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What Mac should I buy if I want to play games on it for the next 3 years?
September 30, 2008 4:50 AM   Subscribe

It's time to get a new computer. I'd like some kind of Mac. What's the smart thing to buy?

I'm switching from a PC that's just got to the point where it can't meet run new games. My first choice would be to get an iMac, but really I want something that will be able to run (most) new games for the next three years or so. I'm not a total framerate obsessive - if it can meet minimum spec I'm happy enough.

So what I'm asking is: is Boot Camp up to snuff for running games alright? Will an iMac handle it? Friends reckon I should get opt for a Mac Pro instead, especially with it being upgradeable and components being replaceable. Is it alright to downgrade the Mac Pro to just one quad-core processor rather than the standard eight (eight!) cores? Because that saves 320 quid so it's only a bit more than the iMac then... (sans screen, though.) And I guess there's no real reason to buy the display from Apple, right, or even the RAM? Or will third-party RAM cause my Mac to burst into flames? Is it worth getting the NVIDIA Geforce 8800 for the Mac Pro rather than the default ATI Radeon one? Finally, according to Macrumors I shouldn't buy any of 'em because an update might come out ANY SECOND... but how likely is that, really?

Basically, the rational and thrifty part of my brain is annoyed that the marketing-susceptible part has fallen for the Apple spell - help me appease the former by getting the best value for money I can. Any advice welcome!
posted by so_necessary to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
I would go with the 24" iMac because it's got an Nvidia 8800 w/ 512mg which is pretty good for the vast majority of games today. I'd be willing to bet the it will resist obsolescence for a few years, too. And, it's a 24" display!

If you really want to save money, drop down to the 20" w/ the ATI HD2600 w/ 256mg.

As for Boot Camp being up to snuff, remember this: without an operating system installed, an iMac is just a PC. Boot Camp just gives you the ability to dual boot OSX and other Intel OSs (and it provides Windows specific drivers without you having to grab them all separately).
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 5:08 AM on September 30, 2008


3-2-1 and youre back in the room... now go spend £400 on a very high spec PC. If youre going to run bootcamp, why bother with Mac OS.
posted by daveyt at 5:11 AM on September 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


Several mac models are soon to be updated; that means you can either get an updated model (higher performance for the same price) or pick up a one-generation-old model from someone upgrading.

So what I'm asking is: is Boot Camp up to snuff for running games alright? Will an iMac handle it?

I know people who game on their iMacs, with boot camp. You can read the specifications and look at reviews for the graphics cards and decide if they're what you want.

Friends reckon I should get opt for a Mac Pro instead

iMac: 2.8GHz core2duo, 24" screen, ATI Radeon HD 2600 PRO, £1,149.00
Mac Pro: 2.8GHz quad core, ATI Radeon HD 2600, £1,429.00

Seems to me you get 4 cores instead of 2 for £280 more, and you miss out on a 24" screen (worth about £200). Personally I would choose the iMac, but it's obviously your choice. Do you even have £1,400 in your budget?
posted by Mike1024 at 5:13 AM on September 30, 2008


While I can't really comment on game playing on a Mac as I play Bejeweled, World Of Warcraft, and The Sims 2 on my iMac in OSX (all run fine, thanks) and I don't know what games you play, I would like to make a couple of points.

BootCamp basically makes the system a dual boot system. So, you'd install XP on a separate partition and the machine will be a Windows PC when booted to that partition. So, if you plan to use Boot Camp and XP/Vista to play Windows-Only games, compare the stats for a Windows PC with the features of your iMac/Mac Pro and judge if the system would play your games.

One thing that any Mac user will tell you is to never buy RAM from Apple. Apple thinks their RAM is made entirely of platinum, so you can get the exact same thing much cheaper elsewhere. It's also easy to install. In the iMac, it takes one screw, located right at the bottom of the screen (right on the lower edge, below the apple logo. You unscrew that, press on the RAM currently in the slot, it'll pop out. Then add the new RAM. There's two RAM slots there. I believe Apple considers memory upgrades user-serviceable, meaning that it won't void your warranty.

FWIU with the displays, Apple has not upgraded them in awhile, but still charges a premium price for them. Dell uses the same screen and charges less for new versions.

And as for buying a new mac now, I'd wait until at least mid October to buy one. By then, Apple will have announced new products for the holiday season so you'll have the latest and greatest... at least until they release all new stuff in Jan/Feb.
posted by aristan at 5:18 AM on September 30, 2008


And by Displays, I am referring to Apple Cinema Displays, not the displays for the iMac or laptop lines.
posted by aristan at 5:20 AM on September 30, 2008


Agreed on all points here. The Nvidia 8800 is a great card to get in the iMac, and you will get excellent performance with games with whatever Core 2 Duo chip you get, and put at least 2 GB of RAM in there, probably 4 (but don't buy it directly from Apple).

There is no performance overhead with Boot Camp, so everything will run just as fast as a PC with the exact same specs. Some games you might even be able to get away with playing in Parallels or VMware Fusion, but it's not likely this will work well with more resource-intensive 3D games.

And yes, wait probably until mid-October. Supposedly there is an upcoming Apple event to roll out new MacBooks or MacBook Pros, but it's very likely they will issue a slipstream update to the iMacs as well.

The iMac is a beautiful system that will give you great performance for years to come if you configure it correctly. Yes, the Mac Pro is more powerful and is user-upgradeable, but it's also significantly more expensive, takes up more room, etc. I think you will like the iMac better in the long run.
posted by joshrholloway at 5:25 AM on September 30, 2008


Cool, thanks for all the comments so far! Just to clear one thing up: obviously I'll be using OS X most of the time, Boot Camp'd Windows would just be for gaming. I just ask because seeing as OS X runs terribly / not at all on PC machines, it didn't seem outside the realms of possibility that Windows might run less-than-optimally on a Mac. But good to know that isn't a problem :-)
posted by so_necessary at 5:35 AM on September 30, 2008


Building a gaming PC + an iMac for daily use is cheaper and more flexible than a Mac Pro.

The iMac is totally performant for everything but the bleeding edge games. I bought mine in early 2006 and don't expect to buy a replacement for another 4-5 years, if then (the one thing that will make me upgrade is higher pixel density -- DPI -- of the display).

I also have a Mac Pro but it is overkill.

Bootcamp basically starts up an x86 Mac such that it is indistinguishable from a vanilla x86 machine (it can do this because EFI has a compatibily shim that makes it appear as a legacy BIOS.
posted by troy at 6:16 AM on September 30, 2008


Hey! I own a Boot Camp'ed MacBook - I don't game very much, but here are some idiosyncracies I've discovered over time you might find useful to know:

- The Windows side has slightly better graphics, although the Mac is perfectly fine for DVDs and such so you don't need to bother buying a DVD program for Windows (I got DiVx and VLC for occasional video downloads).
- You're going to lose some Windows keyboard shortcuts. I can't Print Screen when I'm not in FireFox (found an addon, thankfully), and, annoyingly, if Windows decides to run a disc check when starting up (like if it crashes, see below), it won't register my pressing any keys to skip.
- Similarly, although this is only a laptop thing, Windows will not acknowledge the right-click of my trackpad, so I always need a mouse.
- Sometimes Windows crashes randomly - still trying to figure that one out, may or may not be tied to memory use. Come to think, since I last upgraded Firefox it hasn't crashed. Just be prepared for weird bugs, since Boot Camp has very little official support.
- I am really dumb and have not yet figured out how to get an external hard drive to acknowledge both my Windows and my Mac OS at the same time, without partitioning. This is actually my biggest problem and I'm probably going to write an askme about this soon.

Overall, it's a little peculiar, but I really like the flexibility and have learned or am learning workarounds for most of the problems above. Generally I use Windows at home and Mac at school (where I dump the mouse).
posted by bettafish at 7:13 AM on September 30, 2008


Firstly, take into account you'll be paying a premium for buying a Mac that can handle games. You can configure a really good PC with a Core 2 Q6600, 4GB RAM, and a 8800GTS (much superior to the GS on the top end iMac) for under £600 these days.

And I guess there's no real reason to buy the display from Apple, right, or even the RAM? Or will third-party RAM cause my Mac to burst into flames?
No, third party RAM is fine. You'll probably want to buy the right speed though. However, if you want peace of mind, there are manufacturers who sell "Mac ready" RAM. And you can use any monitor you want :)

Is it worth getting the NVIDIA Geforce 8800 for the Mac Pro rather than the default ATI Radeon one?
Definitely. The ATi 2600 is terrible. Don't expect to play many any of the latest games with full graphics detail, that's for sure.

Finally, according to Macrumors I shouldn't buy any of 'em because an update might come out ANY SECOND... but how likely is that, really?
I expect Apple to announce updates to the whole line in the next 2 months or so. The Mac Rumours site Mike 1024 mentioned is pretty accurate.

If you insist on getting a Mac, I suggest waiting. However, if you can't wait, get the top end iMac with the 8800. Why you ask? If you go for the Mac Pro, you'll have to upgrade the default graphics card to the 8800 if you want to do any serious gaming. You also have to buy your own screen. Do the maths, and sure enough, the Mac Pro is much more expensive for the same performance. The Quad Core will make very little difference in gaming for the foreseeable future.
posted by dragontail at 7:46 AM on September 30, 2008


If you're happy paying a little bit more for expandibility, get the Mac Pro. Otherwise get the iMac.

Don't bother with eight cores. Unless you're doing some heavy 3D, Photoshop, or HD video editing, even four cores will be overkill for your workload.

Never get RAM from Apple. The markup is insane. Get the smallest amount of RAM you can, and head over to OWC to pick up some RAM for a self-install.

Same deal with hard drives -- get the minimum you can, and get aftermarket upgrades (eBay typically has some good deals for storage.) (Exception to this rule: you've got an iMac or MacBook Pro and you're not comfortable opening the case. It's not hard to upgrade them, but it's not as easy as with the Mac Pro).

For modern games the 8800 is a perfectly competent card. It's not the absolute top of the line, but it's certainly up there.

One little bit of advice I've learned through my years as a Mac user (my first Mac was made in 1989): don't fret about when Apple will upgrade a given line. Really. There will _always_ be something better in the wings. Always. Look at what they've got now. If it's got hardware you like for a price that you're comfortable with, get it. If not, wait.

Another bit of advice: get a refurb. You'll get the same hardware and the same warranty, but you'll get a hefty discount. I've bought several Macs refurb, and have been quite happy with them.

Best of luck. Hopefully you won't spend all your time in Windows -- Mac OS X is (IMHO) a phenomenal flavor of Unix, and one of (if not the) best desktop OSs out there.
posted by -1 at 7:55 AM on September 30, 2008


I would be worried about overheating and lack of expandability in the iMac. I use an iMac at work and they are nice computers, but I wouldn't want to use one at home. I think a stripped down MacPro is going to be a much better buy.
posted by sophist at 8:19 AM on September 30, 2008


I wouldn't worry about overheating on the iMac. My work machine has literally gone several days straight with the CPU, RAM and disk being maxed out, and is fine after 2 years. It's definitely good for drying out wet mittens in the winter, though.

Were I in need of games AND a mac, I'd build a PC gaming rig, get a good Dell LCD and buy a macbook or macbook pro, probably. If you're really set on running OS X on the gaming machine, you might consider running a hacked version on a home build PC.
posted by paanta at 9:24 AM on September 30, 2008


For modern games the 8800 is a perfectly competent card. It's not the absolute top of the line, but it's certainly up there.

The problem with the Mac Pro is that you're stuck with whatever cards Apple deigns to offer.

A $1000 handbuilt PC is a MUCH MUCH better value for PC gaming, now and down the road.

And as for iMac's lack of "expandability", it's got USB and Firewire, and that's been good enough for me, and I've never noticed any heat problems.
posted by troy at 9:57 AM on September 30, 2008


Another option. EFI-X. Let you install OS X with no hacking on a PC, fully update-able, etc..

All you have to do is buy their compatible hardware (pretty easy, they support just about any Gigabyte board out there). EFI-X is $150, an OS X license is around $100-120.
posted by wongcorgi at 11:52 AM on September 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


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