This article will focus on providing readers with the best Mac (both desktop and laptop) for gaming at various price points. The contents of the article are as follows:
- Gaming on a Mac? Is This a Joke? - I will discuss why the Mac is a valid gaming platform and give links to some places you can find Mac games.
- Understanding Computer Components in Relation to Gaming - I will explain the 3 main components (CPU, graphics card and RAM) and how they relate to gaming.
- Best Mac Laptop for Gaming - I will go through the best pricepoints for Mac laptops in relation to gaming performance.
- Best Mac Desktop for Gaming - I will go through the best pricepoints for Mac desktops in relation to gaming performance.
Gaming on a Mac? Is This a Joke?
No. Mac's are very capable of running a lot of great gaming titles these days, and Mac gaming has never been better then it is right now. There have never been so many current, big name titles on the Mac, then there is today. That being said... the Mac is not a platform that Apple has designed necessarily for gaming, and as such you'll have to pay a lot more for a decently powerful Mac that you would have to if you bought a dedicated gaming PC running Windows. Also, there are many big-name titles that still haven't made it over to the Mac.
Mac gaming is a small but growing community that is started to gain serious traction in the computer gaming world. Here are a few places to find games for your Mac:Understanding Computer Components in Relation to Gaming
Graphics Processing Unit (GPU): The Most Important Factor
The primary factor of any gaming computer is the strength of the video card. No amount of RAM or CPU power can compensate for a weak video card (also known as a GPU - graphics processing unit). This means that a fast i7 chip will struggle with games if it is not paired with at least a semi-capable GPU. Mac's come equipped with GPU's from three different vendors:
- Intel Graphics: Not to be confused with Intel CPU's, Intel has a wide range of integrated GPU's that come coupled with their CPU's. Intel's processing units are power efficient and capable of light gaming but they fall far behind in performance compared to a discrete GPU from Nvidia or AMD. Intel's integrated graphics are featured in all Mac computers, with the exception of the Mac Pro.
- Nvidia Graphics: Nvidia is the largest GPU manufacturer on the planet with GPU's ranging from tiny Android devices all the way up to massive workstation computing units. Nvidia currently has GPUs in the mid range iMac models in the form of the 750M and 755M.
- AMD Graphics: AMD manufacturers a wide range of products, including GPU's, and are the second largest GPU manufacturer in the world. Apple has selected AMD as the current provider of high-end graphics options for the Mac. The iMac 5K, 15" Retina Macbook Pro and Mac Pro all utilize AMD graphics as the best configurable graphics option.
Central Processing Unit (CPU): Important Up to a Certain Level
The CPU is responsible for processing a wide range of different computer functions, including many parts of a game such as the AI, physics, game logic and more. It is important the a CPU achieves a base level of performance in order to not bottleneck the GPU when it comes to a game's total performance. To keep things simple I am going to say that any i5 or i7 CPU that is faster then 2.5 GHz is "good enough" for gaming on a Mac. Faster speeds will benefit, but once the CPU is at the 2.5 GHz or faster level, it is better to spend money on a faster GPU instead of a faster CPU.
RAM: Just Make Sure You Have Enough
RAM (Random Access Memory) is where your computer loads the game files for quick access when you are playing a game. 8 GB is the recommended amount of RAM for most modern games. Many games are even playable on 4 GB's of RAM. Your computer requires a certain amount of RAM in order to load the game files into, and once it has enough it does not (and cannot) use anymore. 16 GB of RAM will give you zero performance benefit over 8 GB in 99% of gaming situations.
Cost Has Nothing to Do With Power
A common misconception with a lot of computer buyers is that more expensive equals better performance. Spending more money can be more powerful, but it's extremely important that you look at the components that make up a computer and decide whether or not it makes sense for you. For example, the new Macbook that Apple released (the super-thin one) costs around $1500 and is TERRIBLE at gaming, and that's okay. It is not a gaming machine and should not be used as one. The $700 Mac Mini (see below) destroys it in terms of power.
Best Mac Gaming Laptop for the Budget (Macbook, Macbook Air, Macbook Pro)
This section will focus on providing the best budget points for getting a Mac laptop for gaming. If gaming is your primary focus I don't recommend spending in between these price points, as there is no real gaming performance gain in between them.
Best Laptop for $1300: 13" Retina Macbook Pro with 2.7 GHz i5 CPU and Intel Iris Graphics 6100: Apple Store Link
This Mac is really the minimum of what it takes to run modern games at somewhat acceptable settings. The Intel Iris 6100 graphics are considerably faster then the previous generation Iris graphics (found in the Mac Mini).
Expect to play modern games at low-medium settings at 1080p resolution.
Best Laptop for $2500: 15" Retina Macbook Pro with 2.5 GHz i7 CPU and AMD Radeon R9 M370X: Apple Store Link
This is the only Mac laptop with a dedicated GPU. It will perform much faster then the Intel Iris Graphics 6100 and is the most powerful Mac laptop you can buy. When compared with desktop Mac computers (see below) this will perform roughly identical to the $1800 iMac.
Expect to play modern games at medium-high settings at 1080p resolution.
Best Mac Gaming Desktop for the Budget (Mac Mini, iMac, iMac 5K, Mac Pro)
This section will focus on providing the best budget points for getting a Mac desktop for gaming. If gaming is your primary focus I don't recommend spending in between these price points, as there is no real gaming performance gain in between them.
Best Desktop for $700: Mac Mini with 2.6 GHz i5 CPU and Intel Iris Graphics: Apple Store Link
This is the cheapest price point that has a capable CPU and somewhat capable graphics. The 2.6 GHz CPU coupled with the the Intel Iris graphics will offer a playable performance from most modern games (the most demanding titles will struggle to run, even at low settings). Note: you will have to purchase a monitor, keyboard and mouse in order to use the Mac Mini
Expect to play games at low settings at 1080p resolution.
Best Desktop for $1500: iMac with 2.9 GHz i5 CPU and Nvidia GeForce GT 750M: Apple Store Link
This is the first Mac desktop that contains a dedicated graphics card and will perform much faster then both the Mac Mini and the 13" Macbook Pro.
Expect to play games at medium-high settings at 1080p resolution.
Best Desktop for $2000: iMac 5K with 3.3 GHz i5 CPU and AMD Radeon R9 M290: Apple Store Link
This iMac will perform considerably faster then the $1500 version and surpass the 15" Retina Macbook Pro in performance. The M290 will be able to power nearly all modern games with decent graphics settings.
Expect to play games at high settings at 1080p resolution.
Best Desktop for $2550: iMac 5K with 3.5 GHz i5 CPU and AMD Radeon R9 M295X: Apple Store Link
This iMac is the most powerful gaming iMac having roughly 15% more graphics power then the $2000 iMac. Paying extra for the faster CPU is not recommended as it will be of no benefit in virtually all games. Note:the M295X graphics card must be specifically selected during the configuration process.
Expect to play games at high-ultra settings at 1080p resolution.
Best Desktop for $3000+: None (Honorable Mention: Mac Pro with 3.3 GHz Xeon CPU and Dual AMD FirePro D700)
The step up from the iMac line is the Mac Pro. The problem with the Mac Pro for gaming is that it is meant as a productivity machine and not a gaming machine. The CPU and GPU in the Mac Pro are certainly powerful, but they are both extremely expensive parts that aren't really designed for gaming. The $4000 Mac Pro with 3.3 GHz Xeon CPU and D700 graphics (fastest available) is only slightly faster then the top end iMac in gaming, while costing $1500 more and not coming with a beautiful 27" display.
If the Mac user is running bootcamp the dual GPU's can be combined to nearly double graphics performance, but if the user is willing to utilize Windows for gaming, then why spend $4000 on a Mac Pro? Get a gaming PC for $1000 instead that will have equal gaming performance.
The Mac Pro is a similar to a powerful Clydesdale horse, while a gaming computer is like a race horse. Both types of horses are fast/powerful in their own way, but they have completely different strengths and uses.
Leave a comment below with any questions or thoughts you might have!