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MacBook games: We benchmark the New MacBook

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

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

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?

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.

  • Rasmus Englund

    I have to say I’m impressed by the results!
    When I use my Macbook it sometimes gets really warm. When I play Don’t Starve.
    But that’s the 11″ MacBook though.

    Anyways, great to hear!

    • Don’t Starve, great game!

      Yeah an 11-inch Macbook is a whole different story…. But glad to hear that it can play some Don’t Starve anyway.

  • MrUNIMOG

    Shouldn’t the Intel HD 5300 be more comparable to the old Intel HD 4000 than the HD 5000 Grahics? At least that’s what I’ve read before.
    But your in-game benchmarks tell a different story, so probably it depends on the use case. Anyway, impressive results for a device devoted to portability this much!

    • I think you’re the only one that really got the message 😉

      Results are great for ultra portable, low powered machines. Not PC-towers dedicated to gaming!

      On that HD5300 thing, I would be very interested to read about that if you can find some benchmarks…

  • I assume your labels on the graphs should read “Early 2015 rMB 12″”and NOT “rMBP”

  • Also…. “Generally speaking, anything around 15-25 frames per second is considered bad. ”

    Is that (1) “bad= not good” or (20 “bad= bad-ass”. Meaning these days is ambiguous – especially considering that all results were 25fps or under. So is your MB Air bad? or bad?

    • LOL didn’t expect this question 😉

      Bad = not good.

      Hardcore gamers will tell you that you need 60 FPS, or at least 30 FPS worst case. A Macbook Air isn’t for hardcore gamers so to me 30 FPS is more than sufficient for casual gamers.

  • N#R#S©

    i’m an Apple user but honestly “decent” gaming is impossible with MBA or MB12 these lappy aren’t designed for gaming so it’s normal 🙂
    only MacBook with a good dedicated nVidia gpu are pretty designed for playing “hard” games like those!
    I’ve a MacBook but sincerely i play only with my iMac 27 + GeForce GTX = SUPERB gaming machine! 😀

    • I can’t argue with your conclusion there! It will always be better to game on a desktop with a great GFX card than on a low-powered laptop!
      That said, you can game on a Macbook Air. I have done so with Dirt 3 and Beyond Earth and recorded it for you. Medium settings on 720p is not optimum, but is sure as hell plenty for casual gamers…

  • Joel Gordon

    I’ve got my MacBook Pro 13″ dual-booted with the Windows 10 Tech Preview, and can have it run Planetside 2 at mid graphics settings at a constant 30 fps, and I can get 60+ from older games like Far Cry 2 and Star Wars Battlefront 2.

    • I guess it all depends on what graphics card you’ve got there too. But again, the purpose of the article is to remove the self-imposed limitation that you have to give up gaming if you get a Macbook.
      It won’t be at the highest settings, but if you really wanted that, you wouldn’t get an ultra portable Macbook in the first place right?

  • Derek Bump

    I’m sorry, but I have to disagree with the premise of this article. 20-25 FPS at 800p is pretty terrible and results in a sub-par gaming experience. Even dropping the overall quality to Low would still be akin to watching a Hollywood Blockbuster on an iPhone 3GS… sure, it works, but it looks awful.

    20-25 FPS is not a sign of playability. Not even remotely.

    However, I am curious about how those games benchmark when running on Windows 8 in Boot Camp. It’s always been my experience that games run better in Boot Camp, and I’d love to see if that’s true in this case.

    • Joel Gordon

      I have to agree, I put the graphics settings on Planetside 2 to high settings, and got about 20 fps. It looked really good, but was pretty much unplayable.

      • Márton Sári

        How you feel during gaming is determined mainly by the gaming physics, not the texture details or even resolution. These are factors you get used to in minutes. With high quality graphics games, it’s satisfying for me to switch every setting to the highest value, just to get a taste of the state-of-the-art graphics, then switch everything to the lowest to play the game. It’s the same experience.

        • Good point there. It’s better to have a smooth experience with lower graphics than the opposite. That’s especially true for some genres more than others. In any case, a Macbook that can deliver decent fps is an accomplishment by itself.

    • If what you want is to run a game in full HD, maxed out setting, on a big screen, then yeah, everything I said here is not relevant for you.
      That said, some people have ultra portable computers because they need to travel a lot and such, and the purpose of this article is to let them know that they can play some games too. Not on the highest settings, but still.
      Also, keep in mind that 20 FPS from benchmark doesn’t sound like much but when normally playing the game, it runs more than ok. You can check for example my Dirt 3 video. It runs and looks amazingly good when you consider that it’s running on a Macbook Air.

      • Derek Bump

        It’s not that I want to run my games on the biggest screen at the highest quality. I simply want to enjoy the story that the game is trying to tell, and as such, I am approaching this from an enjoyment point of view.

        For me, this means a minimum of 30 FPS during the most difficult renderings on a Medium or Medium-ish setting at native resolution. I’ve gamed on numerous Macs (Mac Pro, iMac, Mac mini and MacBook Pro) over the last 7 years and that’s the minimum benchmark that works for me.

        However, everyone is different and overall enjoyment is subjective. So I guess I would have to revise my initial comment and say that 20-25 FPS may be OK for some gamers, but for this gamer it isn’t.

        That being said, I am still quite confident that you could squeeze out an extra 5-10 FPS by simply running these games in Windows 8 via Boot Camp on the same Macs. If you have the same machines, I would love to see another benchmark under that scenario. I’m sure other readers would too.

      • Nirvanes

        😐 30fps is the bare minimum. 24fps is for movies. Below that it’s just terrible… wth are you saying…
        The new macbook is not for decent gaming. But the retina Macbook Pro handles modern games pretty well.

  • Abi Palmer-Greenwood

    So does anyone have any suggestions on games that can be played on the Early 2015 12-inch Retina MacBook: 1.1 GHz Intel Core M, 8 GB RAM, SSD Intel HD Graphics 5300? I wanted to get Lord of the Rings or Assassins Creed or something like that, I’m not big on guns or cars, more strategy, I don’t mind fighting, bow, swords etc. All help welcome! I’m struggling!!!

  • Aseasia

    Console entry level so impressive!

  • Sean Kumar Sinha

    At first I was like “Damn, those are low frame rates.” Then I realized that you only tested at 720P, to top it all off.

    Better stick to that puzzle game with the Apple logo.

  • Balázs Gál

    Until the point of “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.” it was all good and actually sensible for the mindless apple fans, but at “If you want power, go for an iMac or a 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro” I just lost it, are you seriously recommending a Macbook for gaming, it’s like “Hey dude, I heard you like fast cars that are also worth the money in the long run and can do so much more then just go fast, sound good? Well here’s a Bentley, it’s not fast, but it’s definitely overpriced and we’ll talk you into buying it for no reason if you come into the shop.

  • Matthew Malanga

    Wow 30 fps and 720p? Thats an amazing feat, I had never seen anything like this congratulations.

    -Sent from Internet Explorer
    ~Matt 1999

  • Zach

    I have a macbook air 13 inch mid 2013, 1.3 GHz core i5 and 8 GB 1600 MHz. Would love to know if it could play the new Civ VI effectively.