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Old Sep 4, 2012, 02:51 PM   #1
evaporateddwarf
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Apple Store Rep Tells Me MBA's Can't Run Thunderbolt Displays

My 2011 MBA has been having problems running my thunderbolt display, and having applecare, I took it in to an apple store near Portland, OR. I told the representative that it lags severely when the thunderbolt display is hooked up. He grabs a display from out back, hooks it up, and we start a video from hulu. The video lags to about 2-5 fps, and is unwatchable. Moving windows around the display shows severe lag. He plays the video on my air, and it runs fine.

At this point, he proceeds to tell me that there is nothing wrong with my computer, and it simply is not powerful enough to run a 27" display. I told him this is ridiculous, and it shouldn't have any problems doing simple tasks, and that I'm not expecting to do video rendering, but find it inexcusable it can't handle the monitor. I know others have had this problem, but that it is a problem with some models, and is not a problem with the MBA design itself. A IT guy from Cupertino, who now is a graphic designer who works with my friend, said this was irregular behavior, and I should have the computer swapped out.

The rep told me that playing video is a high intensive process, and that the thunderbolt display has "a lot of pixels, and I shouldn't be able to expect my MBA to be able to handle such an intensive process," and proceeds to go to the specs of my computer and tell me that it isn't able to run a thunderbolt display. He told me they could take my computer for 2 days, and spec out a similar MBA to see if the other one was capable of video playback, and running the thunderbolt display more capably.

I couldn't believe what he told me. It's one thing if my problems are unconfirmed, or another to say they'll take it and see what's wrong, but to straight up tell me that it's not designed to be able to run the display left me dumbfounded. I was in a rush by the end of it, so I said I'd come back in a few days, but as I left, I thought "does this guy realize the new ipad screen has more pixels than the thunderbolt display? Is he gonna try and tell me the ipad is more powerful than my MBA?"

I'm now calling apple support to see what they can do for me.
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Last edited by evaporateddwarf; Sep 4, 2012 at 03:01 PM.
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Old Sep 4, 2012, 03:17 PM   #2
evaporateddwarf
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Apple support wasn't much help (outscourced call, she didn't try to troubleshoot, she just sent me to the thunderbolt display FAQ). I called another store in Portland and he told me "that other Apple Genius seems to be a little...misinformed. It should work."
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Old Sep 4, 2012, 03:20 PM   #3
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Funny, Apple shows a MBA connected to a Thunderbolt display.

http://www.apple.com/displays/

The people at the Mac Store aren't necessarily experts on Macs.

Towards the bottom of the page, there is a paragraph that talks about "Doing more with Macbook Air".

Quote:
Do more with MacBook Air.

Connect MacBook Air to the Thunderbolt Display and you can do even more with a computer that already does a lot. Like adding FireWire peripherals, connecting to Ethernet networks at gigabit speeds, and making large-as-life, HD video calls to other Mac users with the built-in FaceTime HD camera.
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Old Sep 4, 2012, 03:53 PM   #4
TheRealDamager
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I use an Air with a TB display several times a week - this lag is not consistent with my experience. Is it possible you have something installed that could cause a problem? I'm not sure this kind of lag indicates a HW fault.
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Old Sep 4, 2012, 04:15 PM   #5
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I watch videos all the time on my 24' widescreen Dell Ultrasharp monitor. Thunderbolt to DVI fyi (yeah the Apple one cuz I bought 2 noname thunderbolt to dvi and neither of them worked). Thank God for Amazon return policy.
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Old Sep 4, 2012, 04:21 PM   #6
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I watch videos all the time on my 24' widescreen Dell Ultrasharp monitor. Thunderbolt to DVI fyi (yeah the Apple one cuz I bought 2 noname thunderbolt to dvi and neither of them worked). Thank God for Amazon return policy.
I tried the no-name one and it didn't work either. I got the Monoprice version as it was HIGHLY recommended by other forum members.
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Old Sep 4, 2012, 04:31 PM   #7
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Yeah - usually trying to save a couple of bucks isn't a good idea - but Monoprice delivers pretty consistently...
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Old Sep 4, 2012, 04:47 PM   #8
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I tried the no-name one and it didn't work either. I got the Monoprice version as it was HIGHLY recommended by other forum members.
Thanks for the info, I'll check them out.
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Old Sep 4, 2012, 05:15 PM   #9
dyn
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The problem is in the detail. From what I read I didn't see the Genius denying that it doesn't work at all. He only told you that it can't drive the display properly which is indeed correct. The gpu in the 2011 Air simply isn't powerful enough for something like a high def video on a display that has 2560x1440 as a resolution. With simple desktop use it will run without problems.

If I hook up my 2012 Air to my 30" display with 2560x1600 it can barely drive it when using something like Aperture or playing a high def video. The Air seems to be living up to its name: it wants to go airborne (that fan is quite loud). It does run it smoothly but doing something else besides it will make things laggy. In my 2012 Air is the Intel HD 4000 gpu, in the 2011 is the Intel HD 3000. The 4000 is a lot more powerful than the 3000 (not only in terms of computing power, also in terms of amount of video memory) which is why this one is able to drive 3 displays instead of 2 (internal and 2 external vs internal and 1 external).

It is very annoying that Apple isn't very informative in this area by clearly stating that the 2011 Air will be able to drive the 27" Thunderbolt Display but only with ordinary desktop use. Doing anything more powerful like games, HD videos, etc. is asking too much. Even on the 2012 Air with a more powerful gpu. Luckily the Genius you met knows his stuff and does inform you correctly about this.

If you search on the internet you will find more similar stories to yours.
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Old Sep 4, 2012, 10:52 PM   #10
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The gpu in the 2011 Air simply isn't powerful enough for something like a high def video on a display that has 2560x1440 as a resolution. With simple desktop use it will run without problems.

If I hook up my 2012 Air to my 30" display with 2560x1600 it can barely drive it when using something like Aperture or playing a high def video.

Doing anything more powerful like games, HD videos, etc. is asking too much. Even on the 2012 Air with a more powerful gpu.
Strangely I too have a 30" display 2560x1600 from dell and neither the macbook air 2011 non the 2012 has any issues playing back high def videos on full screen. I am using the display port to dual link dvi connector from apple to connect to the dell 3008 WFP.

I do game much on the macbook air, WoW, D3 and Starcraft are very doable with lowered settings.

Last edited by MacLappy; Sep 4, 2012 at 11:01 PM.
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Old Sep 4, 2012, 11:01 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by BigMcGuire View Post
I watch videos all the time on my 24' widescreen Dell Ultrasharp monitor. Thunderbolt to DVI fyi (yeah the Apple one cuz I bought 2 noname thunderbolt to dvi and neither of them worked). Thank God for Amazon return policy.
I love Amazon - even more than Apple
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Old Sep 4, 2012, 11:06 PM   #12
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He should have tested it with a known good MacBook air to prove it.
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Old Sep 5, 2012, 01:14 PM   #13
dyn
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Strangely I too have a 30" display 2560x1600 from dell and neither the macbook air 2011 non the 2012 has any issues playing back high def videos on full screen. I am using the display port to dual link dvi connector from apple to connect to the dell 3008 WFP.

I do game much on the macbook air, WoW, D3 and Starcraft are very doable with lowered settings.
Driving a large display (I have the same display btw, using it via DP though) is one thing but also doing lots of other stuff like decoding video (if it is h.264 the gpu will decode it, if not then the cpu will decode it) and many other things (running mail, a webbrowser, using filevault 2 (cpu has encryption support!), etc.) will drive the cpu/gpu to its limits. With the older cpu/gpu you reach that limit much quicker than with the newer one in the 2012 models. Most of the time you'll hear the fan going bananas because it has to cool a very hot cpu/gpu and in some cases you can even see it with the animations of say Exposť. They are not smooth any more.

My Mac mini early 2009 with the Nvidia 9400m is much more like the Intel HD 3000 in terms of performance than the Intel HD 4000 in my 2012 Air. I replaced that Mac mini with a Mac Pro purely because of the poor performance with the display. It could barely browse pics in fullscreen mode in iPhoto.

There is a big difference between smooth and doable. I think Apple is more along the lines of "doable" than "smooth".
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Old Sep 5, 2012, 05:54 PM   #14
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The 27" thunderbolt screen is a lot of pixels, so it is conceivable that it could be slow due to the size. But, i think it is most likely a software issue. Is flash up to date? Have you tried repairing disk permissions and running a dvd or another video file other than hulu on the big screen?
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Old Sep 5, 2012, 09:09 PM   #15
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There is NO WAY that Apple would have released an Air / Monitor solution that would only play HD video at 2-5 fps. That is not normal at all. I have both products, and your experience does not match my experience.

There has to be something else going on here....
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Old Sep 5, 2012, 09:20 PM   #16
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I used to have a MacBook Air with Thunderbolt Display.
One time I wanted to play a video that I took with my iPhone 4S, 1080p, unedited, full screen on the Thunderbolt Display. It does lag severely, but it runs smoothly on the MacBook Air screen.
However, each time I played 1080p movies and tv shows full screen on iTunes, and also from YouTube, it runs smoothly.
So what I concluded is a compressed 1080p video runs fine, but not the uncompressed one.
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Old Sep 6, 2012, 12:23 AM   #17
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I was just using my new MBA with a 46" TV hooked up via Thunderbolt->HDMI and know plenty of people that use the 27" TB Display...get a different Genius to help you out.
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Old Sep 6, 2012, 12:58 AM   #18
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Originally Posted by dyn View Post
Driving a large display (I have the same display btw, using it via DP though) is one thing but also doing lots of other stuff like decoding video (if it is h.264 the gpu will decode it, if not then the cpu will decode it) and many other things (running mail, a webbrowser, using filevault 2 (cpu has encryption support!), etc.) will drive the cpu/gpu to its limits. With the older cpu/gpu you reach that limit much quicker than with the newer one in the 2012 models. Most of the time you'll hear the fan going bananas because it has to cool a very hot cpu/gpu and in some cases you can even see it with the animations of say Exposť. They are not smooth any more.

My Mac mini early 2009 with the Nvidia 9400m is much more like the Intel HD 3000 in terms of performance than the Intel HD 4000 in my 2012 Air. I replaced that Mac mini with a Mac Pro purely because of the poor performance with the display. It could barely browse pics in fullscreen mode in iPhoto.

There is a big difference between smooth and doable. I think Apple is more along the lines of "doable" than "smooth".
From my own personal experience using different macs, with different graphics card, i don't think the nvidia 9400m comes close to the intel 3000. I had the nvidia 9400m in my unibody macbook, later upgraded to a late 2010 macbook air which had the nvidia 320m. The 320m was so much better at driving games compared to the 9400m. I then upgraded to the 2011 macbook air with the intel hd 3000, the gaming performance was definitely more akin to the 320m than the 9400m. The intel hd 4000 in the 2012 macbook air again increases graphic capability thus running games, aperture much more fluently than the hd 3000.

Like I said in the earlier post, I can run Full HD videos at their full resolution without any problems. I.E. Youtube 1080 HD content, iTunes HD content, [mkv, avi, mp4 videos though SplayerX], Videos taken from my iPhone 4S playback flawlessly after importing them to the macbook air through aperture. Working with said video content in iMovies also works smoothly. All this in the context of using Dell's 30" 3008 WFP connected using a dual link dvi adapter from apple. With the current 2012 macbook air it is not only possible to smoothly browse pictures on aperture but also edit them in fullscreen mode, again all this is in context of using dell's 30" 3008 WFP.

Perhaps the way that we connect our Macs to the monitor are resulting in very different results. Also.. the intel HD 4000 is about 300% faster than the nvidia 9400m(intel HD 3000 is about twice as fast as nvidia 9400m), i don't think we are comparing apples to apples here.

p.s. OP I don't have Hulu but on the 2011 macbook air, 1080p playback should not be a problem at all. Here are some videos from youtube showing the prowess of the macbook air 2011. Most likely something is wrong with your current macbook air. I once had a similar issue on the 2010 macbook air which was cause by some apple updates, had to reinstall snow leopard and download the latest update direct from apple support instead of using the usual software update. Hopefully this issue can be resolved since we know that it is not a hardware capability issue but either software based conflict or specific hardware issue on your set.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nzgMO...hannel&list=UL
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ESo9...eature=related

Last edited by MacLappy; Sep 6, 2012 at 01:43 AM.
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Old Sep 6, 2012, 05:50 PM   #19
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With the current 2012 macbook air it is not only possible to smoothly browse pictures on aperture but also edit them in fullscreen mode, again all this is in context of using dell's 30" 3008 WFP.
Yep, that I did notice which is making me rethink the Mac mini.

Quote:
Perhaps the way that we connect our Macs to the monitor are resulting in very different results. Also.. the intel HD 4000 is about 300% faster than the nvidia 9400m(intel HD 3000 is about twice as fast as nvidia 9400m), i don't think we are comparing apples to apples here.
It could be. Displayport behaves differently than DVI does. However, we can not deny all those people with Intel HD 3000 out there that do have experience with large displays and not many of them have a happy experience. The other difference can be the video file itself. If it is h.264 it is far more likely to play without any problems.

Quote:
Hopefully this issue can be resolved since we know that it is not a hardware capability issue but either software based conflict or specific hardware issue on your set.
We know for sure it can be a hardware capability issue from the load of experiences from others. You are not the only Intel HD 3000 and MBA 2011 user out there! However we also know for sure that it can be a software based problem making a reinstall a good idea anyway. If that doesn't help then we know for sure it isn't software based. That Intel HD 3000 is quite capable but it isn't as magic as you make it look like. It has its limitations. At least the Genius's story is plausible.

Btw, the first vid you link to shows iMovie which almost certainly means h.264 which shouldn't be a problem. The other one only shows standard desktop use which is very lightweight use. Neither of the vids shows that the 2011 Air is indeed good at running a large display with anything and still have a good performance. Also neither of them show a Thunderbolt display which is key in this case because Thunderbolt is a different protocol than DVI/HDMI, DisplayPort and VGA. This is actually the most important thing because it is not just the gpu.
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Old Sep 7, 2012, 12:51 AM   #20
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We know for sure it can be a hardware capability issue from the load of experiences from others. You are not the only Intel HD 3000 and MBA 2011 user out there!
Quote:
Originally Posted by dyn View Post
We can not deny all those people with Intel HD 3000 out there that do have experience with large displays and not many of them have a happy experience.
Yes you are absolutely right, i am not the only MBA 2011 user around but based on personal experience with the MBA 2011, i am certain that it is quite capable of handling video playback on an external display. This is consistent with other users who have chosen to replied here.

Quote:
Originally Posted by TheRealDamager View Post
There is NO WAY that Apple would have released an Air / Monitor solution that would only play HD video at 2-5 fps. That is not normal at all. I have both products, and your experience does not match my experience. There has to be something else going on here....
Quote:
Originally Posted by mtjensen22 View Post
I was just using my new MBA with a 46" TV hooked up via Thunderbolt->HDMI and know plenty of people that use the 27" TB Display...get a different Genius to help you out.
Quote:
Originally Posted by BigMcGuire View Post
I watch videos all the time on my 24' widescreen Dell Ultrasharp monitor. Thunderbolt to DVI fyi (yeah the Apple one cuz I bought 2 noname thunderbolt to dvi and neither of them worked). Thank God for Amazon return policy.
Quote:
Originally Posted by TheRealDamager View Post
I use an Air with a TB display several times a week - this lag is not consistent with my experience. Is it possible you have something installed that could cause a problem? I'm not sure this kind of lag indicates a HW fault.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Macral View Post
However, each time I played 1080p movies and tv shows full screen on iTunes, and also from YouTube, it runs smoothly. So what I concluded is a compressed 1080p video runs fine, but not the uncompressed one.
So most of us are kind of on the same page, unless Hulu(no idea since i don’t have Hulu) streams uncompressed videos over the internet, it should work with the MBA 2011 on the TB display. While I have never used Hulu, i am almost certain that it uses some kind of compression since it is a streaming service. If that be the case, i am guessing either h.264 or worst case scenario flash. Both works fine using youtube. Of course optimally you want to have the latest software updates installed and hardware acceleration turned on.

Quote:
Originally Posted by dyn View Post
It is very annoying that Apple isn't very informative in this area by clearly stating that the 2011 Air will be able to drive the 27" Thunderbolt Display but only with ordinary desktop use. Doing anything more powerful like games, HD videos, etc. is asking too much. Even on the 2012 Air with a more powerful gpu. Luckily the Genius you met knows his stuff and does inform you correctly about this.
Quote:
Originally Posted by dyn View Post
Driving a large display (I have the same display btw, using it via DP though) is one thing but also doing lots of other stuff like decoding video (if it is h.264 the gpu will decode it, if not then the cpu will decode it) and many other things (running mail, a webbrowser, using filevault 2 (cpu has encryption support!), etc.) will drive the cpu/gpu to its limits. .
The first video i linked in the previous post shows a macbook air connected to a 30” cinema display, running a HD video, while editing a video in iMovie all at the same time. Furthermore, playing back the HD video while watching a render of the edited video content at the same time did not cause any noticeable lag. This is a huge contrast to the above quotes. The next video is one showing a macbook air playing back a full HD1080p video smoothly, also on a 30” screen. These two videos are also a huge contrast from what the OP experienced on his set.
Quote:
Originally Posted by evaporateddwarf View Post
The video lags to about 2-5 fps, and is unwatchable. Moving windows around the display shows severe lag.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Quote:
Originally Posted by dyn View Post
That Intel HD 3000 is quite capable but it isn't as magic as you make it look like. It has its limitations.
I think we all can agree that the intel HD 3000 is a baseline graphic card. But is it a baseline graphic card that can playback videos on an external display? Sure. It’s pretty normal and expected today. Quoting OP.

Quote:
Originally Posted by evaporateddwarf View Post
Does this guy realize the new ipad screen has more pixels than the thunderbolt display? Is he gonna try and tell me the ipad is more powerful than my MBA?"
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

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Originally Posted by dyn View Post
Thunderbolt is a different protocol than DVI/HDMI, DisplayPort and VGA. This is actually the most important thing because it is not just the gpu.
Totally agree with you, the thing is this. Thunderbolt is suppose to be an improvement. If anything it should be a better channel than any of the above protocol. Surely you are not suggesting that all thunderbolt display are hampered in this same way.
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Old Sep 7, 2012, 03:44 AM   #21
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Thunderbolt is a different protocol than DVI/HDMI, DisplayPort and VGA. This is actually the most important thing because it is not just the gpu.
Actually, Thunderbolt should be effectively the same as Displayport: "all" that happens is that the TB controller chip in the computer combines the DisplayPort output(s) from the GPU with a couple of PCIe channels to get a Thunderbolt signal. The TB chip on the monitor extracts one PCIe channel to drive the ports/speakers/cameras and one DisplayPort signal to drive the display.

All the clever stuff should be handled by the TB chips in the computer and monitor - as far as the GPU is concerned it is driving a DisplayPort screen.
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Old Sep 7, 2012, 07:16 AM   #22
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The problem is in the detail. From what I read I didn't see the Genius denying that it doesn't work at all. He only told you that it can't drive the display properly which is indeed correct. The gpu in the 2011 Air simply isn't powerful enough for something like a high def video on a display that has 2560x1440 as a resolution. With simple desktop use it will run without problems.
The size of a display does not change the work a CPU/GPU must do to decode a video file. Unless you're adding a step which is upscaling to a higher resolution, the actual video stream is the same no matter the final frame buffer's size.

Another thing, frame buffer pixel pushing is not an issue in 2012, hasn't been for some years. Look up the kind of fill rates these GPUs can push. We're well beyond the required pixels for driving both the internal monitor and a full size 30" 2560x1600 monitor. The older 9400m had no problem driving these big displays, the newer Intel 3000 HD and 4000 HD shouldn't either.
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Old Sep 7, 2012, 09:51 AM   #23
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This thread is depressing. I have overestimated the power of my 2012 Air, even if it's the world's fastest.

I can't believe these words. The MacBook Air CAN do it, I believe in it.
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Old Sep 7, 2012, 01:53 PM   #24
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The size of a display does not change the work a CPU/GPU must do to decode a video file. Unless you're adding a step which is upscaling to a higher resolution, the actual video stream is the same no matter the final frame buffer's size.
It does not change the work it has to do to decode the video but it does change the work it has to do. The video needs to be decoded but the display needs to be driven as well.

Quote:
Another thing, frame buffer pixel pushing is not an issue in 2012, hasn't been for some years. Look up the kind of fill rates these GPUs can push. We're well beyond the required pixels for driving both the internal monitor and a full size 30" 2560x1600 monitor. The older 9400m had no problem driving these big displays, the newer Intel 3000 HD and 4000 HD shouldn't either.
Look up when the Intel HD 3000 and the 9400m came it...that wasn't 2012... Also read up on what I've said exactly because you are putting words in somebody's mouth. I haven't said those gpu's weren't capable, only that they are limited in what they can do which may explain certain behaviour and what the Genius told the OP.
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Old Sep 7, 2012, 05:45 PM   #25
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It does not change the work it has to do to decode the video but it does change the work it has to do. The video needs to be decoded but the display needs to be driven as well.
If nothing is changing on screen aside from the pixels that the media player is playing, then it's not working any harder. OS X supports redrawing (and thus updating the frame buffer) only in the rectangle that is being modified, without having to render the whole frame buffer on every frame.

Again, unless you're upscaling the video, decoding it and playing it back on a bigger display or smaller display makes no difference.

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Look up when the Intel HD 3000 and the 9400m came it...that wasn't 2012...
Exactly my point. We've been capable of the required fill rates for much longer than that. The 9400m could push out those pixels back in 2008, with ease. The twice as powerful 3000 HD won't have any problems, even less if we're talking about the 4000 HD.

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Also read up on what I've said exactly because you are putting words in somebody's mouth. I haven't said those gpu's weren't capable, only that they are limited in what they can do which may explain certain behaviour and what the Genius told the OP.
Wait, are they limited or incapable ? I don't get it. We're talking about playing a decoded movie on the display here. The Genius just said crap to get rid of the OP. Happens all the time in the tech support world. Techies with low morals and ethics just say stuff to make customers go away when they have no idea how to diagnose and solve a problem.

I used to deal with callbacks all the time when I was doing tech support a decade ago. It would usually end with a satisfied customer and a slap on the back of the head of my work colleague who gave him the turn around on his first call.
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