With High-Power Mode, Very Little Should Hold Back the Mac

Let’s see what this thing can really do

Key Takeaways

  • macOS Monterey will bring the iPhone’s Low-Power Mode to the Mac.
  • A recent macOS beta refers to a new High-Power Mode.
  • Apple Silicon is fast already. What will it do when it’s allowed to run free?
macbook pro on brown wooden table

Joshua Reddekopp / Unsplash

Future Macs may get a high-power mode to let you really light things up when you need them.

A recent beta version of macOS Monterey contains references to a High-Power Mode. We’re already familiar with Low-Power Mode, which reduces performance of iPhones, iPads, and Macs to increase battery life. High-Power Mode is expected to do the opposite, letting you crank the computer up to the max, even at the expense of battery life. It sounds…useful. But what is it good for, exactly?

"Professional software could take advantage of it. In our case, we do 3D audio software used by Hollywood studios (Game of Thrones, Star Wars) and our software is very heavy in terms of CPU—it can generate thousands of sounds playing together," Nuno Fonseca, of audio effects software company Sound Particles, told Lifewire via email. 

What Is High-Power Mode?

Low-Power Mode on the Mac, available in macOS Monterey, and on MacBooks made from 2016 onwards, will dim the screen backlight and reduce CPU speed to save battery power. On the iPhone, Low-Power Mode reduces the frequency of some background tasks—checking for mail, uploading photos, etc. 

One thing worth noting is that the Mac has had several power-saving features for a while. You can set the screen to dim on your Big Sur (and earlier) MacBook today, for example, and in the past, it was possible to choose between higher performance, or better battery life on some models. 

Internal view on of a Mac Pro

Apple

It would follow that High-Power Mode would allow everything to keep running at full speed, and full brightness. Given that the latest M1 Macs have an incredibly impressive battery life, this seems like a good tradeoff to make. 

But what do you get exactly? After all, doesn’t the Mac already run at full speed on battery power? There are two obvious possibilities: overclocking the CPU, and letting the brakes off those fans. 

Apple Silicon is able to run fast, with minimal heat. That’s why we don’t have fans in iPhones, iPads, or MacBook Airs. But the M1 iMac, Mac Mini, and MacBook Pro all use fans to let them run a little harder, for longer. 

When the M1 Macs first launched, testers immediately compared the fanless MacBook Air with the fan-equipped MacBook Pro. The difference was minimal, undetectable even, as you’d expect for two computers using the same chip. But for sustained work—video renders, for example—the Pro got the job done much quicker. Why? After a short while, the fan-less Mac has to throttle its engines to keep cool, whereas the fan-having Pro could carry on at full tilt for much longer. 

High-Power Mode will probably bring more of this, perhaps even letting the fans spin up enough to start making a noise. It’s a pretty great idea, because for most tasks you can keep enjoying the cool-running, battery-sipping benefits of Apple Silicon, but with extra power on tap when you need it. 

What Is High-Power Mode For?

So, what can you do with it? We already mentioned video rendering, but app development may be even more suited to allowing a spike in power. Developers spend lots of time typing code, but when they compile the app, they need all the power they can squeeze from the machine. 

And what about gaming? The Mac isn’t exactly known for high-performance PC gaming, but if you do enjoy something like Steam on your Mac, then being able to boost the power for a sustained session is good news. 

"Professional software could take advantage of it."

"Other uses may include video editing software, computer graphics software, CAD, 3D animation, photorealistic rendering, [and] scientific processing," says Fonseca.

High-Power Mode is a great idea. You get all the advantages of a computer that’s based on years of research into squeezing the maximum power out of phones, but then you get to unleash that power without worrying about generating heat, or spending energy. 

It’s kind of the opposite of the last Intel-based Macs, which spun up their fans and toasted your lap and palms by default. Hopefully Apple will finish this feature sooner rather than later.

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