Let’s get this out of the way: Macs are not ideal for gaming. If you want a computer to mainly play video games, you’ll be better off with a Windows tower.
But you knew that already. If you’re here, it’s because you want a Mac. Heck, maybe you need one for work or school. But does that mean you’ll have to give up on gaming altogether? Not at all.
Depending on which Mac you decide to go for, playing video games can range from decent to great. If you’re thinking about getting a new Mac, the question isn’t Can I play games on Mac? but What is the best Mac for gaming?
Taking into account Apple prefers slim form factors and uses integrated graphics whenever possible, it goes without saying Macs are not designed for gaming. That said, many can get the job done. We benchmarked over 50+ gaming Macs and some are suprisingly capable gaming machines.
We’re here to show you which ones are 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.
|Model||★ Best Overall||Best MacBook||Best Value|
|Processor||3.4 GHz Intel Core i5||2.2 GHz Intel Core i7||3.0 GHz Intel Core i5|
|Graphics||Radeon Pro 570||Radeon Pro 555X||Radeon Pro 555|
|RAM||8 GB||16 GB||8 GB|
|Release date||June 2017||July 2018||July 2018|
Last updated: March 28, 2019
A lot has changed since this guide was originally published in July 2018. Every Mac model has been upgraded with faster internals with some models receiving entirely new redesigns (such as the MacBook Air and Mac Mini).
All this additional processing power forced us to adapt. Instead of continuing to use Tomb Raider and GRID 2, we decided to replace them with the newer and more demanding Rise of the Tomb Raider and DiRT Rally and see how well Apple’s latest Macs can handle modern gaming.
Most articles covering the best Macs for gaming settle with listing all the models available and conclude the obvious:
- You should stay away from integrated graphics.
- And get the Mac with the most expensive graphics card you can afford.
We take a slightly different approach. We ran benchmarks on every single model Apple currently sells, including the latest iMacs; MacBook Airs and Mac Minis, and show you which ones deliver the best gaming performance, offer the best bang for the buck or both.
Expand to see the specs of every machine we tested
Standard benchmarks such as Geekbench could be a good start, but if we aim to accurately chose the best Macs for gaming, we have to use actual video games. For that purpose, we decided to go with Feral Interactive’s DiRT Rally and Rise of the Tomb Raider, two graphically impressive and demanding games released in 2017 and 2018 respectively.
Our first version of this guide was created using the older Tomb Raider and GRID 2, but as Macs keep receiving updates and performance improvements, so our test games needed to be upgraded too.
We used the following settings:
- 1280x800 or equivalent resolution
- Medium/Normal Graphics Settings
- VSync: Off
- Anti-Aliasing: FXAA (Rise of the Tomb Raider)
- Multisampling: Off (DiRT Rally)
And then used the in-game benchmarking tools for both games to ensure identical testing conditions on all machines.
This is how each machine performed in FPS (in frames per second):
Glancing at these results is enough to see that some Macs can be good gaming machines. You just need to choose the right model. The same universal truths that apply to Windows gaming apply here too:
- Desktops offer better performance
- Graphics cards are the main driver of good gaming performance.
With that in mind, it’s not surprising the 27-inch iMacs and iMac Pro with high-end graphics are the fastest:
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 serious about gaming, your best bet is the 27-inch iMac. The base model with a 4 GB Radeon Pro 570 delivers great performance and has a reasonable price-tag ($1,799).
Don’t get me wrong, an iMac isn’t cheap. But when you take built-quality, an amazing monitor, and performance into account, the 27-inch iMac delivers a lot of value.
If this Mac can run Rise of the Tomb Raider at an impressive 80.9 FPS and DiRT Rally at a baffling 123.4 FPS, it should be able to run anything you throw at it, including all the latest games at 1080p resolution and high settings.
Running our games at 102.2 FPS (frames per second) on average, this iMac offers both great performance and the best bang for the buck we’ve seen so far:
If you take a closer look at the $ per FPS (Dollar per Frame) column, the iMac family offers by far the best value for money when it comes to gaming performance.
To be fair, at $19 per FPS, the 21-inch 4K iMac also offers great value and good performance (it can run both games just fine). If you can only afford the 21-inch model, go for it, it is the best Apple gaming computer under $1,500. But if you can come up with the extra $300, the base model 27-inch iMac will take you further.
And if you have an even bigger budget, consider upgrading the 27-inch iMac’s graphics card. More on that below.
PS: A big thank you to Didier from Mac4Ever for providing results for the brand-new iMacs (released this week!).
The 27-inch iMac is the best Apple desktop for gaming, with the 21-inch iMac coming at a close second. But other desktop alternatives exist. Should they be completely discarded as decent gaming Macs?
iMac Pro gaming
The iMac Pro is the most powerful Mac available right now, 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 the Mac for you. But when it comes to gaming,
What gives? Professional applications such as Final Cut are optimized to take full advantage of everything the iMac Pro has to offer but most games don’t. That means a lot of the raw power the iMac Pro has to offer will be wasted on most games.
So, is the iMac Pro good for gaming? Unless your job demands it, the iMac Pro is overkill. You’ll be better off with an upgraded 27-inch iMac. It will be significantly cheaper while offering even better gaming performance.
Mac Mini gaming
After literally years without receiving a meaningful update, the Mac Mini seemed to be as good as dead. Apple took its time but it finally released the long-awaited New Mac Mini in late 2018.
The update brought huge performance improvements but also a significant price jump. Previously $499, the base model is now $799. The new Mac Mini may no longer be a “cheap” Apple computer, but at least it finally delivers good performance.
With an Intel 8th-gen Coffee Lake processor and Intel UHD Graphics 630 integrated card, the new Mac Mini is capable of decent gaming. It can run DiRT Rally at a good 46 FPS but it struggles running the graphically intensive Rise of the Tomb Raider at only 16 FPS.
So, is the Mac Mini good for gaming? While appealing because it’s so much cheaper than an iMac, the Mac Mini does not have the horsepower required by the latest and greatest games. Plus, you’ll also have to buy a monitor to use it (same goes for the Mac Pro). That said, a new Mac Mini + eGPU is probably the best gaming setup one could get. More on that below.
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 80.7 FPS on average and a $2,999 price tag, an iMac is a cheaper and faster choice.
So, is the Mac Pro good for gaming? For the record, a Mac Pro is a capable gaming machine. It has what it takes to run even the most demanding games. It’s just not good value for money. If you have the money for a Mac Pro, and aren’t in a rush, wait for the new Mac Pro. If you need a new Mac now, an upgraded 27-inch iMac or iMac Pro are the way to go.
Apple offers several MacBook models ranging from the cheaper (and recently updated) MacBook Air to the shiny new MacBook Pro (MBP) with a touch bar.
Each MacBook line serves a purpose, but if you’re looking for a capable gaming machine, the 15-inch MacBook Pro is the top choice. The entry 15-inch MBP with a Radeon Pro 555X ran our test games at an average 73.7 FPS. Not as fast as an iMac, but more than enough for the average gamer.
In fact, it has the power to comfortably run most modern games at 1080) and Medium settings.
This is how the 15-inch MBP compares with the other MacBooks offered by Apple:
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? Because it offers the best value for money. The other MacBooks are more affordable but their gaming capabilities are too limited. Looking at the $ per FPS (Dollars per Frame) column, the 15-inch MBP offers the best bang for the buck at $33 per Frame and 73.7 FPS on average.
As can be expected, the graphics card you chose will make all the difference. For example, an upgraded 15-inch MBP with a Radeon Pro 560X is also $33 per Frame but delivers more performance at 85 FPS on average. That said, the total price can quickly get out of hand… More on that below.
So, are MacBooks good for gaming? Some of them certainly are. But most MacBooks only have integrated graphics and that is a problem when it comes to playing video games.
PS: No matter which MacBook you end up buying, you should get started with one of our Top 20 MacBook games.
13-inch MacBook Pro gaming
What if you don’t have over $2,000 to put into a laptop? You can always get a 13-inch MacBook Pro. It won’t be as fast as a 15-inch model, but it’s $500 cheaper.
For $1,799, you can get the touch bar version with an Intel Iris Plus Graphics 655. With an average of 44.3 FPS, expect decent gaming performance except for on very demanding games (such as Rise of the Tomb Raider, which this Mac can only run at 19.5 FPS).
The 13-inch non-touch bar version may be cheaper but it probably be updated (or discontinued) soon. Unless you see it on sale, you should stay away from it.
So, is a 13-inch MacBook Pro good for gaming? If you can’t afford a 15-inch MBP, the touch bar 13-inch model is a good compromise. If won’t be as fast but it can certainly handle most modern games on Medium settings.
MacBook Air gaming (13-inch)
The MacBook Air (MBA) also received a huge update a few months ago. It may not be as cheap as it used to be (now $1,199 instead of $999) but it’s still the most affordable Mac laptop available.
Performance wise, it averages only 21.2 FPS on average, but that’s still surprisingly good for such a thin and sleek laptop. Don’t get me wrong, the list of games for MacBook Air is limited but still bigger than expected. DiRT Rally, for example, runs at 32 FPS which is more than enough to have an enjoyable experience (Rise of the Tomb Raider on the other hand barely runs at all).
So, is a MacBook Air good for gaming? The new MacBook Air wasn’t built for gaming so don’t be surprised if you can’t play all the latest and greatest on it. That said, it can still handle many popular games.
MacBook gaming (12-inch)
The 12-inch MacBook is an impressive machine. It’s so thin and small, it makes the MacBook Air feel bloated. Seeing it for the first time felt like catching a glimpse of the future.
The future is always exciting but it’s rarely a 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. With a $1,549 price tag, this machine offers the worst bang for the buck.
So, is a MacBook good for gaming? The 12-inch MacBook is a very specific product made for very specific needs. Get it if you need extreme mobility but don’t count on it when it comes to playing the occasional game while on the road.
A top of the line 27-inch iMac or 15-inch MacBook Pro can both be excellent gaming machines, but I’m sure you noticed one big downside: their price tags.
Fitting powerful graphics into a slim machine has always been an expensive challenge, but the rise of eGPUs is slowly changing the game. Short for “external graphics card”, an eGPU lets you connect a full-sized graphics card into a Mac via the high-speed Thunderbolt 3 connection.
This is what Apple Insider‘s Mac eGPU setup looks like:
A Mac + eGPU combo can be cheaper and faster, and with High Sierra eGPU’s improvements, the setup is quick and simple. But buying an eGPU enclosure and a high-end graphics card is also expensive so buying the right components is key.
Let’s take for example the latest 2018 Mac Mini. On average, it runs our test games at 31 FPS for a cost of $35 per FPS. With different combinations of eGPU enclosures and graphics cards, that cost can dramatically get as low as $16 per FPS:
These are the components we used for our tests:
- Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Puck enclosure including a Radeon RX 570 ($499)
- AKiTiO Node enclosure ($230) + MSI Radeon RX 580 ARMOR MK2 ($230)
- AKiTiO Node Pro enclosure ($370) + MSI Radeon RX Vega 56 ($330)
To keep these comparisons as fair as possible, $400 were added to the total cost of all Mac Minis to cover the cost of a good monitor (all the other Macs, except the Mac Pro, have a monitor included) such as the 27-inch HP Z27n G2.
Bottom line: A Mac Mini coupled with an affordable eGPU enclosure and a Radeon RX 580 is both an excellent gaming machine and the best value for money you can have with a Mac computer. For the price of a base 27-inch iMac, you can get an upgradable setup that delivers more performance.
PS: A big thank you to Rob-Art from Bare Feats for testing several of the newer models for us (including all these Mac Mini eGPU setups!).
You now have a good idea of which Mac is right for you. But what about those upgrades Apple offers? 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 upgraded on the base models. You’ll often have to choose the higher end model and then upgrade the graphics furthermore if you want.
For example, you can’t upgrade the Radeon Pro 570 graphics on a 27-inch iMac. You’ll have to choose the more expensive iMac model that comes 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 26% boost in performance (going from 102 to 128 FPS on average) and roughly the same bang for the buck ($18 per FPS).
To take another example, if you chose the high-end 15-inch MacBook Pro with a Radeon Pro 560X, you can upgrade the graphics to Radeon Pro Vega 16 for an extra $250. That will result in 20% more performance (going from 85 to 102.5 FPS on average) and a slightly better value for money (going from $33 per FPS to $30 per FPS).
Bottom line: Upgrading the graphics card will always result in better gaming performance and slightly better value, but that will cost you up front.
If gaming is important to you, prioritize upgrading your graphics instead of your processor. Some games are sensitive to faster processors, but the vast majority will benefit more from an upgraded GPU.
To give you an example, a 15-inch MacBook Pro with an upgraded processor (a top of the line Intel Core i9) is only 0.5 FPS faster than the Intel Core i7 model but costs $300 more. That’s a lot of money for a barely noticeable improvement. Many applications will certainly benefit from an Intel Core i9 but most games won’t…
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 machines among the 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, modern video games require a decent amount of raw power. RAM and a speedy processor are certainly important, but for most games, a powerful graphics card will make the most difference.
It goes without saying that a dedicated graphics card will result in a much better gaming experience than an integrated card. Also, the more powerful the graphics card, the faster the game will run. But while most guides make do with simply listing the most powerful cards available, we ran real-world tests on games.
As you can see from our results, we used the frames per second metric to evaluate and compare the different machines we tested. 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: money. Most of us can’t afford a $5,000 iMac Pro. We all have limited budgets and are forced to always be in the lookout for the best value for money. That’s why every model was evaluated taking both performance and value into account.
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 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 you should always take their recommendations with a grain salt. Their recommendations only take into account the days since the machines were last updated, regardless whether the update was significant or not.
We hope we’ve made choosing your next Mac much easier. We could have taken the easy way out 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.
Don’t hesitate to share this with a friend looking for a new Mac! And finally, make sure you bookmark this guide. It will be updated every time Apple releases a new machine!