Final Words

The simple fact that Valve ported the Source engine to the Mac platform is enough to give the developers some leniency in improving performance. If Valve is truly committed to bringing all new releases on Steam to OS X than I doubt that Mac enthusiasts will be too bothered by the fact that performance is lower than under Windows, at least for a short while.

The Steam application itself is also slower under OS X. Launching games and the Steam application takes longer than under Windows.

Half Life 2 Episode 2 Load Time
Nehalem Mac Pro Mac OS X 10.6.3 Windows 7 x64
Time from Launch to Menu 48.7 seconds 35.5 seconds

Eventually performance and image quality parity will be necessary. Make no mistake, Apple is in the business of selling luxury computers. You can often get the same specs for less from Dell or HP, but the styling, attention to detail, ability to legitimately run OS X and user experience are all things Apple’s customers are willing to pay a premium for. A performance deficit rarely goes over well in these sorts of situations. It doesn't have to offer greater performance, but you shouldn't have to sacrifice so much just to play under OS X.

To Valve’s credit, at least on current generation Macs, Source engine games are absolutely playable. It supports Apple’s whole “it just works” mantra. You’re just better off running them in Windows if you have the option. Although I will admit that the convenience of not having to reboot is sometimes worth the frame rate penalty, at least for shorter gaming sessions. If I’m going to be playing for more than 20 minutes, then a reboot is more than worth it.

Image Quality: Still Foggy


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  • FXi - Saturday, June 5, 2010 - link

    For being such a popularist and gizmo oriented company Apple has truly killed their own cash cow by not focusing on gaming. There is hope, because they finally did come around to the x86 platform and reaped huge increases in marketshare from that move. Now they need to understand that PC's are purchased to do work, but nearly 80% of the population owning PC's does at least some gaming on them. I'm not talking the 6 hour gaming sessions, but simply that if you have a PC for doing work, or household stuff or connecting to the web, you probably also at least fire up a game every now and then to play on the machine as well.

    Most folks who are OS agnostic, and don't really care whether it's windows or Mac as an operating system, give Mac's a "pass" simply because, without being able to game on the majority of games out there, it is like buying a fancy machine that is incapable of doing a duty that 80% of PC users do at least some of the time. That's a marketing blunder, because it's saying that Apple wants users to come to its view of what a PC should do, and not Apple making what the market wants.

    In gizmos that kind of thinking works, you show off what your machine can do and people come to use it within what it was built for (i.e. Iphone). With tools, like a PC, you instead want to be sure your tool can "do" whatever the market desires it to do, not tell the market what they can do and hope the market wants to do just those things.

    So Apple, much like the conversion to X86, needs to finally come around and understand that if they capture the "market" of gaming, probably by making their machines fast AT gaming and then making them compatible with a wide RANGE of gaming, Apple will finally realize a higher degree of market parity with Windows PC's. X86 was one step. Having Office was another step. Gaming is similar, they "need" to make this market a focus, because it will bring the rest of their machine's abilities and marketshare along for the ride.
  • DaveGirard - Saturday, June 5, 2010 - link

    People don't buy Mac Pros for games - they buy them for work. And my 3D rendering work is faster in OS X than it is in Windows:

    That's me benchmarking and since I review graphics cards and Mac systems for Ars Technica, I know how to test things.

    Ever tried to do something in Windows while Maya renders? OS X is better at multitasking so I can run 16 thread renders while playing Halflife 2 without noticing much. That's completely different from Windows, where you have to drop the render priority to low just to have the system be almost usable for other things.

    The performance with Half-life 2 on OS X doesn't reflect much other than what's pretty obvious:

    - Nvidia's drivers are more mature on Windows. That's what you get for years of steep competition in the gaming space on Windows.
    - Half-life 2 is an OpenGL port to another platform. Claiming the PS3 is a crappy system because of how shitty the Orange Box runs on it wouldn't convince the people using PS3 supercomputers that they made a bad decision.
    - Apple writes the OpenGL that both ATI and Nvidia use. This may not be the fastest scheme but it's consistently more stable with pro apps like Maya. You can use gaming cards with Maya on the Mac because it's officially supported - where you have to buy a Quadro on Windows/Linux because of all the corners that are cut for speed with gaming drivers.

    Nevertheless, I hope Nvidia can improve their OS X drivers. ATI's are very good because they have been around longer on the Mac. But clowns trying make this out to be a reflection of the Macs inferiority don't understand the variables and how it would be the exact opposite situation if Macs were what people used for gaming over the last 20 years. It's that simple.

    And I'll take faster Maya rendering and better multitasking over a some more FPS. Back to work...
  • mojohacker2010 - Saturday, June 5, 2010 - link

    Right...because your own testing and "personal" experience are to be held in a higher light than everyone else's. Do you feel holier than thou now? LOL...your personal experience or test does not negate other people's experiences. For the record, I don't run windows or OSX...but I find OSX fan boys always using their "personal" experience to rebut unfavorable facts that are thrown at them. It's find to be loyal to a company, but when you ignore other people's fair criticisms and facts just to defend OSX, it is no longer just loyalty, it becomes a religion. Reply
  • DaveGirard - Saturday, June 5, 2010 - link

    I've gone out of my way to call out Nvidia on their bad Mac drivers - I have nothing to hide:

    That clearly shows how bad Nvidia's drivers can be with GLSL and Mudbox in OS X. ATI is much better.

    My personal experience is also in those benchmarks where I'm apparently not a fanboy. Nice try though. Why don't you check out my Aperture 1 review - I handed Apple their ass for putting out a bad product and took more crap from Mac fanatics than this article ever will.

    So my point stands - OS X is not a gaming OS for obvious reasons but Apple's OpenGL is more stable so you can use Maya with ATI cards in OS X without issues, while they're notoriously problematic on Windows. Nvidia has work to do on the Mac and Apple's GL does too but don't make this article out to be more than a test of one ported application. It's not a smoking gun showing anything.
  • sebmel - Monday, June 7, 2010 - link

    Valve also pointed out that the Mac version of Steam is, similarly, much more stable than the Windows version. Five times more according to their own crash reports. Reply
  • sebmel - Monday, June 7, 2010 - link Valve founder Gabe Newell: "what's sort of surprising is how much more stable our games are on the Mac." Looking at the early data available from the Steam client, "the Mac is five times more stable than Windows" when using the metric of minutes played versus number of crashes." Reply
  • Scali - Thursday, June 10, 2010 - link

    I'm not surprised... at the same time, I don't know how much of that is due to the OS itself.
    I mean, the Windows ecosystem is way different from the Mac ecosystem.
    Mac users buy a complete system where all components are well balanced out. They also get a complete OS and set of drivers.

    With Windows, people build their own PCs, they mod them, they overclock them... they may use poor cooling, underpowered PSUs, and who knows what else, which can impact stability.
    And then there's things like experimenting with beta drivers, or things like malware, rootkits and who knows what else.
  • thehomelessguy - Monday, July 5, 2010 - link

    I dunno, even hacintoshes seem quite stable. at least mine is. I love it to i7 2.8 ghz, 12 gigs of dd3, 2x9800GT (got a good price). Reply
  • DaveGirard - Saturday, June 5, 2010 - link

    Here is a GTX 285 getting owned by a Radeon 4870 simply because ATI's drivers are better for GLSL on OS X:


    Geforce GTX 285:
  • ReaM - Saturday, June 5, 2010 - link


    thank you for the article. I saw this article a while a go and that made me decide to buy ATI for my hackintosh. I have it bookmarked.

    Mudbox runs great, but at 7m polygons it is noticeably slow (I have both 4850 and 4890)

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