car with everything chromed out. They may be nice to look at when the screen is turned off, but for everything else they don't really serve much of a purpose in my opinion.
  • Computer Scooter Joe - Saturday, April 24, 2010 - link


    You mentioned under windows the dGPU will always be on. In regards to this i have two questions:

    1) Are there any heat issues with the dGPU being on all the time? Does the laptop get especially hot?

    2) Do you foresee being able to enable graphics switching under windows? (Be it via Apple or a hack/3rd-party program)

    I'm going to be attending University in the fall and i really like the aesthetics of the Macbook Pros; but these two questions have me a little worried. Having tried it, I must admit, I really do not like OSX at all (yes i know, blasphemy and all that), and i plan on bootcamping Windows 7. Price is not an issue; performance (or lack thereof) is what matters.

    PS: To other commenters, please do not flame and start saying "Go buy Laptop X from this other company, Mac's are overpriced."

    Thanks in advance.
  • Brian Klug - Saturday, April 24, 2010 - link

    I can't speak entirely for the dGPU temperature in Windows 7 or boot camp installed OSes, but I do think I can talk a little about the dGPU temperature because I find myself switched on it a lot for what I do.

    I run a lot of Matlab related software on OS X (as I'm also a student), which requires an X11 instance. It seems that the X11 window system on OS X inevitably calls one of those core libraries that triggers the discrete GPU switching, and usually I don't notice until a good hour or so later that I'm on the dGPU. You'll notice that the battery life estimate changes. It doesn't immediately dramatically suffer, but it just seems shorter. Temperature creeps up a bit, but in practice for what I'm doing being switched on the dGPU doesn't raise internal temperatures more than 15 degrees F. I'd imagine playing games or doing some heavy OpenGL loads would change that though.

    Apple has done a pretty good job with the thermal management from what I've seen thus far. I've had a couple of eyebrow-raising moments burning in the matte MBP I used for the display review section, but it's important to understand that temps up to 200F (while admittedly INSANE IMO) are well within the T_junction spec from the i7 spec sheet. The CPU will throttle long before you do any physical damage.

    -Brian Klug
  • solipsism - Saturday, April 24, 2010 - link

    Thanks for the review.

    I know that there is a Sys Pref option to keep the dGPU on all the time, but there is no power saving option to disable the dGPU completely. Did you find a secret switch, like in an PLIST file that will allow this to happen. This would come in handy for long bouts without a power cord attached.
  • etikka - Saturday, April 24, 2010 - link


    Thank you for the review.

    It would be great to have a review on the Macbookish HP envy 15". The looks are ok and it would be great to have a quad core CPU and working GPU switching under Win7.
  • MySchizoBuddy - Saturday, April 24, 2010 - link

    So Matlab is still using X11 on Mac OS X. I think they were working on a mac native version I guess they haven't released it yet
  • Brian Klug - Saturday, April 24, 2010 - link

    See I agree completely! There needs to be a native version already. I haven't investigated it a lot, but it could be related to the 64-bit version I'm running. I'm on 2010a.

    I did some reading a while ago and the consensus was that Matlab on OS X just runs a LOT slower. Almost twice as slow in some cases. It isn't so much a problem stemming from the X11 window session rendering pipeline, but the java swing rendering pipeline. I'm puzzled why the platform is getting so little attention from the Mathworks when I see a huge population of students with exclusive mac setups. Oh well.

    There's an awesome (bit dated though) thread here:

  • ken.atwell - Friday, May 7, 2010 - link

    I work for The MathWorks and a little while back I blogged about MATLAB on the Mac, including MATLAB's (diminishing) dependency on X11 . The performance of MATLAB on the Mac platform is also discussed, though you need to dig into the comments a bit (comment #12). If you are interested in these topics, you may want to visit:

    Ken Atwell
  • damianrobertjones - Saturday, April 24, 2010 - link

    Thank you for the info, but, when are you going to review or run ANY articles with regards to the new Fujitsu, HP and Toshiba i7/i5 Tablets which are brand new and just out......

    Why don't they/haven't they been mentioned at all?

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