Games on an iMac?

(Disclaimer up front: Since this kind of question invariably turns into a Macs-vs-PC debate and the outdated “Macs don’t run games except for WoW and Photoshop!”, please save it for elsewhere. I’m completely and unapologetically an Apple snob for 10 years now, and I don’t see that changing).

Is anybody out there using an iMac (preferably one of the most-recent mid-2011 models, since that’s what I’m interested in) for games, either Boot Camped or otherwise? What’s your opinion – works fine or feels like too much of a compromise?

I’ve looked online for info on the state of gaming on the iMacs, and I can find a ton of benchmarks but little real-world info. Except for Portal 2 running natively in OS X, which is fine but I was hoping for more data points, and from people who’ve actually spent time playing on one.

99% of the stuff I do is on a Mac, but the list of games that I’d prefer to play with a mouse and keyboard (or that are Windows only) is growing: Skyrim, TF2, The Old Republic, Anno 2070 so far. I built a Windows PC with the intention of no-compromises gaming, but at this point it’s just feeling like a waste; I’d rather have a machine that I actually use that can also play games acceptably.

I play games on my iMac (27", purchased early last year or so; don’t recall exact specs offhand).

I’ve played various Valve games on it and it ran great. It did fine w/ Civ5, as well.

For Windows only games like Skyrim, I have a separate PC. I’ve played Civ5 on that as well and the performance felt comparable.

Not hard numbers or anything, but that’s my anecdata. :)

I installed Steam onto a Macbook and was pretty pleasantly surprised with how much of my library was Mac-compatible (change the drop-down menu at the top of your Library list to Mac games).

Disclaimer: I work at a Mac game porting company.

Really, any 2011 iMac should handle just about any game you throw at it. It’s only when you dive back into the older iMacs that you’ll have performance problems. Blizzard games (Starcraft 2 and Diablo 3) run really well. Civ V, Supreme Commander 2, and Minecraft run without a problem. They aren’t resource hogs, but games like SpaceChem and Dungeons of Dredmor run fine on the 2011 MacBook Pro, so I suspect they’d be fine on the iMac.

I can’t speak for Bootcamped stuff, but I’d imagine the recent iMacs would be fine.

I wouldn’t recommend using the Magic Mouse or touchpad for gaming, though.

Okay, thanks for all the info. I guess I wasn’t on the fence so much as in the next yard over, wondering if I were about to make a huge mistake. So it’s nice to get some reassurance.

Apart from a few low-impact indie games, I just haven’t been happy with game performance on the MacBook Pro, so I’ve been frustrated that the iMacs all use mobile video cards. But it sounds like last year’s updates finally made them suitable for “I don’t need to run everything at highest settings” gaming.

Of course, the second I order one, Apple will no doubt announce an update (actually, it’s probably due for one pretty soon). Ah well, such is life.

Did you mean Diablo 3 or 2? Because Diablo 3 is one of the ones I’m most concerned about (Skyrim being the other). I’m not in the beta.

I have a late-2011 Macbook Pro and I play WoW and SWTOR through Bootcamp on it with no problems. I can’t maximize everything in SWTOR, but close enough. I’ve raided in WoW. I have Skyrim installed but haven’t played much of it. I was playing these games with 4 MB RAM with no problem as well.

I meant 3. I was lucky enough to get in the beta. On my MacBook Pro, I’ve noticed a few hitches during gameplay, notably during the last part of the hireling quest, but overall, it ran smooth on decent settings. I haven’t tested it on anything other than my MBP and a MacMini.

I don’t know how familiar you are with Macs, but with the Lion release, Rosetta was removed from the OS. You can’t actually run older games like Diablo 2 on Lion, which any new Mac would come with.

Good to hear that the D3 beta runs well! I forgot that D2 was back from the pre-Intel days. I’d have to run Boot Camp regardless, since most native and ported stuff generally runs better in Windows anyhow (no offense intended to your line of work!)

I’ve got an early 2010 MBP and I can’t run SWTOR on it at all. Skyrim ran very poorly under Fusion (understandable because it’s way under spec), but at least it was playable. I genuinely don’t understand what about SWTOR is so demanding.

I run Fallout:NV at 1600xmumble boot camped with all the sliders up on my mid-2011 27" iMac. I don’t think you’ll have a problem.

Cool, thanks for the reassurance. Now I just need to think of a way to get rid of this Windows PC without too much of a loss. And to steel myself for the inevitable iMac update which makes me think I’m working with obsolete goods even though it does everything I want it to.

I have a 2011 27" i7 iMac running Windows 7 via Bootcamp. It’s run every single game I’ve thrown at it just fine (including Skyrim, TF2, and Old Republic from your list), often with all the graphics options turned to high. It’s a very capable gaming machine.

Don’t buy an iMac now.

WoW runs on a as well as a PC. Plus on my Macbook Air, it runs great as well.

I second Steam for the Mac as well. And if you want to do PC games, yup bootcamp is the way to go- I have tried emulators but it is definitely not the same as just booting directly to Windows.

Thanks for the tip; I’d seen that but am ignoring it for now.

The way I figure it, Intel’s new “Ivy Bridge” architecture isn’t due out until Q2 2012 by most estimates; the last update for the iMac came in May of 2011. So any update that Apple put out according to macrumors’s schedule would just be an incremental speed bump. That doesn’t worry me* if I’ve got a machine that does everything I want it to.

(And by all accounts it’d do everything else I’d want it to; I was just unclear if game performance would be better than on my MacBook Pro since they both use mobile video cards).

What would suck would be getting into another situation like I did with my laptop, where I got the speed-bump revision, and so it does everything I need but has no Thunderbolt port. But like I said in another thread, at this point I’d be more worried if Apple didn’t release an upgrade immediately after I buy something.

  • I say that the speed bump doesn’t worry me, but of course I’d have that constant nagging feeling that my machine could be .2 GHz faster. I just mean it wouldn’t worry the rational part of my brain.

I’m holding out for the mythical Mac Pro update because that should be able to run everything via bootcamp and a PC version of one of the new Radeon cards. After my ASUS G73 and the Macbook Pro, I am ready for larger storage and a PC video card. I just don’t want to get another Windows machine.

I just couldn’t reconcile the price of a Mac Pro in comparison to the iMac for mere mortal computer needs.

Certainly at the moment I think there’s enough going spare in the top end iMacs for them not to be accused of not being able to “run everything” at the moment.

Games on a Mac…hahahahahahahahhahahahahaha


Sorry, couldn’t resist. ;)

Yeah, I think I already said this elsewhere, but I made the mistake of getting a Mac Pro around 6 years ago, thinking it’d be a good long-term investment – overpowered (and overpriced) at the time, but with plenty of room to grow. Adding hard drives was painless, but I only got 1 video card upgrade before they discontinued support for my model. And not long after that, the processor in my laptop outpaced the one in my desktop.

It’s still the best-assembled and most stable computer I’ve ever owned, but any promise of expandability is an illusion. (Unless you’re actually using it as a workstation instead of a personal computer, I imagine).

Words can hurt, Brian Rubin. I guess I’ll just have to make do playing everything I want at Max settings instead of Ultra Max. :( I hope my tears of anguish don’t stain the shiny new 27 inch monitor.


At one point I heard a rumor that Apple was doing something technical I don’t quite understand that would remove the restriction on video cards, so that the PC cards would work in a Mac Pro instead of having to wait for a Mac-specific version. Is that rumor getting more credibility? If that’s the case, then the Mac Pro wouldn’t be such a bad deal. (I’d personally still go with the iMac, since the monitor alone would cost $1k bought separately even through Dell).

I am not sure about the rumor but it would be nice if true. I already own a Thunderbolt monitor, which is a blessing for the Macbook Pro but a curse for the current versions of the Mac Pro since it can’t connect. I am going to save up about $4,000 and see what Apple comes up with. I can buy an Alienware with 512GB SSD and 1 TB HD (GeForce 560 Ti card) for around $2900. If Apple screws around, I’ll just upgrade the video card and go with the Alienware and use it as a gaming rig only. I already have an ASUS monitor that is 24 inch (I think) that I used with my ASUS G73 setup.

For future reference in case anybody’s in the same or similar boat:

I’m using a stock “mid-2011” 27" iMac, Core i5 3.1 GHz, AMD Radeon 6970 with 1GB of VRAM and 8GB of system RAM. For comparison, my dedicated Windows machine was a Core i7 with an NVidia GeForce 560 Ti, I think.

Native Games
Civilization 5 and 4: Run perfectly at full resolution, indistinguishable from Windows
Portal 2: Runs fine at full resolution with default settings, better at 1920x1200. There’s a tiny bit of hitching here and there, but nothing that would get in the way of playing. (Also I’ve got my games on an external drive over a USB 2.0 connection, which I imagine is the bottleneck)

Boot Camped Games
Skyrim: Runs fine at full resolution with default (not maxed out) settings. After playing the game on a Windows machine for so many hours, I can notice a little bit of downgrade in visual quality and frame rate, but I doubt I would’ve noticed otherwise.
Star Wars The Old Republic: Runs fine, can’t tell any difference between this & the Windows machine.
Anno 2070: Runs fine, can’t tell any difference

I haven’t bothered with checking or recording fps, just going on whether it “feels” okay to me. And I don’t have any games to try on it that it hasn’t been able to handle, although of course it doesn’t run quite as well as a Windows PC built for gaming.

I do get the sense that Portal 2 is about the limit of what it can handle without hitching, though, at least at full resolution and default settings.

Pretty much what I’d been expecting as best case: nothing that will blow anybody away in terms of performance or visuals, but still performs well for games if you don’t want to invest in a separate dedicated gaming PC.