With new Kaby Lake Macs out now, and Metal 2 coming to macOS later this year, Brianna wu considers gaming options
This is a good time to be a Mac gamer. With High Sierra around the corner, Apple is making huge bets on graphics for its flagship operating system. No matter your Mac, old or new, High Sierra will see huge graphical gains with Metal 2.
The good news doesn’t stop with software - this year’s entire lineup of MacBooks was upgraded with Intel’s Kaby Lake processors. Faster processors are routine, but the startling numbers on Kaby Lake speak for themselves. If you’re a gamer buying a portable Mac, make sure you get one of the newest models with Kaby Lake.
Some gamers play casual titles like Bejeweled 3, while others love immersive experiences like XCOM 2. Here I’ll talk you through my opinions of Apple’s current lineup of Macs, and the gaming pros and cons of each.
Macbook This spiritual successor to the MacBook Air was introduced in 2015, and the third time is the charm. This year’s model boasts a better keyboard, more memory, and solid speed gains from Kaby Lake. But while it’s an amazing work machine, this MacBook still struggles with anything beyond the most basic 2D games. Civilization isn’t graphically intense, but it’s still unplayable on the MacBook. The good news is there are plenty of amazing 2D games on macOS, one of my favorites being Peggle Nights.
iMac The iMac is Apple’s bestselling machine for creative professionals, and that power makes it a solid game machine as well. But while it’s a good choice, there’s a lot to give gamers pause in the current iMac.
Apple has switched from Nvidia to AMD for the graphics processor. AMD isn’t a bad choice, but the processor used is not a top-ofthe-line one. Still, you should expect to play almost any Mac game from Steam on an iMac.
Apple’s Fusion Drive technology is fantastic for avoiding Apple’s pricey SSD upgrades. These drives mix the high capacity of conventional hard disks with a small SSD cache for system files. If you play games in macOS, a Fusion Drive will allow for a large Steam library, though you don’t necessarily need one: bear in mind
If you’re a gamer buying a portable Mac, get one of the new Kaby Lake models
that you can tell Steam to install games to an external drive by setting up a library folder there. Valve’s official guide to this, at
bit.ly/steamlib, is based on the Windows version, but the steps are essentially the same on the Mac.
Beware: if you play games in Windows using Boot Camp, avoid installing them to a Fusion Drive. The SSD part of the drive won’t work in Boot Camp, slowing Windows to the speed of a conventional hard disk.
Also worth adding: though currently only possible using a kit for developers, an HTC Vive paired with Apple’s External Graphics Development Kit may eventually enable you to play VR games – but note that the kit is unsupported in Boot Camp. (I find the Vive more comfortable and tracks much more precisely than the Oculus Rift.)
MacBook Pro For most gamers, the 15-inch MacBook Pro is your best option. Although a 13-inch model is more portable, it only has a dual-core processor. In the 15-inch versions, the quad-core Kaby Lake processors are more than able to run most popular macOS games, including demanding titles such as HITMAN.
While the iMac is a better overall gaming machine, the portability of a 15-inch MacBook Pro more than makes up for it. In my experience, I play Mac games on a couch, not at a desk. Being able to play Dota 2 while binging Netflix is worth the slight tradeoff in graphical power. Like the iMac, it works with Apple’s eGPU developer kit, so there’s potential for VR when the situation for consumer-focused eGPU support becomes clearer.
No matter which MacBook Pro you get, you’ll receive Apple’s blisteringly fast new generation of SSD storage. This will make your MacBook Pro double well as a Windows machine, where Steam has a deeper library. Be careful: Windows games do tend to run better - but they drain the battery because the software isn’t as tightly optimized for the hardware as macOS is. For intense games, only expect to get an hour or two of battery life.
iMac Pro Apple’s Space Gray beast doesn’t go on sale until December, and we won’t know its full capabilities until then. But, for a gamer looking for best-of-thebest performance on macOS, the iMac Pro will undoubtedly be the most powerful modern computer Apple sells. While it will still have AMD graphics, the real story here is the minimum of eight CPU cores. Assuming your game is written to take advantage of that, the iMac Pro will devastate it.
Truth be told, the iMac Pro is made less for gamers and more for game developers - but it will undoubtedly play games well. If dropping more than $5,000 on a gaming Mac doesn’t phase you, this is the one to get.
Gamers have been neglected for a long time by Apple. But now, every Mac in the new lineup is a powerhouse for games - excluding the 12-inch MacBook. The addition of external GPUs may allow Macs to experience VR in the future. If you’ve been waiting tor the right time to invest in a new Mac, that wait is over.
The iMac Pro is really intended for game developers.
A strong GPU helps with games like XCOM 2.
Many entertaining 2D games, such as Shovel Knight, run well even on low-end Macs.