Possible switch from 13" Air to 15" Pro for gaming and other reasons - a few Qs

Discussion in 'MacBook Pro' started by Neon01, Jan 4, 2012.

  1. Neon01 macrumors member

    Nov 7, 2011
    Long time PC/laptop user (still have my gaming PC desktop), just bought a 13" July '11 MBA a couple months ago and I'm loving OSX. I loved (and still do) the Air for its supreme portability - I have two young kids (6 months and 2.5 years) and I hardly have 5 mins sometimes to sit in my laz-y-boy and browse the web until I have close up the laptop, put it down, and grab one of my kids to help. My ipad2 was my go-to for awhile for this purpose, but it's limitations are...limiting.

    I do enjoy a bit of pc gaming every once in awhile after the kids have gone to bed, so it'd be nice to be able to do that downstairs in the family room while sitting with my wife instead of having to retreat to my office. Obviously, the Air just doesn't quite cut the mustard with gaming, even on modest settings.

    With that long preamble, a couple questions (particularly from someone who has owned):

    1. How would you compare the 13" air to the 15" pro in terms of heat output, fan noise, and battery life. Yes, I've looked up the reviews, but real world experience is nice to know.

    2. I'd be planning on buying the 15" Pro model with 1680x1050 high res, matte display, and 750 GB hard drive, which looks to run about $2250 from apple. This kind of begs the question - why not go for the baseline 17"? It's not much bigger on the outside, only costs another $100 or so from amazon, and gives me even more desktop to play with (1920x1200)... It also has

    3. One of the most important - on account of the usage I talked about above, I tend to quickly just shut my laptop and put it down, only to open it up again later (sometimes days later), so it rarely gets shut off. The Air is great for this, advertising the 30 days of standby mode, but I find this a little disingenuous because as a result, it kills the instant on. It's more like "on in 10 seconds" if it's been in standby for more than 1 hour and off the power cord. My question is, would I be able to get similar instant standby/instant on performance if I replaced the HDD in the Pro with an aftermarket SSD?

    4. Anyone have any first hand experience gaming with the 15" or 17" Pro with Radeon 6770M in windows boot camp?

    Sorry this is lengthy, I really appreciate your assistance.
  2. StevenQ macrumors newbie

    Nov 12, 2011
    If you don't care about size and weight, you'll only have to ask yourself if it's worth the bigger screen and higher resolution. It's still pricier than your config, and you don't get an AG-screen and you'll only have 4 GB RAM. While with the 15", you can get double the RAM and the AG HiRes screen for somewhat 100-150 bucks less. I'd go with the 15 since I don't need a bigger screen.

    Even with a conventional HDD I get an instant on (i have the 15 with 7200 rpm), the harddrive may respond a bit later, but the screen turns on immediately and you can move the mouse to click stuff right away. I can click a song in iTunes after about 4 seconds wakeup-time, it stutters for another second and then plays flawlessly. This stuttering can be minimized with an SSD i think, but you'll notice the SSD speed in other things more than in this one.

    I've played so far..
    GTA4: Watch my video, it's possible with very high settings
    GTA San Andreas: Highest settings @70-100 FPS
    BF3: Medium settings @30fps
    SimCity Societies: Highest settings @? FPS (very smooth though)
    Nfs The Run: Highest settings except shadows @30 FPS (game is locked @30 so you get optimal performance with 30)
    Race Driver GRID: Highest settings @50 FPS
    Left 4 Dead 2: Highest settings @ hmm.. 80 FPS?
    Flight Simulator X: Medium High - High settings: 30-40 FPS. You can easily reach 60 if you turn down some stuff
    Test Drive Unlimited: Highest settings @30-50 FPS

    All games played in native resolution 1680x1050 and with clocks set to 825 / 950 1.005V. I can only say 'YES' for 1-2 year old games and 'okay' for 2011 games, regarding the MBP 6770's graphics performance.

    Hope I could help
  3. lippyt macrumors member

    Aug 14, 2010
    Heat output:

    I don't know of the current performance of 15" sandy bridge MBP cooling. But I know that the 13" air has inadequate cooling to run its processor at the rated frequency (1.8Ghz) continuously. The processor will eventually throttle down to 1.4 ghz (sometimes lesser). This means that not enough heat energy is removed from the processor per unit time to facilitate running at rated frequency. With respect to processor loads that are spread over a long duration of time, such as rendering or gaming, the performance hit is notable and frustrating.

    I believe with a bigger chassis and bulkier heatsink, the 15" MBP would throttle less or not experience throttling at all (possibly, even a stable turboboost frequency).
  4. bill-p macrumors 68000

    Jul 23, 2011
    From my experience with the 13" Air (2010) and 15" Pro (2011)...

    1) Heat output is noticeably more on the Pro. It's lukewarm in cool weather, and can get toasty hot under stress. But fan noise is much less audible than the Air when both are at full blast. The Pro is more audible when both are not doing anything. Battery life on both is about the same when doing the same tasks. The Pro has the added bonus of being able to charge my iPhone 4 while still showing 5 hours of run time. The Air would show 3 hours of run time if my iPhone 4 was plugged in.

    2) I leaned over to my brother's 17" Pro once, and God... the 1920 x 1200 is... meticulously detailed and tiny! By tiny, I mean texts are significantly smaller on that screen than on my 15". My eyesight is not that bad, but I really can't tolerate a screen that detailed... My face is consistently more than 1' 6" away from the screen (measured), so a screen that detailed isn't for me. It was good while gaming, but his was a 2010 Pro, so the graphics card couldn't keep up with most games at 1920 x 1080.

    3) No comment since I don't have an SSD in my Pro, and none of the Pro in the house has an SSD either. But I do notice the battery draining about the same on the Pro vs the Air after less than 12 hours of standby.

    4) My Pro has a 6490M... not the best for gaming, but I did try a friend's 6770M before, and I tried one game he had: Crysis 2 at 1680 x 1050 on Very High settings (minimum is High). The game ran very smooth.
  5. Neon01 thread starter macrumors member

    Nov 7, 2011
    Thanks, that's a big help! I see what you're saying about the 15/17 decision, but I'm a bit concerned about resale (I'm a compulsive "upgrader") of a 15 that's got all the trimmings as opposed to a base level 17. Less RAM doesn't bother me since I'd probably upgrade it with an aftermarket kit anyway ($50 on amazon). Still, it'd be nice to get the AG screen, and shaving off 1 lb of weight is nice...

    Any thoughts on if the Pro models can stay in standby for long periods of time? I'm curious the Air's feature of 30 days of standby is an actual function of the hardware, or just that it manages to stay in the mac equivalent of "hibernate" (which it does after 1 hour when off power, from my research) for a long time on account of it's battery. If that were the case, would it stand to reason that the pro could "hibernate" even longer?

    I don't suppose you've played any MMOs (Rift) or Skyrim, Mass Effect 2, anything like that? I would think they would be similar. I'm not looking to play Metro or Crysis on this, but solid performance would be nice. Also, I read about problems updating the Catalyst drivers in Win 7 via boot camp (this article under 'Windows under Boot Camp') Have you had those issues? Perhaps they've been resolved?

    Thanks again to you and the others for the info, this is great stuff.
  6. StevenQ macrumors newbie

    Nov 12, 2011
    No idea. I think if the MBP is connected to power it'd work.. over night was the longest standby-period mine had, and it lost approx. 3 to 5 % battery max. Maybe Google can help you, I think the matter is the HDD (they didn't advertise this 30-day-standby thing when MBA's were sold with HDD's I think..)

    Haven't played these Games. You can Google the Sys-requirements of these and of mine and compare, they'll perform similar if the sys requirements are similar. Reading the Skyrim requirements , It should run the game fine on higher settings. I have no problems with the drivers. I removed the Boot Camp ones and I'm now running 11.11 without any problems.
  7. The Economist Suspended

    The Economist

    Apr 4, 2011
    All Macs are great sleepers, this isn't a MacBook Air feature. It depends on your computer and your settings, but usually Macs go to sleep quickly and wake up almost just as fast. Although, this changed a little bit with Lion, it now takes a little longer.

    I'm not sure about newer Macs, but MacBooks are known for being quiet machines. Obviously under a heavy load the fans will make a lot of noise.
  8. Akack macrumors 6502a

    Mar 5, 2011
    Play Skyrim on the early 2011 MBP high end 15" and the fans really kick in and get quite loud.
  9. seanman236 macrumors newbie

    Dec 3, 2009
    Washington DC
    Having recently received an upgraded 15 inch late 2011 mbp as part of a recrument from apple, I was interested in using the laptop for gaming in boot camp as well. The specs are, I believe, similar to the ones you had shown an interest in, hi-res AG, the upgraded processor, the 6770M, and a 750 7200 HDD, and I did an aftermarket memory upgrade as well up to 8 gigs.

    I have never owned a macbook air so unfortunately I wont be able to offer you a direct answer to your question in terms of stand by time in comparison to what that unit was able to offer. However, the standby time for the macbook pro is acceptable. I am a college student, so I tend to walk away from my charger all day and use the laptop sporadically–in OSX with the graphics card left on the intel GPU the laptop has no problem getting through the day. That said, because I am using a HDD, there is a slight delay from when I open the unit up to when it has fully awakened. I DID notice an overall performance boost when upgrading the memory, and since you will be running Lion, it's almost a necessity for you to upgrade as well.

    In Bootcamp I have so far run Dead Space 2, Bioshock 2, Portal 2, and Star Wars: the Old Republic. I am able to run all 4 of those games on max settings and on max resolution with frame rates in the mid 30s-to mid 40s (very playable, in my opinion). When using boot camp it will be essential to make sure you are using a 64 bit version of windows or else games are going to take a hit in terms of performance.

    In terms of what you stated about the 15 inch vs 17 inch debate–––the 17 inch laptops are not what I would call a portable unit. Sure, you CAN move it around with you, but it's certainly going to be a heftier carry-a-long then your current air, and I, myself, often am aware of the size of the laptop I am carrying around with 15 inches. While I am not a huge resale person with laptops, I don't think the 17 inch is going to hold value any better than the 15 inch other than difference in costs that is built into the devices.

    People have complained to no end about the heat generated by the 2011 macbook pros, but as long as you keep the vents clear it really is not an issue. You may hear the fans running, but my previous 2009 macbook pros had this as well. If you demand a silent and consistently cool running laptop that must always sit on your bare knees, then this isn't the one for you. With that in mind, I would definitely recommend the model you had previously mentioned. I have had nothing but an incredible user experience.

    Hopefully some of this helped,

    Good luck!
  10. GuitarG20 macrumors 65816


    Jun 3, 2011
    i am going to seem like a broken record. but. the 17" isn't really that bad to carry around. Take it from me- I carried around a 16" HP laptop for 3 years before I got my MBP. Compared to the HP, my MBP is the same dimensions, thinner, and lighter, and has a bigger screen. So. It all depends on your perspective.
  11. jeek macrumors member

    Mar 20, 2011
    The new MacBook Pro is very very very fast. My cousin has one (I have the 2009 model). He only has the i5 15" 1400x900 model, but he can play BF3 and Skyrim on Medium/High settings at max resolution. I'd highly recommend using Boot Camp if you want to get the most out of your machine. Gaming on the Mac side is convenient, but I experienced a 10-20% increase (effectively "bumping up" the graphics qualities one level higher) on the Windows side versus the Mac side. I don't have concrete knowledge as to why this phenomena exists, but I will put money on the fact that DirectX is much more optimized than OSX's graphics/OpenGL drivers.

    I'd highly recommend three things:

    1. Get an OptiBay. Since you're currently a MBA user, you seem to not care about needing a dvd drive. I didn't either. Put that to good use instead by mounting an SSD and installing your OS and apps on it while keeping the original HDD as a "storage drive" containing all of your media and bulk data. Even better, RAID two SSDs and back up to Time Machine regularly. Remember to enable TRIM support.

    2. Get the upgraded screen resolution. Unless you have poor eyesight, get the upgraded resolution. It is definitely worth it. The antiglare is nice too if you like to be outside or sit opposite from a window. The glass screen is like a mirror if it's not angled properly.

    3. If you can, wait until the MBP gets upgraded. Ivy Bridge is right around the corner, and there are a lot of perks to Ivy Bridge from Sandy Bridge. Lots of things could be included in this refresh though, it's best to be ahead of the curve, not behind it.

    Again, it's understandable if you can't wait. If I didn't feel like waiting, I'd be buying a new MBP right now as I'm ready for an upgrade, but what's 3 months to almost 3 years? Either way, you can't go wrong with the Pro. It might be a Mac, but it's surprisingly well-priced for the device that it is, even at $2000.
  12. grahamnp macrumors 6502a

    Jun 4, 2008
    1. The 15" is substantially hotter. Not only do the CPUs have a TDP 10-20w higher, you also have the dedicated GPU which is probably in the region of 20-30w. I have had problems with heat, I also know other people who have had issues but I don't think the problem is widespread so read into it however you will.

    2. If I had the money and I was okay with the size, I'd go for the 17" for the screen alone. It also looks nicer with the thinner bezel IMO.

    3. An SSD would give you the instant on you want. If you need "instant off" when sleeping, just disable safe sleep. I've kept my MBP on standby for a week and it has been fine but don't expect a decent charge to remain afterwards. Even with a HDD mine wakes from sleep in about 1s.

    4. The 6770m is above average in this class. Gaming in Windows is a hit and miss for me with this laptop. Performance is good but the CPUs heat output is very poorly managed. I've got my CPU locked at a 15x (1.5ghz) multiplier while my GPU (6750m) is undervolted from 1v to 0.9v but the clock speeds are bumped to 6770m levels. Fortunately, none of my games are CPU bound so this arrangement works for me but where I'm currently staying with ambients ~30 C, it would not last half an hour with the stock configuration.

    Also, some games draw more power than the magsafe adapter can provide.

    On the whole, I still like my 15" MBP. I wouldn't trade it for any other notebook but for the price difference between your 13" and a new 15", you could probably get a decent gaming desktop or half decent notebook with the power of the MBP.
  13. ninja2000 macrumors 6502

    Dec 16, 2010
    I have owned an 13" air but moved to the 2011 15" pro plus I have a 2011 17" pro.

    I originally bought the 17" for my coding work and I love the screen real estate but it is too big to chuck it around in a family room (I also have a 6month old and 2.5yr old so know the feeling). So I bought the air but exactly like you I found gaming was a no no.

    I eventually saved up for a 15" anti glare to replace the air but also allow me to code on the go (often in very bright environments and the glare screen is terrible for this).

    I have found the 15" is much easier than the 17 to throw around, and not much heftier than the 13" air.
    I installed an SSD and optibay and it really flies, it seems pretty instant on and I have removed the hibernate via terminal as I really like it to be instant not 10 secs.

    With regards to gaming I havent found a game the mbp can't play. I am currently playing:
    BF3, SC2, DX, Shogun 2 and DOW2. All play great.

    With regards to the heat and noise, yes it can get hot and loud if you leave it to its own devices whilst gaming in bootcamp but I have two profiles, one for gaming in the office and one for gaming in the lounge/bedroom.

    For the bedroom profile I cap the cpu at 2.3ghz (disable turboost via advance power management in windows) run the gpu at 600/800 @ 0.855v with ATI tools and run the fans at 3600 with mac fan.
    This basically gives me a cool and quiet system I can game with without worrying about bothering the wife.

    If I am in my office I dont care about noise so leave TB on and game at 780/900 @ 0.955v.

    Hope this helps
  14. Neon01 thread starter macrumors member

    Nov 7, 2011
    From the clock speeds you reference, I take it you have one with the HD6750M? Or is it the latest upgraded one with the 6770? I found a reasonable deal on a refurb early '11 MBP with the upgraded screen and video card/hard drive, so I might jump on that, but it's got the 6750 in it. From the research I've done though, it seem the 6770 is only a modest clock speed bump over the 6750 anyway, so I doubt I'd really miss the performance.

    Very impressive that you can hit 780Mhz with the 6750! (if that's indeed the card you've got)

    Thanks to all for the responses, these have been very helpful. I think I've settled on the 15" if I do go for the upgrade, since, with the refurb, it's quite a bit cheaper and seems at least a decent amount more portable. Also, the extra pixels of the 17" may be the difference between good gaming and decent gaming, considering they both have the same card. Though the extra battery and larger screen are tough to pass up. I agree with the person that said the smaller bezel looks much nicer.

    I guess the only other decision is whether to just keep the air and get a second dedicated gaming laptop, like grahamnp said. Some of the folks over at notebook review have turned me on to the Dell Precision M6600, which seems like it'd be a nice gaming laptop and has an excellent display (IPS), though it's certainly lost that portability factor. If anyone has any other suggestions for good gaming laptops that might be had for under $1200ish, I'd appreciate them.
  15. Jethryn Freyman macrumors 68020

    Jethryn Freyman

    Aug 9, 2007
    I'd say to keep the Air and spend $700 on a gaming PC with a Radeon 6770 (desktop version, but go 6850 if you can) or whatever. Much better value if you don't need portability for your games. It's what I did.
  16. Neon01 thread starter macrumors member

    Nov 7, 2011
    Thanks, I have a sandy bridge desktop with a Radeon 6950 Crossfire (shader unlocked) setup in it. I was hoping to do a little armchair gaming downstairs so I don't have to go to my office every time I want to break out a game.

    It seems that sometimes just being in the same room with the wife after the kids have gone to bed (instead of upstairs in my office) at least buys me some points :D
  17. theSeb macrumors 604


    Aug 10, 2010
    Poole, England
    I totally understand.

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