Vacations are tough for me to come by. Planning around tradeshows is easy, but planning around unannounced product launches, new driver releases, bugs and unexpected discoveries is impossible. Last year I threw a dart at the calendar and told myself I was taking 10 days off in May and thankfully, there wasn’t too much that was announced while I was gone.

I did miss one rather important thing: the launch of an OS X version of Steam. I actually contacted Valve ahead of time to see if they’d give me access to a pre-release version so I could do a performance article before I left. I got no response. After reading Ryan’s Mac OS X Portal Performance article when I got back, I understood why.

In the process of porting the Source engine to OS X a great deal of performance was lost. To Valve’s credit, games like Portal are more than playable at good looking settings on modern Macs. You’re just better off playing those games in Windows using Boot Camp.

Ryan’s original article used a Hackintosh to compare OS X and Windows performance. Now that 1) I’m back, and 2) Half Life 2 Episode 2 is out for the Mac, I can provide an updated comparison using another reference point between Steam on both OSes.

For this comparison I’m using two systems. The first is a Nehalem Mac Pro with an EVGA GeForce GTX 285 Mac Edition.

Testbed System Specifications
  Nehalem Mac Pro (Mid 2009)
CPU 2 x 2.93GHz Quad-Core Nehalem Xeon Processors
Memory 6 x 1GB DDR3-1066
GPU EVGA GeForce GTX 285 Mac Edition (1GB GDDR3)
OS Mac OS X 10.6.3

The second is Apple’s new 2010 13-inch MacBook Pro with a GeForce 320M.

Testbed System Specifications
  13-inch MacBook Pro (Early 2010)
CPU 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
Memory 2 x 2GB DDR3-1066
GPU NVIDIA GeForce 320M
OS Mac OS X 10.6.3

I’m running Boot Camp and a clean install of Windows 7 x64 on both Macs for the comparison. I’m using NVIDIA’s 197.45 drivers for the GTX 285 on the Mac Pro and the latest drivers under OS X. Steam was up to date as of 12:47AM this morning.

I’ll start with the 13-inch MacBook Pro:

Half Life 2 Episode 2 Performance
13-inch MacBook Pro (Early 2010) Mac OS X 10.6.3 Windows 7 x64
1280 x 800 44.2 fps 68.0 fps

At the panel’s native resolution of 1280 x 800 the 13-inch MacBook Pro is playable at high quality settings with no AA/aniso. Episode 2 runs smoothly on the portable Mac. Gaming, albeit dated, is possible under OS X.

Boot into Windows however and you get a 54% performance boost. The game goes from definitely playable to butter smooth. In other words, there’s a perceivable difference.

With the additional headroom of the CPU and GPU in the Mac Pro, I ran our benchmark at higher quality settings and at more resolutions. Under OS X you only get 2X and 4X MSAA options compared to NVIDIA’s plethora of AA modes under Windows, so I stuck with 4X MSAA for this comparison. Anisotropic filtering (16X) was enabled and all settings were as high as possible.


OS X HL2ep2 Settings

Multicore rendering is an option under Windows that isn’t adjustable under Steam for OS X, and despite the setting being greyed out as Enabled it doesn't appear to be enabled under OS X. In our benchmark with multicore rendering disabled both versions of the game eat up around 1.5 out of the 8 cores in the Mac Pro. Enabling multicore rendering in Windows bumps the average up to 2.4 cores, but drops performance at higher resolutions. I’ve provided both sets of results in the graph below so you can see what happens:

The Windows performance advantage with multicore rendering disabled ranges from 62% all the way up to 103%. Even at its worst, the GTX 285 under OS X is fast enough to make 2560 x 1600 playable, but it is noticeably slower than under Windows.

With multicore rendering enabled CPU bound performance goes up around 18%, but we see a drop at more GPU limited resolutions.

Image Quality: Still Foggy
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  • killerclick - Friday, June 04, 2010 - link

    So Macs are crap, what else is new? Reply
  • wolrah - Friday, June 04, 2010 - link

    It's always about what you're looking for in a computer. If you're building or buying a gaming rig, Windows is obviously the way to go for now. You make yourself look like just as much of a tool as the idiots using terms like "windoze" and "M$" when you make comments like that. The hardware is exactly the same and I find the OS fits how I use it better. I get commercial apps and a proper Unix shell in the same OS. Windows does the GUI thing fine, but sucks like a toothless hooker when you need a shell. Powershell is fine for those familiar with the .NET environment, but to someone used to Unix or even the half-ass CLI DOS/cmd.exe provided it's foreign.

    I'm sitting at a Windows 7 machine with my Macbook Pro linked in by Synergy off to one side displaying a bunch of terminals SSHed in to various Linux boxes on it second monitor, so I think I can honestly claim to not be biased in any direction among the big three OSes.
    Reply
  • killerclick - Friday, June 04, 2010 - link

    Yeah, whatever nerdlinger. See that chart up there in the test? Mac = crap. Reply
  • SunSamurai - Friday, June 04, 2010 - link

    Stop trolling asshole. Reply
  • B3an - Tuesday, June 08, 2010 - link

    Macs are not crap. The OS is crap, and dated.

    Valve can do all they want to the Source engine but it will never run as well as on Windows.
    OSX has many dated components. For instance it uses OpenGL 2.1 (or does 10.6.3 have 3.0 finally?)... the latest is 4.0. Which has been available on Windows for some time.
    OpenGL 2.1 is about equal to DirectX 9, at best. You wont get the Windows performance for this alone, and you wont get the graphical eye candy either and things like Tessellation.

    I'm surprised Anand does not mention this, but he does seem bias towards Apple.
    Either way, the issue of performance is atleast as much to do with OSX/apple itself as it is to do with the Source engine on OSX.
    Reply
  • thehomelessguy - Monday, July 05, 2010 - link

    Mac's definitely use openGL 3.0 (they have to to have openCL which is at the core of a lot of snow leopard's improvements). Reply
  • Zombie-Bionic - Wednesday, July 14, 2010 - link

    you know, I've lived with mac for at least 4 years now, and I think I can say yes, mac is very crappy. Music eats up space like a mutha bitch so gaming is virtually impossible unless you prefer playing an unintended 8-bit version of half life 2. It's no surprise to me that mac is the worst computer rated on the chart, but this is also on the internet. anything goes so it's really hard to say I can trust these results. So mac will always be crap if you want to just do gaming. It's definitely a leader for those who love itunes and facebook, but if you're not totally about the whole social networking trend get a PC, because not only are they better at games they also accomplish giving the user knowledge about their new shiny device. My knowledge of computers is at the equivalent of a cave man hitting a brick against the wall and getting killed by shrapnel. This is simply because mac does everything for you and is already very easy to "personalize" because of it's ability of hiding every known fact about itself so that when it comes time to fix it you don't know jack squat. Reply
  • xarglaph - Thursday, July 22, 2010 - link

    Zombie, are you retarded?

    Must be trollin'. OSX has so many logs that if you'd bothered to do a couple minutes of research you'd be able to find out exactly what problems you're having. Compare this to the annoying Event Viewer used in windows...

    mac tip

    open terminal,
    type cat /var/log/system.log > ~/FILENAME.txt
    in your home directory will be a nifty txt file full of all kinds of useful information.
    Reply
  • vol7ron - Saturday, June 05, 2010 - link

    If all you need a MAC for is shells, why not just get Ubuntu or some other version of Linux?

    If the hardware's the same, as you say, then why pay a premium for Apple?

    Granted, Apple, like any linux-based OS, has many nice features that cater to its customer focus, but your reasons don't support your argument. And as far as this article is concerned Windows still exceeds OSX. I would like Win7 to regain some of the WinXP gaming performance, though. Just like I wanted XP to regain some Win98 performance.

    Cheers,
    vol7ron
    Reply
  • Jkm3141 - Saturday, June 05, 2010 - link

    Ahh spoken like a true windows advocate. Mac OSX is not Linux based Reply

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