The Best Macs for Gaming

Posted by Mac QA Team on July 11, 2013 in Editorial -- Share:

I am a Mac hardware addict. I absolutely love Macs of all kinds, young and old, and I always want more of them (I keep a minimum of four on my desk). I’m here on the blog today to break down all the models and talk about the best macs for casual gaming, in case you are in the market for a new Mac or just want to add another to your collection. The focus is on price and value, so that you can get a Mac to love in the years ahead.

Let’s start with an early favorite, the MacBook Pro: The MacBook Pro is a true powerhouse and a sure bet. It can support you for productivity or professional work and handle multiple tasks and processes. I really recommend these for students and professionals that want some mobility with their Mac, although they can be really heavy to take to school everyday (and heavier if you get a plastic case for protection). These also will last through OS upgrades and keep you happy for several years, something that is very important with Apple’s restless product cycles.

I highly recommend getting a 15-inch over the 13-inch when you have the budget. The 15 inch ones have two graphics cards, a dedicated (usually NVIDIA) and an integrated (usually Intel HD). The dedicated graphics card (also referred to as a discrete card) will be much better for gaming because it supports high performance graphics. You can even select to only use the dedicated card in your System Preferences, under Energy Saver. This generally fixes most compatibility issues for our games with the MacBook Pro.

I am not really a fan of the 13 inch MacBook Pro for gaming because it only has an integrated graphics card, which means the graphics card shares video memory with everything. For the same price, you might as well get the 13-inch Air, which will have a bigger display resolution (1440 x 900 on the Air, 1280 x 800 for the MacBook Pro).

With any MacBook Pro, try hooking it up to an external monitor at your workstation. The monitor doesn’t have to be fancy and you can get the cords for fewer than 5 bucks. This really opens you up to multiple apps and you can enjoy the power of your Mac. I like to watch Netflix on one screen while I game on another (specifically, episodes of Cheers, they just go with everything). Some apps might not all support full screen but it’s rumored that Apple is trying to remedy this in OS X 10.9.

Retina Display MacBook Pro (15 and 13 inch): These are so beautiful, so fast, and so expensive. They are also slimmer and lighter so they feel a lot more portable and student-friendly. If you have the funds to spare then by all means splurge, but these Macs really aren’t necessary for a better gaming experience. A lot of Game Developers aren’t able to support any Retina-specific game issues because they are too new and don’t have a high adoption rate. If you just want a steady Mac for gaming, then save your pennies and get the regular MacBook Pro in 15 inch. The Retina 13 inch also suffers from an integrated graphics card, so it’s a miss for me.

MacBook Air: I began to love these once the mid 2012 models brought in the Intel HD 4000 card (the previous models used a 3000 card that is less compatible with games). The 4000 will still have some compatibility issues but we’ve been working with our developers to increase their awareness of Airs and the integrated card. If you play the trial of the game, you should see very quickly if there are issues, usually a display error. Also, the newest models have an Intel HD 5000 card which is reported to be better, and the models have up to 12 hours battery life! Now that deserves another exclamation point!

If you already have an iMac or MacBook Pro in your house, then the Air is perfect for you as a secondary Mac. These are less than three pounds, so they are extremely light and portable, and they just beckon you to take them anywhere. You will truly find yourself wanting to game in a new place, like a comfy chair or couch. If you are a student who also needs the computer for papers and web browsing, and you want to take it with you to lectures every day, then this is really the Mac for you. Although I may have mentioned a 12 hour battery life, it’s really important we discuss it again. This is a computer you can take on a flight across an ocean, and you’ll still be able to play the last levels of  Kingdom Chronicles with no problem.

iMac: The iMac is so great for games and as a household computer. These also will have a dedicated graphics card and be able to support you through several OS updates, so they are built for value. We have two of them in the lab with 10.5 (called Bert and Ernie) that are 7 years old and still kicking. Our friends in CS have the same model and they’ve even upgraded it to 10.8! My other favorite iMacs in the lab are the 10.6 iMacs, known as Fred and George. I expect them to last for 2-3 more years at least, especially because we reinstall the OS periodically.

Although it may look kind of big, the iMac really fits into any workspace and it’s much smaller than you’d think. The new models even come with the Apple Magic Mouse and the wireless keyboard, so they fit into any corner. I really really recommend the  27-inch models because they really help with hidden object scenes and the big screen makes me just want to cozy up to my game and enjoy the sounds, the artwork, the full experience. The 21.5-inch iMacs are also very nice and stable, but they miss the grandeur of the 27-inch.

I actually have a new iMac (the iMac 13) on my desk and it’s the thin and flat one without an internal optical drive. Yes, it’s beautiful and the team is envious, but honestly the 12 models from 2011 are just as great, and if you can get one used then I recommend purchasing one of those to save money. There aren’t a lot of improvements in the 13 models and it kind of just looks like a mounted iPad.

For the best value, get the 27 inch iMac. You’ll use it for movie nights and some of your favorite gaming experiences.

Mac Minis: These are not a good fit for gaming, as they tend to be made up of the cheapest and least sophisticated parts from Apple’s catalogue. I would recommend these if you have kids and want to set up a little station for them to explore low-fi games or write book reports. We still keep several of these in the lab for compatibility checks, but they tend to have display issues or soft lock if multiple apps are open at once. I know they are half the price of an Air but you are much better off buying a used MacBook Pro or iMac off Craigslist (go for something 2010 and higher). They also haven’t refreshed them for a little bit, so I’d hold off on purchasing this model with the 4 Gig Ram and Intel HD 4000 card. Let’s wait a little to see where Apple takes this Mac, because I’m sure they will come up with something more interesting than what’s currently for sale.

Mac Pro: I know the least about these because not many customers have adopted them at home. They will have high performance graphics and should support Casual Games (as well as power a small colony). The new models actually look like a diaper genie, which makes me wonder if all the Engineers at Apple are new parents. They also kind of look like five roombas stacked on top of one another, so maybe Apple also watches Parks and Rec.

The overall winner: The 15-inch MacBook Pro! It’s portable, fast, sleek, and extremely compatible with Casual Games. Try buying a brightly colored shell or hard case to personalize and protect this Mac, because it can last for years.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this article, where we talk about the Macs we just love, regardless of price or battery life. In the meantime, tell us about your favorite Macs for gaming in the comments below!

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The Mac QA team are Leia, Alex, Mike and Jason. In their free time they enjoy tator tots, television, Danish walks, OS updates and, of course, video games of all kinds. Everyone on the team has a true passion for all things entertainment and technology related. They bring that same excitement and critical eye to the job of making sure Mac customers have the best gaming experience anywhere.