What Does Next-Gen Mean for Mac Gaming?

Microsoft and Sony aren’t playing around with the specs of their next gen consoles. Will Apple be able to compete?


In 2012 console gaming was dead, or so overzealous analysts thought. Mobile gaming was growing at an incredible speed and the success of the Wii made many analysts worried that casual gaming would be the future and traditional consoles would be left in the dust.

There was a consensus at the time that the then rumored Apple TV with App Store would destroy Xbox and Playstation as the king of living room gaming. It would combine the best of mobile gaming, free-to-play and addictive, with the best of the Wii, casual motion controls. But the analysts couldn’t have been farther from the truth.

When the PS4 launched in 2013 with a heavy focus on hardcore gamers it dominated sales while Microsoft’s Apple TV killer, the Xbox One, languished. Microsoft was quick to believe the analysts when designing the Xbox One, adding in TV-focused technology like HDMI passthrough, and casual gaming tech like Kinect 2.0. All at the expense of price point and graphics power.

2013 proved to be the revenge of the hardcore gamer, and analysts were caught totally off guard. When the Apple TV 4th gen finally launched in 2015 all the hype surrounding it as a gaming machine was long gone. But, unknown to many, we still live with the consequences of this miscalculation to this day inside the consoles that killed casual gaming for good. The PS4 and Xbox One are, and were from day one, underpowered.

While the PS3 and Xbox 360 were initially sold at substantial losses due to their powerful hardware, the current-gen consoles were making money from day one. The risks of going all-in on the consoles would have been too great if the analysts were right about Apple TV.

This made many a happy PC gamer. All this meant that a fairly affordable midrange gaming PC could match or beat Xbox One and PS4 in power, and after a couple of years, even Macs could match consoles for gaming performance. But all that is about to change.

Xbox Series X and PS5 won’t be making the same mistakes as their current-gen counterparts. 8-core 16-thread CPUs, 12 teraflop GPUs, 5.5 gigabytes per second SSDs. The next-gen is going to be very hard to match at an affordable price this time around, and it’s even worse for Mac gamers.

Those CPUs

In theory the CPU should be the easiest part of next-gen to match on Mac. Apple already sells an 8-core 16-thread iMac, and the Intel i9 9900K that Apple uses should beat the Ryzen CPUs in next-gen consoles for gaming. The problem is the price. The cheapest 8-core iMac is $2,699, and it’s an optional upgrade. This isn’t fully Apple’s fault—Intel i9s are expensive. There is hope on the way in the form of Intel’s 10th gen processors which bring 8-core 16-thread chips down to the cheaper i7 line, but it’s worth remembering that back in the day an i5 could easily beat PS4 and Xbox One at launch.

The Unreleased GPUs

It is impossible to match the next-gen console GPUs on Mac as of the time of writing. Plain and simple. Next-gen consoles use AMD’s unreleased RDNA2 architecture rumored for Navi 2 GPUs. Those GPUs might be released soon or they may not come until next year. Who knows. What we do know is, to match next-gen today, you’ll need a pretty high-end GPU to do it. Microsoft claims that they were able to get Gears 5 running unoptimized on Xbox Series X at the same performance as the Nvidia RTX 2080, a $699 MSRP GPU. Remember Nvidia GPUs don’t work on Mac. 

Raytracing and Next-Gen APIs

But those are just specs. In due time that performance will eventually be found on Macs. As is always the case for Mac gaming, the real problem starts with software. With the reveal of Xbox Series X, Microsoft also unveiled DirectX 12 Ultimate, an upgrade to their Windows-exclusive graphics API. This upgrade adds next-gen features like raytracing and variable rate shading to Windows PCs with capable graphics cards.

Apple’s own Metal API has gotten praise from developers for being easy to work with and from gamers who have noticed much better performance compared to OpenGL. Apple could (and should) release a new version of Metal to compete with DirectX 12 Ultimate at the upcoming WWDC 2020, but I’m cynical of the prospects. Apple has always been on the back foot when it comes to gaming, and although Metal is great for gaming, it was always devised as a compute framework more than a gaming one. It would be a great show of foresight if Apple announced a new version of Metal that supports features no Mac is yet capable of, but it’s unlikely to happen.

That’s where we are with Mac gaming and next-gen. It’s an extension of the same problems all PC gamers are facing right now. To match next-gen on PC today is expensive. Intel i9 or Ryzen 7 series CPUs, RTX 2080 GPUs, super-fast SSDs. These things don’t come cheap. Apple’s situation is even worse. Apple isn’t expected to make high-end gaming PCs, but they are expected to offer the software to allow developers to port their games to Mac if they so desire. If DirectX 12 Ultimate caught Apple off guard, we might be going back to the days where outdated APIs could stop games from being ported to Mac.

Thankfully there is time. 8-core CPUs are falling in price, future Mac GPUs will almost certainly support raytracing and other next-gen tech features, and Apple has always been at the forefront of SSD speeds. Next-gen hardware is impressive, but it will be a while till it is necessary. Let’s just hope Apple doesn’t forget about Metal like they forgot about OpenGL.

© 2024 Mac Gaming Central. All rights reserved.