General Question

Altereffect's avatar

The best macintosh for gaming on a budget?

Asked by Altereffect (2points) June 18th, 2010

I would like to know what Mac is the best for playing games when I don’t have a lot of money to spend.

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25 Answers

MissA's avatar

A mac mini with lots of memory.

jerv's avatar

If you don’t have a lot of money then the $699 Mini is your only option in the Mac lineup.

However, the graphics on it are about on par with the Radeon 9800 XT or the integrated graphics on my i3 tower (not exactly great for running any game made in the last 3—4 years) and it only comes with 2GB of RAM (which means you need to spend even more to upgrade) and has a slower CPU than a $500 Gateway with 6GB of RAM stock.

On the plus side, the Mini has graphics about three times as good as the more expensive low-end iMac at $1199. Then again, my $500 tower with a $100 GT240 card added in doubles the graphics performance while still coming in at only $600 total.

Umm… how many games are there for the Mac anyways? Last I knew, most non-console games were written for the PC, not Mac Macs may have many admirable traits, but value and gaming are two things that they are not known for..

PandoraBoxx's avatar

I agree with @jerv. As an ardent Mac fan, I would go with a PC for gaming if cost is an issue. You will want processor speed, memory, and a video card. Not that you can’t get that on a Mac, but it won’t be inexpensive. The gamers I know are always tweaking their computers, and that’s easier to do with a PC.

jerv's avatar

@PandoraBoxx After taking another look at the graphics hardware that come with new Macs, I have to say that I am underwhelmed. And when you consider that the $2499+ Mac Pro is the only one that can take a graphics card upgrade, that is pretty bad for budget gaming.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

Yes, gamers are not the intended audience for Macs. One of my IT friends speculated that Mac owners drive Hondas/Toyota whereas PC owners drive Ford/GM. It has to do with the paradox of choice. If you like constrained choice, then Mac is for you. If you like to tweak what you own, then you’re better off with a PC, even though most PC owners never maximize the ability of the features they considered a factor when buying a system. If 90% of your driving is taking the kids to school, you really don’t need a Ford V-8 SUV, but on the other hand, if you’re pulling a boat to the lake every weekend, a Honda Accord isn’t going to do it for you.

With gaming, there seems to be very specific needs, and constant system upgrades as gaming software is continually enhanced.

rpm_pseud0name's avatar

Mac Mini may sound good, but add the price of a cinema display & you are way over priced considering the specs. Go for the lowest end iMac at 1,199 (if you were to customize a mac mini to match the low end iMac, it would be over 2,500. Just to add some insight into what kind of machine you ‘need’ to play games… Here is what I have…

I have a 5.5 year old MacBook Pro. 2 GB of ram & a slow 1.83 GHz intel core duo processor. Yes, core duo… not the 2 duo. Doesn’t sound like much, but I have the Steam gaming program installed with the Orange Box (Half Life 2, HL2e1, HL2e2, TF2, Portal) installed. These all run perfectly with graphics settings turned down to medium. I was shocked to see these games run on my laptop. Granted they are old-ish games, but still.

So if my old laptop is running these games with no problem, any current low end Mac should be able to play these & any other game at maxed out settings. By years end I will be buying the low end iMac, as I don’t see my trusty laptop handling next years game releases, I blame E3 for me having to buy a new computer (more specifically, I blame Portal 2) :)

gorillapaws's avatar

I also agree with @jerv and @PandoraBoxx. I too am a Mac guy, but as they have said, if serious gaming is important to you and you’re on a limited budget, you should probably go with a PC. Many titles are PC-only, and of those that do port to the Mac, a large portion are not as stable or as good as their PC counterparts (note this isn’t true of all game companies, Blizzard treats it’s Mac users as first-class citizens for example).

Hopefully, as OSX market share rises, limited titles and bad ports will become less of a problem, but given the current state of things, you would almost certainly be better off with a PC. It really is a shame that Apple doesn’t sell an upgradeable Mac mini.

mowens's avatar

I game on my MacBook pro….

mrrich724's avatar

The iPad . . . how many game titles do they have now?!

jerv's avatar

@gorillapaws Yeah, it’s a shame that there really is only one upgradable Mac (the Pro) in the current lineup. I thought that when they abandoned the proprietary expansion slots (like the PDS) in favor of industry-standard ones that it would become as easy to upgrade a Mac as it is a PC.
For a while there, Apple was doing good; the LC form factor was easy to get at and a couple of the G3/G4 towers would open with one finger. Apple took a step backwards and is practically back to the days of the Plus and SE where you needed special tools from teh factory to open the case at all. C’est la vie.

@mrrich724 @mowens What sort of framerates do you get when you crank the AA up to x4? Sure, there are some fun casual games, but I don’t think that either qualifies as a serious gaming rig.

@rpmpseudonym I’ve played games of that vintage on my Acer netbook, a machine that most would consider totally unsuited for gaming with 1GB of RAM and graphics on par with the lowest iMac, so you are correct that you can do quite a bit with older/weaker hardware.

@PandoraBoxx I chose my system over better-specced and comparably-priced ones because of the upgrade path; the Core i3–530 may be weaker than some Core2 Duos, but I can replace it with an i7 and slap in any PCI Express video card I want. I tend to upgrade seldomly so I make sure that whatever I buy will still be acceptable a couple of years down the road.
BTW, your friend is wrong. I love my ‘85 Corolla :P

mrrich724's avatar


oh sorry, i didn’t consider serious gaming since there was a budget . . . I was totally thinking casual gaming.

jerv's avatar

@mrrich724 When it comes to FPS games, I will take my $500 Core i3 tower with it’s $100 GT 240 graphics card over a $600 iPad any day. You can get serious gaming done cheaply, but you have to go PC to do that.

MarthaStewart's avatar

Macs are fine for games if you set them up with dual boot and boot into windows for the games. These days Macs are really just really good contemporary PC’s under the window dressing.

jerv's avatar

@MarthaStewart That depends on what you consider “fine”, but dual-booting won’t make the hardware any better. If you are fine with Tetris or running at low details at 800×600 then yes, but if you do a little research then you might have a little more perspective on things.

rpm_pseud0name's avatar

This is still relatively new territory for the Apple. Their business model in the beginning was based on sales to the media industry professional & the frustrated consumer looking for another option. They knew gaming belong to PC & they didn’t want to compete. Now that one of the biggest gaming companies in the world, Valve, has worked side-by-side with Apple to bring their gaming program, Steam, to the Mac, it would be wise for Apple to start changing up their models to include a ‘gaming’ series at lower costs. With Valve releasing all their new titles from here on out, for both PC & Mac, Apple is going to have to meet the demands of their clientele. I quit using Windows OS 5 years ago & the only thing I miss was the amount of games at my disposal. Every other facet of my computer use has improved drastically. Now that hard-core gaming (enough of this Pop-Cap crap) has slowly squeaked it’s way back onto my computer, I’d like to have a computer that could handle it, at a decent price & right now, Apple is not the front runner. I’ll bet by next year, when Valve releases new games- along with the other major companies who signed on to release Mac versions of their games- Apple will most likely have a gaming computer in their line-up at a fair price.

Until then, I’d say get a gaming console to hold you over until Apple releases a model with the name, iGame Series.

jerv's avatar

@rpmpseudonym You could pony up the cash for a Mac Pro. Not very cost-efficient as a mere gaming rig, but as a computer overall, I have to say that the Mac Pro is actually the only bargain in the Apple line-up. Most PCs I’ve seen that can compare to a Mac Pro are at least $4K and often closer to $5500.
Also, it’s the only Mac that can take an off-the-shelf graphics card. And $3300 for two Xeon CPUs? Something about 8 cores with Hyperthreading just makes me hard! Now, if you could drop a pair of hexa-core X5680s in there, we would never need Viagra again :D

MarthaStewart's avatar

@jerv, unlike you, I have indeed done the research and have benchmarked Macs booted into Windows versus PC’s on games performance. The current Macbook Pro is available with up to a 3.33 Ghz Core I7 and GeForce GT 330M discrete graphics processor, and frankly it kicks tail. After comparing high end laptop options, these were chosen based on performance stats for a game development group I’ve worked with, running Unity, Unreal, Maya and 3DS Max. Your presumptions that everyone speaks from ignorance as you clearly do are unfounded.

jerv's avatar

@MarthaStewart I disregarded the MB Pro because I do not consider it a machine suitable for those looking for a “budget” machine. Or are you saying that the iMac, Mini, and non-Pro Macbook, which are more budget-friendly, have good graphics and/or can be easily upgraded?

The GT 330M is not bad for a laptop graphics chip, but it has about half the chops of the desktop GT 330, and is only available in the models that cost $1,799 or more, so again, not great for gaming and not budget-friendly. I will stay with my GT 240 which is better than any of the graphics solutions I’ve seen for any Mac other than the Mac Pro) and more money in my wallet.

And while the i7 is a powerful CPU, the fastest I’ve seen in a Macbook is only 2.66 GHz, which is probably just as well considering the thermal and battery life issues involved with higher clock speeds. But I have to ask, where are you getting the 3.33 GHz MB Pros?

MarthaStewart's avatar

3.33 Ghz is with “turbo boost” active; details are on Apple’s website:

jerv's avatar

@MarthaStewart So basically 3.33 GHz with an asterisk and a disclaimer.

Personally, I judge clock speeds by what it maintains at all times. Since “Turbo Boost™“has conditions, I don’t consider it since it cannot be maintained ad infinitum the way that running that same chip at 2.66 GHz can.

You show me a i7–620M running all out 24/7 at 3.33GHz on the sort of cooling that laptops have even with the MB Pro’s aluminum case and I will show you something that I would not want in my lap though I may flip it over and fry up some bacon on it.

But it’s moot since laptops in general are not known for gaming for the most part, and especially not gaming on a budget. Desktops still rule there, and Apple does not currently have a rig that can compete with PCs in the budget gaming arena, mostly due to weak, non-upgradable GPUs. The Mac Pro would probably kick ass and not bother taking names if configured properly with decent video cards, but I think we can agree that the Mac Pro isn’t exactly a budget rig and therefore has no place here.

Every platform has it’s weaknesses and budget gaming is one of Apple’s weak points. Also a weak point for laptops in general. Apple may be competitive in other areas, but until I see them switch to at least a 335M in a non-Pro Macbook and Mini (about a 50% boost over the 330M in the Mini and MB Pro) and 9600M in the lowest, cheapest iMac I will stand fast in my assertion that Macs are not good at gaming on a budget.

Also, I don’t see how a $2,199 machine can really be considered in this discussion, but that may be because I have a different definition of “on a budget” than a company buying machines for development. Admit it, high-end laptops are never budget-friendly to a working-class person using their own money unless you buy them from some guy who says that they fell off the back of a truck.

MarthaStewart's avatar

@jerv you obviously have a bone to pick and your desperation shows, but I correctly stated the operating range of the I7, and nor did I say the Macbook pro is the ideal choice for the author of this question; merely that it is representative of a number of Macs that are indeed “really good contemporary PCs” underneath the Apple branding. For home use in gaming, a 21.5” IMac with a 3.33Ghz processor, 4GB ram, and an ATI Radeon HD 4670 graphics card lists for $1449, refurbished, through the Apple Store. It is neither the fastest nor the cheapest PC our there, but it is a really good one, it is quiet, reliable, and well equipped, with a beautiful screen and chassis. And frankly nobody asked you what you slapped together in your garage, the question was specifically about a Macintosh.

jerv's avatar

@MarthaStewart If there is a comma in the price, I do not consider it a bargain, and since $1,449.00 is more than $999.99 and the OP stated ”...on a budget”, the 2nd-tier iMac is out. Now, if I knew that the OP’s budget was closer to $2,000 than the $1,000 line that I consider to be “on a budget” then I might be more inclined to agree with you, even though the HD 4670 is still inferior to the GT 240 I picked up for $100.

I will concede that the iMac is quiet, reliable, and beautiful, but the performance…. not so much, at least not in the GPU department. Well, the Core2 Duo that you are stuck with in the three lower-tier iMacs isn’t exactly great either; I got twice the CPU for less than half the price.

The $2000 top-tier iMac (the only iMac with a CPU better than my $500 Gateway) actually does have a decent GPU (the only Mac that has a better GPU than my “budget” card has) but the HD 4850 isn’t available in the lower models, even as a factory option, and therefore is disqualified unless/until you show me where the PCI Express x16 slot is to replace the GPU.

Now, as for that 3.33 GHz…. my rig can be overclocked so I will call mine 4.2 GHz since it can hit those speeds. Why can’t you go with the 2.66 GHz number that Intel and Apple and everybody except you uses?

MarthaStewart's avatar

You remind me of the pimply teenagers who used to hang out at the garage making fun of Dad’s Lexus because your rusted out old Dodge Dart with the bolt-on headers and glasspack mufflers has more horsepower and theoretical straight-line performance, and frankly nobody cares but you. We know the Dart can’t corner, it has lousy brakes and shocks, and worn out upholstery. And after your head gasket blows out and your oil leaks out and your engine seizes, we know you’ll be calling dad to come pick you up in his Lexus. We remain unimpressed.

gorillapaws's avatar

@MarthaStewart I’ve got to back up @jerv on this one. Apple simply doesn’t offer a budget gaming machine in their lineup. If they had an upgradeable box with the internals of an iMac, focused on graphics and skimped on storage, they could have a decent intro gaming box. I don’t see this happening though, because it would cannibalize the more profitable iMac and Mac Pro lines.

You also have to take into account the state of gaming on the Mac from a software perspective. Yes, we’ve got Steam, Blizzard does it right, and some of the major titles get ported over (but usually after a long delay, and a buggy port), but the reality is that from a software perspective, the gaming experience on a Mac is worse than it is on Windows (unless that 3rd party plugin you downloaded had a key-logger in it).

jerv's avatar

@gorillapaws Thank you very much! I have always been a little perplexed by that since Macs have long been touted as “graphics machines”, so I have to wonder how we got to the current state of affairs. I can see skimping on the Mini and bottom-rung iMac to keep the costs and therefore price down, but it seems weird to me that the mid-level iMacs don’t have a decent GPU.
As for the software, well, I can’t really blame the software makers for not wanting to spend all sorts of time/effort/money trying to woo less than 5% of the market.

@MarthaStewart I also happen to be into cars and could go on for a few paragraphs about where you went wrong there. Suffice it to say that the AE86 more likely to be parked in my driveway than a Dart since I prefer cornering ability over straight-line anyways (Hell, I’ve held my own against 5.0 Mustangs with uppity drivers on certain roads in a stock AE82 for precisely that reason; if you know your Toyotas, you’ll know how sad that is), and upholstery matters less to me than being mechanically solid or pretty whereas you seem to prefer paying far more for the leather upholstery even if the cornering is mushy and the electrical system is finicky.
Oh, and I can replace head gaskets myself anyways; I’ve done it before. See. I solve repair issues with skill and brains instead of dollars. So tell me one of the first things you want to check if a 4th-gen Civic stalls and see if you can guess what part went on the last two Civics I had. I’ll give you a hint; you don’t need to leave the drivers seat to check it.

You don’t know me, you don’t know what I know, and you are not making a good showing.
I think it’d be better all around if you put down the shovel and walk away.

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