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MacBook Gaming: Not Part of the Equation

Despite Apple's relatively beefy new Nvidia graphics chip, I just can't let games performance factor into my laptop-buying decisions.

Um, none of these games are newer than a year old.
Um, none of these games are newer than a year old.
As anyone at the Giant Bomb offices would be loathe to tell you, I've been waiting impatiently for months for Apple to unveil a new line of MacBooks. And I haven't shut up about it the entire time, devouring every rumor and leaked piece of misinformation I could find in the meantime.

Now those puppies have finally emerged from behind Apple's veil of secrecy, and they are beautiful. More importantly, one of the most prevalent and persistent rumors came true: Apple dumped Intel's lousy integrated graphics in favor of a new motherboard chipset from Nvidia which contains a GeForce 9400M. This chip now pushes the display in even the most basic models. Still not the fastest GPU ever, but it's a world apart from that barely functional junk they used in the last generation.

The new MacBook Pro, by contrast, has a 9600GT in it, which is actually halfway decent as these things go. So now I'm sitting here pondering a decision. Regular MacBook, for compact size and ease of portability, or MacBook Pro, for a GPU that will actually run games at a decent clip?

"Wait," you say, "what games?"

Believe it or not, we run an all-Mac office here at Giant Bomb--the site itself was in fact built entirely on Apple products--so the usefulness of working on a mobile Mac is a given. But playing a lot of games on a Mac is another story. You've got Spore. You've got the full support of Blizzard, which, admittedly, counts for a lot. You've got a handful of other medium-to-high-profile ports here and there. Of course you can always Boot Camp your way to a Windows XP install and play just about anything, but at that point, why are you spending the ludicrous premium on an Apple machine in the first place?

At least this is a pretty recent game.
At least this is a pretty recent game.
The benchmarks Apple is fronting for the 9400M are fairly impressive from a numbers perspective. Compared to the previous MacBook, they claim the new one is 6.2 times faster in Call of Duty 4, and 4 times faster in Doom 3. But where are the World of Warcraft benchmarks? Spore? Anything you're likely to actually be playing now? My biggest question is Starcraft II, which I'm guessing will adhere to Blizzard's blanket runs-on-anything-so-everyone-will-buy-it policy, but you know they're not about to quote hard numbers on specific hardware yet.

There's a $400 gap between the top-tier MacBook and the bottom-tier Pro, and they have the same specs except for the extra 9600GT you get in the Pro. That's a tough sell on a platform where gaming is obviously still not much of a priority. Sure, a fast GPU has plenty of legitimate uses for professionals working with various graphics applications, but for average Joe Gamer--that's you and me--I don't know if that's a useful upgrade.

I still feel like a desktop PC is the only sensible place to do real PC gaming, so this whole issue is largely an academic one. But how about you? Do any of you get your primary PC game on with a laptop, and if so, is it one of those enormous 15-lb beasts that might as well be a desktop anyway?
Brad Shoemaker on Google+