May 28, 2006
MacBook video game tests

So I got my hands on a new MacBook Pro. It's seemed very fast, but you don't really know how good a computer is until you see how it runs a couple games, am I right? So I decided to test it out, espeicially after a guy over at the Vanguard forums asked about how good his Mac would be for Vanguard and he got all kinds of ign'ant guff from the regular brand of PC partisans who didn't understand his question (he was aksing if the MacBook running Windows would run Vanguard, not if there would be a "mac" version). So I typed this up:

Ok, first of all -- I'm no super star video game scientist, so don't start waving technical stuff in my face that I should have throttled the buffer overide and overclocked the stfpu in order to get "real" results.

How I did my "tests":

Stock MacBook Pro: Intel Core Duo at 2 GHz, 1GB ram, and a 7200 rpm hard drive, but could only afford to give Windows a 25gb partition (Apple really needs to get a 200-300 bg laptop HD from some vendor, do they even exist yet?). The video card is an ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 with 256 mb ram.

I used Bootcamp to make a partition, installed Windows XP Professional SP 2 and the Apple Windows Drivers. I did not install any updates (who has time for updates? I had video games to play).

I did no tweaking. I wanted to see what "Stock" performance was. The only other thing I installed was Firefox in hopes that I could go 24 hours without getting some sort of malware infection (sorry to make the jab, but it is perplexing to mac users how bad the malware situation is on the Windows platform).


I decided that in order to guage what a future game would be, it would make sense to install a game that pushed the limit of current computers. The MacBook just squeaks in under the minimum gigaherz requirements for Oblivion (2 GHz), but has twice the ram and video card ram. The X1600 chipset is a supported video card. But this install reminded me why a laptop is not a gamer's first choice for a rig.

Surprisingly, when Oblivion autodetected settings, it put the MacBook in high quality mode. I went with this, so keep in mind that better perfrmance could likely be squeezed out by lowering some settings (but what a shame since the engine is so beautiful). The resolution was set to 1024x 768 which I bumped up to the screen's native 1440x990. Lowering it back down didn't seem to enhance performance noticably.

Performance was basically acceptable. It hovered around 15-20 fps, both indoors and outdoors, although things could get a bit herky-jerky. I expected it to be worse in towns. If a number of NPC models were in view, fps could sometimes drop to 5-10 fps, but I'm not sure if that was the 3D engine or maybe the game engine loading & caching dialogue and sound effects. This seemed worst with humanoids, I'm guessing because of the complexity of the facial systems. Rats and Goblins didn't seem to chunk it up so bad, although in fights with 3-4 goblins fps was dropping to the 5-10 range, which was pretty jerky and hard to fight.

Oblivion verdict: Basically acceptable. To play the game through, you'd probalby want to explore a bit on high quality to get a sense for the beauty of the engine, but then you'd want to tone it down to medium or low quality for more fluid gameplay. I'm not sure how the end game fights would go (they had tons of actors on screen at once), but I'm not playing through the game again to find out.

World of Warcraft:

I didn't bother looking at the specs on Blizzards site, because I knew it would run. WoW is almost 2 years old now (goodness time flies), so a new machine will definitely run it. I was lazy and I just copied my WoW directory from my PC and ran it. No problem, of course.

Maybe this test is unfair since Blizzard tuned their engine and models to work on lower end computers, but this was smooth as silk. Well,maybe not in Ironforge (the Alliance Capital) where I was getting 15fps -- but they were a "smooth 15 fps), but I was getting an average of 30fps in the more normal "adventuring" areas. But unlike Oblivion, even when the fps dropped, the action on screen had a definite smoothness to it, so I guess I'm saying that there's 10fps and then there's 10fps that feels like a flip book. I had WoW running at 1440 x 990 with all options set to maximum. Again, you could probably get much better fps with some options turned down, but why? It played and looked great.

The wide screen is definitely nice in a MMORPG. It gives you a place to put all your gee-gaws and widgets and you still have a nice center area with a basic 3:2 ration (like a tv) for all the action.

World of Warcraft verdict: Excellent. This could be your main gaming machine for WoW. I'd still prefer a desktop (I usually play on a 2.21 GHz Athlon 3500 with dual SLI GeForce 6800s and 2gb of ram -- much preferable for games in general, but I wish I had money for a widescreen =P), but I can rationalize having a bunch of computers in the house since it's my profession and lifelong hobby. And my wife accepts that every 2-3 years I "need" to buy a new gaming computer.

Gut Feeling Summary

If you need this machine and want it but are afraid you won't be able to play games on it, don't worry. You should be able to play most of the current crop of games with no problem, all though the real gpu pushers might chunk you up a little bit (this is a curse of the latop, not due to the picture of the apple on the case). It's hard to know how Vanguard specifically will be since system requirements aren't public yet.

Maybe if I get into the beta I can let you know :D

Posted by illovich at May 28, 2006 10:10 PM
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