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We already knew that the latest version of OS X Mavericks, version 10.9.3, has provided increased compatibility between certain Macs and 4K displays. It appears, though, that may be in part due to a change in how OS X allocates certain resources, specifically VRAM, on newer machines. As Mac4ever and MacGeneration point out, certain hardware including the MacBook Pro with Retina display from Late 2013 and the MacBook Air from 2013 and 2014 have all seen an increase in the maximum level of VRAM available from 1024MB to 1536MB …

The changes on the relevant models can be noted in the System Information application on OS X although Apple has not yet documented the increase in available VRAM in these machines in either the OS X 10.9.3 documentation or the 4K display support documentation. The change in specifications is also not yet noted on Apple’s documentation covering video and memory on each machine; the current description reflects the specifications prior to the OS X 10.9.3 software update. Specifically, the increase jumps from 1024MB, or 1GB, to 1536MB, 1.5GB.

We’ve compared our own 2013 MacBook Air and MacBook Pro with Retina display machines against Apple’s documentation on graphics memory, for example, and can report the increase in VRAM in OS X 10.9.3 versus what Apple currently reports as the maximum amount. The change appears limited to models released in 2013 and 2014. The increase in video resources does seem to point to the increased compatibility between the MacBook Pros with Retina display and 4K displays, 4K support does not extend to all affected machines at this point, specifically in the case of the MacBook Air, so the change could just be result of software and hardware optimization in the latest update to the operating system.

In our review of a the Seiki 4K display running off a late 2013 MacBook Pro in 10.9.2, we noted some performance issues, particularly screen lag when used over HDMI 1.4.

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 12.42.31 PM

(Comparison photos via macg.co)

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17 Responses to “OS X 10.9.3 quietly increases VRAM on newer MacBook Pros and MacBook Airs, perhaps to improve 4K performance”

  1. Not only on new Macs, I noticed the same on my MacBook Pro 2012(md103)

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  2. thiemob says:

    My Mid 2012 rMBPs HD4000 got the “upgrade” to 1024MB VRAM, too.

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  3. macmuchmore says:

    Unfortunate that the 4K support does not include the first MBP with Retina Display from 2012.

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  4. monty72 says:

    My 1080 monitor looks a lot better since the update. Text was awful before.

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  5. Avenged110 says:

    Is there any hack or something to increase this amount further to something crazy like 2.5 GB?

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  6. Court Kizer says:

    I don’t get it, how does software upgrade the amount of video ram included on the graphics card???

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    • Avenged110 says:

      Because the GPU is integrated, it doesn’t have dedicated VRAM. It shares this memory with the system. So if you have 8 GB of RAM in your 13″ retina MacBook Pro, a portion of that (up to 1.5 GB now) can be allocated for use by the GPU. This amount is dynamic as of 10.9 and adjusts as it’s needed.

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  7. Oddly my 2013 MacBook Air (with only 4GB of RAM) has gone from 1024MB to the 1536MB upgrade in 10.9.3… Shall need to check my 2012 MBP see if it’s Intel 4000 graphics got a bump..

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  8. This is an especially jerkwad move by Apple to those new owners of 2014 MacBook Airs and the “now lower priced” $1299 MacBook Pros (the price “drop” that wasn’t that Schiller made such a big deal about at announcement), since OS X will now potentially snatch another 512MB from their 4GB-hard-wired units.

    Apple just keeps proving to customers that they’re real jerks when it comes to short-shrifting on RAM. 4GB of RAM = $40.

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    • i guess somebody doesn’t know what dynamic is. nothing has changed @scootercomputer

      in fact, what’s ridiculous about this claim is one look around and you see almost all window PCs come with 4GB

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      • He likely means that the graphics subsystem will now decide if it wants to take (more) from the “limited” system memory that the user might have preferred being allocated to their dozens of open tabs or myriad open documents; which could be a valid point, except Mavericks also has pretty smart memory compression and for ages there’s been this thing called virtual memory/paging. And since all recent MacBooks have SSDs, and the latest models have PCIe-based SSDs, the performance of using the page file shouldn’t be bad. And while SSD endurance is a popular concern, I’d be hard-pressed to imagine someone who’d buy a machine with 4GB of RAM –AND– be using their machine for the kind of tasks that would make page file usage wear down the flash memory.

        So he probably knows what dynamic allocation is, but he was looking at things in isolation. I have to agree, though, 4GB in a “Pro”-branded machine that costs over $1000 is kind of lame. A lot of Windows PCs that are $600+ have at least 6GB of RAM (although usually paired with low- and mid- range processors instead of i5 or A8 or better). Anyways, the fact that Windows OEM partners suck doesn’t mean Apple should let anything slide, either. The MacBook Air is supposed to be their mainstream/everyday computer. I expect more from something that has Pro in its name. For a long time I’ve felt that the 13″ non-Air models should have just been left as MacBook. I don’t mind them being Pro now that Iris is halfway-decent, with the exception of that 4GB entry model.

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  9. As for me both mavericks and new update suck!
    I have MacBook Pro retina 2012.
    Since I bought it I was able to run on it win 8, android and chrome os as a virtual machines at same time , watch movie , run safari with 20 tabs and I still had 4gb free of all8gb ram.
    After updating to mavericks I got not nice surprise . Nowadays my mac after turning on has only Skype,line,menutab for Facebook and weather app running in background (200mb ram altogether ) and then I turn safari on , open few tabs with mails etc and after 30 minutes of working with macbook my free ram goes to 0-5% . How come?!
    Apple should at first solve regular problems and then worry about cosmetic things like interface or 4k compatibility.
    They slowly become a Microsoft without Jobs.
    Same thing with windows …each version looked better but was running slower with more bluescreens.
    Ps:I browsed lot of forums in last month but no one can find solution even though most of people have same problem :/ I checked activity monitor and killed all processes that take lot of ram (including safari) and then I was left with only half of ram free . So does mavericks need 4gb just to run ?!

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    • no Mavericks actually caches stuff into your RAM in a predictive nature ahead of time. Read about it, it’s a nifty feature. It doesn’t actually even seem like you’re running into any problems but are just complaining because of what you saw in the activity monitor. IN fact, the way mavericks handles ram is probably the most innovative feature about it, you misconstrued it as a step backwards.

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  10. vagabond111 says:

    Would be possible to drive QHD monitor 3440×1440 by Macbook Pro late 2009 running OSX 10.9.3?

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