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Confessions of a Converted Mac Gamer: Why I Switched to a Windows Laptop

As a technology journalist who‘s covered the industry for over a decade, I‘ve lived through multiple iterations of the Mac vs PC debate. I‘ve seen the tides slowly shift as Apple has gained a dominant position in the premium laptop market, especially among creative professionals and college students. But for all their design prowess and zealous fandom, there‘s one area where Macs have consistently lagged behind their Windows counterparts: gaming.

I should know, because up until recently, I was one of those frustrated Mac gamers, trying in vain to run the latest titles on hardware and software built with a very different set of priorities in mind. The final straw came when I tried to fire up the PC version of Monster Hunter World on my 2019 16" MacBook Pro, a $2400 machine with what should be a fairly capable AMD Radeon Pro 5500M graphics card. The result? A sputtering, slideshow-like experience, even at minimum settings and a mere 1080p resolution.

Meanwhile, I could see PC gamers on Reddit gleefully posting benchmarks of the game running at a smooth 60+ fps at 4K on laptops that cost less than half as much as my Mac. The sheer value proposition was getting harder to ignore. So I decided to take the plunge and pick up a dedicated Windows gaming laptop to see what I was missing out on. After obsessively comparing specs and prices, I landed on the ASUS ROG Strix G15 AMD Advantage Edition, which seemed like an absolute bargain for the hardware on offer.

Priced at just $1499 (already a full $1000 less than my MacBook Pro), the G15 packs some serious gaming firepower:

  • 8-core AMD Ryzen 9 5900HX processor (3.3 GHz base, 4.6 GHz boost)
  • AMD Radeon RX 6800M graphics with 12GB GDDR6 VRAM
  • 16GB DDR4 3200MHz RAM
  • 512GB PCIe NVMe M.2 SSD
  • 15.6" WQHD (2560 x 1440) IPS 165Hz display with 100% DCI-P3 color
  • Wi-Fi 6, Gig+ Ethernet, USB-C charging, per-key RGB keyboard lighting

Those are the kind of spec that would make most MacBooks blush. I knew I was getting serious performance for the price, but I wanted to put some hard numbers to it. So I ran a few common benchmarks:

Benchmark ASUS G15 MacBook Pro 16"
3DMark Time Spy 10,482 3,775
Geekbench 5 Multi-Core 8,988 6,787
CineBench R23 Multi-Core 13,562 8,925
PCMark 10 7,198 5,024

The results speak for themselves. The ROG G15 absolutely smokes the MacBook in every CPU and GPU performance metric, often by margins of 30-50%+.

But synthetic tests only tell part of the story. The real proof is in how actual games run. In another world where Monster Hunter World struggled to maintain 30fps on the MacBook even at 1080p low settings, the G15 easily cruises at over 100fps on max settings at its native 1440p resolution. The same disparity played out across nearly every game I tested, from Red Dead Redemption 2 to Control to Horizon Zero Dawn. On the Mac, they were barely playable at 1080p, if they were supported at all. On the G15, they simply sang, often pushing well above 60fps at 1440p.

This vast difference in gaming performance between Mac and PC is not a new phenomenon. Despite Apple‘s best efforts to beef up their own Metal graphics API and strike deals with developers to bring more games to the platform, they‘re fighting an uphill battle. The economics simply don‘t make sense for game studios to heavily optimize for or in some cases even port their games to macOS when Macs make up such a tiny sliver of the market – less than 3% globally as of January 2022, compared to over 75% for Windows. High-end PC gaming hardware also tends to iterate and improve at a blistering pace compared to the relatively stagnant specs in even "pro-level" MacBook offerings. As much as the new M1-based chips have revolutionized performance and battery life for productivity, their potential for gaming is still largely untapped.

The gap in software availability between the two platforms is just as stark. While the Mac App Store and Steam library for Mac have definitely grown over the years, they‘re still a mere shadow compared to the smörgåsbord of content available on Windows. Over 50,000 games on Steam support Windows, while less than 15,000 are playable on Mac. And that disparity seems to grow larger the more popular the title is. Of the top 100 most-played games on Steam as of March 2023, at least 25% have no Mac version at all. That includes heavy hitters like Destiny 2, Apex Legends, PUBG, Elden Ring and Valheim. Others like Fortnite only support Mac via cloud streaming services, with no native version to be found.

Even for popular games that do come to Mac, the experience is often inferior to what you‘d get on a comparably specced PC. In a recent interview with Ars Technica, a veteran Mac game developer explained some of the inherent difficulties in optimizing for Apple‘s Metal API compared to DirectX on Windows:

"Metal was designed to scale from low-end mobile chips up to high-end desktop GPUs. That‘s great in theory, but in practice, it means that Metal has a lot of features that are totally irrelevant to high-end games, and it‘s missing some features that are really important for high-end games. DirectX 12 was designed with those high-end games in mind from the beginning, and it shows."

He also lamented the lack of major driver updates from Apple compared to Nvidia and AMD on the Windows side:

"With Windows, we get new graphics drivers from Nvidia and AMD with major performance improvements and optimizations every few months. With macOS, we‘re lucky to get one major graphics driver update per year from Apple, and even then, it‘s usually focused on stability and compatibility rather than performance."

All this paints a rather bleak picture for the future of Mac gaming. But there are some signs of hope on the horizon. Apple is rumored to be working on a new gaming-focused Apple Silicon chip to rival the latest offerings from Nvidia and AMD. They‘ve also been gradually improving Metal‘s feature set and performance with each new macOS release. And the recent explosion of cloud gaming services like Stadia, GeForce Now and Xbox Game Pass has opened up new avenues for Mac gamers to access previously unplayable titles, albeit with some trade-offs in latency and image quality.

Personally, I remain skeptical that Mac will ever truly catch up to Windows as a gaming platform without a fundamental shift in Apple‘s priorities and a stronger commitment to engage with the hardcore gaming community. The allure of a sleek, integrated, all-Apple ecosystem is powerful, especially for creative work. As someone who still appreciates macOS for certain productivity tasks, I totally understand the appeal of only needing to use a single OS for everything.

But as much as I wanted my MacBook Pro to be a true gaming monster, it just wasn‘t meant to be. Opening up Steam on the Mac feels like walking into a library where half the shelves are empty and the rest are stocked with dog-eared hand-me-downs. On my PC, it‘s a portal to a near infinite playground of entertainment, with a massive back catalog and a constant flood of exciting new releases. For me, the choice was finally clear: I could spend $2500 to get a great laptop for work that felt chained down as a gaming machine, or spend half as much to get an amazing gaming laptop that could still pull its weight for everything else. The downsides of stepping outside Apple‘s walled garden – the lack of iMessage, AirDrop, Sidecar, iCloud sync, etc. – paled in comparison to the newfound joy and freedom of PC gaming.

Of course, everyone‘s needs and preferences are different. For a college student or digital artist who games casually and really values the trademark Mac user experience, a MacBook is probably still the way to go. There‘s also no denying that high-end gaming laptops like the ASUS ROG series can be garish, heavy, hot, and loud compared to a sleek, silent MacBook Pro. But in terms of raw capability, upgradability and sheer value for money, I firmly believe that Windows PCs still have a major edge for dedicated gamers.

I‘ve now been using my ROG G15 as my daily driver for several months, for both work and play. And while there are still occasional pain points from switching away from macOS – the lack of a Unix-based terminal, the inferior trackpad gestures, the dearth of Mac-only software – the overall experience has been revelatory. Being able to crank the details to max in demanding games without constant thermal throttling or low-FPS stutters is a joy I‘d almost forgotten. The RGB Per-Key lighting is garish, but also a delight to have.

At the end of the day, I‘m a PC gamer again, and I couldn‘t be happier. I still love and appreciate my Macs for what they are, but I‘ve made peace with the fact that Windows is where my gaming heart lies. Maybe someday the two platforms will converge to a point where I can finally have the best of both worlds in one device. But until then, you can find me fragging away in Halo Infinite on Game Pass – on my PC.