How to Tell Which GPU Your MacBook Pro is Using and Manually Choose Your GPU with gfxcardstatus

If you ever want to know which graphics card your Apple MacBook Pro is using, then gfxcardstatus is the perfect utility. The MacBook Pro has what is called switchable or dynamic switching graphics.  When your system needs a lot of graphics processing power for things like video encoding, picture editing or especially gaming, the computer switches from lowered powered integrated graphics to higher powered discrete graphics.

Apple MacBook Pro

The difference between integrated and discrete graphics is power – both consumption and horsepower to get work done. Having dynamic switching graphics is like being able to open the computer and put in a different graphics card for different scenarios, except you don’t have to dissect your MacBook Pro. A high-powered gaming card is for more intense applications like Photoshop or Call of Duty. Integrated graphics are for ordinary applications like Microsoft Word and a Twitter client. From an automotive analogy think of dynamic switching graphics as switching to four-wheel drive when driving off-road and two-wheel drive for driving around town. The benefit is higher power when needed, but lower power consumption on the integrated graphics for ordinary tasks.

It is nice to know when the higher powered discrete graphics card is being used. gfxcardstatus is a lightweight utility that runs in your menu bar and tells you exactly when that happens with on-screen notification. It is a free app which you can get from the developer’s website.

gfxcardstatus Notification

The app will run in the background and any time the computer switches it will give you an onscreen notification (see above and below). In addition, if you would like to manually switch the computer between the two, you simply click the menu icon. The drop down menu gives options including selection of the Intel only, AMD or NVIDIA only or Dynamic Switching, which is the default for the MacBook Pro and lets the computer decide automatically.

gfxcardstatus On-Screen Notification

There are preferences which allow you to tell it to set the graphics card to the less battery hungry integrated graphics when your computer is unplugged or to automatically turn on the more powerful discrete graphics card when you are plugged into power. This can increase performance when plugged in and increase battery life when unplugged. You might want the latter when you are running low on battery life but can’t plug-in.

gfxcardstatus Menu

If you are noticing the computer switching to power-hungry discrete graphics and can’t figure out what application might be causing this, the app will give you a list of which programs cause the switch from the drop down menu. They will be listed in the menu section that shows which card is used. This is very handy for trying to see what apps are draining your battery.

gfxcardstatus Features:

  • Easily switches between graphics card options
  • Display which card is being used
  • Notifications use growl
  • Lightweight
  • Free

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