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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.
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.
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+
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Posted by Brad
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.
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?
Posted by LifeByDegrees

I think any new laptop purchased should be able to play the basics of the current/near-next gen games. However- I don't really think any laptop should be deemed a gaming machine- at least within a reasonable price range. The bigger issue with the new Macbooks is the no-button glass touch interface. Can you really play games efficiently with that?

Posted by RenegadeSaint

I don't do any PC gaming, but I'm pretty sure my laptop would explode if I tried.  PC gaming is meant for desktops.

Posted by TheHBK

I too was waiting for these new Macbooks but they seem a little underwhelming.  I just think I will stick to a desktop for PC gaming because anytime you want to use a laptop for true gaming, not just solitaire, you end up disappointed, unless you are lugging around one of those 15lbs notebooks and those are not worth the money when they are just a desktop for all intents and purposes.  The last game that I had my main experience with on a laptop was Half-Life 2 and that was disappointing to say the least.

Posted by TheGTAvaccine

Hmmm laptop gaming is sketchy to begin with...but Macbook gaming? Blasphemy!

Posted by Shofixti

Yeah, there's a reason why they call it  PC gaming.

Anti-Mac Bias aside, I think gaming on Laptops nowadays boils down to the video card... Its hard to find a replacement for the on-board in some cases, so a relative powerhouse like the 9400 is a nice step for the Macbooks.
Now we just need (by some miracle) native .exe support.

Posted by FCKSNAP

The next time I'm getting a PC for gaming, I'm just gonna get a laptop that can run Company of Heroes for at least 60FPS, as my last machine went kaput as I fudged some important airflow and cooling mechanisms when I last upgraded, which rendered every part fried and useless. Thankfully I use one machine for gaming and one for daily stuff (because I "inherited" it from my brother). But I don't have a lot of room and I've started college so I limit myself to what I can use, and I game on PCs for Strategy types of games anyway.

Posted by snide

I used my macbook pro as my primary wow machine for over a year. It served it's purpose, but I definitely wouldn't pick up an apple product for gaming, even as a secondary machine.

Posted by zeox

because of the nature of the track-pad, gaming on laptops become a huge hassle. I usually play WoW on my MacBook Pro, but that doesn't really require a whole lot of mouse movement anyways. I do however know tons of people who game exclusively on laptops, which is pretty mind-blowing :S.
Personally, I prefer gaming on a desktop

Online
Posted by duxup

Laptops, all laptops, stink for gaming.  You could buy some of the overpowered laptops out there and get away with gaming for a while, but then you're dealing with a proportionally sky high price, heat issues, and no upgrade path except buy a new laptop.

Posted by CheeseFanatic

I'm a mac racist . . . just thought you should know.

Posted by VilhelmNielsen

I've actually been seriously considering buying a Mac now. But I really don't know wether I should go for a regular or Pro MacBook. On the other hand, I mostly play games on my 360.

Posted by SuperMooseman

A desktop PC is the only way for PC gaming.

Posted by m3thod

My primary machine for PC gaming is a laptop . . . it has two 8600GT's SLi'd, which does a great job on Crysis (set on medium), anything on Steam, etc...

But the biggest problem with gaming on a laptop are the video drivers.  I'm sure shops like Alienware and Falcon Northwest is different since they cater to the gaming crowd.  But with the regulars - Toshiba, Dell, HP, etc..., you'll be lucky to get "officially support" video drivers from them.  Nvidia does not offer their video drivers for laptops on their site.  It's not a priority of the manufacture to stay ontop of drivers.

This was a huge problem when Gears of War came out for the PC.  The game required a higher version of nvidia driver then my card had and of course Toshiba had no updated driver.  The game was unplayable!  I had to search the web for hacked nvidia drivers which thankfully worked.  I came across this again with Spore and had to go through the same hoops.

It could be just a Toshiba thing, but I've ran into this with Dell's in the past.

Until this is resolved then gaming can really explode on laptops.

Posted by JohnnyAutoFire

I don't really play computer games anymore.  A lot of games that used to be exclusive to the PC are now available on the current-gen consoles, and you don't have to upgrade every six months.  I bought my current laptop thinking that I would use it as a gaming PC, but really i just use it for surfing the internet and playing with iTunes.  Since I'm going to be going to collage soon, I'm going to need a computer that is small enough to carry around (unlike my decrepit 17 inch Area-51 that i was lugging to school), and has enough battery life to stay charged through a class.  The 13 inch MacBook may very well be my first Mac.

Posted by ChristophB

How can you possibly describe them as "beautiful?"  They are ugly as sin; nasty glossy screens, stupid black bezel and a black keyboard on an aluminium body?  Apple have cocked up their pro line magnificently...

x

Posted by RHCPfan24

I love using Macbooks for browsing and basic stuff, but I would never regard it as a gaming platform. Sorry, Steve, you aren't there yet.

Posted by burjeffton--defunct

I quit using a desktop PC 7 years ago...which sounds really elitist, but I don't really care. I'm on my 2nd Macbook Pro - which plays a few small games, but I don't use it for serious gaming. If it can run Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator and an HD movie in the background, I feel pretty confident about its power and capability. All of my buddies in the interactive web design and creative world run on MP's...I'm sure it can handle most games just fine.

Posted by Jesus_Juice

Macs are gay and you guys are gay for using them. Must be why there are no girls working at Giant Bomb. Seriously though, there's nothing a mac can do that a pc can't do. It's just flashier and costs a hell of a lot more for no good reason. You could get a windows laptop with the same specs for a little over $1000.

Posted by SonicFire

I've been using a macbook as my primary office comp. for a year now, and gotten much more reliable performance than with any PC  laptops I've had (and I've had many). But as a gaming machine, it'd be pretty useless... let's face it, PC gaming is basically an exercise in "how to spend the most money to play games."

I think G4's Adam Sessler put it well in his most recent soapbox vid: PC games development seems to ignore anyone sporting less than the best machine money can buy...
Posted by JohnnyAutoFire

I really hate having to give Norton $90 every year.  You might not be able to play as many game on a MacBook, but at least you don't have to worry about it getting completely boned with viruses and spyware.

Posted by Gregomasta
"super_mario_john is online
on Oct. 16, 2008
I really hate having to give Norton $90 every year.  You might not be able to play as many game on a MacBook, but at least you don't have to worry about it getting completely boned with viruses and spyware."

Stop going to that porn site and you computer should be fine.
Posted by JohnnyAutoFire

Lol, you can't tell me that you've never gotten a virus or something like that?  Mine came from one of those free online virus scans.  I Had to re-image and everything, it was great...  and yeah, that was not a smart choice on my part.

Posted by ValiantGoat

I haven't played a PC game since WoW, and that was 2 years ago. I played it on my laptop, which was one of those massive desktop-in-a-laptops, it ran well and fried a video card(luckily it was still under warranty). I've been wanting a Mac for a while now, but since I don't really need a new computer for another year or so I'll be putting off the purchase of a Mac Book. I'm liking the new look, liked the old look as well. All that my future Mac will be required to do in terms of gaming is run Diablo 3, and I'm sure a Mac Book will be up to the task.

Posted by m3thod

"Lol, you can't tell me that you've never gotten a virus or something like that?  Mine came from one of those free online virus scans.  I Had to re-image and everything, it was great..."

I can honestly tell you that I've never gotten a virus or a piece of spyware on my PC since I've been using Windows from 95 to Vista - have never ran a piece of ant-virus software my entire life (slows down your performance too much.)

If you know what your doing . . . stay away from open peer-to-peer sites, etc..., watch what you download and what URL's you click that knocks out the usual places they come from.

Posted by ManMadeGod

If you want to play games on the go get a real gaming laptop running Vista.

I would never buy one of those overpriced MacBooks but hey, that's just me.

Posted by MerlijnVH

Brad, I own a latest generation MacBook Pro (the version before these new ones). It only has an 8600GT and 2gb of ram, though I can game to my hearts content on it. Spore ran perfect on it, Crysis and Crysis Warhead ran well on it, right now I'm playing Warhammer Online on it. I even do all my game & 3D design on it under bootcamp. The laptops of Apple obviously aren't designed for gaming but the Pro lines do the job really well. I can only imagine the 9600GT would perform even better than my 8600GT.

Posted by raikoh05

the trackpad is the reason I want a macbook for my mobile needs. I might play call of duty or blizzard games, but all the demanding games would be played on desktop.

Posted by Wolverine

I never had any interest in playing PC games so I don't even think about that when I buy a computer. Most of the good games come out on Xbox anyway.

Posted by Kraetos

Boot camp.

Posted by Alphazero

I do PC gaming on a Dell M70 laptop. It weights about as much as a Volkswagen Beetle and has an unplugged-in battery life of something between five and ten minutes. The M70s are getting a little long in tooth, but it runs Company of Heroes and Orange Box A-OK, so that's all I need.

At least, that's all I need until StarCraft 2 and Diablo 3 come out.

Online
Posted by noble_art

Jesus_Juice is right Macs are gay as hell.  Why would you spend the most amount of money to get the least performance and the ugliest most homosexual looking computer money can buy.  Don't you guys know Linux is free and way better than the ugly looking clunky Mac OS.  My girlfriend has a Mac book that no longer gets used because the DVD drive stopped working 2 weeks after the warranty ran out, that computer was babied and never left the house, I have never had a PC laptop with such a problem and don't even get me started on what a crappy product the ipod is.  I cant even tell you how many people i know with ipods that have crapped out 4 or 5 months after purchasing them.  Bottom line Macs charge a premium price for minimal product.

Posted by Oedipus

I've been a Mac user for about 14 years and I've never, ever once considered my computer a source of gaming. But, with these new Macs, I've installed Windows and I can enjoy the fruits of real time strategy games (that aren't StarCraft or any Command & Conquer game but a year later).

One of the bonuses to the Mac / Windows split is that I use Windows for gaming only and Mac for everything else. Windows never gets bogged down with the inevitable malware ('cause the only chances to get that are if you're dickin' around) and the Mac side isn't subject to it 'cause of the small quantity of malware that exists for Macs.

Posted by Darknaut

Mm, nothing bugs me more than uneducated Anti-Mac Propaganda. That's not a reference to the article however, just a few of the comments floating around. Personally, I love the fact that I have next to zero security issues to worry about with my Mac, that it has great stability, and that it does exactly what I need it to (I do quite a bit of graphic design, and some 3D rendering).  Sure, I "could get a windows laptop with the same specs for a little over $1000," but then I'd get to deal with the slowest OS on the planet, spyware, 10,000 Windows Updates per day, and a total lack of OS stability. If losing out on a bit of PC Gaming in an age where almost everything is multi-platform is what it takes to have that security, I'll take it.

Anyway, I use a MacBook Pro, last generation with the 8600M GT card, and it does alright for PC gaming. I boot camped to check out Crysis and I could run it solidly on Medium-High, so I won't complain, seeing as how I hardly game with it anyway. And noble_art, while I agree that Linux in all its varied distros is a great OS, the nice thing about OS X is you get a lot of the same features without the hassle (I mean, what is OS X besides what Linux could be if professionally developed). Admittedly, it's unfortunate that Apple locks you in almost entirely once you purchase from them (Tech support? Go to Apple. Hardware? Go to Apple. Mainstream software? Go to Apple), but at least I get peace of mind when using my MacBook Pro, knowing everything will work from boot until whenever I decide to power down, be it in six minutes or six days.

Posted by Aurok

I've had a Macbook for almost 2 years and I've been happy enough with WoW and more recently Spore.  Some casual fare like Gametap and Instant Action are starting to reach out to macs, and there's always flash games to waste time with, but I don't feel that I've missed anything.  The very few times I was rich enough to be considered a "hardcore" PC gamer, I was quickly outclassed by technology - or my feeble PC just up and died.

Even though it'd be easy enough, there really isn't anything in the PC space that has tempted me to install Bootcamp.  Every major PC release has come out on 360.  With only 1 shooter (Crysis), a handful of so-so RTS exclusives, and a bunch of MMOs that have failed in comparison (and outright failed) to WoW, what exactly does the PC platform have to offer?  If I do go back to Windows, it will be for the same kind of casual games I'm enjoying now, Battlefield Heroes and the new, free Square MMO are the future of PC, so long as they don't come to Mac...

I've gotten to play fewer games, but I have to admit, I've gotten a better overall experience with the Mac; I just hope the huge demand for the products doesn't start killing the quality.

Posted by Irishjohn

I got a Macbook Pro at the start of the summer and it makes me so very, very happy.  I play games on Windows thanks to Bootcamp, but I gladly do so because it's worth being able to come back to my Mac for WOW and work.

Posted by momentarylogic

I hate the color tones, looks like a generic Viao. That is what would keep me from being interested.

Posted by plagueseason

I just got my Macbook less than a year ago, and they announce this shit. I would've loved to have the aluminum casing and glass/multi-touch track pad. The upgraded graphics probably fills me with the most buyers remorse though. I absolutely hate the X3100 Intel chip, especially because Apple hasn't upgraded the drivers for it since it was released basically. In its current state, I can't even play Diablo 2 on it until Blizzard patches it.

I just recently upgraded the RAM to 4gb and the hard drive to 320gb though, so I don't think I'll upgrade quite yet. Like everyone has said, Macs just really aren't for gaming, and right now my current Macbook handles everything else just fine (except DIABLO 2! FFFFFFFFFFF). Really, laptops in general aren't the best for gaming, and gaming laptops kind of defeat the purpose of having a laptop because the battery lasts 5 minutes.
Posted by smood

Hey Brad, if you are really looking for a portable gaming machine that has power but at the same time is fairly portable and is really good quality I have to recommend Sager Notebooks. Specifically the NP5796, its about 7.5 pounds, it has a 9800M GT or GTX depending on which model you decide on that have 512 MB and 1 GB of VRAM respectively. These systems are built like tanks (I have a 5793 with an 8800M GTX) and I love it. Its a beast in terms of gaming and it makes all other notebooks look sad by comparison. Extremely good build quality, very good price, very reliable. I bought mine from xoticpc.com (very good retailer). Check out www.notebookreview.com for more information on various notebooks.

For gaming in the notebook world. Nothing comes close to Sager.

Posted by Karmann

I bought a 14" Dell Vostro with that same card"9400m", but better everything else "2.5ghz core2duo", and only paid 790 bucks, oh and that was 10 MONTHS AGO!!!
<edit> also worth mentioning that I was able to get it with XP!

Posted by ManMadeGod
Darknaut
on Oct. 16, 2008
Mm, nothing bugs me more than uneducated Anti-Mac Propaganda. That's not a reference to the article however, just a few of the comments floating around. Personally, I love the fact that I have next to zero security issues to worry about with my Mac, that it has great stability, and that it does exactly what I need it to (I do quite a bit of graphic design, and some 3D rendering).  Sure, I "could get a windows laptop with the same specs for a little over $1000," but then I'd get to deal with the slowest OS on the planet, spyware, 10,000 Windows Updates per day, and a total lack of OS stability. If losing out on a bit of PC Gaming in an age where almost everything is multi-platform is what it takes to have that security, I'll take it.

This one had me rolling on the floor.
Uneducated anti-Mac propaganda? And then you turn around and talk about Windows having 10,000 updates per-day, spyware and a lack of OS stability!
That my friend, is 110% pure bullshit and you know it.
Vista has NEVER crashed on me. Most PC users never have their OS crash no matter how they mix and match hardware. I would love to hear the thought process that went behind that comment. I also have yet to get spyware or a virus and if you do Microsoft has free software to get rid of both (Defender and OneCare).

For over $1000 you can get a laptop vastly superior to the MacBook (spec wise) that will run Vista hella fast (ex. the 18' Sony Viao is $1,000 less then the 17' Macbook pro with similar specs plus it comes with a Blue Ray drive). Before you call people out for bashing your little overpriced shiny box, please get your facts straight. I love how Mac-heads over blow Window's problems to feel better about getting ripped off; typical signs of an insecure person.
Posted by Chicken008

I play Spore and CoD2 on my Mac right now, Its mostly for school stuff though like Photoshop, Illustrator, etc..

Posted by sdauz

Laptops r for casual games, for me AoE II, RTW and Metal Slug work fine on my T61, by when i needa play some CoD4 or M2TW i go straight to my 4 years old gaming rig with a 7950 GT, WHICH USED TO BE A GOOD CARD....and frankly i still think is a good card, i might upgrade when the Nvidia 10 series - the 9 series really didnt do much more than the 8 series. My card really, really, really wanted to play crysis well.....as for Macs playing games - i thought everyone who had macs had tooo much of a life to play games lol. THAT WAS JUST A JOKE

Posted by Donkey_Kong

I don't have any idea how you are supposed to play ANYTHING considering the lack of a mouse button. I do my gaming on a PC desktop, which is probably the route you would take if you want PC gaming.

Posted by kitsune_conundrum

I'm a PC

Posted by Octaslash
I don't have any idea how you are supposed to play ANYTHING considering the lack of a mouse button.

The entire trackpad is a button and if you don't like that, just plug in any usb mouse.


Posted by Fbomb

Man Made God. I've had Vista crash on me quite a bit. Let me tell you, before SP1 rolled out, me and the blue screen of death knew each other quite well. It's taken me forever to get Vista somewhat less irritable since, however. SP1 killed a number of my applications that haven't updated their drivers, so I've had to manually disable and track their progress on each vendor's website to see when they'll integrate. SRS Sandbox no longer works for example, which is a piss off. I can't put my laptop into a suspended state without waking it back up to unruly amounts of DPCs (which affect sound and video for anything streaming into a choppy mess). If I shut down my computer, I often have it hang on the logging off screen indefinitely. I only install legitimate software, my university education is half based on computers and networking (other degree is commerce), so it's not like I'm a complete idiot when in comes to PCs, and I regularly defrag the registry, monitor my running background applications, run diagnostic scans, etc. Please don't tell me Vista isn't frustrating. I'm honestly almost sold on Mac at this point, if only for the system reliability. Who knows, by my next PC, I may be ready to finally take that elitest plunge.

Posted by Superchris129

I only use a Mac to photo shop pictures of my enemies onto gay porn.

Posted by keyhunter

FYI Mac's are stupid.

Posted by H00NER

Compact size and portability are all fine, but a small work screen is unbearable. I would always choose the 15" MacBook Pro over the smaller screen MacBook. I have the earlier MacBook Pro with the Nvidia 8600/512K memory graphics card. I regularly play Team Fortress 2 on it with the highest settings and resolution in Bootcamp/WinXP. It works great!

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