Whether you are a casual or serious PC gamer, there really is no contest when choosing between a Mac or a Windows-based computer. Macs are among the most requested computers when it comes to photo- and video-editing, but gaming is an entirely different matter.
That’s not to say gaming for Mac is entirely dead, as there are hundreds, if not thousands, of games available. That said, that number pales next to the number of games released for Windows last year alone. So why is it that Macs are seen as an undesirable machine for gaming? In order to answer that question, we need to take a trip down memory lane.
Going Back in Time
If we jump back to the 1980s, it was the Mac that was known as the gaming machine while Windows was anything but. Windows computers were viewed as being more functional than fun. That changed when Apple decided to reposition itself in the market in the hopes of being taken more seriously.
To do that, the company had to make a choice to downplay its role in the gaming world. Apple didn’t want people playing games in the workplace, as they feared companies wouldn’t buy their machines in face of potential productivity losses. That left a slot open for the Windows personal computer to fill. Windows took the lead and helped create software that made it easy to program a game, and the rest is history.
Jump Ahead to Today
Anyone who tracks the status of gaming on the Mac will mostly agree on one thing: It’s the graphics card that is holding back the Mac. Often running the latest in Intel Core i5 and i7 processors, with plenty of RAM and more than enough storage, most Macs use an integrated GPU. This GPU, which is built into the main CPU, is something akin to adding a room to your home. It’s completely reliant on the rest of the home for water and electricity. Even if you add something like 8 or 16GB of RAM, there just isn’t enough power to play hardcore games.
The argument changes when you look at a dedicated GPU or graphics card. This card is separate from the rest of the CPU and is often designed specifically for gaming. These graphics cards incorporate their own memory (Video RAM) to boost gaming performance.
Unfortunately, these discrete GPUs are only available in Apple’s most expensive Mac machines. Four of Apple’s computers, including the MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro, don’t even offer them. Apple instead opts for Intel’s UHD graphics, which are not powerful enough for 3D games. There are a limited number of computers in the Apple lineup to play 3D games, so developers tend to aim for the largest audience, which is PC. On top of that, PCs are vastly more affordable.
Upgrading Isn’t Easy
Another area where Windows computers win on the gaming front is the ability to upgrade. As part of Apple’s vast control over its hardware, it takes care to avoid Mac owners having the ability to upgrade their computers on their own. With the exception of a few pieces of hardware, opening a Mac computer on your own voids the warranty.
On the flip side, Windows computers often welcome user upgrades. As games become more powerful, components release to match the power needs, and Windows users can install at will. Serious gamers know that they need to upgrade every so often. Apple just isn’t a fan of this option. Also, PCs support a variety of inputs for keyboards, displays, steering wheel controllers, etc. On the Mac you are at the whim of a small number of third-party manufacturers.
The Future Is Less Grim
For all of the reasons Apple computers have been poor gaming machines in the past, the future isn’t so dark anymore. For one, gaming companies like NVIDIA are turning to the cloud where the Mac hardware isn’t so limited.
GeForce Now, NVIDIA’s cloud-based gaming platform, offers compatibility with Mac and its popular PC game lineup. You don’t need to upgrade your hardware to play. Instead, you need only to download an application and launch it. Anyone with a strong internet connection and a willingness to pay a small subscription fee every month can take advantage. Apps like these are still in the beta phase, but cloud gaming is quickly becoming one of the gaming world’s biggest promises for the future.
On a separate note, Apple’s latest software has added support for external GPUs. This enables Mac owners to buy an external enclosure, purchase a gaming graphics card and play first-run games. Be aware that this is an expensive option often totaling hundreds of dollars to achieve.
That Macs are bad at gaming is something of a hilarious irony in today’s gaming world. Whereas the iPhone and iPad have taken a strong lead in mobile gaming, their desktop counterparts still lag behind. Apple has clearly shown a penchant for wanting to jump more into gaming with releases like Apple Arcade. Does that show the company is headed for a gaming future for the laptop or desktop? That’s hard to say, but given the money gamers spend every year, it’s hard to see Apple sitting out this fight forever.