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
GPU NVIDIA GeForce 320M
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
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  • tipoo - Friday, March 2, 2012 - link

    Yeah, the visual differences look similar to cross platform 360 vs ps3 games, the OpenGL render just seems to have a more washed out look. Reply
  • GTVic - Friday, June 4, 2010 - link

    The Portal comparison seemed to clearly show that the OS X version did not support HDR and I believe the perceived fogginess was actually just a lack of HDR.

    I'm not sure what's going on with this game but it looks like some type of distance related issue. In an outdoor setting, items further away are fogged to simulate a natural environment and items closer to player should be clearer and this is not happening. So that problem plus the lack of HDR results in the muted colours. In an indoor setting like Portal, there is no manipulation for distance so HDR is the only factor.
    Reply
  • smartalco - Friday, June 4, 2010 - link

    Could you more closely compare AA levels between the two? I noticed in the Portal review that at 4x AA (at least I think that is what it was run at) OS X had better AA quality (I made a comment about that on the last story, but never got a response, I even have an image comparing areas side by side!).
    The screenies you posted I'm not so sure about, because the grenade and hand are about the only things close enough to get a good view of.
    Reply
  • alreadystarted - Friday, June 4, 2010 - link

    I've never been big on FPS games, but having good games like Portal and HalfLife2 available for my OS of choice is great no matter what the comparison is to the windows versions. I played through Portal and am currently enjoying HL2 and if there are performance or quality issues I don't notice them. I do notice however that they are a lot of fun to play=)

    I'm really glad to have the opportunity to play good games like these for very reasonable prices. Worth every penny IMO.
    Reply
  • Deusfaux - Friday, June 4, 2010 - link

    ..at higher resolutions? Reply
  • mi1stormilst - Saturday, June 5, 2010 - link

    I remember the days when MAC had "superior" hardware...do you? I also remember when that day ended and the shock waves it sent through the MAC community...fun stuff ;-) LOL! The also recently convinced Valve the KING of online gaming distribution to get Steam (8+ years old) working on a MAC...nothing like being cutting edge ehh? ;-) Reply
  • Penti - Sunday, June 6, 2010 - link

    The Source engine in question is used in current generation games from late 2007, 2008, 2009 but will also be used in next generation Valve games, Portal 2 will be release on Mac from the start for example. It's not simply third party ports and I expect them to improve. It gives the Mac the whole engine, SDK, and developing environment which some other parties will also use. As they will continue to work on the engine which powers these games and their upcoming titles it's not simply some port of old stuff. And just look at Starcraft 2. It has great interest and support for the Mac platform. From the start and not through some third party. As it's the current generation engine they port it doesn't warrant the crap you come with. It's the tech Valve will use and build on in the next couple of years. It's still a engine with life in it not some last generation abandoned one. It's not the 6 year old Half-Life 2 engine, it's the Orange Box engine which powers HL2, EP1, EP2, Portal, TF2, and newer meaning Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2. Future Portal 2 engine. Future HL2: ep3 maybe. Source engine are shared among many games and it's not an old branch of it that's being ported. Allows them to release games for Mac from the start by maintaining a Mac branch of the Engine. An engine that's multi-platform today any way. Reply
  • Penti - Sunday, June 6, 2010 - link

    Besides this has already made other games available to the consumers like Unreal based games now available for the Mac. Like Killing floor from tripwire interactive. Steam is certainly a valuable contribution. Wouldn't have been for Valve in 2003 though. Reply
  • sebmel - Monday, June 7, 2010 - link

    MAC = Machine Address Code, a unique ID number used to address hardware on networks Mac = short for Macintosh, a different spelling of the McIntosh apple after which the OS was named Reply
  • FXi - Saturday, June 5, 2010 - link

    Gaming (and the lack thereof) is the #1 reason Macs are not more popular Reply

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