Is it Time to Switch to an Apple Laptop?

Hybrid SLI information updated 10/15, 9:50 a.m. PDT

With today's announcements about refreshes to the entire Apple MacBook family of laptops, no doubt, half the members of the Apple cult have already run out to the nearest Apple store.

(View a video explaining today's Apple event.)

But should the average PC user/gamer jump, too? Here are five big things Joe PC needs to know before deciding.

1. Die Integrated Graphics, Die!

Intel's integrated GPU, which most Windows-based laptops use, is about as elegant as a moose in a tutu. With today's Apple announcement, a reasonably powerful integrated graphics system is available for laptop motherboards: nVidia's new GeForce 9400M. And the Apple MacBooks have it.

2. Double Your Graphics Pleasure

The new 9400M nVidia graphics chip set is like cake frosting for the new high-end MacBooks. Apple now pairs the motherboard GPU with an additional GeForce 9600M GT graphics-intensive application. This means games!

3. It's in the Air

Someone at Apple must have said, "Hey, I love the MacBook Air's keyboard. Let's put it on everything else and use a similar slim design." Done. For green techies, that also means fewer parts, less waste, and an all-around thumbs up from Mother Earth.

4. Show Apple the Money!

Most of the refreshed notebooks feature updated designs, slightly beefed-up hard drives, and roughly the same price as before. Run the specs before you buy.

5. Is It Time for PC Users to Go to the Mac Side?

The decision about whether to jump ship depends on how badly you want to play games (or use Photoshop) on a MacBook.

Already, nVidia has deals inked with five of the top 10 Windows notebook manufacturers. And as soon as next week, we expect to hear news of a Windows-based notebook flaunting the same 9400M.

Let's dig a little deeper into all of this.

A New Graphics Game

Matt Peckham, PC World's Game On columnist, got it half right the other day when he pondered whether the new MacBook Pros would prove to be decent gaming machines. He was railing about how the GeForce 9600M GT is just the step-up model from the 8600M that currently resides in MacBooks.

But he didn't factor in the new integrated GPU on the motherboard--the GeForce 9400M--which is stuffed into the new MacBook Pros as well. nVidia had planned to announce the release of notebooks with Hybrid SLI (short for "scalable link interface") performance on Oct. 15.

Apple, however, is using Hybrid technology a little differently. At first, I wrongly assumed this meant it'd work the same way it will with Windows notebooks (see below). The way it works on a MacBook: You'll have to toggle the mode and switch over to the other GPU and reboot your machine. Great for saving battery power in the long-run, but not as convenient as it will be on Windows machines.

What Exactly Does Hybrid SLI Performance Mean?

Hybrid SLI means that the on-board graphics power is sufficient to handle high-definition video. And when you want to run a more graphics-intensive app, such as DirectX 10 games, the technology flips the switch into a turbo mode where the two GPUs piggyback--conceivably boosting performance by 80 percent, according to nVidia spokespeople. Take that, Intel!

Sony notebooks had a physical power-toggle between two GPUs ages ago. That involved a toggle flip and PC reboot before working. It sounds similar-ish, but not the same as, what Nvidia's offering here.

From the get-go, these new nVidia chip sets are going to be better than Intel's current graphics option. But how much of a performance boost will these new machines deliver? That remains to be seen: We don't have one in the labs--yet.

All in all, this looks to be a big first step for Apple (and for nVidia). Plenty of people have used Boot Camp with their MacBooks to obtain their preferred mobile gaming platform. For instance, PC World's Matt Peckham (again!) played Dead Space on a MacBook with all the settings cranked to 11--and it ran without a hitch.

It'd have been nice to see something more than a 9600M under the hood, considering that it's operating on its own in the MacBook Pro. As for Windows notebooks, stay tuned, because that's where we're going to see Hybrid SLI in action.

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