It’s something of a running joke among Windows users that Macs are rubbish for gaming. Traditionally the Mac hasn’t been considered a great choice for gaming. There are Macs that can play games well, but they are generally much more expensive than the equivalent PC. Holding Macs back has always been the lack of discrete graphics in all but the most expensive models.
Also the fact that upgrading a Mac to meet the requirements of a graphically-demanding modern game is pretty much a no-no, makes Macs the least future proof option for gamers (who often like to be able to tinkle with their computers to build the ideal machine for their purpose).
But with the advent of Apple’s first M1 Macs in 2020, the subsequent M1 Pro, M1 Max and M1 Ultra, plus the promise that even better Macs based on Apple’s ARM-based technology are coming, along with the new capability of iOS apps to run natively on M1 Macs (such as Among Us), could make Macs a much better choice for gaming enthusiasts.
While the first crop of M1 Macs don’t feature discrete graphics, their graphics capabilities are far beyond the integrated IntWhile the first crop of M1 Macs didn’t feature discrete graphics in the traditional sense, their graphics capabilities are far beyond the integrated Intel graphics of old. Not only that, but in tests the M1’s GPU was seen to beat graphics cards such as the GeForce 1050 Ti and Radeon RX 560 – it’s not even that far behind the newer GeForce 1650 Max-Q and Radeon 5500M. Now, with the arrival of the M1 Pro, Max and Ultra, Apple’s own graphics options have caught up with discrete GPUs. There’s no doubt that the M1 has ushered in a new age where even the Apple graphics in low-end machines are decent. (Read more about how the M1 chip could make Macs great for gaming.)
What this means is it is no longer the case that Apple’s cheaper Macs – such as the Mac mini, MacBook Air and the entry-lever 13in MacBook Pro – are no good for games. On the contrary, they might *eventually be some of the best options around. With that in mind, the question of which Mac is best for gaming is more complicated than ever. For more general advice about which Mac to buy try our
Mac buying guide.
*We say eventually because the problem, as you will see if you read on, is there isn’t the wealth of games available for the Mac – let alone the M1 Chip – right now.
The state of gaming on the Mac
The problem with Mac gaming is that there aren’t a lot of games that are actually available for Macs, let alone M1 Macs. It doesn’t matter how good a Mac might be as a gaming machine if it won’t run the games you want to play.
In a previous version of this article, pre-M1, we talked about how the Mac gaming scene had picked up since Macs started to use the same Intel processors as Windows PCs (back in 2007). The strong sales of Macs in recent years also helped encourage developers to make more A-List games available on the Mac than ever before. Just check out our roundup of the
best Mac games for some of the highlights.
However, with the arrival of the M1 chip this has changed. With the majority of AAA games starting life on Windows, games developers, or publisher such as Feral or Aspyr, now need to write their games for the new ARM-based chip as well as Intel. Porting Windows games to the Mac when they were powered by Intel wasn’t a such a struggle, because it was the same instruction set, but now the M1 Macs is not based on Intel the instruction set is further removed from PCs than ever, and the job that much more complex.
But it’s not only the M1 to blame here – when it arrived in 2019 macOS Catalina stopped support for 32-bit code – which meant a lot of games that used 32-bit code were no longer Mac compatible. At the same time Apple also introduced Metal for 3D graphics. So even before the arrival of the M1 a lot of games developers had already decided against making new Mac versions of their games.
The good news is that not all developers need to rewrite their code for the M1. Apple includes Rosetta 2, which translates the instructions from Intel to ARM so that the software can run on the M1. Thanks to Rosetta a number of games are working on the M1 – although they don’t all work perfectly.
Some games developers have made native versions of their games for the M1 Mac. There are a few Mac games that already run natively on the M1 chip. For example, Blizzard’s World of Warcraft has been M1 ready since the day the M1 Mac launched. And Gameloft’s Asphalt 8 and Asphalt 9 are both running natively on the M1.
Baldur’s Gate, Disco Elysium, Myst, Asphalt 8, Doom, EVE Online, Minecraft, Star Treck Legends, and others are also M1 ready. Check this list for more information.
Fortnite is another popular game that runs on M1 Macs, although via Rosetta. However, thanks to Epic’s fall out with Apple the developer is no longer issuing updates to the game.
The following Aspyr games run via Rosetta: Borderlands 3, Call of Duty, Civilization VI, and Planet Coaster. Aspyr was bThe following Aspyr games run via Rosetta: Borderlands 3, Call of Duty, Civilization VI, and Planet Coaster. Aspyr was bought in February 2021 by Embrace Group for $100 million, who says it will accelerate Aspyr’s growth and license even more games.
A number of Feral releases are also now playable via Rosetta on the M1 Mac. These include A Total War Saga: Troy, Bioshock 2, Deus Ex: Manking Divided, Dirt and Dirt Rally, and Shadow of the Tomb Raider, which run reasonably well.
Steam is another source of gaming on the Mac. The Steam platform is now compatible with Apple’s M1 chip, but not every game in the Steam library will run on M1 Macs. Read: How to use Steam on Mac. Read: How to use Steam on a Mac.
In the pre-M1 days the Mac also has a cunning trick up its precision-engineered sleeve in the form of Boot Camp. Installing
Windows via Boot Camp means it is possible to play Windows games on an Intel-based Mac. Alternatively,
Parallels or VMware might have been considered options for PC gaming on a Mac.
Unfortunately, if you have an M1 Mac, Boot Camp is no longer offered and Parallels and VMware aren’t able to run the Intel version of Windows on the M1 Mac (Parallels can now run the ARM version of Windows, but that’s still in development and the games you’d be looking to run won’t run on that anyway).
If you really want to run un-ported Windows games on an M1 Mac Crossover Mac from Codeweavers is the best option available right now. It can translate x86-64 code for Windows to ARM64 code for macOS. Read:
CrossOver 20 brings Windows apps to M1 Macs.
If that doesn’t appeal then you will have to wait for Feral Interactive, Aspyr and others to port PC game to M-series Macs.
All this may mean that fewer PC games come over to the Mac, but perhaps this doesn’t matter. ARM-based Macs will natively be able to run any iOS or iPad app, which should bring a number of games over to the Mac from the iPhone and iPad, but even more interesting: some games machines, such as the Nintendo Switch, run on ARM processors. In fact, it is
theoretically possible to run Switch games on the M1 Mac.
That’s the state of Mac gaming right now. If you want to play games on the Mac you can, but there are limits depending on whether you have an Intel processor or an M1 Mac. But in the long term there is the promise of a wider catalogue of games coming to the M1 Mac.
So, with all this interactive entertainment available to the prospective buyer, which Mac should you choose.
Gaming on the Mac: What you need
Playing the latest games places heavy demands on a computer, both in terms of graphics and processor performance. To ensure you have the best platform for your digital adventures you’ll obviously need a machine that has a fast processor (CPU), but it also helps to have a powerful graphics processor and a reasonably high-capacity solid-state drive too as games can take up a lot of gigabytes.
We also recommend 16GB RAM, 8GB, standard on many Macs, would be the absolute minimum. Our advice would be to get the most RAM you can afford at the point of sale, as it’s impossible to update later. You can get 32GB unified memory (Apple’s name for RAM) with the M1 Pro (in the MacBook Pro), 64GB with the M1 Max (in the MacBook Pro or Mac Studio), and a massive 128GB with the M1 Ultra (Mac Studio only).
A decent display is also going to be a bonus, but since nearly every Mac (bar the entry level 21.5in iMac and the Mac mini) has a
high-resolution Retina display, you can be sure that games will look great on your Mac. However, a Retina display needs a lot of power to drive all those pixels so you will need a GPU that can provide really good 3D performance.
A fast storage system will also help to improve gaming performance so you would want to avoid a hard drive. Luckily Apple no longer sells any Macs with hard drives or the Fusion drive that combined a hard drive and flash storage (but look out for that if you are buying a refurbished Mac or a second hand Mac).
Another thing to look out for is how well the computer will handle the processor intensive games. For example, we wouldn’t recommend the MacBook Air because, although the M1 MacBook Air might look like it has similar specs to the MacBook Pro, it lacks fans so it may slow down to avoid overheating.
We’d also recommend a
comfy gaming chair, some snacks that can be eaten one-handed, and the occasional break to save your spine from developing an unusual shape.
We’ll give graphics it’s own section because it’s the biggest factor in deciding which Mac is best for your gaming needs.
Many casual games use simple two-dimensional graphics that don’t require too much graphical power; most Macs can handle that without any problems. But the detailed 3D graphics used in high-speed action games can put a lot of strain on your machine. (Note that when we mention 3D games, we mean more graphically intensive game, such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.)
This is where things can get a bit complicated. Obviously, you need a fast CPU to play 3D games, Apple’s M1 Chip should be sufficient, but in the Intel Mac world you’d need an Intel Core i5 or Core i7 running at 2.0GHz or more. But even a fast CPU will still struggle with modern 3D games, so you will need a decent graphics card, sometimes referred to as the GPU or graphics processing unit.
Outside Apple’s offering there are two main types of GPU available. Some of Intel’s processors include an integrated GPU, which is built on to the main CPU itself – a bit like an extension built on to the back of your house. An integrated GPU will share your Mac’s main memory (RAM) with the main CPU, which is a bit of a compromise – especially if you’ve only got 8GB of memory to start off with – so it’s not ideal for really demanding 3D games.
A better option is to use a discrete graphics card – an entirely separate graphics processor that is specifically designed for handling 3D graphics. A discrete GPU will also have its own high-speed memory (sometimes called VRAM or Video RAM) to boost graphics performance. This is the best option, as it frees up your Mac’s main CPU and RAM, and lets the GPU handle all the really intensive 3D graphics work by itself.
A third option comes from Apple. The M1 Chips see a 8-core GPU paired with an 8-core CPU, both on the same chip. But this doesn’t mean they are integrated in the same way as the integrated graphics on the Intel options. For proof of this we refer, as we did above, to the fact the M1’s GPU actually beats graphics cards such as the GeForce 1050 Ti and Radeon RX 560, and is comparable to the newer GeForce 1650 Max-Q and Radeon 5500M. The graphics in the M1 Mac don’t quite beat the Radeon RX 5700 XT, which is an option for the 27in iMac, but they do a pretty good job. We can only assume that the graphics options coming with the next generation Apple Silicon Macs will be impressive.
But you can get even better GPU options from Apple. The M1 Pro offers a 16-core GPU, the M1 Max a 32-core GPU and the M1 Ultra a 64-core GPU. The graphics prowess of any of these machines will be suitable for playing games on a Mac.
One option for non-M1 Macs is to plug in an eGPU. (The
M1 Macs won’t work with an eGPU). Apple sells a Blackmagic eGPU including the Radeon Pro 580 (£599/$699, buy it
here). Apple used to sell a Blackmagic eGPU Pro including the Radeon RX Vega 56 (£1,199/$1199) but that has been discontinued. Plug in an eGPU to add a discrete GPU to your Mac and benefit from the improved graphics capabilities. Read:
How to use eGPU with Mac. Also read our round up of the
best eGPUs for Mac.
Macs for gamers to avoid
Graphics performance will obviously vary depending on the type of games you like to play. The general rule of thumb is that if you intend to play fast 3D action games than any Mac fitted with Intel Graphics will probably be a disappointment.
They just don’t have the power to run these graphically demanding titles, and frame-rates will quickly drop to almost unplayable levels when there are lots of characters battling it out on the screen. That reliance on integrated graphics means that there are several Mac models that gamers will probably want to avoid:
- Mac mini (avoid Intel models)
- MacBook (discontinued in 2019)
- MacBook Air (avoid Intel models)
- 21.5in iMac (avoid models with integrated graphics)
- 13in MacBook Pro (avoid Intel models with integrated graphics)
Of course, if your primary form of entertainment is less demanding fare such as Football Manager, Limbo, or many of the indie games you’ll find on the Mac App Store, then pretty much any Mac will fulfil your needs – as would an iPad.
Macs for gamers to consider
We’ve ruled out a fair selection of Macs, so now let’s look at some Macs that you can consider if you want to play the latest 3D games.
- 14in MacBook Pro with M1 Pro 8-core GPU, 14-core CPU, 2021, from: £1,899/$1,999
- 14in MacBook Pro with M1 Pro 10-core GPU, 16-core CPU, 2021, from: £2,399/$2,499
- 16in MacBook Pro with M1 Pro 10-core GPU, 16-core CPU, 2021, from: £2,399/$2,499
- Mac Studio with M1 Max 10-core GPU, 24-core CPU, 2022, from: £1,999/$1,999
You will find the best prices for these Macs below.
You could opt for the M1 Max MacBook Pro or Mac Studio, but it has a high price and we think you would find the M1 Pro sufficient.
Intel models, if found second-hand:
- 16in MacBook Pro 2.6GHz, AMD Radeon Pro 5300M, 2020, from: £2,399/$2,399
- 21.5in iMac 3.6GHz quad-core, Radeon Pro 555X, 2019, or better, from: £1,299/$1,299
- 27in iMac 3.1GHz 6-core, Radeon Pro 5300, 2020, or better, from: £1,799/$1,799
Which Mac is best for gaming?
The lack of games that were ready for the M1 Mac, either to run natively, or to run reasonably well via Rosetta, was a problem for some time, but now the situation is a lot better so it is easier to recommend M1-series Macs for gaming.
We like the Mac Studio, if you opt for the M1 Max model (the Ultra is over kill) then you can get a decent deal compared to the M1 Pro MacBook Pro. As long as you don’t mind buying a display to go with it.
Best prices for Mac Studio, RRP $1,999/£1,999
If you prefer your Mac to be portable then the 14in MacBook Pro with M1 Pro is a great option.
Best prices for 14in MacBook Pro with M1 Pro, RRP $1,999/£1,899
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If you are on a budget though, the 13in MacBook Pro with M1 is still worth considering, as is the M1 iMac, which has the gorgeous 4.5x Retina display going for it.
Best prices for 13in MacBook Pro with M1, RRP $1,299/£1,299
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Whichever Mac you choose it’s inevitable that you will be spending more than £1,000/$1,000, although you could opt for a Mac mini, which could give you similar specs to the 13in MacBook Pro for a lot less money.
Best prices for Mac mini with M1, RRP $699/£699
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Those Macs might have lower prices, but if you really want a good gaming machine you are looking at much higher starting price – and that is the reason why Macs have a reputation for not being good for games. For the price of a Mac mini, you could get a serious Windows-based gaming PC that is better suited to gaming than almost any Mac, and with have change left over for a couple of games too. It’s going to take a real change in attitude and GPU availability to get Apple – and developers – to take gaming more seriously on the Mac.