Average 2012 Laptop (≈2011 Macbook Pro) vs. 2007 Gaming PC

Could my 2011 MBP have been a viable replacement for the appallingly obsolete PC I gamed on during a recent LAN party?

2013-03-24 09.36.00

Since I upgraded my MBP’s secondary hard drive last week and created a third partition for Windows (it’s a long story…), I’ve had enough space to install a couple of games. And that got me thinking: At the last LAN party I went to, could my glitchy tempermental

On paper, it doesn’t seem too far-fetched. My MBP has a 2.2GHz (2.8 turbo) second-gen Core-i7 2675QM paired with a mediocre Radeon 6750m (512MB) GPU, which is still enough to obliterate most “ultra”-(HAH)-books limping along on Intel HD 4000 units. Toss in 8 GB or RAM, and my generation-old machine still holds its own against most modest systems today.*

*A lot of sub-$1000 systems today use graphics cards that are simply re-branded last-gen cards. I.e. Low-end Radeon 7000m/GTX600 SKUs, and soon to be Radeon 8000m’s aren’t really any more advanced than their predecessors. And until Haswell comes along, an i7 is an i7.

My old gaming brick is running an overclocked Core 2 Duo (UGH) coupled with an 8800 GTX (a 5+ year old ex-beast) and 4 GB or RAM. The graphics card is about 30% more powerful than the 6750m, and the CPU is clocked over half a GHz faster. In lightly-threaded tasks, it is no doubt still capable. But what about real-world gaming performance?

I was playing at miserable, but passable frame rates in Unreal Tournament 3 and Counter-Strike Global Offensive on my old PC (from here on referred to as The Brick). Would more RAM and extra (but slower) cores translate to a better experience?

Based on the consistency and variety of scores in the latest version of 3DMark, which I used in a previous post, I decided to use it again to do a comparison between The Brick and my MBP.

Here’s the Macbook’s scores:

And here’s the Brick’s scores:

One thing to note here is that The Brick’s 8800 GTX is a DirectX 10 card, so it can’t run Fire Strike. That said, for all practical purposes the Macbook Pro can’t run it either.

I find it somewhat interesting that the Graphics scores for for both sections are extremely close. The once-king $500 GPU is now comparable to a chip you can put in a low TDP notebook chassis. Sure, there will be some instances where the 8800’s increased memory, clock, bandwidth etc might prove beneficial, but by and large, the Macbook Pro is just as good a gaming computer in the right games. We’re talking stuff like Unreal Tournament 2k4, Portal 1&2, Command & Conquer (at least through Zero Hour, if not Red Alert 3)… even Bad Company 2 will see playable frame rates on the Macbook Pro. Which means if you play Call of Duty ( … >.> ), you’ll definitely be able to run it here. Oh, Team Fortress 2 is in the same boat as Call of Duty. Almost forgot people play that…


The CPU scores are most telling though. The desktop gets demolished here, no surprise. The Core i7’s performance per watt is impressive as always. And subjectively I can tell you that Battlefield 3, even though it’s not at all playable on the MBP, is smoother than on the Brick. The Brick will play it, with lag, at 720p. Even scaling down to DVD resolution (720×460), frame rate and performance do not improve. It’s not the number of pixels that’s the problem, it’s everything else going on that chokes the Brick. The environment and physics overwhelm the CPU before the GPU gets to give its all.

The Macbook will “play” Battlefield 3 at 720p, looking pretty decent, but unfortunately suffers from input lag. The one downside to using Bootcamp to run Windows is that Apple doesn’t allow the latest AMD/ATI drivers to be installed. They’re leaving performance on the table, although it’s only a few percent in most cases. But since my friends don’t play Battlefield 3 at LAN parties (*sad panda*), that’s not really a problem. I wouldn’t want to play Battlefield 3 on anything less than my current gaming PC. Silky smooth (40+ FPS) 1080p is almost a necessity for me and my aggressive reconnaissance play style now.

One last discussion about the performance aspect of things. Battlefield 3 isn’t really a good example of where the Core i7 really shines. A comparison of mediocre graphics cards is honestly pretty meaningless. A better game to showcase system bottlenecks (not on the GPU side) is Starcraft 2. Load on a couple of AIs, and the Brick will start to show its age. And yet it’s a game I don’t mind keeping installed on my MBP because it runs quite well there and I’ll occasionally play it on the go.

So in short: Yes, my Macbook Pro would have done just fine as a light-duty gaming computer in UT3, TF2, L4D2, and CS:GO. And while you could argue that a $1100 gaming laptop would pack a one or two-tier higher GPU, that’s really beyond the point and I would have to counter that form factor, design, a battery life greater than 3 hours, etc render the perceived “Apple tax” much l-… See, that’s why we’re not talking about that. Go home, (anti)fanboys and trolls.

Anyone with a quad core notebook and GTX 650m, HD6700m or higher GPUs, go enjoy your casual gaming.

TLDR: 2011 Macbook Pro, or $800-1000 Windows laptop, will do okay. Will not play Crysis. Will suck compared to a real PC. But just for shits and giggles, you now have 3DMark scores. Kthxbai.

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