They say (and rightly so), that you don’t buy a Mac to play games. And yet, how do you explain Apple Arcade – the £4.99/month subscription service from Apple which provides a selection of high quality games (albeit no AAA titles) across iOS, iPadOS, tvOS and macOS devices?
On my old 2018 15″ MacBook Pro, I could play the same games I had on my iPhone on my Mac – and the performance wasn’t too bad. It’s even better on the 2019 16″ MacBook Pro, of course. But Macs weren’t really intended for heavy gaming – this has long been the dominance of games consoles such as the Playstation, Xbox, or the Nintendo Switch. And gaming PCs, of course – Nvidia graphics, quad/hexa/octa-core CPUs with 16Gb+ RAM and superfast SSD drives.
Yet modern Macs have quad/hexa/octa-core CPUs, 16Gb+ RAM and superfast SSD drives. Yet they can’t play AAA titles even if they were ported to macOS. In part this is due to the Nvidia vs AMD graphics. Nvidia has had a long established foothold in the graphics market on PCs – yet AMD’s graphics power the likes of the Xbox and Playstation (and will do with the next generation consoles coming this year).
Nvidia vs AMD
Macs did once have Nvidia GPUs, but due to a long running spat between Apple, Intel and Nvidia, things were never the same. This is not to say AMD produce inferior graphics chipsets – as we’ve seen, they’re used in today’s modern consoles alongside AMD CPUs too. And AMD has just released a 64-core CPU capable of 128 threads. This is a monster of a CPU (with a monster price – $4k for the CPU alone).
But Macs graphics have never been particularly powerful for gaming – primarily because Apple has been concentrating on more professional creative workflows than 3D gaming. And MacBook Pros have been very slender machines which makes designing thermals to keep the machine cooled a bit of a challenge.
Another problem with Macs is that now macOS Catalina has gone fully 64-bit, many 32-bit titles will not work. Goodbye Team Fortress 2 – many a wasted hour spent laughing long and hard playing that game.
But with the 16″ MacBook Pro with an Intel Core i9 processor and an AMD Radeon Pro 5500M with 8Gb of video RAM, I can finally play Fortnite at reasonable framerates. The only downside is that with the release of macOS Catalina 10.15.3, the native Fortnite client takes around 4-5 minutes to load every time. With 10.15.2, it was near instantaneous. Also, with the newer thermal design, the CPU fans will ramp up and it does become quite noisy – so I revert to using headphones.
Nvidia’s GeForce Now – a potential solution to all Mac gamer problems?
Nvidia has a possible solution to the Mac/older PC problem. They have a subscription service which lets you play owned games (including Fortnite) by effectively providing a hosted virtual machine with one of their high end graphics cards. You’re effectively playing the game on their server and streaming the video back to your machine. This relies on:
- Having a fast connection (50Mbs+ recommended)
- Using ethernet rather than Wi-Fi
- Low latency
You also need to own PC games. Fortnite is free to play, so as long as you have your Epic Games credentials, you’re all good. GeForce Now requires that you have logins for the games you’re playing. Nearly all games these days require some form of connection to the internet anyway, so this isn’t so much of a problem. Many of them are available from Steam anyway.
The downside to this is:
- You’re giving credentials to a third-party service (Nvidia) which stores those credentials on their platform. The logins are usually connected to accounts where credit/debit card details are stored.
- On a Mac, some symbols are only accessible via the option key – if you have a particularly complex password, good luck trying to enter them via the GeForce Now Mac client. Oh yes, copy and paste between the Mac and the client isn’t supported.
- Nvidia does not support any form of two-factor authentication on their accounts. This is very bad.
So you’ve got to be very trusting that Nvidia will keep your credentials safe. And you’ll need to ensure that your GeForce Now account’s password is a strong one. Nvidia really need to get their arse into gear and deploy 2FA as soon as they bloody well can. They also need to fix their SPF and DMARC record, because all Nvidia store email goes to spam as a result. This is basic, basic stuff.
Fortnite under GeForce now is very good. Initially it felt as if there was a little bit of lag (latency) when running under the Balanced setting, though it seems to have passed and gaming feels as good as running it locally. As I run my 16″ MBP via an external monitor – it’s limited to 1920×1080 which is a decent setting to run most games on high mode. GeForce Now Fortnite runs well with the high settings enabled and connected to Zen Internet via ethernet at 300Mbs download/50Mbs upload.
In terms of loading speeds, GeForce Now and Fortnite are considerably faster than the native macOS Fortnite client. And the Mac’s fans never ramp up at all during gameplay. But I’d ideally still like to play Fortnite natively – if only the loading time issues can be resolved.
The biggest bugbear is that GeForce Now doesn’t support one of the biggest titles in the past 7 years – Grand Theft Auto V.
GeForce now has two subscription tiers: free, with one hour sessions, and a limited edition Founder’s level which gives longer sessions and priority access (whatever that means). That said, it is £4.99/month with a 90 day trial before your card is charged, which is the cheapest and most generous I’ve seen.
Beware of the Shadows
There are alternatives to Nvidia’s video game streaming. One of them is Shadow. I’ve tried them before. They essentially provide you with a fully virtual Windows PC with Nvidia Geforce graphics card. You’d install games as you would under Windows. Unlike Nvidia’s GeForce Now, you have disk space and, as such, a quota to work with.
The biggest stumbling block I found with Shadow was the latency and overall streaming performance. Despite ethernet or Wi-Fi connection, the lag was very noticeable. And it was extremely expensive for what it is. You’d be better off saving the money towards a console or middle-end gaming PC. Even now, you have pre-order – with some specifications unavailable until 2021.
There’s also Google’s Stadia. Another streaming platform, designed to work across TVs, laptops and tablets. From what I understand you’ll need to buy hardware (at the very least a controller) and a subscription. From what I understand from the web site, you need to buy the games directly from Google to play with Stadia rather than bringing your existing library into it. That kind of limits things somewhat, and makes everything more expensive if you already own titles held on a different platform.
The current range of consoles – especially with Microsoft’s Xbox – are shaping up nicely as a good all round gaming system. Xbox has introduced mouse and keyboard support which when developers take advantage of, give PC-like gaming at a fraction of a cost. The next generation of consoles will also introduce SSDs for storage, which means much faster loading times. It’s also possible to stream from the console to a Mac or PC over local LAN, should you so wish.
But for the Mac user, regardless of whatever model you may be using, a combination of Apple Arcade and GeForce Now may be good option. Providing Nvidia continue to add titles, fix bugs, add essential features (as I mentioned earlier – copying and pasting between environments, and 2FA protection of Nvidia accounts).