You can’t game on a Mac. The infernal stick which Mac users have been beaten over the head with by Windows users for decades. But does the M3 generation signal the end of this era?
With mindblowing power and efficiency, which even the most ardent Windows fanboy can’t grumble at, there has been no better time for Apple to make a gaming Mac. Especially now that the M3 Ultra chip is on the horizon.
So what’s stopping them? Will we see a gaming Mac soon?
MacBook Hardware Is Getting There
For years, Mac users have been left out of the gaming world. The hardware just wasn’t up to the job of dealing with heavy graphics processing. And it remained that way right up until 2019 when Apple Silicon was born.
The M1 chips were such an improvement over previous Intel models that it was hard to believe. In all areas, MacBooks and iMacs were immeasurably better than before. It felt like the true power of the Mac had finally been realised.
And now we’re here, after the M3 chip release in October 2023, looking not only at 3nm chipsets but also frankly insane numbers of CPU and GPU cores. The M1 Max MacBook Pro had a maximum of 32 GPU cores. The M3 Max MacBook Pro has 40 GPU cores. Yes, 40.
For those uninitiated in the specs of MacBooks, a GPU core handles everything related to graphics processing. That might involve video editing, 3D design or video game graphics rendering. More cores = more space for tasks to be performed simultaneously = more efficient.
And it doesn’t stop there.
The M3 Ultra
Apple is expected to launch the M3 Ultra this year. Probably as part of the annual WWDC event in June. The Ultra range of chips are basically two Max chips stuck together. That means double the power and efficiency, at least in theory.
The M3 Ultra is expected to have 32 CPU cores and a truly mega 80 GPU cores. If this turns out to be true, then I think we can definitively say that hardware no longer stands in the way of a gaming Mac.
Of course, there is more to gaming devices than GPU core numbers. For a start, you ideally want a dedicated graphics card if you are gaming. All Macs come with integrated graphics, meaning that the GPU and CPU cores share memory and cannot be replaced/upgraded.
With dedicated graphics processing, you can assign RAM specifically to the graphics card and other things like cooling. This all helps a gaming laptop or PC run more efficiently.
In a Mac, everything works off of the same resources in a way. In an actual gaming device, you can customise parts and tinker with which components get access to more memory and storage.
Despite all this, the M3 Ultra will be able to run AAA games. We know this because the M3 Max can. Various benchmarks like this one at PC Mag have shown that graphically intense games run well on the M2 Pro, M2 Max, M3 Pro and M3 Max. They all sit happily above 60 FPS on the highest settings.
So what is stopping a gaming Mac revolution?
A Gaming Mac Has Other Problems
The answer to that question is two-fold; value for money and software compatibility. Let’s tackle the money bit first.
A base-level 16-inch M3 Max MacBook Pro costs $3,999 (£4,099). For this, you get the 40-core GPU, 48GB unified memory and 1TB SSD. A fully specced-up version costs $7,199 (£7,299) for 128GB unified memory and an 8TB SSD.
That’s a lot of money for any form of laptop.
For comparison, the Lenovo Legion Pro 7i Gen 8, widely considered to be one of the best gaming laptops on the market, currently sells in the UK for £3,499. For that, you get the latest 13th-generation Intel i9 processor and 32 GB RAM, which is more than you need.
But more importantly, you get an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 4090 graphics card. The best graphics hardware you can buy. So if you want a gaming device, it’s a no-brainer. Macs can’t hold up in terms of value.
Apple could fix this by making a dedicated gaming laptop to bring the cost down. But the other problem, software compatibility, is more tricky.
The majority of AAA games, those which most want to play, are not compatible with macOS, they’re optimised for Windows. That means if you buy a MacBook, you’ll only have access to a very limited games library. And that’s just not what PC gaming is about.
This is changing, Bladur’s Gate 3 for example, one of the most popular games of 2023, runs well on Silicon MacBooks. But it’s not something Apple can control. Only when they get serious about producing a gaming Mac will major studios begin optimising for macOS.
Something I said just now runs through this whole topic; choice.
PC gaming is all about choice. The choice over what graphics card to use, where to dedicate memory and to play a wide range of games. Macs don’t offer that yet and won’t until Apple goes all-in.
An M3 Ultra chip doesn’t change any of this. Sure, it’s an impressive bit of tech, but only a major philosophical shift at Apple will deliver us a gaming Mac.
Do you think Apple should make a gaming device? Let me know below!