by Jim Lynch

Is the 5K iMac good for playing games?

Mar 14, 2016
Consumer ElectronicsMacOSVideo Games

Apple’s 5K iMac is an impressive computer, but how well does it play games? Should a gamer consider buying a 5K iMac? It all depends on what kind of gamer you are, and at what settings you run your games.

I bought a 5K iMac when it was first released a couple of years ago. I couldn’t resist getting the first iMac with a retina screen, after waiting such a long time for one. And I’ve never regretted my purchase. I use it every day, and I’m writing this post on it right now.

But one of the issues that keeps coming up over and over again with the 5K iMac is how well it plays games. Is it worth buying if you’re a gamer? Or should you skip it and buy a Windows PC or even build a hackintosh instead?

A redditor wonders if the 5K iMac will work well for games

I’ll share my thoughts and experiences with gaming on the 5k iMac below, but first check out some of the comments in a recent thread in the Apple subreddit about the 5K iMac and gaming.

An Apple redditor by the name of Andratte started the thread. He recently purchased a 5K iMac and was wondering if he’d made a mistake since he’s a gamer:

Ok so I always wanted an iMac and bought one today. Yippie!! And I never really thought about the gaming aspect of my life. Guess I sort of thought it would work figured I would just have to do a windows partition and be set. But now after reading some things on line, Im a bit worried. Did I make a mistake? Any thoughts?

I purchased it with the AMD Radeon R9 M390 graphics processor with 2GB.

More at Reddit

His question drew some interesting responses from his fellow redditors:

Ifixputers: “Depends on how hardcore of a gamer you are. The fact you bought an iMac and you didn’t think twice, you are probably a casual gamer. That’s fine.

You have a pretty…gorgeous piece of equipment at your house, but it was not made for gaming. If you want a gaming rig to last you and play gorgeous games on ultra high settings for the next 5–10 years, have your nerdiest friend build you a pc. You could make an amazing custom rig for whatever you spent on the iMac.

Ultimately up to you. Pc gaming is a time suck and upgrading components can get addicting. If you like casual games and gaming with a controller, keep that baby. The display is amazing. I like to game competitively and have a lot of gaming equipment, so the custom built pc was my route.”

Brandonbumper: “This. I have the same iMac model with the M390 and I purchased it as a daily driver, but also with the intention that I would play a few games on it. Scale down the resolutions and you should be able to get mid level settings or better on many games (including anti aliasing!).”

Crazyattack: “Depends on the games you play. Also you will have to decrease resolution pretty much any 3d game.”

Maniacdepressive: “1. Don’t expect to game at 5K.

  1. Expect to game at 1080p on mediumish settings in modern titles.

  2. People will say game at 2560×1440. It scales nicely to the 5K display but the M390’s gonna underperform at that resolution.

  3. Run games under Windows even if they have a Mac version because Windows gaming performance is almost always better.

  4. Have a good time.”

Pizzy139: “Just drop the resolution down and you’ll be fine. Test the resolution settings. I have a 4k imac and gaming is nice and smooth at lower settings.”

GoKone: “You can game, but you should expect laptop quality graphics. This machine is made for something else. I have the initial 5k iMac and I love it dearly, but I use it for web dev, video and photo editing.”

Hrrrsn: “I have the 27“ 2014 5K with the M290x GPU. The only game I really play is CS:GO, and it handles that fine. Rust it struggles with. Haven’t tried anything else. I considered going hackintosh, but by the time you add in a decent 27” monitor, you’re at the price of the iMac itself.”

Tobyps: “Just game at 2560×1440, that’s exactly half the resolution (vertically and horizontally) as the native 5K so it should scale nicely.”

Uncomfortableglance: “Bootcamp it and game in Windows… Do the rest in OSX. I do this on my late 2013 iMac and run Witcher 3 on Windows in most of the highest settings smooth as silk.”

More at Reddit

My 5K iMac’s hardware

As I noted above, I bought the first 5K iMac when it was released. I opted to max it out and got the 4 Ghz Intel Core i7, with 32 GB of RAM. It also has the AMD Radeon R9 M295X video card with 4 GB of video RAM.

So I got the best 5K iMac I could at the time. I did this because I don’t often upgrade my desktop computer. I usually keep a Mac like this for at least five years, and so I like to give it the fastest processor and maximum amount of RAM I can.

This has usually served me very well in making sure that my iMac can run things quickly and easily for a long time. I don’t want to have to buy a new computer in three years, so maxing it out lets me keep it for quite a long time indeed.

My experiences with gaming on a 5K iMac

One of the first things I did after getting my 5K iMac was to buy some games from the Mac App Store. I bought Castle of Illusion as my first game, and I was not disappointed at all in terms of how well it performed on my 5K iMac.

I was not able to play Castle of Illusion at 5120 x 2880 resolution even though that resolution was listed in the game’s video settings. Castle of Illusion simply crashed when I tried that, but it did run at 4096 x 2304, and it looks amazing! And it played very well too, I didn’t notice any slowdown or other problems with my 5K iMac’s ability to display the games graphics.

castle of illusion 5k imac

Castle of Illusion running on at 4096 x 2304 resolution on my 5K iMac. The game looks terrific and it runs with no slowdown or other video problems.

Another game I tried was World of Warcraft. For that game I ended up adjusting the resolution down a notch or two since WOW can have a zillion things on the screen at the same time depending on whether you are raiding, PVPing or questing.

I was able to find a good balance between screen resolution and good performance in WOW, so I recommend fiddling with the video settings to see what works best for you. I have since stopped playing the game though as I got tired of it after years of playing. But if you’re still a WOW gamer then you will definitely enjoy it on the 5K iMac.

Civilization V was another game that I played on my 5K iMac, and that one also looked and played very well for me. I can’t remember which settings I used in terms of graphics, but I never had a problem with it running well. Alas, I discovered that the Civilization type games are not really my cup of tea, but that had nothing to do with my 5K iMac. I just wasn’t into that type of gameplay.

The 5K iMac is great for casual gamers

As you can tell from my commentary above, I tend to be more of a casual gamer these days. I’m not usually into running the hottest 3D shoot em’ ups and that sort of thing. Nor do I really care about running games at the absolute maximum resolution with every bell and whistle enabled.

For me it’s more about being able to enjoy gameplay with a reasonable level of graphics. A game that looks great but has boring gameplay isn’t something I’m going to play regardless of how powerful the machine is that I might play it on.

All of that said, I would not recommend the 5K iMac to somebody who is a hardcore gamer that wants everything to run on maxed out settings. I say this partly because OS X itself simply doesn’t have as many games as Windows, and also because the 5K iMac’s hardware isn’t designed to be a top of the line gaming machine.

Fanatical gamers would do much better by building their own Windows-based computer. That would give them complete control over all of the machine’s hardware components, and it would give them full access to the huge library of games available for Windows.

However, if you are a casual gamer like me, you should be quite pleased with the 5K iMac. It will perform very well for you, provided you are flexible in terms of how fancy you want the graphics performance to be on it.

But what about Boot Camp for games on the 5K iMac?

Some folks have mentioned using Boot Camp to run Windows to play games on the 5K iMac. This is something that I tried very briefly back when I first got my iMac. However, I am not a fan of Windows and I quickly tired of dual booting to use it to play games.

But if you want to squeeze every last ounce of gaming performance from the 5K iMac, then Boot Camp might work well for you since the Windows versions of games are often a bit more optimized for performance than Mac versions.

For me though, Boot Camp was just more of a headache than it was worth. But your mileage may vary, so do consider it if you want access to more games or the possibility of better performance when running games on the 5K iMac.

I still love my 5K iMac for work and games

If you’re considering buying a 5K iMac, you will find some negative comments and that sort of thing whenever the topic of gaming comes up. My advice is to think carefully about what you’ll be using the 5K iMac for, and then make your decision about buying one.

I use mine mostly for work purposes, and it’s absolutely fantastic for me. I can’t imagine living without it since the 27-inch screen lets me do so much. It is the best workstation I’ve ever used, hands down.

But I also enjoy being able to fire up games and play them on such a huge screen. Even when I opt for lower resolutions, the games still look fantastic and perform very well for my gaming needs. I’ve never felt that playing games was less fun on my 5K iMac compared to other computers, and I’m quite content with what it can do for me.

So if you’re the same kind of gamer as me, the 5K iMac might be a good fit for you.

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