OS X 10.6.4 and 10.6.5 Graphics Performance Comparison

I just installed the 10.6.5 update on my mid-2010 Macbook Pro (Nvidia 330M). Before I did it, however, I wrote down some numbers pertaining to the graphics driver for the Nvidia card present in 10.6.4, along with some performance numbers from Starcraft II and Jade Empire, which I had readily available. Here’s the result.

First, the output of

glxinfo | grep OpenGL

in the Terminal:


OpenGL vendor string: NVIDIA Corporation
OpenGL renderer string: NVIDIA GeForce GT 330M OpenGL Engine
OpenGL version string: 2.1 NVIDIA-1.6.18
OpenGL shading language version string: 1.20


OpenGL vendor string: NVIDIA Corporation
OpenGL renderer string: NVIDIA GeForce GT 330M OpenGL Engine
OpenGL version string: 2.1 NVIDIA-1.6.24
OpenGL shading language version string: 1.20

Aha! So the driver has been updated. This bodes well for performance improvements. We still seem to be stuck on OpenGL 2.1, though. A quick run of OpenGL Extensions Viewer confirms this: OpenGL 3.0 support is still only 22 out of 23 extensions, 3.1 only 1 out of 8 extensions, 3.2 only 3 out of 9 extensions. Same as in 10.6.4.

Now, for some gaming performance. First up, Starcraft II. I am testing at 1920×1200 using the “High” graphics preset. I am looking at the in-game fps counter and drawing an “average”. Which is not much of a problem in this game, as performance typically fluctuates by one frame.

Frames per second. Higher is better.

Frames per second. Higher is better.

“Bridge” and “Cantina” are between missions at the bridge and in the cantina respectively. “Great Train Robbery” is the first minute of the mission of the same name.

As you can see, there isn’t much of an improvement. The framerate seems marginally higher on the bridge, but that’s it. The game’s still not playable at this resolution with graphics detail set to High.

Now, Jade Empire. The resolution is once again 1920×1200, all settings at their max values, including 4xAA. To measure FPS, I am looking at the fight between two students in the first area of the game using the game’s in-built fps counter.

Frames per second. Higher is better.

Frames per second. Higher is better.

Here, the counter registers a massive improvement in framerate. Whereas in 10.6.4 it stayed constant at 29-30 fps, in 10.6.5 it fluctuates between 35 and 60 fps.

While the counter shows a significant improvement in framerate, it doesn’t translate to actual experience in the game. Looking and running around the area gave me roughly the same impression of wildly fluctuating performance on both 10.6.4 and 10.6.5.

In conclusion, it seems today’s 10.6.5 update doesn’t bring much by way of performance improvements to Starcraft II, which is likely to be the most important game for people right now. The improvements to Jade Empire shown by the counter did not really translate to improved smoothness of gameplay for me, but I cannot conclusively state the increased rendering speed isn’t there.

As a final note, I did a run-through of Ostagar in Dragon Age Origins and, while I had no way to measure fps there at all, my visual perception is once again that there is no improvement at all. It seems that the 10.6.5 update brings no performance improvements to speak of, at least for the Nvidia 330M card my Macbook comes equipeed with.

Some notes:
1. This was just a very quick look at performance, done in an extremely unscientific manner. I simply wanted to do a quick comparison to see if I should be expecting improvements.

2. I know that Valve’s Source games provide much more precise tools to measure fps. I, however, have no access to them. I am certain others will post their results soon, if they haven’t already.

7 Responses to “OS X 10.6.4 and 10.6.5 Graphics Performance Comparison”

  1. S Hinckley says:

    Hey, thanks for getting some charts up quickly regarding the 10.6.5 graphics update. Just what I was wondering about. Some people said they were getting lower framerates so looks like you didn’t.

  2. Nathan Donarum says:

    Thanks for this! I was hoping that Starcraft II would show some improvement with the new update. It’s not fair that Apple hasn’t taken more time to improve their nVidia drivers, especially because they try to pride themselves on the media-savvy aspects of Macs. I’m a Starcraft player, and it’s frustrating as hell that my friends on Windows with worse graphics cards, worse ram and worse CPU can play Starcraft II better than I can. Honestly, it’s BS. I’m hoping that if Apple doesn’t fix it soon, then Blizzard will. But neither seem to care that much…

  3. Wow comprehensive update. Thanks a lot.
    Now I want to update 10.6.5 asap :)
    10.6.4 with buggy graphic update made me trauma.

  4. [...] This post was Twitted by deon [...]

  5. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Deon Sukma and Felix Widjaja, Nathan Donarum. Nathan Donarum said: Apparently the new 10.6.5 update for Mac OS X has no real noticeable differences for StarCraft 2 performance. WTF! http://bit.ly/cko87H [...]

  6. SimplePanda says:

    You may want to revisit your StarCraft 2 conclusions.

    Running a Mac Pro, RADEON 5870HD (1GB). Running the game at 1920×1200 on an LED Cinema Display (24″). Game is set to Ultra (all Ultra or High – so basically as high as you can go).

    Two updates have come out – 10.6.5 and the 1.1.3 patch for StarCraft.

    Max I -ever- saw under 10.6.4 and StarCraft 1.1.2 was 60-65fps. Once the game really got going it would be routine to see it degrade to the mid teens in heavy activity situations, especially when playing as Protoss (courtesy of the Pylon bug).

    Under 10.6.5 and 1.1.3 I’m easily seeing 90fps in the opening parts of the game and rarely drop below 30fps now.

    Is it 10.6.5 or the 1.1.3 patch? I can’t say as I didn’t test them independently, but the 1.1.3 patch itself lists no improvements to graphics performance so I’m leaving to 10.6.5.

    I’m also seeing improvements in Valve/Source Engine based games.

    So 10.6.5 definitely packs some very big OpenGL improvements!

  7. admin says:

    Hey, Radeon isn’t Geforce. Perhaps the Radeon driver does improve performance, I cannot say one way or another.

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