Don't buy a MacBook for gaming — macOS Sonoma isn’t the one

Don't buy a MacBook for gaming — macOS Sonoma isn’t the one
(Image credit: Future)

If you’re an Apple fan and a gamer, I imagine WWDC 2023 was a pretty exciting event for you. I like macOS — I really do. It’s cleaner and more user-friendly than Windows, and I only use Windows because I love video games. Is it my time to switch teams?

No. Sorry, folks, but macOS Sonoma isn’t the one. Sure, Game Mode sounds great, and Apple’s Game Porting Toolkit should allow game developers to port their games more easily. But unless Apple is making Mac ports as simple as a click of a button, I am not seeing widespread adoption anytime soon.

Don’t buy a MacBook as a gaming laptop. It’s not a gaming laptop, and it won’t be anytime soon.

Metal 3 still needs to do more

In macOS Sonoma, Metal 3 introduces a new game porting toolkit. According to Apple, this will kill months of work and let developers see how their game could run on Mac in a few days. Apple also claims that Metal 3 simplifies the process of converting the game’s shaders and graphics code so it mixes well with Apple silicon chips. This will also apparently reduce the total development time. What does that all mean, exactly?

As of January 2023, the percentage of Steam users that use macOS is 0.52%. From May 2022 to May 2023, the percentage of users that use macOS versus other desktop operating systems is 19% — Windows was 62%. So what’s the point of all these numbers, and how can Metal 3 help? Well, we don’t know that it can — not enough, anyway. macOS covers a fraction of the market, and the number of people playing games on macOS is so incredibly small that any time wasted on a Mac port would likely be a money-losing proposition for developers.

Unless Apple finds a way to make porting games to Mac as easy as a click of a button, then developers probably aren’t going to prioritize porting to macOS. Outside of Apple’s commercial campaign, we don’t actually know what Metal 3 is going to be like for developers. I love Death Stranding and all, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Hideo Kojima was getting some incentive from Apple. I mean, you couldn’t get me on any kind of stage without paying me.

Game Mode can’t back up the performance

Yes, Game Mode is a step in the right direction for gamers and developers alike, but is the added performance worth gaming on a Mac? Let’s look at some tests.

The MacBook Pro 16-inch (M2 Max, 2023) scored 29 frames per second on the Borderlands 3 (Badass, 1200p) benchmark, 57 fps on the Shadow of the Tomb Raider (Highest, 1200p) benchmark, and 58 fps on the Civilization VI Gathering Storm (Medium, 1200p) benchmark.

Huge disclaimer: these tests are not with Game Mode turned on. However, Apple claims that with Game Mode enabled, there will be an uptick in performance. Of course, Apple failed to mention by how much. But even with software help, we can’t imagine that it’s going to drastically change the results. Even if it was a 50% increase in performance, playing Borderlands 3 at ~45 fps on the base resolution for a MacBook should be a crime. These results are not impressive whatsoever, especially considering you’re paying thousands of dollars for a device like this.

Any of the best gaming laptops can crush the MacBook’s performance and still save you some money. Want an example? Easy — the Origin EON16-S. For $1,977, you get an Nvidia GeForce RTX 4070 GPU with 8GB of VRAM, an Intel Core i9-13900H processor, 16GB of DDR5 4800MHz RAM and a 500GB Samsung 970 Evo SSD. From our tests, the RTX 4070 nets you 99 to 102 fps on the Borderlands 3 test — that’s over three times more than what the current MacBook Pro can do.

Buy a real gaming laptop.

You gotta wait

Apple is selling smoke to a world already on fire. Listen, I’m glad that Apple is taking steps toward a real gaming solution for macOS, but Sonoma is just a first step — the journey is far from over.

I don’t want to see you anywhere near an Apple store until the company can not only deliver the performance we need for AAA games, but also the ease of adoption for its incredibly underused software and hardware. 

No matter how much Apple screams that it’s the best and everyone uses them, it’s just not true. You can’t change the facts, and you can’t make a MacBook a gaming laptop until you make more of an effort. So, you gotta wait.

Rami Tabari

Rami Tabari is an Editor for Laptop Mag. He reviews every shape and form of a laptop as well as all sorts of cool tech. You can find him sitting at his desk surrounded by a hoarder's dream of laptops, and when he navigates his way out to civilization, you can catch him watching really bad anime or playing some kind of painfully difficult game. He’s the best at every game and he just doesn’t lose. That’s why you’ll occasionally catch his byline attached to the latest Souls-like challenge.