Updated GeForce Now service fixes the MacBook Pro's gaming cons

MacOS holds MacBook Pros back from many highly-anticipated gaming titles. A new version of GeForce Now, however, could deliver that experience.
Written by Ross Rubin, Contributor

Apple's MacBook Pro Unleashed intro included enough performance multipliers to shame a pinball machine. We learned that the M1 Max has 4x faster GPU performance than the M1 -- and that the M1 Max's memory bandwidth is 2x that of the M1 Pro and 6x that of the M1. Furthermore, the M1 Max has 3.5x the transistor count and 4x the unified memory of the M1.

Looking for some cross-platform comparisons? Apple noted that the M1 Max's GPU performance is more than 2.5x that of a compact pro PC laptop when running on battery and over 3.3x faster than a high-end PC laptop on battery. Machine learning models perform on average of over 3x faster on the new chips than on Apple's fastest Core i9-based MacBook Pro, with some models performing over 20x faster!

Want 1.5x the number of comparison categories by talking about apps? Final Cut Pro's video analysis for face-tracking is up to 5x faster. Compressor's ProRes video transcode is up to 10x faster. The new chips deliver 4x the performance in DaVinci Resolve, including 5x faster GPU performance and 8x faster ProRes-to-ProRes rendering performance. Cinema4D is nearly 3x faster. Redshift is over 4x faster. Premiere Pro Scene Edit Detection is up to 5x faster.

We get it. The M1 Pro, and especially the M1 Max, powering Apple's new MacBook Pros are quite a bit faster. They promise to not only accelerate today's demanding processes, but to enable new software capabilities -- and all with breakthrough energy efficiency.

With its attention to professional-focused creative apps, the MacBook Pro is the most exclusively "pro" device when compared to the crossover benefits of the iPad Pro and iPhone Pro. Sure, the new laptops' upgraded displays, audio systems, and connector clusters offer crossover appeal. But the signature performance improvements in Apple's high-end notebooks offer dramatically less benefit to those who aren't designing digital worlds or editing multiple 8K video streams. The M1 Max can drive three of Apple's Pro XDR displays and a 4K television for a canvas of over 75 million pixels. Who's going to fill that with browser tabs?

Had the M1 Pro and Max strutted their superlatives in the Windows world, though, it would be a different story. While the highest-performance laptops there also serve creative pros, it's their appeal to the high-end gaming consumer market that sets them apart. Although PC companies have acknowledged increasing crossover and toned down some gaming laptops' extreme aesthetics in the past year, they still segment their portfolios accordingly. You'll find HP's fastest laptops in its Z workstation line, and its Omen gaming line. Lenovo's P-series mobile workstations reach different buyers than their Legion gaming laptops. And Dell's Precision workstations would never be mistaken for its Alienware-branded notebooks. ASUS's ROG brand sponsors a stable of esports teams while Acer sponsors an Asia-Pacific esports league named after its Predator gaming PC line.

Alas, while the new MacBook Pros sound like they could handle the most demanding Triple-A gaming titles, the Mac simply lacks the volumes to attract them, particularly as Microsoft has strengthened the case over the years for Windows and Xbox cross-development.

But all is not lost for those who wish to venture far beyond the world of Apple Arcade. As I wrote last month, streaming game services such as Xbox Game Pass and GeForce Now have continued to make headway by, for example, attracting new titles. Indeed, today Nvidia has announced the next generation of GeForce Now with its own performance story to tell. The upgrade is powered by Nvidia's Superpod, and it's filled with nearly 9,000 CPUs cores and nearly 11.5 million CUDA cores. It can achieve over 39,000 teraflops, which Nvidia says makes it the most powerful gaming supercomputer ever built.

According to Nvidia, the Superpod allows GeForce Now to create the gaming experience of its top-end RTX 3080-based GPUs, delivering 3x the processing power of the Xbox Series X and serving up games at 1440p resolution at 120 frames per second. The MacBook Pro display's enhanced refresh rate, therefore, gives you some advantage even when streaming. In any case, it says that the performance equates to 70x the gaming performance of the average Steam laptop and 13x the performance of the integrated graphics on the M1-based MacBook Air. But perhaps the biggest win is that, by leveraging its Adaptive Sync technology, the company says it has been able to achieve latency as low as 56 ms for an experience that it says is the most comparable to local gaming ever.

Access to the RTX 3080 experience, with its higher resolution and frame rate, costs $99 when purchased for a six-month run. But for new MacBook Pro users saving up for that third Pro XDR display, the company has created a new priority pricing tier of $49 for the same duration that offers 1080p gaming at 60 frames per second. The service also maintains a limited free tier.

Streaming game services are often positioned as allowing inexpensive and modestly performing devices, such as PCs with integrated graphics and Chromebooks, to deliver cutting-edge games as played on a leading-edge PC. That includes the first M1-based Macs as well as the massive installed base of Intel-based Macs. The new MacBook Pro, though, makes it a strange but still excellent candidate for such services. It has the muscle to deliver that gaming experience, but it's cut off from it by market forces versus technical limitations.


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