How to Optimize a MBP Purchase for Gaming/Design
December 28, 2020 5:01 PM   Subscribe

I’d like to trade my 2017 iMac in for a 16” MBP, but I don’t understand how to evaluate what I’d need from the latter to make the swap worth the $$$. Given the details inside, do I need to splurge on both the graphics card AND the processor, or just one or the other? Thanks!

My iMac has the following specs:

Retina 5K, 27-inch, 2017
4.2 GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7
40 GB 2400 MHz DDR4 (3rd party)
Radeon Pro 580 8 GB graphics card
3 TB Fusion Drive

Apple tells me the trade-in value is $1120.

Why I want a 16” MBP:

Right now I really only use it for gaming in MacOS and Windows 10 via Bootcamp (yes, really), though originally it was meant to be my primary design machine which is why it has a giant screen. The graphics are very good, and something tells me that if I’d gotten an SSD instead of a Fusion Drive the rest would probably be super good, too. It’s just the 27” screen that’s way too big for me now, and that’s what’s pushing me towards a new 16” MBP.

A Windows laptop is not viable because I need to use Sketch for my personal design projects and that means sticking with MacOS.

My subtotal conundrum:

I’ve already accepted that I’ll be overpaying for 32GB of memory because that’s how it works with Mac laptops. The sourest spot financially for me in switching to a MBP is that I would need to upgrade to a 4TB SSD to accommodate all the stuff I have and that is ultra expensive, but, again, Mac laptop.

What I’m not sure of is if I should max out the processor AND the graphics card or just the graphics card to give myself a design/gaming experience worthy of the ~$300 I might be paying per month after I do the trade in and put the Education store purchase on an Apple Card.

If I get the 2.3GHz 8-Core Processor (Turbo Boost up to 4.8GHz) but pair it with 32GB of memory and an AMD Radeon Pro 5600 (the maxed out graphics card the current model offers), is that a good move financially or no? Would it be better to get the faster processor instead? I don't 100% understand the confluence of all of these components so please feel free to explain any holes in my approach to this not-urgent purchase.

Price breakdown with customizations:

Base MBP with the 2.3GHz i9 processor = $2599
+ $150 for a 2.4GHZ i9 processor
+ $360 for 32 GB of memory
+ $630 for the AMD Radeon Pro 5600 card with 8GB of HBM2 memory
+ $900 4TB SSD

Thank you!
posted by Kitchen Witch to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: When the M1 "pro" or whatever they call it is released to go into the iMac and MBPs, probably in the spring or summer at the latest, it will be a holy terror of performance for a hell of a lot less money. Which you could probably spend on a crunchy Windows laptop to play games on. I dunno, your use case is not my use case, but this is just a terrible time to buy an Intel mac without a damn good reason to do so, and I'm not sure your reason is good enough if you have a working solution right now. Just wait a while. Things will be clearer next year.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:23 PM on December 28, 2020 [5 favorites]

Best answer: How portable are you really if your current machine is an iMac? Because the MBPs can just be docked with a single USB-C cable to a TB3 hub where you can plug in as many GPUs and SSDs as you want and not pay Apple's absurd upgrade prices. For that reason I'd max out RAM/CPU and just get an eGPU for gaming or if you do a lot of rendering. I'd also suggest finding a storage solution that isn't your laptop's internal drive if it's going to add $900 to the price, with that budget you could probably come up with a better solution for your workflow. On the MBPs I use for work (in the creative industry as well) I only buy enough on board storage for a day or two's production, I do my storage elsewhere on NAS or external SSD RAIDs or whatever. I guess that depends a lot on what kind of work you do and the assets you use.

Personally I'd wait for the M1 MBPs at this point. I have several MBPs for my business and am about to dump all of them on the used market in order to switch to the upcoming hardware.
posted by bradbane at 5:59 PM on December 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Strong agree with seanmpuckett. Please do not buy a Mac with the expectation that you will have a great experience playing games (based on my experience from 2004 through the present, and with a Macbook Pro as my sole computer from 2007-2013). When it worked, it was crappy and frustrating at best. Since all you say you need the Mac for is Sketch, you could probably get away with an M1 Macbook (non-Pro), and probably close to $1500 surplus (from going with the M1 Macbook vs. a 16" MBP), which will buy you a perfectly serviceable Windows desktop or laptop for gaming. If you chose to get a desktop, you could also get a nice monitor with two inputs, and keyboard/mouse and share them with the Mac via a USB switch.
posted by Alterscape at 6:09 PM on December 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You're asking about how wise this investment is financially, so it seems like this is not a "money is no object" situation. I'm going to be blunt.

Apple is in the process of converting the entire Mac line to an architecture that is faster (by multiples, not by the usual 20%) and uses way less power than Intel Macs. Spending nearly $5000 on an Intel MacBook Pro is therefore a terrible idea.

The M1 hardware available so far is what will become the bottom of the line, and you have specialized needs (storage, GPU) that are not served by that low end. So you shouldn't get an M1 yet. But even the cheapest M1, which costs $1000, will perform better than your maxed out $5000 Intel MacBook Pro in terms of raw performance. And it will also be worth more for trade-in in a couple of year's time.

So: I would strongly recommend waiting to see what the M1 Pro laptops look like and then either getting one of those if there's a 4TB option with a discrete (or very good integrated) gaming GPU, or getting a cheaper M1 MacBook and a separate PC gaming rig.

Which of these options will be best is not clear. The current M1 laptops use what is effectively an integrated GPU, and we don't know what the high end GPU offerings will look like. And while the architecture transition for software seems to be pretty smooth so far, I can imagine it being a little rough for games. So you might end up needing a PC if you really want a high end gaming experience.

But either of these options (a high end M1 or a mid-range M1 and a gaming rig) will be literally thousands of dollars cheaper than the Intel MacBook Pro you're talking about now, will be worth literally thousands of dollars more when you trade them in, and one way or another you'll have a machine with better gaming performance.
posted by caek at 10:10 PM on December 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

If you go for the option of a second PC-gaming machine, may your rolls be full of luck and your vendors full of stock collecting the parts.
posted by k3ninho at 5:54 AM on December 29, 2020

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