Review

iMac 27″ i7 2.93GHz Gaming Performance Round Up

At Neowin we have been playing around with loads of games on our new iMac 27″ i7 2.93ghz. The iMac comes with what is advertised as an ATI 5750 Graphics Card, but it turns out that the part inside is actually the 5850 Mobility Hardware that ATI produce, not a bad thing mind you. Our iMac i7 Mid-Summer 2010 machine has 8gb of RAM inside it (Thanks to the excellent and far cheaper than Apple - Crucial Memory)

Anyway, we have been running a large number of games to see how the iMac performs for gamers, especially with the recent boost gaming has got for the Mac thanks to Valve through Steam. A majority of these titles were tested on Windows 7 64-bit via Boot Camp and the with the latest (more up to date) drivers from the iMac 27″ 2010 edition DVD.

Dead Rising 2: This title has only been out for a couple of weeks, and despite being a very buggy title (For a Games for Windows Live title, it doesn't even work with Wireless Xbox Controllers) it has been very popular in the charts. Well this is one game that doesn't run smoothly in native 2560x1440, you are looking at sub 20fps even with medium graphic settings at this resolution. I have had near perfect performance at 1920x1080p like many of the other games in this list. Turning shadows down and making sure that Anti-Aliasing is switched off makes all the difference here, helping to run at over 40-60 fps at times.

Civilization 5: Not only a fantastic game, but also a good performer on the iMac at full native resolution. Going with the default settings that the game chooses for you there isn't really any need to fiddle with anything to get the game to perform well even when the map starts to fill up. Once more making sure anti-aliasing is off makes the main performance boost - though when running in such a high resolution there isn't much need for it.

Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days: Even in native resolution on Windows 7 the game runs just over 30fps at all times and this is with every graphic setting on full. The game has a unique, hand held camera recording look to it, even if the game itself is pretty rubbish.

Dragon Age: Origins: Works excellent in full native resolution with everything on full even 2xaa and when v-synced, it tends to nearly always stays at 30fps. Probably because the game also makes great use of the quad core processor too.

Mafia 2: If you try the run the game in the full native resolution of 2560×1440 then you will be looking at sub 20fps with everything bar Anti-Aliasing on full. I have found the best resolution to run the game in is 1080p at either full screen or in a Window. Keeping it in Windowed mode means you get the game to look great but in a the smaller screen, but on such a large monitor it isn't too much of a problem. Full screen means a slight vaseline look, although this seems to effect Mafia 2 much less than other titles. It can be a great looking game sometimes, despite how long it took the developers to release it.

Fallout 3: Running at full native with everything on ultra is tends to hover around 30fps, dropping lower where fog and more lighting is used. I’m coming from a big beefy gaming machine so I notice the slow down a lot but most people wouldnt and it looks great even for a dated game on the 27″ screen. Bodes well for next weeks release of Fallout: New Vegas

Aliens Vs. Predator: If you want to play this over 30fps at a time then 1080p is the way to go, you can even run a couple of the DirectX 11 features without worry too. Just don’t bump up to the 2560×1440 resolution unless you are happy to feel sick due to the low frame rate jerking the screen around.

Worms Reloaded: Perfect at high settings with native 2560×1440 as we expected it would be. A good fun game too which is always great in multiplayer mode.

Borderlands: Trying to run the game with most options on high in native resolution is a no-no here, especially if you want to have the game run smoothly. The best way ahead here is in 1080p at full screen…it runs over 30fps most of the time in this resolution and at a much higher frame rate if you turn off Dynamic shadows. Borderlands is one of the titles that looks good in full screen even in 1080p.

Star Trek Online: Again at full native resolution with everything on full the game tends to run around 24-30 fps most of the time except in built up areas. AA makes a lot of difference in this game so I have it turned off at all times, not that you really need it with such a high resolution anyway. Changing the res down to 1080p and you get a jump to around 50-60fps average but it looks very pasty in full screen mode. The best way I have found to play it is in 1080p in a Window. This way you get the game looking great and the best frame rate in a big enough screen area to play.

Lord of the Rings Online: I love this game so I’m pleased to say that it plays in full native res with everything on ultra at just over 30fps most of the time, this is also with DirectX 10 enabled. It does slow down from time to time and once again dropping to 1080p shows the biggest fps jump. The good thing with Lord of the Rings is that the game has a multitude of graphical options for you to fiddle with if you want to get the best performance out of the game.

Starcraft 2: This is the one that seems strange to me – I run it at native res with everything on ultra – the in-game engine cutscenes run slowly, around 20fps but look great and the game runs just under 30fps most of the time. The reason I say strange is that although the game looks great, it shouldn’t be the most taxing on hardware yet seems to be for me at least. The best setting it 1080p once more and run in a window, but you can just about get away with native most of the time.

Tales of Monkey Island: The selection of episodes seem to run perfectly on both the Mac via Steam and via Windows, 50fps+ in native mode on Windows and just over 40 in OS X. A game like this looks great on the 27″ screen, despite not being the best game graphically, the art design and colours look great.

Sam and Max Season 3: Once again the game runs perfectly well in Native resolutions on both the Mac and Windows, though the higher frame rates are once again on Windows, sometimes 10fps more at various points in the game.

Torchlight: This seems to run over 40fps most of the time on both windows and via Steam on OS X yet it seemed to look more colourful on the OS X version, no idea why and it was probably a coincidence! The Windows version does manage to win out here once again though as there are some moments in the game on the Mac when you get sudden frame rate jerks and dips, although I must point out that this isn’t very often and playing it on the Mac is still my favourite way.

Alien Swarm: I have had no trouble playing it in full native resolution at 45-50fps with everything on full. Excellent free game from Valve too and there is a good chance this will find its way to the Mac version of Steam pretty soon.

Dirt 2: It doesn’t run very well at all in full native with ultra settings,  you are looking at -20 fps. Drop down to 1080p and you can get around 30fps, but again the vaseline effect comes into play on the large screen. In the end I reduced the effects down to high and reduced some hard hitters like Post Processing to get an average of 43fps in native.

We hope this helps people a bit if you are on the fence deciding if the iMac can either replace or become a decent gaming machine. If they had put the 5750 card in the 21″ iMac you would have a perfect gaming machine for a lot of people – but this is pretty close. How much future titles will fair will be interesting though and I doubt the iMac will be able to keep up with those titles in its native resolution of 2560×1440, if even 1080p but it will be interesting to see.

The good thing here though is that running all games in 1080p in a window nearly always results in both good performance and a great looking game. But this depends how you feel about seeing your desktop in the background as you play. Playing most of the titles in 1080p in full screen leaves you with a slight vaseline effect on the screen, though for most people this will be perfectly fine especially if you sit a bit of a distance away with a gamepad.

Also for anyone wondering, I have been able to update my ATI drivers in bootcamp by downloading the mobility specific ones direct from ATI – this updated the graphics card to 5850 name and added the Catalyst Control Panel settings, though it didn’t seem to improve performance of any of these titles we have tested. ATI also didn't release mobility driver updates last month so the latest I have are 10.8 - though we are told 10.10 mobility drivers will be release in the next week or so.

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