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

  • killerclick - Friday, June 4, 2010 - link

    I was just summarizing the result of the test. Macs are slower, yet more expensive. What's not crap about that? Reply
  • heffeque - Friday, June 4, 2010 - link

    Basically you're saying that a Mac is slower than itself. That just plain stupid. Reply
  • GeorgeH - Friday, June 4, 2010 - link

    Macs aren't slower. OS X is slower because you're comparing a game engine that's spent the last decade being designed and optimized for Windows with a game engine recently ported to OS X. You'd find exactly the same initial performance deficit if Valve ported Source to Linux.

    Saying "Macs are crap" based on the fact that their default OS is slower when running a specific program that hasn't been fully optimized for that OS is so asinine it's mind blowing.
  • killerclick - Friday, June 4, 2010 - link

    Mac is what it is, not just the hardware with the Apple logo but also the OS, the 3rd party support and the niche it's carved for itself. If I have you pay more for less performance and a smaller choice of software then yes, I'll say Macs are crap. Reply
  • ibuckyi - Friday, June 4, 2010 - link

    You have no idea what you are talking about. OpenGL has been the forefront of gaming way before DirectX came in to play. Stop making excuses for Mac and admit the loss. I'm sorry that your 2000 dollar machine can't handle 20 years of gaming. And to think by now Macs would be able to handle what windows has been doing for 20 years. Give up on the excuses, and just admit.. Steve Jobs got you! Reply
  • LaughingTarget - Friday, June 4, 2010 - link

    Uh, OpenGL hasn't been at the forefront of gaming for some time. Once DX9 hit the market, it was pretty much lights out for OGL. Even the last major holdout, id Software, has backed out of OGL development and moved onto DirectX. Moving Steam onto the Mac platform is unlikely going to rekindle any kind of OGL interest since it lacks significant market share to put out any kind of real effort onto the platform short of just hastily porting major titles over. Reply
  • Strunf - Saturday, June 5, 2010 - link

    And yet there have been Doom after Doom using it, and with evrery new one everyone is amazing by its graphical quality!!
    I don't think Id Tech would bet on a dead horse...
  • dgz - Monday, June 7, 2010 - link

    You are wrong. Rage and the new Doom (both id Tech 5 based) render things in Direct3D mode only on Xbox 360. The Windows, Mac OS and PS3 versions render shit in OpenGL mode. Well, PS3 actually uses PSGL, which is Sony's implementation of OpenGL / ES. Anyway, stop making shit up so you can support your silly arguments. Reply
  • sprockkets - Saturday, June 5, 2010 - link

    yes, and the drivers made for windows vs. mac and the respective subsystems used have nothing to do with it either. Reply
  • ArizonaSteve - Saturday, June 5, 2010 - link

    I wouldn't say Macs are crap, but I would equate Apple to Bose and Monster Cable. Reply

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