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Hard Core 3D Gaming:
iMac Core Duo 2.0GHz
versus the "Big Dogs"

Originally posted February 10th, 2006, by rob-ART morgan, mad scientist
February 13th, 2006, added Single-Core G5 Power Mac Radeon 9800 Pro
and Quad Core G5 Power Mac with GeForce 7800GT
February 15th, 2006, added GeForce 6600 results

There's a lot of interest in 3D gaming on the iMac Intel Core Duo 2.0GHz. In our early testing, it showed promise. We wondered what how it would do if we "pumped up the volume."

To really establish the iMac Intel Core Duo 2.0 with the Radeon X1600 as a serious game machine, we believe it should
a) be able to run well at native resolution (1680x1050 on 20" LCD) with highest quality settings and,
b) do well against G5 Power Macs running at the same clock speed (2GHz), with the same memory (2GB), and graphics cards as good (or better) than the X1600.

Since we no longer have the Dual-Core G5/2.0 Power Mac in the lab, we used a Single-Core Dual G5/2.0 with three different graphics cards popular with serious gamers (Radeon 9800 Pro, Radeon X800 XT, and GeForce 6800 Ultra). We decided to add the Quad Core Power Mac with the GeForce 7800GT since that's the "biggest dog" in the "kennel." And, of course, we included the iMac G5/2.1GHz (previous model).

Lastly, we choose four games that are available with Universal Binaries (UB) so the Intel iMac Core Duo would have every advantage. The only thing we didn't have was the 256MB VRAM option. Ours had 128MB.

ASPYR DOOM 3 (UB)
As indicated in our previous article, we found by running at High Quality with Dynamic Shadows ON, we were able to verify Apple's claim that Doom 3 ran "twice as fast" on the Intel iMac as it did on the previous G5/2.1GHz iMac. We found the same advantage to exist when running the 20" iMac's native resolution. Since the G5 Power Mac could not run at 1680x1050 on its 23" display, we tested it at an even more demanding 1600x1200.

Graph Legend:
iMac G5/2.1 = Oct 2005 iMac G5/2.1GHz 'iSight' 20" with Radeon X600XT (128MB)
iMac Core Duo 2.0 = Jan 2006 iMac Intel Core Duo 2GHz 20" with Radeon X1600 (128MB)
G5/2.0 PowerMac 9800 = Oct 2004 Single-Core Dual G5/2.0GHz Power Mac with Radeon 9800 Pro Mac Special Edition (256MB)
G5/2.0 PowerMac X800 = Oct 2004 Single-Core Dual G5/2.0GHz Power Mac with Radeon X800 XT (256MB)
G5/2.0 PowerMac 6800U = Oct 2004 Single-Core Dual G5/2.0GHz Power Mac with GeForce 6800 Ultra (256MB)
QC/2.5 Power Mac 6600 = Oct 2006 Quad-Core G5/2.5GHz Power Mac with GeForce 6600 (256MB)
QC/2.5 Power Mac 7800 = Oct 2006 Quad-Core G5/2.5GHz Power Mac with GeForce 7800 GT (256MB)
All test systems had 2GB of memory.

MACSOFT UNREAL TOURNAMENT 2004 (UB)
Macologist.org has come up with a new SantaDuck Toolkit that enables dynamic shadows. We ran at Maximum quality with Sound enabled.

ID SOFTWARE QUAKE 3 (UB)
Thanks to sqonk.com, we were able to test with a UB version of Quake 3. We used High Quality with Geometric and Texture Detail set to maximum. (The G5 Power Macs had to run at 1600x1200.)

One would expect with dual cores that the Intel iMac would do better. Turns out that it was very sensitive to resolution and high detail -- possibly revealing some weakness in the Radeon X1600. (Notice how the Radeon 9800 Pro pulled down the speed of the Power Mac.) If we backed down to 1024x768 High Quality with Geometric and Texture Detail set to "Medium," it jumped to 316 fps.

BLIZZARD WORLD OF WARCRAFT (UB)
The latest patch (1.9.3) makes "WoW" Universal Binary. At the suggestion of a reader, we changed our test procedure from standing still looking at a complex scene to running around a pre-defined course. So we placed our warrior in the Firetree realm. He started at the totem pole at the entrance to Village Narache, ran West NorthWest, in the direction two large trees on a nearby hill, circled around the back of them, and returned to the totem pole. Also, using an addon called "Titan Performance," we were able to capture average frame rate for the running sequence.

In case you miss the point, note the speed drop when you switch the iMac Core Duo from Windowed to Full Screen. If you typically play WoW in Windowed mode, you will be impressed with the iMac Intel Core Duo. But in Full Screen mode, it can't keep up with the "big dogs." It even stuttered. To get better performance in Full Screen mode, you'll need to lower the resolution or World Appearance parameters, thereby diminishing the quality of the gaming experience.

FYI, we set all World Appearance parameters at maximum quality, enabled all shaders except Full-Screen Glow Effect, turned on Trilinear Sampling and disabled Vertical Sync. We used 60Hz refresh (LCD) and 24 bit color 1X sampling. (The G5 Power Macs used 1920x1200.)

The nice thing about gaming with a "real computer" was clearly illustrated when we added 4X Multi-sampling to the Quad-Core and only saw a 10% drop in framerates. And don't get crazy about us using the Quad-Core. We disabled two of the four cores and got the same numbers. If you are a gamer on a budget but want high FPS at high quality, you can get the low end Dual-Core Power Mac with the GeForce 7800 and experience true joy. Dittto for a Single-Core G5 Power Mac with either the X800 XT or 6800 GT.

NOTE: We discovered that the Dell 24" LCD can be set to 60 or 75Hz refresh in World of Warcraft. The Apple 23" Cinema display and iMac 20" display can only be set to 60Hz.

FINAL ANALYSIS
Though an improvement over the previous iMac, when it comes to running 3D games at high resolution and quality, the iMac Intel Core Duo 2.0GHz (20") is still not in the same league as a G5 Power Mac sporting a good graphics card.

As we stated, we haven't been able to get our hands on the iMac Core Duo with 256MB of VRAM. One remote mad scientist sent us some test results for Doom 3 and UT2004. It was 3 to 5% faster than the iMac Core Duo with 128MB of VRAM.

The iMac Core Duo 2.0 might cost half as much as a comparably equipped Dual-Core G5 Power Mac 2.0, but as you can see in the graphs above, it only runs half as fast when used for hard core gaming.

We went shopping on eBay for a "Pre-Owned" Single-Core Dual G5/2.0 Power Mac and a pre-owned 20" Cinema and pre-owned Radeon X800 card. The total came to about the same price as a new iMac Core Duo 2.0. If you are an avid gamer, you might seriously consider a used or refurbished G5 Power Mac with a high end graphics card as a viable alternative to the new iMac Core Duo -- especially if you already own a display. And if you already own a G5 Power Mac, consider upgrading your graphics card instead of trading it in on an Intel iMac.

WHERE TO ORDER YOUR iMAC INTEL CORE DUO or G5 POWER MAC

If you are buying an iMac Intel Core Duo or Dual-Core G5 Power Mac from Apple, please CLICK OUR APPLE STORE TEXT LINKS or DISPLAY ADS to help us earn our affiliate commission. We want our Canadian readers to know we are now an affiliate for Apple Store, Canada. Our European readers should visit Apple Store, UK.

Many thanks to CryWolf, our local Apple dealer, who provided some of the systems we used for testing. Check out their silencers for Power Macs and Xserves.

WHERE TO BUY REFURB G5 POWER MACS
For refurbished, reconditioned, open box (as well as new) G5 Power Macs, check with Small Dog and Power Max. Check also at the Apple HOT DEALS section for factory refurbs and other specials.

Some of you have asked which used or refurbished "AGP" G5 Power Mac models are most desirable. We recommend the models with 8 memory slots, 100/133MHz PCI-X slots, and 600W Power Supply. The table below gives the model number, etc., of these desirable G5s.

Model Number
clock speed
processors
intro date
M9031LL/A
1.8GHz
single
June 2003
M9032LL/A
2.0GHz
dual
June 2003
M9393LL/A
1.8GHz
dual
November 2003
M9455LL/A
2.0GHz
dual
June 2004
M9457LL/A
2.5GHz
dual
June 2004
M9748LL/A
2.3GHz
dual
April 2005
M9749LL/A
2.7GHz
dual
April 2005

All other models have only 4 memory slots, 33MHz PCI slots, 450W Power Supply, and slower frontside bus speeds. If you can't find the 2003 and 2004 models at Apple's Special Deals page, Small Dog's site, or Power Max's site, go to Froogle.com and search on the model number.

WHERE TO BUY VARIOUS GRAPHICS CARDS FOR YOUR POWER MAC and MAC PRO

For your Mac Pro, you have the following 16X PCI Express (PCIe) options:
The GeForce 7300 GT (16X, 256MB, dual-link DVI + single-link DVI port) is the default. We recommend the Radeon X1900 XT (16X, 512MB, two dual-link DVI ports) as a CTO option. It's much faster than the GeForce 7300 GT and just as fast as the expensive Quadro FX 4500. According to Alias/Autodesk, the X1900 XT is the only graphics card without limitations when using Maya 8.5. To custom order your Mac Pro with the Radeon X1900 XT, go to the Apple Store and click on the Mac Pro graphic.

If you didn't order the Radeon X1900 XT with your Mac Pro, you can order the Radeon X1900 XT as an aftermarket kit for your Mac Pro, go to the Apple Store and click on DISPLAYS in the left margin or do a search on "X1900."

NOTE: Mac Pro PCIe graphics cards will not work in Power Mac G5s with PCIe slots -- and vice versa. Nor will Windows PC PCIe graphics cards work in the Mac Pro.

Graphics Card Options for the Dual-Core or Quad-Core G5 with 16X PCI Express slot:
The best option for your Dual-Core or Quad-Core G5 with PCIe slots is the ATI Radeon X1900 G5 Mac Edition released in November 2006. You can buy it directly from ATI's Online Store for $299 (with "trade up" allowance).

It's also sold by Small Dog Electronics and Other World Computing.

The following cards only work on a G5 Power Mac with 8X AGP slot:
The "G5 only" Radeon X800 XT Mac Edition (8X AGP, 256MB, ADC + Dual-Link DVI port) is available from ATI Online Store, Apple's Online Store, Buy.com, Other World Computing, and Small Dog Electronics. (The MSRP is $299)

Apple's Online Store is no longer selling the GeForce 6800 GT or Ultra, which had Dual-Dual-Link DVI ports (for two 30" Cinemas).

The "G5 only" Radeon 9800 Pro Mac Special Edition (8X AGP, 256MB, ADC + DVI port) is no longer made by ATI.

The following cards work on both the G5 Power Mac (8X AGP) and G4 Power Macs with 2X or 4X AGP:
Other World Computing has the new ATI Radeon 9800 Pro Mac (2X/4X AGP, 256MB, DVI + VGA ports) graphics card in stock for $259. ATI has it on their Online Store for $249. The SKU number is 100-435058, in case you want to make sure you are getting the right card.

ATI Online Store, Buy.com and Other World Computing have the Radeon 9600 Pro PC and Mac Edition (4X AGP, 256MB, DVI + Dual-Link DVI port) as well. It's compatible with late model G4 Power Macs and all G5 Power Macs with AGP slots. Priced at $199 MSRP it is the lowest priced AGP graphics card with Dual-Link DVI support.

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2006 Rob Art Morgan
"BARE facts on Macintosh speed FEATS"
Email , the webmaster and mad scientist