Saturday, March 7, 2009

Is the mac a gaming platform?

Apple has come a long way with hardware and software and has made significant inroads in its ability to be a desktop system in business. I've been using Macs for work in small and large companies for the last 6 years and its been pretty rare that that's caused me grief (the major point being Exchange/Outlook support which I hope will be fixed in Snow Leopard)

I wish I could say Apple has made a lot of progress on the video game front, but the reality is that it hasn't. Despite having some leading edge Video cards like the NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT that  I have in this MacPro and essentially the same Intel-based hardware, there are few games for the Mac. Why is that?

Part, I would say is that Apple has continually ignored the video game industry while MicroSoft with its "Games for Windows" drive and others has encouraged the PC as a gaming platform. So the company is not supportive. Thats a major point.

Next is that the hardware support for games is not complete. I recently spent a lot of time looking for a way to get 5.1 sound on my Mac for gaming. The issue is that you can't get that. Sure it can output 5.1 sound optically from DVDs etc, but generated sound from games cannot be piped over the optical output and you can't buy a card, USB device etc that does it in the current MacPro generations. Griffin Technology did make a FireWave product that outputs sound over FireWire to a device that gives you 5.1 sound output, but both FireWire and the FireWave have been discontinued. So there is no 5.1 sound support for games on the Mac. 

Along similar lines, if you really want the best bleeding edge video cards as they come out from vendors like Nvidia that offer "upgrade" programs so you can continually upgrade your card you're out of luck. The mac hardware lacks the specific power connectors that the current generation video cards require so Mac video cards end up being custom made for Apple. If you could make the power problem work your next issue would be the total lack of video diver support for the platform.

Ok you say, I can use my Mac HW and then run windows games in VMWare or Parallels. Well, no, you can't really, while some DirectX support has been added to the virtualization platforms, the performance and compatibility limit you to games that have fairly modest requirements.

Fine, then just play games under BootCamp and let Windows own the Mac hardware. Well, thats what I do, but you still wont have 5.1 sound or the latest video card. It does well and you can play Far Cry 2, Crysis, etc in this mode, but you wont have as good as an experience you get on a PC. And you're not running OSX and you've paid a premium for Mac HW to get less out of it.

If you're a serious gamer, don't buy a Mac. That's what Apple is telling us. My love of the OS (and dislike of the alternatives) is stronger than my need for the best video gaming experience but I long for the day when Apple either gets "with it" or legalizes the hackintosh.

My good friend recently sold me his MacPro (at a great price!) and went back to the PC. He's a serious gamer. He loves the Mac and hates Windows, but the gamer side of him won.