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At long last, Apple released Intel's highly anticipated Sandy Bridge updates on both the MacBook Air and Mac mini earlier this month. However, many of these machines—along with the 13" MacBook Pro introduced earlier this year—rely solely on Intel's integrated graphics, a move that raised eyebrows among users allergic to the reduced performance that often comes with Intel's integrated GPUs. The move from Intel's integrated GPU from the 320M indeed has some trade-offs, but some investigation reveals that performance is, as we suspected, largely the same.
While Intel's reputation for graphics hasn't gone much beyond "just barely enough to suffice," the integrated GPU in Sandy Bridge processors represents Intel's first serious effort to address performance. That performance generally compares to low-end discrete GPUs, while in many cases reducing overall power consumption.
We thought it would be useful to examine the differences between Apple's previous integrated solution—the 320M—and Intel's HD Graphics 3000. Given that Intel's next-generation architecture, codenamed Ivy Bridge, is expected to offer significantly improved graphics, we can draw some conclusions about why Apple decided to make the switch now rather than later.