When you buy through our links, Insider may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more
MacBooks can be good for gaming, if you know where to look.
Hollis Johnson/Business Insider
It’s an age-old question: Mac or PC? But for most computer gamers, that question only has one answer: PC, all the way.
Ask any gaming enthusiast, and they’ll tell you that the best gaming laptops are all Windows PCs, which outclass MacBooks with more powerful GPUs and bigger game libraries.
But MacBooks are still wildly popular with many shoppers. And according to a report from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, they’re especially popular among young adults — the same group that dominates PC gaming, according to Statista.
So if you’re a MacBook owner that wants to play games, can you use your MacBook as a gaming laptop? Most PC gamers would say absolutely not — but the truth is more nuanced than that.
It’s true, MacBooks aren’t the best for gaming
Modern MacBooks have great graphics, but lack the support from developers.
It isn’t just random PC gamer elitism; there are a few different reasons why MacBooks get left out of serious gaming conversations.
Historically, MacBooks have been built with underpowered graphics cards, usually made by AMD or Intel for graphic design apps instead of games. These GPUs couldn’t run advanced 3D games, and were far outclassed by the kinds of GPUs you’d find in PCs for the same price.
However, these days, most MacBooks run on a single chip called either the M1 or M2, also known as Apple silicon, that holds both the CPU and GPU. These chips are incredibly powerful, and can run nearly anything you throw at them. In theory, this should make them viable for modern gaming, but unfortunately there’s one lingering issue that holds them back: Many game developers still don’t make games that are compatible with Macs.
If you only have a MacBook, you’ll miss out on a lot of popular games — including Diablo 4, much to Whoopi Goldberg’s surprise. And even if you have a MacBook with one of Apple’s silicon chips, you’ll still likely be paying more money for similar or lower graphics performance than you’d get on the best gaming laptops with an Nvidia RTX chip.
So MacBook gamers definitely have their struggles. But if all you own is a Mac, you still have options.
You can still play lots of great games on a MacBook — here’s how
There are more games available for Mac users than ever.
Valve; Apple; William Antonelli/Insider
As MacBooks become more powerful, game developers are investing more resources into releasing games for Macs. Earlier this year, Apple dedicated a segment of their yearly WWDC conference to gaming, previewing macOS versions of big high-profile releases like Death Stranding, Resident Evil Village, and No Man’s Sky. You still won’t find nearly as many big releases on Mac as you will on PC, but it’s clear that game studios are starting to pay more attention to Apple’s hardware.
Steam, the most popular PC gaming app, even has its own dedicated macOS catalog now. It features thousands of fantastic games, including:
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, one of the most popular first-person shooters everBaldur’s Gate 3, a massively customizable RPG adventureFantastic games with simple graphics like Stardew Valley, Terraria, and Rimworld
You also have access to a wealth of popular games outside of Steam, like Fortnite and The Sims 4. You can find great indie games on itch.io as well, or play classic console and handheld titles using emulators like Dolphin.
And don’t forget cloud gaming services like Xbox Game Pass that let you stream popular games on your MacBook. The games you play using these services actually run on high-end PCs somewhere else, meaning you don’t have to worry about your own Mac’s hardware.
You will need a fast and stable internet connection though, otherwise you’ll get hit with lag and visual glitches. But if your network is up to the task, services like Game Pass are an excellent way to play high-end titles like Grand Theft Auto V, Mortal Kombat 11, and Forza Horizon 5 on a MacBook. I’ve won dozens of Guilty Gear Strive matches via cloud gaming, and even topped Fortnite games.
And although you don’t need to pay for each individual game, cloud gaming services do require monthly subscriptions. Xbox Cloud Gaming, for instance, requires a $17/month Game Pass Ultimate account.
If you’re willing to put in some work, you can expand your gaming options even more. Virtual machine emulators/simulators like Parallels and Wine let you run PC apps on your Mac. This includes games that don’t have a native macOS version, like Valorant or even Cyberpunk 2077.
This is a fantastic use for the power that the M1 and M2 chips give your Mac.
And even if you don’t have a newer Apple silicon Mac, you’ve still got options: Some Intel-based Macs support eGPUs (external graphics processor unit), which can supercharge your Mac’s graphical features and make emulation easier. Compatible MacBooks can use eGPU configurations with select AMD graphics cards and an external GPU enclosure.
The bottom line
MacBook gaming still isn’t the best — it takes more work for less options than you’d get with a Windows gaming laptop.
But with increasing support from developers, the rise of cloud gaming, and a constantly growing Steam library, MacBooks aren’t as bad for gaming as they were a few years ago. And they aren’t nearly as bad as some PC gamers make them out to be.
If you’re considering a new Apple laptop, be sure to check out our roundup of the best cheap MacBook deals available right now.