Apple, Tech, and Gaming

The Best Desktop Mac for Gaming and 3 Runners Up

- 2009.09.10 - Tip Jar

This is part 2 of 5 Best Desktop Macs for Gaming for Under $1,000.

#1 - Mac mini Nvidia (March 2009)

If you already have a nice flat panel monitor (keyboard and mouse also) or HDTV with a fast refresh rate (120 Hz+), then the Nvidia Mac mini is your ultimate Mac at a value price that can handle intense 3D gaming, among many other things on a tight budget. Brand new, and starting at just $599, the newest Mac mini takes full advantage of all features included in the latest release of Mac OS 10.6 "Snow Leopard." Low End Mac's Dan Knight recently proclaimed this machine the Best Value in Desktop Macs, and I would like to echo that point from a gamer's perspective.

Mac miniWith it's blazing fast system bus and system RAM (both clocked at 1066 MHz), along with various other features, the Mac mini received the adrenaline shot in the arm it deserved. The Mac mini now includes FireWire 800, DDR3 RAM (that can now be maxed at 4 GB), a Mini DisplayPort (for a variety of solutions), wireless N networking, and, best of all, GeForce 9400M integrated graphics that is so good you won't believe the gaming performance until you see it.

The new integrated graphics processor included in the new mini (and most other current Macs) can handle intense 3D games like Doom 3 at respectable frame rates! No previous integrated graphics solution has ever enjoyed performance numbers like those demonstrated in the GeForce 9400M. The graphics engine does tie up system RAM, since it's an integrated solution (128 MB for RAM configurations under 2 GB, and 256 MB in configurations at or above 2 GB).

I had to look far and wide to find numbers that reflect the actual graphics performance comparison between the old mini and the new mini. A British site, Register Hardware, has the Xbench 1.3 results for both machines. Doom 3 was previously unplayable at 9 FPS (essentially a slide show) on an old mini, but is now quite operational (no Star Wars pun intended) at 63 FPS using the new GeForce 9400M. This was likely on low settings, but would suggest that even on medium, you should still have a smooth playable game.

Again, as with any Intel Mac, you also have many Windows games to choose from that should run quite well on the new mini. The new Mac mini is useful for many other purposes besides gaming. It too, will handle Blu-ray in Windows, as the iMac previously mentioned will. It even meets the minimum requirements for playback of 720p HD video from the iTunes Store. Once more, you can own a brand new Mac mini for as little as $599 today, so what are you waiting for!

3 Runners Up

iMac G5 (iSight)

iMac G5 (iSight)The iMac G5 (iSight) from October 2005, available in 17" and 20" models, are very decent gaming machines and have enough graphics power to handle Doom 3 on Medium at 30 FPS, include a built-in iSight camera, and support the Apple remote control. As of this writing, the best deal from Low End Mac's resellers on a 20" 2.1 GHz iMac G5 was $680, and I found "Buy It Now" prices on eBay of $525. One advantage of the iSight model over other G5 iMacs is that it uses less costly RAM and supports a bit more (2.5 GB vs. 2.0 GB) than earlier G5 iMacs.

With the prices of G5 towers dropping significantly since the release of Snow Leopard (a dual 2 GHz unit can now be had for the same price as a 2.1 GHz iSight iMac G5), and with 22" LCD monitors under $300, you can have a much more powerful G5 system with at least twice the performance potential for not much more than the cost of the monitor. If you already have a nice monitor, it's a no brainer. Overall, the G5 towers are just a better value.

20" 1.25 GHz iMac G4

20 inch iMac G4The 20" 1.25 GHz iMac G4 (USB 2.0) (November 2003) "iLamp", as some have called the iMac G4 series, is possibly the most eye-appealing all-in-one that Apple ever produced.

The 20" model includes plenty of screen real estate (1680 x 1050 pixels) and can be had for $300 to $400 as of this writing. This was the last G4 iMac and came equipped with a GeForce 5200FX Ultra (64 MB); the earliest graphics card capable of Core Image graphics.

It can also take a 1.92 GHz CPU upgrade, if you can find anyone out there still offering this service. To my knowledge, Daystar was the last to offer this upgrade, but it has been discontinued for quite some time. Even with the processor upgrade, there are no video upgrades, and there are more cost effective solutions out there with much better graphics. Get one for nostalgia value if you're a collector.

If you don't need that much screen space, the 17" 1.25 GHz iMac G4 is the same as the 20" model except for the smaller 1440 x 900 display. It's also more widely available and less costly.

Blue & White Power Mac G3

Blue and White Power Mac G3The Blue & White Power Mac G3 (Jan. 1999) can be had for $300 to $400 fully upgraded with a Radeon 9200 PCI and a 1.1 GHz G3 or 500 MHz G4 upgrade - or for as little as $10 (plus shipping) with no hard drive. With video card and CPU upgrades, the Blue & White makes a good case for an OS 9 only gaming machine (it can run OS X versions through 10.4 Tiger, but OS X is far from optimal for gaming with this machine), but the stock dual 1.25 GHz MDD is a much better performer, boots into OS 9 and OS X versions through 10.5 Leopard, and can be had for much less than a fully upgraded Blue & White G3.

The "Yikes" Power Mac G4 (August 1999) is essentially the same machine as the Blue & White, but with a 350 or 400 MHz G4 CPU and a graphite case. LEM

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Dan Bashur lives in central Ohio with his wife and children. He uses various PowerPC G3 and G4 Macs running Tiger and Leopard. Besides finding new uses for Macs and other tech, Dan enjoys writing (fantasy novel series in the works), is an avid gamer, and a member of Sony's Gamer Advisor Panel. You can read more of Dan Bashur's work on, where he contributes regular articles about the PSP, classic gaming, and ways you can use Sony gaming hardware with your Mac.

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