Need Speed – How Fast of a Mac is Fast Enough?Categories: Before You Buy
Most CPU chips in current Macs will be fine for gaming. Usually the spec you want to pay attention to is the graphics chip. That is where the heavy lifting is done in games these days. Integrated graphics chips in the Mac Mini and MacBook won't do for demanding games. Compare the GPUs in the Macbook Pros and Mac Pros for gaming benchmarks.
So what is fast enough?
The best way to determine the difference between chips is by reviewing benchmarks published on the web. Barefeats typically has the most detailed benchmarks and the widest variety of setups. They will often focus on more aspects than just chip speed, such as hard drive speed, amount of RAM, and network connections (see What Else Can I Do below). Macworld and Ars Technica will often publish benchmarks as part of their review of new Macs, so search those sites for something like "Mac Pro Review" to see their latest benchmarks. Macintouch is also worth browsing for benchmark results.
The most informative benchmarks will be the ones that use your favorite demanding applications. For me, that's taking a look at the Photoshop tests. For example, this benchmark at Macworld tells me in the second column that the steps between the Mac Pro CPUs are on the order of 5-10%, in this case the Photoshop benchmarks were about 2-5 seconds apart. That's right about in line with the ratio of their clock speed differences (2.66, 2.8, and 3.0 GHz).
Why Go Fast?
Besides squeezing the fastest times out of your renders, there are a couple other considerations/rationalizations to getting the fastest Mac you can.
The first is that you should get the most mileage out of your new Mac. Looking 3-5 years down the road, any Mac today will probably be sputtering on Mac OS X 10.8 and all the full screen video people will be using. Faster Macs will be tolerable for longer and you'll get more use out of it.
Second, resale value will track with the orginal purchase price. So that more expensive Mac today will sell for a little more on eBay in a few years when you go to auction it. You can figure on recouping some of your extra investment down the line.
Getting the Right Value
Only you can determine what the right value is because money means something different to everyone. But using the example above, how much is shaving a few seconds off a photoshop operation worth to you? For me, it wasn't worth another $500 for the next step up in Mac Pros.
This is really the core of this article and only you can decide based on how what else you need your money for. It's just my opinion, but I wouldn't advise spending more just to get a marginally faster CPU chip although I would spend more for other features mentioned below.
What Else Can I Do?
You should be able to get more speed and productivity out of your Mac by spending money in different places, such as adding additional RAM or getting a larger or second display. Even the speed of your hard drive or connection to your hard drive can have an impact if you are working with large files. I strongly recommend checking these boxes first before getting the fastest chip available.