New default resolution on 2016 MacBook Pro affects the battery life

The default resolution is set to scaled option by default

The default resolution is set to scaled option by default

Apple has changed the default resolution for the new 2016 MacBook Pro. On 15-inch MacBook Pro, the new default resolution is set to 1680 x 1050, instead of 1440 x 900 on a previous generation, providing more screen real estate.

I was curios to find out what else this change brings to the table, so I did some testing. In this post I am going to share my findings with you.

Scaled by default

Prior to the release of the 2016 MacBook Pro, the old default resolution was set to 1440 x 900 pixels, and was marked by Apple as ‘Best for Retina’. At this resolution, the screen is rendering the picture at its native 2880 x 1800, and then just scales it to 1440 x 900 @X2 resolution, without doing the actual pixel scaling.

Starting with 2016 MacBook Pro, Apple has decided to set the 1680 x 1050 pixels resolution as the default for 15-inch MacBook Pro, which results in a slightly less sharp and fuzzy text. The difference is not very big, but if you try hard, the difference in clarity is noticeable.

In addition, I have noticed that my eyes get tired faster, when I use my MacBook Pro with its new default resolution. 

Clear effect on battery life

It is also very important to notice that to show the picture in a non-native 1680 x 1050 HiDPI resolution, macOS has to render the virtual 3340 x 2100 screen, and then scale it back to 2880 x 1800 pixels, which obviously increases the GPU usage.

In order to find out how much this affects the battery life, I did a few comparison tests of the energy consumption when using the two resolutions. I know that the tests were not very scientific, but it was pretty obvious that the new default resolution has a greater impact on battery life.

Energy consumption comparison

With my MacBook Pro in completely idle state, the average energy consumption for the 1440 x 900 resolution was at 3.0 Watts, while for 1680 x 1050, it was at 3.8 Watts. 

Typical power usage with display resolution set to 1440x900 pixels

Typical power usage with display resolution set to 1440x900 pixels

Typical power usage with display resolution set to 1680x1050 pixels

Typical power usage with display resolution set to 1680x1050 pixels

The difference was similar when running a couple of apps. When set to 1440 x 900, the average energy consumption was at 9 Watts, while for 1680 x 1050 pixels, it was at 11 Watts.

For my last test, I have used my MacBook Pro for three days in the two resolutions. Below is the battery life I was able to get out of my MacBook with my regular workflow.  

When set to 1440 x 900 pixels:

  • Day 1 - 9:47
  • Day 2 - 10:25
  • Day 3 - 10:06
3 days average : 10 hours 6 minutes

When set to 1680 x 1050 pixels:

  • Day 1 - 9:13
  • Day 2 - 9:04
  • Day 3 - 9:27
3 days average : 9 hours 15 minutes

As you can see from the numbers above, on average, I was able to get about 50 minutes longer battery life when using the 1440 x 900 pixels resolution.

Conclusion

The new default resolution on 2016 MacBook Pro provides more screen real estate, but if you want a bit sharper picture quality and a noticeably better battery life, you should go to Display settings on your MacBook Pro and change the resolution to 1440 x 900 pixels.