Every now and then, Apple releases a product that gets the entire world talking. Last year, it was the Apple Watch. A few months ago, it was the new Macbook. The 12-inch Retina MacBook was destroyed by the media because of its specs. Before even touching it, people claimed it was too slow, underpowered and overpriced.

Now the dust has settled, most reviewers ended up loving it, and some even call it the future of laptops. One could argue that but I still have one very important unanswered question: Can’t it play games? And I don’t mean Angry Birds or Mahjong, I mean modern, demanding games.

New Macbook Vs MacBook Air

With the help of Mad scientist Rob-Art from BareFeats (who did these tests on both 12-inch MacBooks and more), I have the answer, backed with data from real-time benchmarks on some of your favorite games.

 

Can the New MacBook play modern games?

To evaluate the New MacBook’s gaming performance, we need a reference point, and lucky me, I have the perfect reference point right here on my desk: a 13-inch MacBook Air. You know what this MacBook Air is capable of, you’ve seen it handle graphically intensive games such as DiRT 3 or Beyond Earth before:

Everyone assumes that it will melt away trying to play a demanding game, but time and time again, it proves them wrong.

But can the New MacBook do as much?

We took the latest 12-inch Macbook (Early 2016) and benchmarked it against last year’s 12-inch MacBook and my 13-inch MacBook Air. The detailed specs:

  • Mid 2013 13-inch MacBook Air: 1.3 GHz Intel Core i5, 4 GB RAM, SSD Flash storage and Intel HD Graphics 5000
  • Early 2015 12-inch Retina MacBook: 1.1 GHz Intel Core M, 8 GB RAM, SSD Flash storage Intel HD Graphics 5300
  • Early 2016 12-inch Retina MacBook: 1.3 GHz Intel Core M7, 8 GB RAM, SSD Flash storage Intel HD Graphics 515

The New MacBook has more RAM and slightly better graphics, but the MacBook Air’s Intel i5 processor is vastly superior. When it comes to gaming, which one comes on top? The results are surprising:

Tomb raider Mac benchmarks Tomb Raider Mac benchmarks

 

Grid 2 Mac benchmarks Grid 2 Mac benchmarks

 

Batman Mac benchmarks Batman Arkham City Mac benchmarks

 

What does it all mean?

2015 Vs 2016 New MacBook: Apple promised 25% faster graphics compared to 2015’s model, and according to these benchmarks, it’s 35% faster. That’s a nice improvement, especially since the latest New MacBook also offers better battery life and the same price point.

The New MacBook did take a beating on Tomb Raider (-36%). We ran those tests three times and can confirm those results are real. On the other hand, the new Macbook did much better on the other two games: +21% more FPS on Grid 2 and +120% more FPS on Batman: Arkham City.

2016 12-inch MacBook Vs MacBook Air: Last year’s New MacBook did already good against my 13-inch MacBook Air. It’s only natural that the 2016 updated version did even better. My MacBook Air was merely 4% faster than the New MacBook (compared to 16% faster than last year’s).

The bottom-line: Generally speaking, anything around 15-25 frames per second is considered bad. But knowing what the MacBook Air can do at 720p and Medium settings, we get a pretty good idea of that the New MacBook is capable of.

If you’re willing to play at 720p and Low settings, you can easily get a 30 frames-per-second experience on a laptop that was made to be ultraportable and ultralight. That’s an impressive feat.

You will notice some strange results here and there, but that’s simply because some games are more CPU-bound while other are GPU-bound. This is why it’s important to have different games to compare.

All in all, gaming performance is similar on both machines, which makes sense as my MacBook Air’s Intel HD 5000 integrated graphics and the New MacBook’s Intel HD 515 are slightly better. And you know that graphics cards are extremely important when it comes to gaming, right? The Air does make up for it thanks to a much more capable i3 processor.

So, if results show that both machines perform similarly, can we conclude that the New MacBook can play modern games? Yes, we can.

 

Should you get it?

If you are getting a 12-inch MacBook for many personal reasons, then go ahead and be confident that some gaming will be possible.

However, if gaming is your priority, a New MacBook is not your best option (and neither my MacBook Air by the way). These are ultra-portable machines, made to be efficient and light, not fast and powerful. If you want power, go for an iMac or a 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro with dedicated graphics cards. These have enough oomph to run most modern games at the highest settings.

And even if you want an ultraportable machine that can do some gaming, I would recommend the latest 13-inch Macbook Air instead. Why? Because it performs slightly better and is much cheaper.

This isn’t a case against the New MacBook. Some time ago I read that the New MacBook isn’t for you, it’s for the future and I couldn’t agree more. Just like the MacBook Air evolved to become the great machine it is today (it too was “overpriced and underpowered” at first), the New Macbook will too. You just need to give it a few years until prices come down and performance improves. Then, it will be the best all-around laptop, period.

Are you lucky enough to have a new 12-inch Retina MacBook? How does it run your favorite games?

You can get the New MacBook (2016 version) from Amazon:

For in-depth benchmarks on Macs, iPads and all things Apple, check out Bare Feats.

Updated May 5, 2016: I updated this article to reflect the Early 2016 12-inch Macbook benchmark results.