Vacations are tough for me to come by. Planning around tradeshows is easy, but planning around unannounced product launches, new driver releases, bugs and unexpected discoveries is impossible. Last year I threw a dart at the calendar and told myself I was taking 10 days off in May and thankfully, there wasn’t too much that was announced while I was gone.

I did miss one rather important thing: the launch of an OS X version of Steam. I actually contacted Valve ahead of time to see if they’d give me access to a pre-release version so I could do a performance article before I left. I got no response. After reading Ryan’s Mac OS X Portal Performance article when I got back, I understood why.

In the process of porting the Source engine to OS X a great deal of performance was lost. To Valve’s credit, games like Portal are more than playable at good looking settings on modern Macs. You’re just better off playing those games in Windows using Boot Camp.

Ryan’s original article used a Hackintosh to compare OS X and Windows performance. Now that 1) I’m back, and 2) Half Life 2 Episode 2 is out for the Mac, I can provide an updated comparison using another reference point between Steam on both OSes.

For this comparison I’m using two systems. The first is a Nehalem Mac Pro with an EVGA GeForce GTX 285 Mac Edition.

Testbed System Specifications
  Nehalem Mac Pro (Mid 2009)
CPU 2 x 2.93GHz Quad-Core Nehalem Xeon Processors
Memory 6 x 1GB DDR3-1066
GPU EVGA GeForce GTX 285 Mac Edition (1GB GDDR3)
OS Mac OS X 10.6.3

The second is Apple’s new 2010 13-inch MacBook Pro with a GeForce 320M.

Testbed System Specifications
  13-inch MacBook Pro (Early 2010)
CPU 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
Memory 2 x 2GB DDR3-1066
OS Mac OS X 10.6.3

I’m running Boot Camp and a clean install of Windows 7 x64 on both Macs for the comparison. I’m using NVIDIA’s 197.45 drivers for the GTX 285 on the Mac Pro and the latest drivers under OS X. Steam was up to date as of 12:47AM this morning.

I’ll start with the 13-inch MacBook Pro:

Half Life 2 Episode 2 Performance
13-inch MacBook Pro (Early 2010) Mac OS X 10.6.3 Windows 7 x64
1280 x 800 44.2 fps 68.0 fps

At the panel’s native resolution of 1280 x 800 the 13-inch MacBook Pro is playable at high quality settings with no AA/aniso. Episode 2 runs smoothly on the portable Mac. Gaming, albeit dated, is possible under OS X.

Boot into Windows however and you get a 54% performance boost. The game goes from definitely playable to butter smooth. In other words, there’s a perceivable difference.

With the additional headroom of the CPU and GPU in the Mac Pro, I ran our benchmark at higher quality settings and at more resolutions. Under OS X you only get 2X and 4X MSAA options compared to NVIDIA’s plethora of AA modes under Windows, so I stuck with 4X MSAA for this comparison. Anisotropic filtering (16X) was enabled and all settings were as high as possible.

OS X HL2ep2 Settings

Multicore rendering is an option under Windows that isn’t adjustable under Steam for OS X, and despite the setting being greyed out as Enabled it doesn't appear to be enabled under OS X. In our benchmark with multicore rendering disabled both versions of the game eat up around 1.5 out of the 8 cores in the Mac Pro. Enabling multicore rendering in Windows bumps the average up to 2.4 cores, but drops performance at higher resolutions. I’ve provided both sets of results in the graph below so you can see what happens:

The Windows performance advantage with multicore rendering disabled ranges from 62% all the way up to 103%. Even at its worst, the GTX 285 under OS X is fast enough to make 2560 x 1600 playable, but it is noticeably slower than under Windows.

With multicore rendering enabled CPU bound performance goes up around 18%, but we see a drop at more GPU limited resolutions.

Image Quality: Still Foggy


View All Comments

  • LobsterDK - Monday, June 7, 2010 - link

    A little off topic aren't we?

    WTF? Actually, WTF^2. Put down the pipe, you've had enough. Or better yet, pass it over. Stop bogarting that shit.
  • JerryNY - Monday, June 7, 2010 - link

    I'm just curious what timedemo you guys are using? Also both articles were done using NVIDIA GPU's iirc any tests with ATi cards? My general experience is that driver issues are the opposite on Mac/PC and ATi seems to have better drivers on the Mac. On my Mac Pro I can select up to 8xAA using my 4870, the GTX 285 should easily be able to match that except for lousy drivers under OSX. Reply
  • TEAMSWITCHER - Tuesday, June 8, 2010 - link

    My almost 4 year old MacBook Pro laptop plug is still working fine and has been more reliable than any PC laptop I have ever owned. The break away feature has two benefits; it prevents the laptop from doing a back-flip off a conference table, and it protects the plug site from the lateral forces ensuing from a sudden jerk on the power cord. This feature has saved my Mac on at least three occasions. PC laptops still use crappy OLD-SCHOOL power plugs - and will for at least 10 more years - Apple has a patent.

    A couple weeks ago I played Portal on my MacBook Pro. I had never played the gamed on a PC, so I have nothing to compare the experience to. It was fun, and I never really noticed a poor frame-rate or insufficient visual quality. The game was a bit short though.

    So I lost a few FPS in a game - BIG WHOOP! This tiny loss is vastly over-shadowed by the fewer reboots, fewer application crashes, fewer graphic driver updates, fewer registry headaches, and the timely avoidance of the entire Windows Vista debacle.

    If you look at performance from a total-cost-of-ownership perspective - the Mac is a very good platform. While the highs aren't as high, the lows aren't as low either.
  • cesthree - Wednesday, June 23, 2010 - link

    Why waste the time to test 5+ year old games? Can't Mac's play anything newer? Since the Mac was running a GTX285, wait that's the only card *worth* running in a Mac, isn't it?

    It seems Mac users, and Linux users, spend more time talking about what "kernel it's built on", and how it fails in every aspect to performance in games to windows, instead of just using their "PC's".

    It is a PC you know, not some PowerPC or whatever other garbage platform Mac used to use was. It's a PC running Mac OS. Nothing more. The opposite of Linux, to the extreme.

    At least Linux fanbois don't riddle the television with useless, mindless dribble about how their latest fashion accessory bs is going to cost you another arm and a leg, just because it has a picture of an apple on it.
  • ckeledjian - Tuesday, July 6, 2010 - link

    The fact here is that Microsoft has more experience than any other company at making operating systems that will perform fast in low end hardware. It has more experience than any other company at making operating systems for games. Microsoft has the best software and driver developing tools in the market, therefore, the best drivers for any hardware are more likely to be for the Windows platform. There is no advertizing, "Mac vs. PC" smearing campaign, etc that can win to the fact that there are no shorcuts to experience. One reason why Apple makes computers so top notch is because they need to, to compensate for an OS (OSX) that would not run sufficiently fast in lesser hardware. Then if you install Windows in a Mac, you notice how much faster it is (with the exception of a few seconds boot time and sleep time, because Windows would use the older BIOS and not the new EFI for these modes). That's why I don't believe marketing myths: I test myself. No OSX nor Linux can beat Windows in hardcore performance, because nobody have had so many years of experience and focus as Microsoft at making cheap hardware run the fastest possible. Reply

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