Apple M1 gaming: What’s gaming really like on Apple Silicon?

Apple M1 gaming: What’s gaming really like on Apple Silicon?

Apple’s new 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro are some of the most powerful laptops on the market. Both the new M1 Pro and the M1 Max chip mark a serious jump from the previous M1 chip, and deliver a “Pro” experience that long-time enthusiasts have been yearning for. Both the M1 Pro and the M1 Max are extremely powerful, but the M1 Max with its beefy 32 GPU cores is particularly impressive. But are they good for gaming? Well, in this article, we’re going to explore the topic of Apple M1 gaming to find out what’s gaming really like on the Apple M1?

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Specifications

Here’s a quick look at the specifications of each Apple M1 chip in the lineup:

Specification Apple M1 Apple M1 Pro Apple M1 Max Apple M1 Ultra
CPU Cores Up to 8 cores Up to 10 cores Up to 10 cores Up to 20 cores
CPU Performance Cores 4 8 8 16
CPU Efficiency c0res 2 2 2 4
GPU cores Up to 8 Up to 16 24 or 32 Up to 64
Neural Engine Cores 16 16 16 32
Manufacturing Process 5nm 5nm 5nm 5nm
Transistors 16 billion 33.7 billion 57 billion 114 billion
Unified Memory
  • 8GB
  • 16GB
  • 16GB
  • 32GB
  • 32GB
  • 64GB
  • 64GB
  • 128GB
Memory Bandwidth 68.25GB/s 200GB/s 400GB/s 800GB/s

Before we begin, it’s worth pointing out that we’re primarily focusing on the new M1 Pro and the M1 Max chip for this comparison. While Apple M1 is also a capable chip, it’s no match for the new M1 Pro and the M1 Max. And if you are looking to get the absolute best performance, especially for gaming we recommend picking up a MacBook Pro notebook powered by either of these chips. The new MacBook Pro laptops also have better displays with support for a higher refresh rate, further improving the overall gaming experience. Alternatively, you can also pick up a Mac Studio desktop that’s powered by the new M1 Ultra chip and pair it with a high-end monitor to play games. That setup will probably cost you a lot of money, so keep that in mind.

Apple M1 Gaming Performance

For this particular topic, we’ll be taking a look at the performance of a couple of games including the Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and a few gaming simulation tests. We should be able to get a good understanding of the kind of gaming experience you can get by looking at the performance tests. We were able to play the Shadow of the Tomb Raider on an Apple MacBook Pro with an M1 Pro chip without any issues. At the highest preset and at 1080p resolution, the MacBook Pro was able to churn out close to 50FPS. The Shadow of the Tomb Raider continues to be a demanding title for Macs, so we’re finally glad to see a notebook that’s capable of running it at playable frame rates.

It’s not quite the benchmark number, but still better than what you’d get from the older M1. You should easily be able to get over 60FPS while playing the game is on an Apple MacBook Pro powered by the M1 Max chip. The Hitman reboot from 2016 is another title that we ended up running on the MacBook Pro. The M1 Pro-powered MacBook Pro was easily able to handle this one and yield over 100FPS. Sure, the Hitman from 2016 isn’t exactly a new game, but there are a lot of Windows laptops out there that’ll struggle to run this at playable settings.

Game Apple MacBook Pro with M1 Pro (FPS)
Rise of the Tomb Raider
(Lowest Preset | 1080p)
108
Rise of the Tomb Raider
(Highest Preset | 1080p)
72
Shadow of the Tomb Raider
(Lowest Preset | 1080p)
74
Shadow of the Tomb Raider
(Highest Preset | 1080p)
43
The Hitman (2016)
(Highest Preset | 1080p)
110

Apple M1 Pro GPU

Moving on to the synthetic benchmark/gaming simulations, we’re looking at GFXBench 5 and 3DMark tests that run natively on the M1 silicon. The Apple MacBook Pro powered by the M1 Pro chip managed to score 10,322 on the 3DMark Wild Life test. That’s a significant improvement over what the original M1 chip scores in the same test. We were also able to record over 400FPS in GFXBench 5 Pro’s offscreen Car Chase test.

Looking at both the real-world gaming as well as the synthetic game simulation tests, it’s safe to say that the new Mac computers are getting better at handling gaming. We tested with an M1 Pro-powered MacBook Pro notebook, which means, you are bound to get better performance if you are trying to run the games or tests on an M1 Max-powered machine or an M1 Ultra-powered Mac Studio desktop.

Lack of games on macOS

As you can tell, Apple’s hardware is definitely ready to tackle gaming workloads. It may not be winning across the benchmark board, but we think it’s it’s very much capable of running a lot of the modern titles that are coming out on PC and consoles. Sure, there are some good titles like Team Fortress, Dota 2, Rust, Hades, etc. but what about the rest of the catalog? There’s no denying that a majority of games that can take advantage of the stellar MacBook hardware simply don’t exist on macOS. That’s one of the main reasons why Macs have had a hard time evolving as a viable gaming platform.

Apple's 2021 MacBook Pro 16-inch with M1 Max.

There are multiple ways to run Windows games like Grand Theft Auto 5, among others, on a Mac, but the process is rather complicated. Not to mention, the workarounds also tank the performance, thereby ruining the overall experience. While it’s a good way for enthusiasts to make some Windows games run on the new hardware, we don’t recommend it for average users. It’s better to stick to the limited selection of native titles that run on macOS.

Streaming games on Mac

You can also use Steam Link to stream the games that are available in your Steam library to your Mac computer. This is a solid workaround for those who already have a capable Windows machine and want to share their library with others at home. Steam Link is best used when both devices are connected to your router via ethernet to avoid latency issues. Steam Link, in case you don’t know, relies on the hardware of the host device and your network connection. This means, there are no hardware requirements for Mac.

NVIDIA GeForce Now Square Enix Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Streaming games via Steam Link is obviously not for everyone since you do need a capable Windows machine to run those games. A good alternative for that would be cloud gaming services like Nvidia’s GeForce Now. It allows you to play a range of games from your Steam, Uplay, or Battle.net accounts instantly, without any need to worry about the graphical power. All the processing is handled by Nvidia at sites scattered around the globe. The games are essentially powered remotely and are sent to your Mac computers at high speeds.

Apple Arcade for gaming on Mac

Apple Arcade on macOS

Lastly, there’s Apple Arcade which is Apple’s own premium subscription gaming service that lets you download and play included games for a monthly fee with no added costs. Pretty much all Apple Arcade games run very well on the Mac, and we think it’s great for casual gamers who are on the lookout for some casual titles to unwind after a long day of work. Apple has also done a great job of keeping its library up-to-date with fresh titles across different genres including mystery, family, puzzle, and more.

In addition to new titles from lesser-known devs, Apple Arcade also holds a solid collection of games from some popular names including Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, Annapurna Interactive, and more. There are plenty of games to choose from and we think it totally justifies the price tag. A majority of these Apple Arcade games also support third-party controllers, which is great.

One of the best things about Apple Arcade is that one subscription gives access to up to six members of a family group. This means you can easily play the games with other members of the family together, without having to buy the titles separately. This also makes it a much more compelling option from a family-sharing perspective as Switch demands each user in the party to own a copy of the game.

Even if you don’t look at Apple Arcade as a standalone alternative to Switch or playing AAA titles, it’s still a great way to experience some quality games in your free time. And the fact that you can play these games on Mac with a controller makes up for an even better experience overall. You can learn more about Apple Arcade and Apple’s other subscription services by heading over to our Apple Subscription Services guide.

Support for PS5 DualSense and Xbox controller

Mac may not be the most gaming-friendly platform out there but it allows you to use a variety of controllers to play games. With the release of macOS Big Sur 11.3, Apple introduced support for Sony’s next-generation DualSense controller for PS5 on Mac. The PS5 controller works with any controller-supported game, and you can connect it via Bluetooth or USB. The PS5 DualSense controller works with MFI-supported games on the App Store, including those available as part of Apple Arcade and Sony’s Remote Play app. It also works with a lot of controller-supported games available on Steam, Epic Games Store, and GeForce Now.

Sony DualSense wireless controller

Alternatively, you can also pair an Xbox controller to your Mac via Bluetooth and use it to play controller-supported games. In addition to these popular controllers, you can also use a lot of other ones including some of the 8Bitdo controllers.

Apple M1 Gaming: Is it possible?

Even with the limited set of tests that we were able to run, it’s quite evident that the Apple hardware has come a long way. You could play games like the Shadow of the Tomb Raider on the original M1-powered machines too but the experience is vastly superior on the M1 Pro-powered MacBook Pro. These new machines will happily entertain you with gaming as long as the titles you run are natively available for macOS. The selection is very limited for now, but you can find some good titles to play on your MacBook Pro notebooks in your free time.

    Apple's 13-inch MacBook Pro powered by the M1 chip is capable of running casual games without any issues.
    Apple's 14-inch MacBook Pro with an M1 Pro chip can handle all the games better than an M1-powered MacBook.
    The Apple Mac Studio powered by the new M1 Ultra chip starts at $3,999. It comes with up to 128GB of unified memory and up to 1TB SSD.

Besides that, there’s also Apple Arcade that can act as a primary source of gaming for a lot of casual gamers. Being able to pick up and continue the same game on, say, your iPhone or the iPad is also a huge selling point for Apple Arcade. It’ll be interesting to see how the M1 Ultra is able to handle the same games in comparison to the M1 Pro and the M1 Max. We’ll try to add more info around that once we get a chance to run some games on the M1 Ultra.

About author

Karthik Iyer
Karthik Iyer

Karthik covers PC hardware for XDA Computing. When not at work, you will find him yelling at his monitors while playing video games.

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