Is Apple's new MacBook Pro a gaming machine?
Gamers and analysts indicate that Apple has made great strides, but that it still hasn't reached the upper echelons of gaming computers.
While Macs have long been the preferred computer of the creative class, gamers have generally looked at the machines and said, essentially, thanks but no thanks.
That tech truism could be on the verge of disappearing forever in the wake of Apple's announcement Tuesday that the newest high-end MacBook Pro model will have the graphics processing firepower--thanks to the inclusion of the Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT chip--to finally give hard-core video game players what they want.
"It's more of a gaming machine than the old MacBook Pro," said Mike Schramm, a blogger who writes for both the video game site Joystiq and The Unofficial Apple Weblog. "The weak point in Apple's hardware has always been the integrated graphics chip. The computers have always been blazing fast, but the 3D graphics have been chugging away on an old Intel chip. And the new Nvidia chips will fix that problem."
Schramm himself said that he plans to eventually buy one of the new MacBook Pros to indulge his passion for World of Warcraft, and he said he expects that many games that have traditionally run only on PCs will now be Mac friendly.
In its announcement Tuesday, Apple said that the new MacBook Pros will come with both the Nvidia GeForce 9400M integrated graphics processor and the more powerful GeForce 9600M GT. The new machines are designed, Apple said, to offer "up to five times" the 3D graphics power of the previous generation of MacBook Pros.
The upshot, then, seems to be that for the first time, Macs will be able to hold their own as gaming machines, even if they are not quite at the elite level.
"I think that outside of the guys like Alienware...you'll get a pretty good gaming experience out of this," said Patrick Wang, a senior research analyst at Wedbush Morgan. "For guys who want to have gaming, but don't want to spend all that much, those guys will be more than happy with the MacBook Pro."
Wang added that the 9600M GT is not Nvidia's highest-end processor and that going much beyond that level would likely have proved to be too expensive for Apple.
But he said that with most games, MacBook Pro users would not notice the difference. In some cases, as with the most graphics-intensive games, Wang predicted that the frame rates of the new Macs would be slightly lower than on the best gaming machines.
"I don't think it's going to be enough for the highest-end gamer," Wang said. "For bleeding edge graphics, those guys will probably stick with Falcon Northwest or Alienware" computers.
But because the new MacBook Pros will feature DirectX 10.1, an important gaming software standard, the computers should be able to run most PC games and should allow developers to reach out to the Mac market, said Wang.
For Joe Stanziano, a longtime Mac user and a technology support specialist from Harleysville, Pa., the promise of new MacBook Pros with advanced video cards is nothing short of exciting.
"I've always been a Mac fan," said Stanziano. "I currently have one of the older-generation MacBook Pros...(and) coming out with those new video cards and the new display, I think it'll be great for gaming."
Stanziano added that he thinks the MacBook Pros have suffered as a result of the "crappy" integrated video cards they've had, but with the addition of the two new Nvidia cards, the computers should now be on par with many high-end PC gaming machines.
For Schramm, the coming week should reveal just how suitable the new Macs are for gamers.
That's because Far Cry 2, the new first-person shooter from Ubisoft, comes out this week.
"If that can run in Boot Camp on these (new) machines," Schramm said, "anything can."
Schramm also pointed out that, in his opinion, Apple has been indicating for a while that it wants to be seen as a maker of gamer-friendly computers.
"I think Apple is dipping their toe in finally," Schramm said. "They're not going to own the market, but they're realizing that people who buy computers buy games. They're still not aiming at the folks who play Far Cry 2, but they are aiming at the folks who play World of Warcraft and Guitar Hero.