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

  • Hxx - Saturday, June 5, 2010 - link

    The whole idea is that MACs are not for gaming... they never were and they will never be...gaming = windows and thats a fact Reply
  • michael2k - Saturday, June 5, 2010 - link

    That would be true if Anand hadn't actually run Steam on Windows on the same HW...

    So it's not "Mac = Crap", it's "Valve ports = Crap".
  • foolsgambit11 - Saturday, June 5, 2010 - link

    You assume it's Valve's port. It's not 100% clear from the review where the fault lies. For instance, perhaps OS X doesn't allow the same level of access to the hardware, or their graphics subsystems aren't optimized as well as Windows. That wouldn't be too surprising since this kind of usage isn't that common on a Mac. Or it could be a fundamental issue with the API. It would take more digging to find out.

    One thing is for certain: if Macs keep growing in market share, eventually game developers will be developing for OS X side by side with Windows. I hope OS X doesn't prove to be the problem here, because the last thing we need is another thing holding back game improvements (along with consoles and integrated graphics, for instance).
  • wolrah - Friday, June 4, 2010 - link

    If the OpenGL version of the Source engine was an option on Windows this could be a more interesting test. I'd like to see what parts of the performance and graphical differences are caused by the OS and drivers versus the different graphics APIs. Reply
  • Exodite - Friday, June 4, 2010 - link

    The comparison on actual Apple hardware was really the most interesting, thanks for noting that.

    The hackintosh experiment is fun I suppose but I feel it's rather irrelevant as far as a performance comparison goes.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, June 4, 2010 - link

    Or at least, it left some areas open for question. Judging by the results here, Ryan's Hackintosh Portal comparison did not generate different results than using real Apple hardware. Reply
  • Exodite - Friday, June 4, 2010 - link

    Ah no, I simply meant that it's not a scenario that's likely to come up a lot in the real world.

    That said it does lend credence to the idea that there's no special sauce gluing MacOSX and Apple hardware together.
  • Brian Klug - Friday, June 4, 2010 - link

    I actually thought that Ryan's choice to use a Hackintosh was brilliant - you can virtually guarantee the exact same hardware platform that way. Without having a Mac Pro or another piece of Apple hardware at the ready, it really does make sense.

    I agree though it's useful to see some numbers on current generation Apple hardware. I know I tried running our timedemo on a mid 2008 MBP and encountered some... issues... It'd be interesting to see if HL2/Portal runs at all passably on a MacBook with integrated intel graphics.

  • morphologia - Friday, June 4, 2010 - link

    No, but seriously...cherry-picking the hardware components is one thing, but their operational parameters are very locked into place on a Mac. For the sake of higher stability and guaranteed hardware intercompatibility, you sacrifice some of the built-in component flexibility present in a PC. Certain software (modern games) shows this more than others. Reply
  • Sahrin - Friday, June 4, 2010 - link

    Your post assumes that you can't have stability and excellent performance. This is patently false, Windows users have been getting this for 7+ years. Reply

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