After recently upgrading to Mac OS X Lion on my MacBook Pro, I noticed a severe drop in my battery life. Where I was getting 5 hours on a full charge before, now I was getting just 3 hours. This is unacceptable to me, so I turned to my old friend Google to try to remedy the problem. After poking around for a bit, I found one culprit to be Apple not having an intuitive system for easily switching your graphics card. Running on the “Higher performance” setting generates more heat and uses up more power. Unfortunately, the only place you can change this setting is by going into Energy Saver in the System Preferences menu, and the graphics card doesn’t automatically change back to the more efficient integrated card unless you manually change the setting yourself. Fortunately, I also stumbled upon gfxCardStatus.

Written by a fellow college student, gfxCardStatus is a free and simple menu bar app that automatically switches your GPU depending on whether you’re connected to an outlet or not, all without having to log out! Compatible with all unibody MacBook Pros, gfxCardStatus also notes which GPU you’re currently running on your MacBook Pro with a very simple yet effective d or i for your discrete (more powerful) or integrated (more efficient) graphics cards. GfxCardStatus also works with Growl, OS X’s ever-present notification system.

Other than that, there are literally no other bells or whistles. It’s a simple app that does one thing but does it very effectively. If you own a unibody MacBook Pro, there’s no question you should download this app. Not only will you maximize your battery life, but you’ll also reduce the damaging effect of heat on your poor laptop’s internal components!

What do you think of gfxCardStatus? Let us know in the comments!

[Photo courtesy of Flickr user benjamin-nagel. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.]