Let’s get this out of the way: Macs are not ideal for gaming. If you want a computer primarily to play games, you will be better off with a custom-built Windows tower.
But that’s not why you’re here. You probably prefer a Mac for your everyday use, but you also want to play games on the side. And if you’re thinking about upgrading, or getting your first Mac, you want to know:
What is the best Mac for gaming I can buy today? Are Macs good for gaming?
Apple tends to prefer a slim form factor over raw power. That’s why most of their computers use integrated graphics. Macs may not be designed for gaming, but gaming on a Mac is possible, in fact, some can even be excellent gaming machines.
We’re here to show you which ones can be called true Apple gaming computers and which ones you should stay away from. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re looking for a laptop or a desktop. We cover both.
Most articles covering the best gaming Macs simply list the different options available and conclude that you should:
- Stay away from integrated graphics.
- Get the Mac with the most expensive graphics card you can.
We take a slightly different approach. We run benchmarks on all of the models Apple currently offers, including the latest iMac Pros, and then tell you which ones perform better.
Expand to see the specs of every machine we tested
|MacBook Air||MacBook Air (13-inch, 2017)||1.8 GHz Intel Core i5||8 GB||Intel HD Graphics 6000||$999|
|Macbook||MacBook (12-inch, Mid-2017)||1.4 GHz Intel Core m3||8 GB||Intel HD Graphics 615||$1,549|
|MacBook Pro||MacBook Pro (13-inch, Mid-2017)||2.3 GHz Intel Core i5||8 GB||Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640||$1,299|
|MacBook Pro||MacBook Pro (13-inch, Mid-2017, Touch Bar)||3.1 GHz Intel Core i5||8 GB||Intel Iris Plus Graphics 650||$1,799|
|MacBook Pro||MacBook Pro (13-inch, Mid-2017, Touch Bar)||3.5 GHz Intel Core i7||8 GB||Intel Iris Plus Graphics 650||$2,299|
|MacBook Pro||MacBook Pro (15-inch, Mid-2017, Touch Bar)||2.8 GHz Intel Core i7||16 GB||Radeon Pro 555 (2GB)||$2,399|
|MacBook Pro||MacBook Pro (15-inch, Mid-2017, Touch Bar)||2.9 GHz Intel Core i7||16 GB||Radeon Pro 560 (4GB)||$2,799|
|MacBook Pro||MacBook Pro (15-inch, Mid-2017, Touch Bar)||3.1 GHz Intel Core i7||16 GB||Radeon Pro 560 (4GB)||$2,999|
|iMac||iMac (21-inch, 4K, Mid-2017)||3.0 GHz Intel Core i5||8 GB||Radeon Pro 555 (2GB)||$1,299|
|iMac||iMac (27-inch, 5K, Mid-2017)||3.4 GHz Intel Core i5||8 GB||Radeon Pro 570 (4GB)||$1,799|
|iMac||iMac (27-inch, 5K, Mid-2017)||3.8 GHz Intel Core i5||24 GB||Radeon Pro 580 (8GB)||$2,499|
|iMac Pro||iMac Pro (27-inch, 5K, Late 2017)||3.2 GHz 8-Core Intel Xeon||32 GB||Radeon Pro Vega 64 (16GB)||$5,599|
|Mac Pro||Mac Pro (Late 2013)||3.5 GHz Intel 6-Core Intel Xeon||16 GB||Dual AMD FirePro D500 (3GB)||$2,999|
|Mac Pro||Mac Pro (Late 2013)||3.5 GHz Intel 6-Core Intel Xeon||16 GB||Dual AMD FirePro D700 (6GB)||$3,199|
|Mac Mini||Mac Mini (Late 2014)||2.6 GHz Intel Core i5||8 GB||Intel Iris 5100||$699|
As you can see, virtually every model was tested, except the entry 21-inch iMac and Mac Mini models.
Using actual games…
Can you game on a Mac? The only way to find out is to actually run games on every model Apple offers and see how they compare. For that purpose, we decided to go with Feral Interactive’s Tomb Raider and Grid 2.
While not the newest games, they offer a fair comparison among all the models we’ll be testing. Plus, you’ll be able to tell from the results which Macs can handle the newest games and which are only good for older or less demanding titles.
These are the settings we use:
- 1280x800 or equivalent resolution
- Medium/Normal Graphics Settings
- VSync: Off
- Multisampling: Off
We then run the games’ in-game benchmarking tools to ensure the same testing conditions are used on every machine.
This is how each machine performed (in frames per second or FPS):
Digging deeper into the results, it’s clear that Macs can be good gaming machines. You just need to chose the right model:
|Series||Model||Processor||Graphics||Tomb Raider FPS||Grid 2 FPS|
|MacBook Air||MacBook Air (13-inch, 2017)||1.8 GHz Intel Core i5||Intel HD Graphics 6000||22.4||27.3|
|Macbook||MacBook (12-inch, Mid-2017)||1.4 GHz Intel Core m3||Intel HD Graphics 615||23.7||20.8|
|MacBook Pro||MacBook Pro (13-inch, Mid-2017)||2.3 GHz Intel Core i5||Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640||40.9||29.1|
|MacBook Pro||MacBook Pro (13-inch, Mid-2017, Touch Bar)||3.1 GHz Intel Core i5||Intel Iris Plus Graphics 650||50.3||32.2|
|MacBook Pro||MacBook Pro (15-inch, Mid-2017, Touch Bar)||2.8 GHz Intel Core i7||Radeon Pro 555 (2GB)||75.5||65.5|
|MacBook Pro||MacBook Pro (15-inch, Mid-2017, Touch Bar)||2.9 GHz Intel Core i7||Radeon Pro 560 (4GB)||89.8||74.8|
|iMac||iMac (21-inch, 4K, Mid-2017)||3.0 GHz Intel Core i5||Radeon Pro 555 (2GB)||84.0||122.8|
|iMac||iMac (27-inch, 5K, Mid-2017)||3.4 GHz Intel Core i5||Radeon Pro 570 (4GB)||153.7||90.0|
|iMac||iMac (27-inch, 5K, Mid-2017)||3.8 GHz Intel Core i5||Radeon Pro 580 (8GB)||193.0||173.0|
|iMac Pro||iMac Pro (27-inch, 5K, Late 2017)||3.2 GHz 8-Core Intel Xeon||Radeon Pro Vega 64 (16GB)||153.0||87.0|
|Mac Pro||Mac Pro (Late 2013)||3.5 GHz Intel 6-Core Intel Xeon||Dual AMD FirePro D500 (3GB)||115.8||67.7|
|Mac Pro||Mac Pro (Late 2013)||3.5 GHz Intel 6-Core Intel Xeon||Dual AMD FirePro D700 (6GB)||116.0||93.0|
|Mac Mini||Mac Mini (Late 2014)||2.6 GHz Intel Core i5||Intel Iris 5100||26.5||35.6|
Expand to see how to interpret these results
For your reference, this is how we describe the different levels of performance (in frames per second):
|Below 20 FPS||Unplayable||Laggy gameplay, full of stutters and slowdowns.|
|20-30 FPS||Borderline||Can be Ok in slow paced games. Still, not optimal.|
|30-45 FPS||Playable||Acceptable for most (most gaming consoles do this).|
|45-60 FPS||Smooth||Fluid gameplay, with no perceivable stutters.|
|60+ FPS||Very Smooth||For hardcore and professional players, a luxury for most.|
If you’re really serious about gaming, your best bet is the 27-inch iMac. The base model with a 4GB Radeon Pro 570 delivers great performance and has a reasonable price-tag.
Don’t get me wrong, an iMac isn’t cheap. But when you take performance into account, the 27-inch iMac delivers the most bang for the buck.
If this Mac can run Tomb Raider at a baffling 150 FPS and Grid 2 at an impressive 90 FPS, it should be able to run anything you throw at it. Most Mac games should even run at high resolutions (1440p or more) and high settings just fine.
In addition to having the power to allow gaming without compromises, it also offers the best value for your money:
|Series||Model||Graphics||Average FPS||Dollar per Frame||Price|
|iMac||iMac (21-inch, 4K, Mid-2017)||Radeon Pro 555 (2GB)||103.4||$13||$1,299|
|iMac||iMac (27-inch, 5K, Mid-2017)||Radeon Pro 570 (4GB)||121.9||$15||$1,799|
|iMac||iMac (27-inch, 5K, Mid-2017)||Radeon Pro 580 (8GB)||183.0||$13||$2,299|
|iMac Pro||iMac Pro (27-inch, 5K, Late 2017)||Radeon Pro Vega 64 (16GB)||120.0||$47||$5,599|
|Mac Mini||Mac Mini (Late 2014)||Intel Iris 5100||31.0||$23||$699|
|Mac Pro||Mac Pro (Late 2013)||Dual AMD FirePro D500 (3GB)||91.8||$33||$2,999|
|Mac Pro||Mac Pro (Late 2013)||Dual AMD FirePro D700 (6GB)||104.5||$31||$3,199|
If you take a close look at the Dollar per Frame column (remember, lower is better), the iMac family offers the best value for money in terms of gaming performance.
To be fair, at $13 per Frame, the 21-inch iMac offers even more bang for the buck, but it also offers less performance. If you can only afford the 21-inch model with a Radeon Pro 555, go for it, it will be the best Apple gaming computer for your budget. But if you can afford it, the 27-inch model is the way to go.
And if you have an even bigger budget, definitely consider upgrading it. More on that below.
The 27-inch iMac may the best Apple desktop for gaming, with the 21-inch iMac coming at a close second. But other desktop alternatives exist.
iMac Pro gaming
The iMac Pro is the hottest Mac available right now. It also happens to be the most powerful computer from Apple, surpassing even the infamous Mac Pro. That should make it an ideal gaming machine, right?
It goes without saying the iMac Pro is fast. In fact, if you’re a professional in need of raw power for video or 3D graphics editing, this is probably what you need. But when it comes to gaming, it’s simply overkill. It costs twice as much as an iMac with a Radeon Pro 580 and runs our test games at 120 FPS on average compared to 183 FPS on the Radeon Pro 580 iMac. What gives? Professional applications such as Final Cut are optimized to take advantage of everything the iMac Pro has to offer but most games aren’t. That means a lot of that raw power will be wasted on that machine…
Our take: Unless your job demands it, this machine is overkill. You’re better off with an upgraded 27-inch iMac.
Mac Mini gaming
The Mac Mini may be cheap compared to every other Apple computer available, but it’s a machine you should stay away from. The Mac Mini hasn’t been updated in over 4 years and it shows. It’s slow and overpriced for what it has to offer.
On average, it ran our test games at 31 FPS, which is decent if a Mac Mini is what you currently have. But if you’re looking to buy a new machine, don’t bother.
Our take: After all these years, Apple will either soon update it or (officially) kill it.
Mac Pro gaming
The current Mac Pro was supposed to revolutionize desktop computing. It didn’t. I won’t go into the whole story, but the Mac Pro was a failure and you should stay away from it too.
The iMac Pro was partially released to help Apple recover from that disaster and a new Mac Pro is coming… eventually. In the meantime, the current Mac Pro is overpriced and not that fast. With 91 FPS on average and a $2,999 price tag, an iMac is a much better choice. For the record, Mac Pro gaming is more than capable. Most games should be playable on one. It’s just not good value for money if you’re shopping for a new machine…
Our take: If you have the money for a Mac Pro and time, wait for the new Mac Pro. If you don’t, an upgraded 27-inch iMac or iMac Pro is the way to go.
So from the several Apple desktops available, a 27-inch iMac is the top gaming choice.
But what if you need a laptop?
A laptop will never be as powerful as a similarly priced desktop and Apple computers aren’t any different. That said, sometimes you need a laptop. For those situations, Apple offers several MacBook models ranging from the cheaper but outdated MacBook Air to the shiny new MacBook Pro (MBP) with a touch bar.
Each MacBook line serves a different purpose and if you’re looking for a machine capable of running modern games, the 15-inch MacBook Pro is the top choice. The entry 15-inch MBP with a Radeon Pro 555 ran our test games at an average 70.5 FPS. Not as fast as an iMac, but more than enough for the average gamer.
In fact, it should have the power to run all but the most demanding games on Medium settings and 1080p resolution at 30+ FPS.
This is how the 15-inch MBP compares with the other MacBooks offered by Apple:
|Series||Model||Graphics||Average FPS||Dollar per Frame||Price|
|MacBook Air||MacBook Air (13-inch, 2017)||Intel HD Graphics 6000||24.9||$40||$999|
|Macbook||MacBook (12-inch, Mid-2017)||Intel HD Graphics 615||22.3||$70||$1,549|
|MacBook Pro||MacBook Pro (13-inch, Mid-2017)||Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640||35.0||$37||$1,299|
|MacBook Pro||MacBook Pro (13-inch, Mid-2017, Touch Bar)||Intel Iris Plus Graphics 650||41.3||$44||$1,799|
|MacBook Pro||MacBook Pro (15-inch, Mid-2017, Touch Bar)||Radeon Pro 555 with 2GB||70.5||$34||$2,399|
|MacBook Pro||MacBook Pro (15-inch, Mid-2017, Touch Bar)||Radeon Pro 560 (4GB)||82.3||$34||$2,799|
At $2,399, the entry 15-inch MacBook Pro isn’t the fastest nor the cheapest. Why do we still think it’s the best Apple gaming laptop? Easy, because it offers the best value for money. The other MacBooks are much more affordable but their gaming capabilities are too limited. Looking at the Dollars per Frame column, the 15-inch MBP offers the best bang for the buck at $34 per Frame.
As can be expected, the MacBook Pro graphics card is what makes all the difference. For example, an upgraded 15-inch MBP with a Radeon Pro 560 is also $34 per Frame but the price tag quickly gets out of hands. More on that below.
The 15-inch MacBook Pro can be an excellent gaming machine, but I’m sure you noticed one big downside: the cost of buying one.
Having a powerful graphics card in ae slim laptop case has always been an expensive challenge, but the rise of eGPUs is changing that. Short for “external graphics card”, an eGPU lets you connect a full-sized graphics card into a MacBook via the high-speed Thunderbolt 3 connection.
This is what Apple Insider‘s Mac eGPU setup looks like:
A MacBook eGPU setup should be cheaper and faster than a more expensive MBP, and with High Sierra eGPU’s improvements, the setup is quite easy to install and use.
For example, a 13-inch MBP with a 3.5 GHz Intel Core i7 and Iris Plus Graphics 650 runs our test games at 46.3 FPS . The same machine with an 8 GB Mantiz Venus Radeon RX Vega 56 runs them at 76 FPS. That’s faster than the 15-inch MBP!
So, are MacBooks good for gaming? Some of them certainly are. But a MacBook’s graphics card is crucial and most MacBooks, with their integrated graphics, won’t cut it.
If you’re wondering: What MacBook should I get? I can only say: It depends, do you want power or mobility?
MacBook Pro gaming (13-inch)
But what if you don’t have over $2,000 to put into a laptop? You can always get a 13-inch MacBook Pro. It certainly won’t be as fast as a 15-inch model, in fact, it’s half as fast running our test games at 35 FPS on average, but it’s a $1,000 cheaper.
For $1,299, you can get the non-touch bar version with an Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640. Compared to the 13-inch touch bar version, the non-touch bar has better bang for the buck at $37 per frame compared to $44 per frame. I can’t say I’m surprised; the touch bar version is $500 more expensive and is barely 5 FPS faster according to our tests.
You won’t be able to play Fortnite at the highest settings with it, but a 13-inch MBP is enough to enjoy most games out there. Trust me, I know, this is the machine I use the most!
Our take: If you can’t afford a 15-inch MBP, the non-touch bar 13-inch model is an excellent compromise.
MacBook Air gaming (13-inch)
The MacBook Air (MBA) is the cheapest Apple laptop. Performance wise, it averages 25 FPS, which is surprisingly good for such a thin computer, and at $999, it sounds like a good deal for a super thin and sleek Mac. Don’t get me wrong, the list of games for MacBook Air is limited but still bigger than expected.
Problem is, the MacBook Air hasn’t been updated in a long time. The last time it received a major revision was in March 2015, and it shows, especially when you look at the computer’s screen. Compared to the retina displays most modern laptops use, the MBA’s looks downright obsolete for a product worth $1000.
Our take: Rumors say the MacBook Air will receive a major update later this year; we recommend either waiting or saving an extra $300 and buying a 13-inch MacBook Pro.
MacBook gaming (12-inch)
The 12-inch MacBook is an impressive machine. It’s so thin and small, it makes the MacBook Air look bloated and old. Seeing it when it first came out felt like catching a glimpse of what the future would look like.
The future is always exciting but it’s rarely good value for money. The 12-inch MacBook is impressive and disappointing at the same time. Its form factor, size, and weight are spectacular but its performance is mediocre. And that is obviously not good for games.
At 22.3 FPS on average and a $1,549 price tag, this machine offers the worst bang for the buck at $70 per frame.
Our take: Unless you have a back problem and need the lightest MacBook there is, go for a 13-inch MBP instead (or a 15-inch MBP if you can afford it).
You now know what Mac you want and are ready to make the purchase. But what about those upgrades Apple offers? They all sound great, but it can get very expensive really quickly.
You already know that some upgrades are more important than others when it comes to gaming. Also, some upgrades can only be performed by Apple while others you can do yourself for less money.
So which upgrades are worth it?
It goes without saying that the faster your graphics card, the better your games will run. Unfortunately, graphics can rarely be specifically upgraded.
For example, if you want to upgrade the Radeon Pro 570 graphics on a 27-inch iMac, you’ll need to choose the more expensive iMac model with a faster processor, a bigger hard drive and a Radeon Pro 580. That will cost you $500 more. According to our results, that upgrade will result in a 50% increase in performance (going from 122 to 180 FPS) and it’s definitely worth it, but quite expensive.
In some rare cases, you can purchase the entry model and just upgrade the graphics. The 15-inch MacBook Pro is a good example. Going from the standard 2GB Radeon Pro 555 to a 4GB Radeon Pro 560 will cost you only $100. The upgraded graphics are 16% faster, with 82 FPS compared to 70 FPS. Given a MacBook Pro GPU’s importance, this is good news.
If gaming is important to you, prioritize upgrading your graphics instead of your processor. Some games are very sensitive to faster processors, but the vast majority will benefit more from an upgraded GPU.
To give you an example, a 13-inch MacBook Pro with an upgraded processor (3.5 GHz instead of the standard 3.1 GHz) is only 12% faster at 46 FPS VS. 41 FPS and costs $300 more.
More RAM is always good, even if it will never have a significant impact on gaming (unless you have very little RAM, to begin with).
Unfortunately upgrading RAM on a Mac is extremely expensive. There was a time when most Macs could be upgraded by users for a fraction of the price, but those days are over.
You can’t upgrade the RAM yourself in any of the current models except the 21-inch iMacs, the 27-inch iMacs, and the Mac Pros. If you want one of these models, upgrade the RAM yourself. Otherwise, I don’t recommend paying for an upgrade from Apple.
It wasn’t easy choosing the best Apple desktop and laptop among several models available. As our target is to give you an unbiased and complete overview of the best Macs for gaming, we had to use multiple criteria to ensure things stay as objective and comparable as possible:
Raw Performance (FPS)
It’s no secret our most important criteria was performance. After all, playing modern video games requires a decent amount of raw performance. RAM and a speedy processor are certainly important, but for most games, a powerful graphics card will make the most difference.
A dedicated graphics card will be much better for gaming than an integrated card and the faster the graphics card, the faster the game should run. But while most guides simply focus on listing the most powerful cards, we run actual tests on games and use those real-world results instead.
As you can see from the above results, we focus on frames per second to evaluate the gaming performance of each machine. That information should give you a realistic and accurate idea of how well each machine can run modern games.
Value for money
We could simply list the Macs with the most powerful graphics card and call it a day. Or we could test all current Macs and just recommend the ones with the highest FPS.
But if we stopped there, we would be ignoring a critical factor for you and me: money. Most of us don’t have the budget for a top of the line $5,000 iMac Pro. We all have limited budgets that force us to look for the best value for money. That’s why every model was analyzed with a critical eye focused on getting the most bang for the buck.
To keep things in check, we calculated a Dollars per Frame (total number of frames divided by the machine’s price tag) figure for each machine. That should help you more easily compare the value each machine delivers in terms of gaming potential.
Date since updated
The last factor we took into account was the number of days since each model was last updated. We can’t recommend a machine if the risk of it becoming obsolete in just a few months is high.
To keep track of the days since each model was updated, we used MacRumors famous guide:
MacRumors guide is impressive, but I would take their recommendations with a grain salt. They recommend not to buy all Mac models except the Mac Pro and the iMac Pro. That recommendation is not entirely relevant because it takes into account the days since the machines were last updated, regardless if the update was significant or not.
This is what I recommend, no matter your intentions of gaming with it or not:
|Model||Should you buy it?|
|MacBook Air (13-inch, 2017)||Don’t, wait for an update!|
|MacBook (12-inch, Mid-2017)||Only if on sale|
|MacBook Pro (13-inch, Mid-2017)||Sure, why not?|
|MacBook Pro (13-inch, Mid-2017, Touch Bar)||Sure, why not?|
|MacBook Pro (15-inch, Mid-2017, Touch Bar)||Sure, why not?|
|iMac (21-inch, 4K, Mid-2017)||Sure, why not?|
|iMac (27-inch, 5K, Mid-2017)||Sure, why not?|
|iMac Pro (27-inch, 5K, Late 2017)||Sure, why not?|
|Mac Pro (Late 2013)||Don’t, wait for an update!|
|Mac Mini (Late 2014)||Don’t, wait for an update!|
We hope we’ve made choosing your next Mac much easier. We could have taken the easy way out with this guide and just listed graphics cards and made recommendations based on that. But we decided to do it right and take into account the different needs you may have.
Whatever your needs, gaming and otherwise, we have you covered:
|Our Pick||Runner-Up||Value Pick|
|Top Mac desktop||Top laptop option||Low buget option|
|27-inch iMac||15-inch MacBook Pro||21-inch iMac|
|Fastest gaming Mac overall||Fastest gaming MacBook||Cheaper Mac with good enough performance|
|Full review||Full Review||Full Review|
And by the way, this guide wouldn’t have been possible without the precious help from Rob-Art from Barefeats.com and several Mac Gamer HQ readers. Thanks a lot, guys!
Don’t hesitate to share this with a friend looking for their first Mac or a college student thinking about upgrading. And especially with friends who think you can’t game on a Mac.
And finally, make sure you bookmark this guide. It will be updated every time Apple releases a new machine!