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Let’s be real: Windows PCs have utterly dominated computer gaming for at least the past two decades, and arguably more. Apple’s Mac, though powerful and attractive, fell far short of the quickest Windows PCs in graphics performance, and MacOS’s lackluster support for cutting-edge 3D visuals didn’t help.
The story is shifting, however, as Mac computers with Apple Silicon begin to challenge the grunt of high-end Windows PCs. Apple also pairs these advances with its own graphics API, Metal, which is similar to OpenGL/OpenCL or Vulkan.
Mac gaming is better than ever. But is it really enough to challenge Windows PCs in the long run?
We compare Mac vs. PC gaming with the following in mind:
Mac vs. PC Gaming: Performance
Apple Silicon is incredibly efficient, and the best Macs (such as a Mac Studio with Apple M2 Ultra) are more-or-less a match for a mid-range Windows gaming PC. Apple’s most powerful Macs can deliver a reliable 90 to 120 FPS (or more) in games like No Man’s Sky, Resident Evil: Village, and World of Warcraft at 4K resolution and maximum or near-maximum detail settings.
Still, a high-end Windows gaming PC can easily defeat even the quickest Mac Studio desktop. A Windows gaming PC with a Core i9-13900K and RTX 4090 can achieve over 160 FPS in No Man’s Sky, for instance. Windows PCs also have access to features that Mac gamers don’t, such as hardware accelerated ray-tracing. As a result, Windows PCs can often achieve superior performance while also providing superior image quality.
Windows’ gaming benefits from a vast range of processor, video card, RAM, and storage support. It also benefits from a relatively open ecosystem of hardware that lets gamers build massive, extravagant, overclocked systems. The Mac has no answer to a Windows gaming PC with an AMD or Intel processor that has over 20 cores, is overclocked to 5.5GHz (or beyond), and taps an Nvidia RTX 4090 for 3D graphics.
The Mac’s gaming performance has improved significantly in the past five years, but it still isn’t a match for Windows.
Mac vs. PC Gaming: Game Compatibility
Game compatibility, or lack of it, is the single most critical contributor to the downfall of Mac gaming. The Mac’s embrace of IBM’s PowerPC architecture (remember that?) led to a schism that forced Windows and Mac gaming down different paths—and the Mac’s path was a dead end.
Mac gaming is beginning to recover from that error. Apple’s current graphics API, Metal, is a low-level hardware-accelerated 3D graphics and compute API similar to OpenGL/OpenCL or Vulkan. That in turn helps developers achieve better performance with the hardware Apple provides.
Apple is helping developers port games to the Mac, as well, with the appropriately named Gaming Porting Toolkit. It’s so easy to use, in fact, that anyone can use it to port existing DirectX games to Apple hardware. Apple brought Hideo Kojima onto the virtual stage at WWDC 2023 to announce a MacOS port of his latest high-profile hit, Death Stranding.
And yet, this announcement demonstrates Mac gaming’s continued struggle to attract big-budget, mainstream games. Death Stranding is excellent, but it was released November 8, 2019, and PC gamers received a port on July 14, 2020. The game is coming to the Mac four years after its initial release.
Yes, some games are coming to MacOS, and others have received unofficial ports through the Game Porting Toolkit. But the vast majority of games released for a computer come to Windows first. A Mac port—if one is ever released at all—is often an afterthought that doesn’t arrive for months or years.
This is another obvious win for the PC.
Mac vs. PC Gaming: Peripheral Compatibility
Game compatibility is important, but it’s only half the battle. PC gamers have access to a vast ecosystem of hardware that includes gaming monitors, keyboards, mice, joysticks, racing wheels, throttles, rudder pedals, VR headsets, and more.
These peripherals can prove just as important as the CPU and GPU inside a gaming PC. Want a more accurate experience in Flight Simulator? You can buy a yoke, throttle, and rudder pedals. Want to chase the “path to pro” in your favorite competitive esports title? Snag a gaming keyboard, mouse, and 360 Hz gaming monitor. There’s a nearly endless combination of peripherals to fit your needs and desires.
Mac gamers have fewer options. Modern Macs are compatible with Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4/5 gamepads, as well as many Bluetooth gamepads with a similar layout. They also support resolutions up to 4K at a refresh rate up to 240Hz over HDMI, which means some gaming monitors are an option.
But that’s where the good news ends. The Mac is compatible with only a handful of racing wheels, like the Logitech G920/G29, and only a handful of flight simulation setups, such as the Saitek Pro Flight Yoke. Gaming keyboards and mice will usually function, but those that lack MacOS software support won’t have access to their full range of features. And VR headsets? Forget about it—the Mac’s VR support is incredibly narrow even with the announcement of the Vision Pro..
Mac vs. PC Gaming: Portability and Form Factor
Modern gamers are increasingly eager to play wherever and however they want. Both the Mac and Windows PCs allow this, but there’s significant differences between each.
Mac has one big advantage in this arena: Apple Silicon. The fruit company’s home baked goods are generally more efficient (in terms of performance-per-watt) than hardware from AMD, Intel, and Nvidia. As a result, they can achieve excellent performance at relatively low power draw.
Apple’s MacBook laptops last longer on a charge than their WIndows alternatives, and Mac desktops provide competitive performance in smaller machines that emit less noise and heat. Compact PC desktops exist, but their performance generally lags that of Apple’s Mac Mini and Mac Studio. This is especially true in graphics performance, as compact PCs typically stick to Intel Iris Xe or AMD Radeon integrated graphics.
But PC gamers can enjoy something the Mac can’t: handheld gaming PCs. The introduction of handheld PCs like the Steam Deck, Ayaneo, and Asus ROG Ally offer an all-in-one compact gaming experience that’s completely unavailable on a Mac. And that’s likely to remain true for the foreseeable future as, despite occasional speculation, Apple hasn’t announced plans to introduce its own game console (handheld or otherwise).
PC gamers also have access to user-upgradable components unavailable in Mac laptops and desktops. Modern Macs are nearly impossible to upgrade, so what you buy is what you get. PC desktops, and some laptops, can be upgraded over time. You can slowly improve your PC over time, which is often less expensive and more flexible.
The winner in this match-up depends on your needs. A Mac laptop will last longer on a charge than a PC gaming laptop, and Mac desktops are much smaller than gaming desktops. But the PC’s unique, alluring handheld form factor keeps it competitive.
Mac vs. PC Gaming: Value
Clearly, PC gamers have far more choice in how, and what, they play. And that choice leads to another, equally important advantage: lower prices.
Macs are expensive. The least expensive Mac desktop, the Mac Mini, starts at $599—but it’s not great for most 3D games, as it has the least capable version of Apple’s M1 chip. Gamers are better served by a MacBook Studio or MacBook Pro 16, which have a starting MSRP of $1,999 and $2,499, respectively.
That’s a lot of money, and gamers who purchase a PC can snag a much quicker system for the same price. A Lenovo Legion desktop with an Intel Core i7-13700F and Nvidia RTX 4070 can be purchased for $1,999 and will easily defeat the similarly priced Mac Studio. The same is true with laptops: $2,499 can buy a Razer Blade 15 with an Intel Core i7-13800H and Nvidia RTX 4060.
Mac gamers sometimes pay more for games, too—especially when the game is purchased through the Mac App Store. Games like Return to Monkey Island, Civilization VI, and the upcoming Death Stranding technically share the same MSRP on Mac and PC. However, Steam’s frequent sales encourages lower minimum prices for even some of the best PC games. The Mac App Store rarely highlights coordinated, store-wide sales, so gamers are far more likely to pay the full retail MSRP.
Mac vs. PC Gaming: Verdict
The battle between Mac and PC gaming remains simple to summarize. PC gaming is better, period.
PC gamers can enjoy a wider variety of hardware and games, and can purchase them at lower prices. There’s entire genres of games, like VR games and flight simulators, that have little or no community on the Mac. The hardware and software support just isn’t there.
Mac gaming is rapidly improving, however, and now presents a viable alternative to the PC for some gamers. There’s fewer games, and fewer peripherals, but some popular titles are now officially supported on the Mac, and high-end Mac hardware can play compatible games at smooth, fluid framerates.
PC gaming is the clear victor and the preferred platform for most gamers—but if you’re happy to stick with a more limited library, or simply prefer the look and feel or MacOS, you’ll find plenty to keep you entertained.
Matthew S. Smith is a hardware and tech freelance writer with more than 15 years of industry experience.