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Mac Upgrade path for a gamer?


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#1 jgwdoc

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Posted 19 April 2016 - 07:54 AM

So, faced with the inability to run Witcher 3 at all but the lowest settings on my 2007 MacPro, I've been considering an upgrade path, and I can't come up with anything viable. The current MacPros, apart from being ridiculously expensive, aren't really designed to maximize gaming, and even the best dual GPUs they provide are not really suited to gaming. The best current iMac with the best available (from Apple) GPU is pretty mediocre.
What to do? Wait for the next iMac refresh and hope for a better GPU? Or build a Windows box? What are you folks doing as it becomes impossible to play AAA games at high settings?
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#2 macdude22

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Posted 19 April 2016 - 08:06 AM

I have rather beastly PC I built a few years ago, but I have found myself using it less and less. I would say I primarily do Mac + Xbox(Wii U) for gaming these days. I'm getting older and its just simpler for me. I've also become more accustomed to using my iPad as a laptop replacement so I haven't been lugging my 2012 MBP around much either, I may just give it to my wife to replace her 2010 MBP.

My eyes are old (33 is old amirite) and the stuff on the xbox looks good enough, or the unique experiences on the Wii U. My kid would rather plop down on the xbox to play minecraft than on the computer. And it is easy for dad to join in on split screen.
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#3 the Battle Cat

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Posted 19 April 2016 - 09:03 AM

My plan for upgrading my old computer system is already in progress.  I bought an SSHD and installed Windows on it for the games it is too slow to play in OS X.  Right now I can run all my PC games at whatever settings I want.  Eventually as gaming becomes more difficult on my legacy system I'm going to keep my old system and buy a powerful PC.  I will keep my mid 2011 MacPro as an internet appliance that also runs the comparatively easy OS X apps such as Word, email, and browsers etc.  When the OS X box can't do that anymore, I'll buy an iMac that can.
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#4 jgwdoc

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Posted 19 April 2016 - 09:41 AM

View Postthe Battle Cat, on 19 April 2016 - 09:03 AM, said:

My plan for upgrading my old computer system is already in progress.  I bought an SSHD and installed Windows on it for the games it is too slow to play in OS X.  Right now I can run all my PC games at whatever settings I want.  Eventually as gaming becomes more difficult on my legacy system I'm going to keep my old system and buy a powerful PC.  I will keep my mid 2011 MacPro as an internet appliance that also runs the comparatively easy OS X apps such as Word, email, and browsers etc.  When the OS X box can't do that anymore, I'll buy an iMac that can.

I think you can get away with that because the 2011 MacPro will take slightly more modern cards, but that's going to run into a wall soon. I do all my gaming on a Windows partition, but it's still limited by my HD5770, which just won't work for AAA games. I suppose the "best" thing to do would be to buy a new macPro and put dual Titans in an enclosure linked to the machine by Thunderbolt or some other fast connector, but now you're getting crazy expensive.
And macdude, I wish I could take the console route, but after years of keyboard/mouse gaming, I'm not going to spend the next 5 years acquiring controller skills.
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#5 Frigidman™

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Posted 19 April 2016 - 09:52 AM

I was faced with the expense issue too a long time ago and decided it was cheaper to build a PC rigged explicitly for game playing. I still use my MBP's I get from work, to do work and life maintenance (because any of that under windows is painful). But yeah... the performance in the macs for high end gaming just let me down too much, for how EXPENSIVE it all was.

The last PC rig I put together cost a total of $1150, all parts I needed, and its still been holding up after 3 years now (its no slouch, holds its own in even many modern games!). Although I AM looking at some new parts and price watching for the 'next step up'. Don't have to replace everything, just enough of the core pieces... which is nice about building the game PC, is its very flexible in upgradability over time.

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#6 jgwdoc

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Posted 19 April 2016 - 10:39 AM

View PostFrigidman™, on 19 April 2016 - 09:52 AM, said:

I was faced with the expense issue too a long time ago and decided it was cheaper to build a PC rigged explicitly for game playing. I still use my MBP's I get from work, to do work and life maintenance (because any of that under windows is painful). But yeah... the performance in the macs for high end gaming just let me down too much, for how EXPENSIVE it all was.

The last PC rig I put together cost a total of $1150, all parts I needed, and its still been holding up after 3 years now (its no slouch, holds its own in even many modern games!). Although I AM looking at some new parts and price watching for the 'next step up'. Don't have to replace everything, just enough of the core pieces... which is nice about building the game PC, is its very flexible in upgradability over time.

That's kind of the conclusion I'm coming to as well, baring some real surprise on the GPUs with the next iMac refresh. I guess I could just hide the Windows box under my desk with an AB switch for gaming. Sad, though.
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#7 Sneaky Snake

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Posted 19 April 2016 - 10:56 AM

The primary issue with your 2007 Mac Pro is the CPU power. An upgrade to a 2012 Mac Pro with a fast quad/hexa core (prioritize GHz over cores for gaming) will be vastly superior to your 2007 machine. It's not going to right up to 2016 standards, but it will murder 2007 components.  Couple that quad/hexa core with a fast GPU (GTX 970 or R9 390 - you do NOT need to go Titans to play Witcher 3 decently - a GTX 970 can play the game totally maxed at around 50 fps; 60 fps if you drop only a few settings to high).

A 2012 Mac Pro with a decent GPU will play all modern games totally fine. I'm fairly certain the CPU in that 2012 Mac Pro is more powerful than the FX-8320 (8 core, 3.5 GHz AMD CPU) that I currently have in my gaming PC).

The most optimal route for pure gaming performance is a dedicated gaming PC, but you obviously lose the ability to run OS X if you do that.

In regards to an iMac. I would expect a HUGE upgrade in GPU performance for the iMac this fall when AMD's Polaris chips and Nvidia's Pascal chips are available. Both architectures will be much more suited to low power environments (which the iMac is a part of - it uses laptop GPU's). I would expect high-end laptop cards (the 1080M and M490 to be nearly double the performance of their predecessors). The reason for the huge upgrade in mobile performance is due to the fact that AMD/Nvidia (AMD especially - it will be the first time they beat Nvdia to a die-size in a long time) are using much smaller nanometer chips, which mean less power and less heat. All of those things combine to allow vastly more powerful GPU's for the same wattage in laptops/iMacs.
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#8 jgwdoc

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Posted 19 April 2016 - 11:14 AM

View PostSneaky Snake, on 19 April 2016 - 10:56 AM, said:

In regards to an iMac. I would expect a HUGE upgrade in GPU performance for the iMac this fall when AMD's Polaris chips and Nvidia's Pascal chips are available. Both architectures will be much more suited to low power environments (which the iMac is a part of - it uses laptop GPU's). I would expect high-end laptop cards (the 1080M and M490 to be nearly double the performance of their predecessors). The reason for the huge upgrade in mobile performance is due to the fact that AMD/Nvidia (AMD especially - it will be the first time they beat Nvdia to a die-size in a long time) are using much smaller nanometer chips, which mean less power and less heat. All of those things combine to allow vastly more powerful GPU's for the same wattage in laptops/iMacs.

I had read about this potential GPU windfall, so I've been cautiously hopeful. The MacPros are also due for an upgrade, but who knows what that'll bring. My current MacPro is an 3GHz 8-core machine, so I really think the limiting step is the GPU. While you're undoubtably correct that a 2012 MacPro would work for awhile, I really like the general approach of buying the most modern Mac possible, upgrading it as needed, and riding it for many years. I guess that won't work with iMacs, and I just can't imagine dropping 6K on a tricked out MacPro set-up just for gaming.
My son-in-law tells me that for ~2.5k I could put together a fantastic PC gaming machine.
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#9 Sneaky Snake

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Posted 19 April 2016 - 11:38 AM

View Postjgwdoc, on 19 April 2016 - 11:14 AM, said:

I had read about this potential GPU windfall, so I've been cautiously hopeful. The MacPros are also due for an upgrade, but who knows what that'll bring. My current MacPro is an 3GHz 8-core machine, so I really think the limiting step is the GPU. While you're undoubtably correct that a 2012 MacPro would work for awhile, I really like the general approach of buying the most modern Mac possible, upgrading it as needed, and riding it for many years. I guess that won't work with iMacs, and I just can't imagine dropping 6K on a tricked out MacPro set-up just for gaming.
My son-in-law tells me that for ~2.5k I could put together a fantastic PC gaming machine.

3 GHz, 8 Core means nothing when the architecture is that old. My gaming PC with an FX-8320 is a 3.5 GHz 8 Core, but it will get beat soundly by a 3.3 GHz dual-core i3 in almost all games due to the vastly superior performance-per-clock of the newer Intel architectures. Even if you put a Titan X in your Mac Pro you would struggle running most modern games due to the dated CPU's. Think about it: the Pentium 4 CPU's back in the day got up to 3.8 GHz. A new intel 1.1 GHz CoreM CPU would destroy them in performance.


It would be around $2K for a tricked out 2012 Mac Pro. You do not need to spend anywhere near 2.5K on a gaming PC to max the Witcher 3. $1K budget could easily accomplish this. PM me if you want me to show you some build routes that you could go. Assuming you're comfortable with building the rig yourself you can save a ton of money.
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#10 jgwdoc

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Posted 19 April 2016 - 12:10 PM

View PostSneaky Snake, on 19 April 2016 - 11:38 AM, said:

3 GHz, 8 Core means nothing when the architecture is that old. My gaming PC with an FX-8320 is a 3.5 GHz 8 Core, but it will get beat soundly by a 3.3 GHz dual-core i3 in almost all games due to the vastly superior performance-per-clock of the newer Intel architectures. Even if you put a Titan X in your Mac Pro you would struggle running most modern games due to the dated CPU's. Think about it: the Pentium 4 CPU's back in the day got up to 3.8 GHz. A new intel 1.1 GHz CoreM CPU would destroy them in performance.


It would be around $2K for a tricked out 2012 Mac Pro. You do not need to spend anywhere near 2.5K on a gaming PC to max the Witcher 3. $1K budget could easily accomplish this. PM me if you want me to show you some build routes that you could go. Assuming you're comfortable with building the rig yourself you can save a ton of money.
\

I see what you mean about the CPU limitations. I may well PM you if I decide to go that route. Thank you. For now, I'm waiting to see what they announce on the new iMacs, if they get the new GPUs.
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#11 Cougar

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Posted 19 April 2016 - 12:19 PM

The sad thing is the amount of games coming out for the Mac is healthier than ever, even if Apples hardware seems to be getting worse. I notice myself booting intto Windows on my hackintosh less and less.

My longterm strategy is to maintain the hackintosh until Apple comes out with a MBP with a 1 TB+ SSD that doesn't cost a kidney. Then I'll move to a docked MBP fulltime and use a PC for games. And maybe by that time external GPUs will be a viable thing.

#12 Sneaky Snake

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Posted 19 April 2016 - 12:22 PM

Geekbench 3 Scores:

3 GHz 8 Core 2007 Mac Pro : 1584 (single core) and 10,939 (multi core): score
3.3 GHz 2 Core 2016 i3-6100: 3640 (single core) and 7770 (multi-core): score
2.7 GHz 4 Core 2016 i5-6400: 3200 (single core) and 10,000 (multi-core): score

As you can see, a 2.7 GHz Skylake i5 is performing over 2x as fast per clock compared to the Xeon X5365 (3.0 GHz Quad, 8 Core). Very few games utilize 8 cores, in fact most don't even go past 2. This nullifies the multi-core power that that Xeon's have, and makes then fall to even a lowly i3, due to its much faster single core performance. You would have to overclock your Xeon's to around 6 GHz to match the i5 in modern games.
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#13 DirtyHarry50

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Posted 19 April 2016 - 01:05 PM

I'm giving serious thought to selling off my late-2013 iMac 27" and going with combination of a Mini and Alienware Alpha sharing peripherals. I also want an XBox One. The total cost of all that is much less than a decked out 27" iMac including the 24" screen I'd buy to go with it. That is not the higher end Windows gaming performance I think the OP is looking for though but I think I'd be happy with it.

Then again, reading what I just wrote and what macdude22 wrote above gives me pause at the overkill there. I think this may be a case of kid in the candy store syndrome particularly when I was already having trouble keeping up with a backlog of stuff I've been meaning to play and stuff coming out just with the iMac dual booting to Windows. I'm still in "think about it" mode myself so I may not wind up doing all that in the end. I got an iPad myself recently and love the thing which does most of what i was in OS X. As such I could probably take the Mac Mini out of the above equation and save even more money.

For me a nice thing about a Windows 10 box at my desk will be the ability to stream XBox games to it while my parrots in the living room get their sleep in the evening. They run this place and I am just the hired help so I can't be gaming in there at night which would not be fair to them.
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#14 Frigidman™

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Posted 19 April 2016 - 01:10 PM

Oh, yeah... word of warning, after building a sweet gaming rig... you WILL end up with way too much stuff to play and never get to it all in your lifetime lol.

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#15 DirtyHarry50

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Posted 19 April 2016 - 01:31 PM

View PostFrigidman™, on 19 April 2016 - 01:10 PM, said:

Oh, yeah... word of warning, after building a sweet gaming rig... you WILL end up with way too much stuff to play and never get to it all in your lifetime lol.

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#16 Tetsuya

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Posted 19 April 2016 - 02:57 PM

Another vote for Daily-Driver Mac + Gaming Rig.  I sold my last Mac Pro (a 2012) for just a few hundred less than i had paid for it (i was tired of booting back and forth), and bought my Mini Server and built a gaming rig and still had a few hundred left over.  That PC has since been replaced (sold it to a friend and built something newer), but even my new rig isnt a lot more expensive than the first one i built.  

I have a late 2011 "Server" Mini (2.0 ghz i7 + 16GB RAM) that i use for all lf my non-gaming tasks.  It is still plenty beastly, though the HD3000 iGPU is starting to show its age (the new ASUS 1440p monitor i got for it, it has some issues swiping between Spaces), and lack of USB 3 is somewhat annoying, but otherwise, shes still trucking along.  If i can find one for cheap, i might grab a 2012 Mini Server, but unless Apple un-screws the Mini lineup, my next Mac is going to be a Hackintosh, as i already have a fantastic screen and therefore have zero interest in the extra expense of an iMac and need more beef than the pathetic Core-M CPUs in the current Mini lineup.

For my PC, i have a PC i built myself into the EVGA Hadron Air Mini-ITX case (one of the smallest cases on the market) - Core i7 4790K (OCed to 4.5Ghz), 16GB of DDR3-1600, GTX 970 Superclocked ACX 2.0+, and a 2TB Hybrid Drive.  (Gigabyte Z97N motherboard, Zalman CNPS 8900 Quiet CPU cooler).

Using a pair of ASUS 1440p monitors (http://www.newegg.co...6-453-_-Product) - and all together its still less than a high-end iMac and far more convenient (the joys of not having to alt-tab to check things online or change the music, and running my VOIP clients on the Mac) - ill never go back to using a single machine ever again.

#17 Cougar

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Posted 19 April 2016 - 03:51 PM

View PostTetsuya, on 19 April 2016 - 02:57 PM, said:


For my PC, i have a PC i built myself into the EVGA Hadron Air Mini-ITX case (one of the smallest cases on the market) - Core i7 4790K (OCed to 4.5Ghz), 16GB of DDR3-1600, GTX 970 Superclocked ACX 2.0+, and a 2TB Hybrid Drive.  (Gigabyte Z97N motherboard, Zalman CNPS 8900 Quiet CPU cooler).


You can hackintosh this. There's a step by step guide for your motherboard here, and you'll need nVidia's web drivers for the 970.

#18 Tetsuya

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Posted 19 April 2016 - 04:45 PM

View PostCougar, on 19 April 2016 - 03:51 PM, said:



You can hackintosh this. There's a step by step guide for your motherboard here, and you'll need nVidia's web drivers for the 970.

Why would i want to do that?  I have a perfectly capable Mini sitting 12" away... And by the time it is time to replace my mini, i will undoubtably also be replacing my gaming rig (or have already replaced it)  The whole point of switching to two machines was to NOT have to boot back and forth.

#19 Frost

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Posted 19 April 2016 - 05:34 PM

View Postjgwdoc, on 19 April 2016 - 07:54 AM, said:

So, faced with the inability to run Witcher 3 at all but the lowest settings on my 2007 MacPro, I've been considering an upgrade path, and I can't come up with anything viable. The current MacPros, apart from being ridiculously expensive, aren't really designed to maximize gaming, and even the best dual GPUs they provide are not really suited to gaming. The best current iMac with the best available (from Apple) GPU is pretty mediocre.
What to do? Wait for the next iMac refresh and hope for a better GPU? Or build a Windows box? What are you folks doing as it becomes impossible to play AAA games at high settings?

What did I do? See "Kestrel" in signature. I had enough in 2013 and upgraded my life. I work on Mac, play on PC. Although driver improvements and Steam Mac support being what they are, I do game on Mac again after a long hiatus when I've got my my MacBook Pro available but not the PC. 650M is capable of handling quite a few games that aren't insanely demanding.

Right now, I think the best option for gaming seriously on a Mac would be to get a really good 2010 or 2012 Mac Pro that's used but not abused. RAM is plenty fast, they can take PCIe SSDs, most of the CPU options were more than enough for gaming purposes, and all of NVIDIA's Kepler and Maxwell GPUs work in it without even needing to reflash (although you lose your boot screen if you don't reflash them. MacVidCards can do that job for a fee).

If I were you, I'd choose one of two routes:
  • You want one machine to do it all: Sell the 2007 Mac Pro, put it toward a 2010 or 2012 Mac Pro, and stick a PC GPU in it. Profit.

  • You don't mind two machines: Work on your Mac, and build a decent Windows machine you can customize as you see fit over time.
One word of warning though, don't pull the trigger on any of this for a couple months. NVIDIA's Pascal launch is probably less than 6 weeks away, and if you prefer AMD, Polaris isn't too far away either. Now isn't a great time to invest in a GPU unless you just get a cheap one to tide you over.
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#20 Cougar

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Posted 19 April 2016 - 06:04 PM

View PostTetsuya, on 19 April 2016 - 04:45 PM, said:

Why would i want to do that?  I have a perfectly capable Mini sitting 12" away... And by the time it is time to replace my mini, i will undoubtably also be replacing my gaming rig (or have already replaced it)  The whole point of switching to two machines was to NOT have to boot back and forth.

Oh, I didn't realize you still wanted two machines. You mentioned that your next mac would be a hackintosh, so I just thought you'd like to know that you potentially already have one.