Gaming Performance

Two years ago Apple (and NVIDIA) sent a clear message to Intel - its integrated graphics was no longer good enough. For the second largest consumer of semiconductors in the world to publicly tell Intel that its graphics wasn’t enough had to be a wake-up call. I was surprised that it took Intel until this year to really heed the call. The Larrabee announcement and subsequent increase in integrated graphics investment tells us that Intel is finally trying to win this business back. But today, Apple definitely values putting more money towards GPUs than CPUs. The 2010 13-inch MacBook Pro was our first example, where Apple opted against moving to a Core i3/i5 in order to ship with a NVIDIA GPU. The Mac mini continues the trend as Apple sticks to last year’s Penryn based Core 2 Duo P8600 instead of moving to a Core i3. In fact, one look at the mini’s box reveals Apple’s thinking:

iLife, NVIDIA graphics and WiFi are the only things mentioned on the packaging. There’s not a single mention of Intel being inside the Mac mini. Even on Apple’s website, the Intel shoutouts are limited. If I were a betting man I’d say that Apple is gearing up to eventually support AMD CPUs as well as Intel. The first Fusion parts might be a logical starting point.

With a growing installed user base and a higher guaranteed minimum GPU level, the Mac platform is becoming more attractive to game developers. Steam is now alive and well on OS X and last month’s Starcraft 2 release ships with both OS X and Windows versions on the same disc.

The 2010 Mac mini is basically a 13-inch MacBook Pro in a different form factor. The GeForce 320M GPU isn’t fast, but it’s fast enough to run things like Half Life 2 at playable frame rates. Unfortunately Starcraft 2 came out after I already sent the mini back so I couldn’t get a feel for how well it would run on the mini. For what it’s worth, Apple’s current NVIDIA drivers included in OS X 10.6.4 are absolutely horrible for performance in Starcraft 2. Even a GeForce GTX 285 runs like garbage under OS X with those drivers, you need to use the latest betas from NVIDIA which unfortunately only work on the GTX 285 (at least the installer portion).

Performance is a bit lower than the 13-inch MacBook Pro in our OS X Half Life 2 Episode Two test, presumably because of the meager 2GB of memory the system ships with by default compared to the 4GB you get with the MBP.

The 2008 iMac is still considerably faster since it uses a faster CPU and a much faster dedicated GPU. The 8800M GS has more shader horsepower and runs at a higher clock than the GeForce 320M. There’s also the matter of the dedicated frame buffer (512MB) vs. the shared memory setup on the Mac mini.

The mini is good enough for today’s games on the Mac (although not at 1080p). I would expect its GPU to feel slow after another year.

General Performance A Fully Functional Mac HTPC
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  • AstroGuardian - Monday, August 9, 2010 - link

    Now we just sit and wait until some problems show up like overheating, melting of refurbished hard drives, security issues bla bla bla.... This starts to be a trend in Apple equipment..
  • solipsism - Monday, August 9, 2010 - link

    Curious, which new Macs use “refurbished” HDDs?
  • Pirks - Monday, August 9, 2010 - link

    Wintroll's ones, obviously.
  • damianrobertjones - Tuesday, August 10, 2010 - link

    He might use Ubuntu.

    Either way, he does have a point and the more people that defend Apple, the more they get away with things. Just look at End'Gadget.. many posts asked them to modify their review of the iPhone 4 but did they? Nope.

    Oh well
  • Wizzdo - Monday, August 9, 2010 - link

    Yup, troll above. With the wonderfully low power consumption I would imagine the Mini will be extremely dependable.
  • damianrobertjones - Tuesday, August 10, 2010 - link

    Probably, but remember, it's going to be mass produced so a few bad eggs will get in there
  • slb14 - Tuesday, August 10, 2010 - link

    You must be confusing this with a Dell.
    Sorry, troll points are not awarded here.
  • Stokestack - Sunday, August 15, 2010 - link

    "overheating, melting of refurbished hard drives, security issues bla"

    You're obviously desperate for attention. Why waste your time posting this instead of a legitimate point?

    When it comes to the Mini, there's one glaring legitimate gripe: THE PRICE. It's a cool product, but grossly overpriced. It's mystifying why Apple bothers with it at this point. If they're overpricing it to avoid cannabilizing other sales, then why continue to make it?

    They should've dropped the price by $200 and replaced the iTV with it. But again, that's counter to Apple's new goal: get rid of real computers and replace them all with locked-down devices running iOS. Again, why bother updating anything resembling a real computer in the product lineup? A smokescreen?
  • MySchizoBuddy - Monday, August 9, 2010 - link

    an article about using 10+ mac mini for a render farm or HPC solution would be great.
  • jasperjones - Monday, August 9, 2010 - link

    now that wouldn't be exactly cost-effective ducy?

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