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Are the new MacBooks finally good for gaming?

Unless you need a laptop for creative or computational workloads, it’s a good idea to pass on the current-gen Apple Silicon MacBooks.

both sizes of 2021 mac macbook pro models
Image: KnowTechie

Although the latest M1 Max MacBooks claim to have the graphical capabilities of a mobile RTX 3080, they are not replacing gaming laptops anytime soon.

The state of gaming on Apple Silicon MacBooks is not mature enough to buy one specifically for gaming.

How can MacBooks become good for gaming?

MacBooks have to undergo a considerable change in their software and hardware to make them a suitable and cost-effective alternative to gaming laptops.

These changes are subject to Apple embracing esports gaming as an integral part of MacBooks, something we are hoping to see after the launch of Apple Arcade and the release of macOS games like Dota 2, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and more.

Gaming on MacBooks in the past

macbook pro notch on 2021 model
Image: KnowTechie

In the past, gaming on Intel MacBooks either natively or through Boot Camp required an external GPU or eGPU connected via the Thunderbolt 3 port.

READ MORE: Macs are spanking the PC market right now

Using an external display, a graphics card like the RTX 2080Ti could reach comfortable framerates in games like Rocket League on Boot Camp.

However, the cost of the entire system and the lack of portability made it a difficult buy when compared to a dedicated gaming laptop or a PC built with the same graphics card.

Powerful hardware, but does it game well?

Apple Silicon was set to revolutionize the Mac. With the M1 Max and Pro launch, expectations quickly grew that MacBooks would soon be capable of gaming.

When comparing these MacBooks to gaming laptops geared towards esports, it’s easy to see how Apple designed and optimized them for professional tasks like content creation, machine learning, and game development.

This doesn’t mean that the chips are incapable of running games. It’s just that the arm64 architecture that these chips support is different from x86_64 supported by esports titles like Valorant

Why don’t developers release games that run natively on Mac?

Existing macOS games like CS: GO and Fortnite utilize the Rosetta 2 emulator to run on M1 Macs. This is a temporary fix, and it’s up to developers to release native binaries that can unlock the full potential of Apple Silicon in esports games.

Apple Silicon Macs, unfortunately, lack support for Windows through Boot Camp. Recent reports state that this is due to Microsoft’s secret exclusivity deal with Qualcomm for Windows on ARM.

If the deal is about to end soon, it’s all up to Apple to work closely with Microsoft to develop a solution. A third-party option like Parallels is currently the only choice for playing DirectX-supported games like Overwatch on the latest MacBooks.

Considering how complex the implementation is, games may refuse to launch or, at best, be playable. Apple’s Metal API is the means through which developers can make existing games effectively utilize the full capabilities of Apple Silicon.

However, few companies are incentivized to develop their games on the Mac platform due to the historically low number of gamers who use Macs. Only a select few like World of Warcraft claim native support. 

Apple Arcade: Apple’s attempt at gaming is still in its infancy

how to cancel apple arcade
Image: KnowTechie

Apple’s idea of gaming on Macs is for developers to publish their games on the App Store and develop games for Apple Arcade, a monthly service offering games without ads or in-app purchases.

Cross-platform games like The Last Campfire, Pathless, and Oceanhorn 2 are already available through Apple Arcade. 

If big developers are to follow suit and bring their popular titles to Mac, Apple will need to back down on the 30% commission rate from purchases on the App Store and restrictions on in-app purchases in Apple Arcade

Cloud Streaming: Is it any good for esports games?

Cloud streaming services like Nvidia’s GeForce Now and Google Stadia provide a means to play games on low-powered and unsupported devices.

The requirements of a 35Mbps connection with sub-40ms latency are attainable for most gamers, making it a suitable option for casual games.

However, the added latency and stricter network requirements for high framerate gaming on the cloud are worse for competitive games. It is the reason why titles like Valorant and Overwatch are unavailable on popular platforms like GeForce Now.

What gaming performance do you get for the money?

macbook air m1 chip
Image: KnowTechie

MacBooks with the M1 chip are priced competitively with other premium ultrabooks in the market.

However, the lack of games optimized for MacBooks incurs a performance penalty that makes them costly for a dedicated gaming laptop. 

Spending or two grand for the latest M1-powered MacBooks doesn’t make sense when you could choose a gaming laptop that can run any esports gaming title right out of the box.

You get dedicated GPUs from Nvidia and AMD on these laptops that guarantee good performance through drivers and APIs developed exclusively for games.

The way forward: How can Apple become relevant within the gaming/esports world?

While Apple’s innovation in MacBook hardware has made them one of the best options for professional workloads, they are not targeted towards gaming.

Unless you need a laptop for creative or computational workloads, it’s a good idea to pass on the current-gen Apple Silicon MacBooks.

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