Benchmarks: Mac Pros, iMacs gaming performance

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Though Macworld has already posted our reviews of the iMacs and Mac Pros released by Apple last month, the work in the Macworld Lab is not done. We’ve received and tested a number of build-to-order (BTO) systems (as well as the standard-configuration Macs) and ran them through some more rigorous tests. (Though we may provide benchmarks of BTO systems, we don’t mouse-rate those BTO models.) This report will focus on high-resolution game tests run on the new graphics found in the latest Mac systems.

Mac Pros

The standard Mac Pro configurations (a $2,499 Quad-Core 2.66GHz Nehalem model and a $3,299 Eight-Core 2.26GHz Nehalem model) ship with Nvidia GeForce GT120 graphics with 512MB of GDDR3 video memory. Comparing the game results between the new standard Mac Pros and 2008’s standard Mac Pro model ( ) featuring two Quad-Core Harpertown processors running at 2.8GHz and ATI Radeon HD 2600XT graphics with 256MB of GDDR video memory, we don’t see much of a difference when running games at relatively low resolutions and settings. The two eight-core systems, for example, posted virtually identical scores when running both Quake 4 and Call of Duty 4 time demos at 1,024-by-768 resolution. When we cranked up the resolution, used the Ultra High Quality settings, and turned on 2X anti-aliasing in our Quake test, we saw the new GeForce GT 120-powered models displaying nearly twice the number of frames per second as the Radeon HD 2600 XT. In our Call of Duty tests, the two eight-core systems were still neck-and-neck with somewhat higher resolution and 4X anti-aliasing turned on. Using the same settings, but at 1,920-by-1,200 resolution, the Nvidia 120-powered Mac Pro displayed 43 percent more frames per second than the Radeon 2600 XT Mac Pro.

Apple offers a graphics upgrade for the new Mac Pros, in the form of an ATI Radeon HD 4870 with 512MB of GDDR5 memory. Comparing this $200 option in a new Quad-Core 2.66GHz Mac Pro to the stock Nvidia GeForce GT 120, we see a dramatic improvement, even at lower resolution tests. In our 1,024-by-768 tests, the ATI card was able to display 57 percent more frames per second than the Nvidia card in Quake, and 14 percent more frames per second in Call of Duty. As we cranked up the resolution and turned on features, we saw even greater differences between the cards, with the ATI card displaying more than twice as many frames per second in Quake at 1,600-by-1,200 resolution at Ultimate Quality settings with 2X anti-aliasing turned on. Our 1,344-by-880 resolution, 4X anti-aliasing Call of Duty tests showed the ATI with a 78 percent faster frame rate than the GeForce GT 120. When we raised the resolution to 1,920-by-1,200, the ATI card was nearly three times as fast as the Nvidia.

Mac Pro and iMac gaming benchmarks

Quake 4 Quake 4 Call of
Duty 4
Call of
Duty 4
Call of
Duty 4
Avg. Frame
1024x768 1600x1200 1024x768 1344x880 1920x1200 avg. of all tests
Mac Pro 2.66GHz Quad-Core (Nehalem)
with ATI Radeon HD 4870*
127.4 88.9 77.4 70.6 68.5 87
Mac Pro 2.66GHz Quad-Core (Nehalem)
with Nvidia GeForce 120
81.2 41.6 68.1 39.6 24.3 44
Mac Pro 2.26GHz Eight-Core (Nehalem)
with Nvidia GeForce 120
74.5 41.1 77.7 28.2 24.1 43
Mac Pro 2.8GHz Eight-Core (Harpertown)
with ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT
75.0 21.5 77.8 28.7 16.9 41
Mac Pro 2.66GHz Quad-Core (Woodcrest)
with Nvidia GeForce 7300 GT
54.7 22.1 26.1 10.5 6.1 14
24-inch iMac Core 2 Duo/3.06GHz 85.6 73.2 73.7 58.1 42.2 58
24-inch iMac Core 2 Duo/2.93GHz 81.7 39.5 66.4 36.5 22.3 42
24-inch iMac Core 2 Duo/2.66GHz 39.9 11.9 41.3 12.6 7.9 21
24-inch iMac Core 2 Duo/2.8GHz (April 2008) 70.7 19.0 78.1 26.7 15.7 40
Mac mini 2GHz: 320GB (2GB RAM) 39.1 11.4 39.6 14.4 8.1 21
>Better >Better >Better >Better >Better >Better

Best results in red. Reference systems in italics. * denotes build-to-order configuration.

We used Quake 4's timedemo run at 1024x768 at high quality settings and antialialsing off, we then ran it again at 1600x1200 at Ultimate quality settings with 2X antialialsing enabled. For Call of Duty 4, we ran a self recorded time demo at 1024x768 and antialiasing and shadows turned off, we then ran it again at both 1344x880 and 1920x1200 with Shadows on and 4X antilaliasing enabled.—MACWORLD LAB TESTING BY JAMES GALBRAITH, CHRIS HOLT AND HELEN WILLIAMSON


Turning to the new iMacs, we see a pretty large spread of graphics performance, with the 3.06GHz 24-inch iMac able to display up to six times as many frames per second as the 2.66GHz 24-inch iMac. The new iMacs ship with one of three different stock graphics cards, with a BTO graphics card also available. Unfortunately, we were unable to test the iMac with the BTO card.

The two least expensive iMacs of the four-model family offer integrated graphics in the form of Nvidia GeForce 9400M that shares up to 256MB of DDR3 main memory. This is the same graphics system featured in the Mac mini and across the entire MacBook line. And while it’s a major step up from the Intel GMA 950 integrated graphics used in MacBooks and minis before, the discreet graphics in the two higher-end iMacs outperformed the integrated graphics in every test. In fact, the Nvidia GeForce GT 130 graphics used in the high-end, 3.06GHz 24-inch iMac was faster than the standard Mac Pro models which use the GeForce GT120 graphics, the same as the 24-inch 2.93GHz iMac. As you might expect, the systems using the GT 120 graphics performed similarly, though with 512MB of GDDR3 memory, the Mac Pros were a little faster than the 2.93GHz iMac, which has just 256MB of GDDR3 memory. Last year’s 24-inch 2.8GHz iMac used an ATI Radeon HD 2600 Pro graphics with 256MB of GDDR3 memory that performed well at lower resolutions, but the frame rates fell quickly as the resolution got higher.

Check back soon for more Macworld Lab results from several BTO Macs being tested now.

[James Galbraith is Macworld’s lab director.]

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