Updated Mon, Feb 25, 2008 by Messiah
Gaming on the dark side? You are probably asking yourself "What is this fool talking about?" Let me explain a little and provide a brief background. I am talking about gaming on an Apple iMac. GASP!!! What? Everyone knows Macs are not for gaming. Macs are for tree huggers, hippies, academia, free spirits and graphic artists. No serious computer person would ever use a Mac, never mind play a video game on one, would they? To many using a Mac for games is almost as bad a scenario as Luke Skywalker turning to the Dark side of the force! It just isn't right!
Now that the basis premise is laid, let me go back and paint the full picture. Lets take a look at Apple, my very limited experience with them, and how why anyone would actually want to game on one.
Being a PC owner for the whole time Apple has developed and changed, I am not clear on all details. If you would like a more in-depth view of Apple History than I can hope to provide you should check out these excellent sites: http://www.apple-history.com/ and http://apple.computerhistory.org/ .
Apple started selling computers way back in 1976 with the Apple I which was nothing more than a do it your self kit (as were many computers at that time). Apple evolved over the years and the Apple IIe was releases in 1983. The Apple IIc following in 1984 and was one of the first computers to be sold with a mouse and a GUI user interface. Apple continued to evolve and established itself firmly in the world of academia with educational deals to schools.
Their systems continued to expand and improve, but Apples closed architecture and therefore higher price helped with the growing popularity of windows based computers and they soon fell to a distant second place in the computer market. I have no firm idea why (other than possibly being first to market with graphics and graphic capability) but Apple established itself as the system to use for graphics work. Therefore Macs have always had a history of being very good for the graphics industry and that has been the predominant area of their use other than schools.
Until recently Apple has been using the PowerPC chip as their processor of choice. Since last year however they have been publicly moving towards Intel as their processor. Early this year the first Apple with an Intel chip was released in the form of the Apple iMac. Now another Intel Mac has just been released in the form of the Apple MacBook Pro. Both of these new Apples contain an Intel dual core processor ranging from 1.83ghz to 2ghz for the iMac and 2.16ghz for the MacBook Pro. It would seem likely that the iMac will receive and upgrade shortly to the 2.16ghz CPU as well, although this has not been advertised and is completely my own speculation.
For any one that has not seen the newest version of the iMac the images in this section show the new iMac with Intel dual core. It's all one unit and when configured to be fully loaded is quite a machine having a 20" monitor, 2ghz dual core cpu, 2gb of memory, 500gb hard drive, dual layer DVD burner, 803.11g wireless, bluetooth, and much more. If ordered with the wireless keyboard and mouse you only need to plug one cable in (the power cord) and it is ready to use.
If you would have asked me about gaming on a Mac a year ago I would have explained that Macs don't have games, or any good ones at least. I would have gone on to explain how under powered and over priced Macs were. Explain that they were only good for graphic artists and that unless you were in that field you were crazy to look at one.
A little bit more about me....
I have been in the computer industry for over 15 years and have been working with computers since I was 6 (over 25 years ago!). My dad ran his own motorcycle company and was one of the few people in the 70's to have a computer at his office. He wrote his own inventory and database system on a proprietary IBM system with massive 12" floppies a tape drive and no hard drive. I started learning a lot about programming and computers from him at a very young age.
I also learned many things NOT to do! For example, when you are 8 it is NOT a good idea to take apart a hugely expensive impact printer that your dad depends on to do invoicing with to see how it works!!!! I don't think I sat for a week! After that experience my dad though it better that I have some sort of computer at home so that I did not destroy his at work. So my first pc was an IBM PCjr for anyone that can remember those. I then got an Olivetti M24 and it progressed from there to the point that I have probably owned more than 50 or 60 computers, all of which were PC's.
Probably due to my start with IBM equipment and the fact that my dad understood them and taught me about them, my whole life I have been anti-Mac. To the point that I would belittle and berate anyone fool enough to own one, or even use one! I have sworn many times over that I would never EVER own a Mac. This is typical though as Mac and PC owners have had a very long history of competition, rivalry and even loathing.
Apple first seriously came into my scope of vision (besides being an object to hurl insults at) in 2003 with the release of the iPod. At that time I had a huge MP3 collection and was looking for a portable player. There was no way around it, everywhere I turned people were suggesting the iPod as the best unit out there. I delayed, after all, I had been running down Apple Mac computers for the last 15+ years. I couldn't just pick up an Apple handheld unit, could I? In the mean time I picked up a MP3 portable CD player. It lasted about a year before I got sick of the size and the inconvenience of having to burn CDs to listen to my music.
In March of 2004 I broke done and bought a second generation iPod. I immediately fell in love with it, as most iPod owners do. Even though it was initially designed for use with a Mac, Apple released PC drivers and it worked perfectly. I could find no flaw with my iPod and it very quickly became a permanent part of my digital life. When I lost my first iPod on a trip, I replaced it without a moment's hesitation.
In April of 2005 I was on a trip to visit a friend in Thompson, Manitoba. While visiting I could not help but notice his brand new 20" iMac. I had my typical "Why the hell did you buy a Mac!" reaction. He explained that he got it just to try out and play around with and had fallen in love with it. He is an old time computer tech as well and has done network administration for the large mining operation in Thompson, and had had a similar opinion to mine regarding Apples before.
Over the course of the visit, we played with the Mac and did a bunch of work on it preparing documents for a wargaming (Warhammer 40k) tournament that we were running, cleaning photos that we had taken and playing Warcraft. I became enthralled with how everything on it worked. It seemed simpler and more convenient to use than my windows machine for everything that we did. By the end of the week long visit I was hooked. I had just started playing WoW and still thought I would be playing other games and was worried that while the 20" panel and existing graphics card were better than my laptop they we no where near the capability of my desktop PC.
Enter late 2005 and my PC is having issue, my laptop is starting to die a slow death and Apple announces the new 20" iMac Intel Dual Core system with a very respectable video card. Knowing that Blizzard already supports Mac, I do a bit of research and find out that they will be releasing the Universal binary code for WoW very shortly after the release of the Intel iMac in 2006. Even better the speed achieved on the test and tuning systems is a stunning 60fps at 1600x1050 on the 20" wide screen iMac with almost maxed detail settings. Both my desktop and laptop while decent systems have only ever achieved 20-25 fps with the graphics cranked way down and at 1024x768 resolution.
I considered everything that I currently do on my computers and everything that I am likely to do over the next two years on a computer. For the last several years I have mainly been using my computers for internet surfing and design (using GoLive and Dreamweaver), mail, Adobe product work (Photoshop, Illustrator, Acrobat) and Games. Since the release of WoW and my son's becoming old enough to play console games (but not yet computer games), the only computer game I play is WoW. All of these were available on the Mac, in fact several of them are Mac based (Historically Adobe products are Mac based and have been ported to PC). I also looked at the challenge of using a new OS after using Windows at home forever and Solaris, AIX and Unix at work. I also historically buy a new computer or do a major upgrade every two years. Hmm, it wouldn't change my computer experience much, would it?
Like a fish staring at the juicy worm on the hook, I bit and ordered a fully loaded 20" iMac dual core. I ordered my iMac in January 2006 and received it about 2 weeks later in mid-February. By complete fluke it arrived on the very day that Blizzard released the 1.9.3 patch that contained the update to universal binary code for Mac.
What is this Universal Binary you keep talking about?
Mac computers have always done amazing things in the most uncomplicated ways. That's certainly not about to change now. While iMac and MacBook Pro are now powered by the revolutionary Intel Core Duo, moving to the new generation is -- you guessed it -- as easy as using a Mac. Whatever software you choose to use in your new Mac, it just works.
The Universal language
When you see the Universal symbol on Mac applications, that means they're made to run on both Intel- and PowerPC-based Mac computers. Simply install them as usual. They'll automatically run at peak performance for your Mac's architecture. And, it bears repeating, if your Mac is powered by the Intel Core Duo, that performance will be nothing less than astounding -- up to 4X what is possible on PowerPC-based machines.
World of Warcraft was of course, the first piece of software that got installed on my computer. It was a long, agonizing wait while it finished installing, patching and restarting. When it was finally over, I started WoW for the first time on a Mac. All I could say was "Wow!!!!" I was totally blow away. Here was a game that is taxing on any system (even though is has one of the lowest system requirements of any current generation MMO) that was running effortlessly at full detail getting amazing frame rates. Even more amazing was that it was running on an Apple! It was even better than when I had seen it almost a year earlier at my friend house. After all he was running a single G5 processor and a much less powerful video card.
You can find lots of similar reviews on the performance of the Intel iMac's over on the Blizzard sites Mac Support Forum. There have been issues as well as this is a completely new system being written for, but so far most reports are very positive. I have all but terrain distance effects maxed running 1680x1050 and am getting between 35 and 60 FPS everywhere that I go, even large outdoor areas which seem to be the slowest. While I know you can get much higher rates than this on a PC with many of the high end video cards, these numbers are very good and completely playable. There was an article a while ago that showed frame rates up to 100 FPS on the iMac that can be read here: Jade at Macworld: World of Warcraft on the Mactel iMac, although I believe it was on a different display since the LCD on the iMac seems to be locked at a 60 FPS refresh rate setting and therefore limits the setting in WoW.
One very nice thing with WoW on a Mac is the way that WoW mods work. This is something that I had some concern over before switching and did some research on it. Mods in WoW though are all essentially just script files, therefore are platform independent for the most part. I have heard that a few may not work, but have yet to run across a single one that I wanted that did not run.
An issue that I ran into on the Mac which is not directly WoW related, yet can drastically effect your gaming experience, is getting a voice package to work. Until recently there was no readily available gaming voice utility that crossed the PC / Mac boundary. Both Teamspeak and Ventrillo have recently released beta test clients and both function quite well so even this problem is almost solved. There is still one issue that could be a problem, it is that they use the new Speex codec for voice instead of the standard GSM Codec. This means that to communicate with your guild mates you need them to convert their Ventrillo server to use the Speex codec. Depending on your guild, the number of Mac users they have, their willingness to convert PC players and the amount of control they have over their Ventrillo server this may or may not be an easy change. One of the guilds that I am in, changed over the day I asked about it and were more than happy that they did. As it turns out the Speex codec is a much better sounding codec (at least in my guilds experience) and all the PC players thanked the Mac players for asking for the change.
To be completely fair and honest in this article there still are some pretty big dark sides to gaming on the new iMac. It's not all sunshine and daisies, especially if you play games other than WoW. For one, you almost can't play anything other than WoW, and no other major games are available in Universal Binary yet. There are still very few games even released on the Mac and those that are could be released months after the PC version. This may change over the next little while due to the move to an Intel architecture, but don't hold your breath, it's more probable that it won't. This means that if you play a ton of games, and want the ability to buy every new game as it is released, the iMac is NOT for you.
The Dangers of Monogamey:
We covered a very interesting article earlier this week that really really hit home for me on this topic, as I think that I am a perfect example of what the author was talking about. The article is The Dangers of Monogamey and discusses how the game industry is being effected by WoW and players not buying other games because they are only playing WoW. I would suggest that I am an extreme example of this, I have actually gone to a computer that can play very few games other than World of Warcraft, and while this would be unthinkable a few years ago, it does not bug me at all now.
The next big downside to gaming on and Apple is that an Apple is still a rather pricey computer, far more so than your average PC. Especially now that people are used to throw away style computer pricing. Any Mac that you buy will not be as fast as a PC of a comparable price. iMac's are also no where near as upgradable as a PC. In fact on my iMac the only item that is upgradable after purchase is the memory!
I would like to start my conclusions by admitting that I may have been wrong all these years about the Apple, and would defiantly have been wrong about the newest Apples. As such I offer up my apology to each and every Mac owner I ever put down or in the past and an apology to Apple themselves. Until you own one for yourself and see some of the amazing things that Apple has done for the OS and the architecture it's hard to comment on.
The iMac has turned out to be a very solid machine for WoW, Graphic editing, Web Site Design, Word Processing, Mail, and much more. In fact it has so many cool little features that after three weeks with it I am still finding new things that I like daily. I was very worried that it would be a huge learning curve to figure out the Mac OS and get up to speed on it. While it has been a learning experience it has defiantly not been a painful one, if anything it has refreshed my views on what computers can and can not do and even how they do them. I am more than happy with its performance so far, and feel it is an amazing system for playing WoW on. I have had several WoW players over in the last few weeks and none of them could believe how the game looked and played.
Would I suggest that everyone switch to a Mac from their PC? No, not in a million years. I would however suggest it as a solid option for those in need of a new computer and only play World of Warcraft or other older Blizzard games. I would also suggest it to those that are tired of the endless issues with Windows and its famous blue screens, viruses, worms, and un-ending updates. It is proving to be an excellent machine for doing internet and graphics work for this web site, and on equal footing as a Windows computer for all the normal computer tasks like mail, surfing, and word processing. As an added bonus the software that come bundled with it is some of the best I have seen for managing your digital life. It is called iLife 06 and can do almost anything media based on the iMac. It manages your photos, music, DVD creation, web site creation, and even music and podcast creation. Best of all, to quote Apple's slogan "It just works", and it does.
In the end a Mac is not for everyone, it is a very different computing experience and one that not everyone will ever be willing to try. If my using a Mac now means I have become one of the tree huggers, hippies, or free spirits then I say "So be it". I have already received many of the negative comments that I used to give out about Macs right back at me from friends that are PC games, listing many of the issues that I have stated above. No matter what owning a Mac says about me, or what people say, I love my new iMac. I never have cared much about what people think of me or the decision I make anyway.
To return to my Star Wars anecdote at the beginning of this article, I no longer see the Mac as the dark side. It is different side of computing and gaming for sure, and probably not for everyone. I do not believe it can be classified as bad or evil though and with the switch to an Intel architecture it could be brightening significantly in the near future. It will probably remain the poor cousin to the PC for a long time to come, simply because Apple holds such a small percentage of the computer market. With so many people using an iPod though and getting used to buying Apple, can it be long before more and more people consider the switch to an Apple computer?
Comments? Flames? As always I would love to hear from you either on or forums or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org .