M1 Max Chip May Have More Raw GPU Performance Than a PlayStation 5

Source: M1 Max Chip May Have More Raw GPU Performance Than a PlayStation 5

So what?

Back in 2019, I was starting to think about an upgrade to my 2014 MBP, which is a darn-near perfect machine. (My son has it now.) However, I didn’t want a TouchBar, nor to put up with a lack of a physical ESC key. There was never a “killer app” for the TB to make it interesting, and I use ESC extensively when running vim. So I thought I’d just wait, and see what the next generation would bring.

But then my wife started saying that we probably had the money for me to upgrade, and I don’t need to be told twice. When your wife is open to you making a major purchase, you do it, even if you’re not quite ready. So I bought a 2019 with an i9, 32 GB of RAM, 512 GB SSD, and a Vega 20, hoping beyond hope that it would play some AAA games passably well. The total was $4,000.

The only thing I was really playing on the PC at the time was Civilization V. It played it about as well as my old PC, so I just kept playing it on there, to keep the heat load off the MBP.

Then I started playing Elder Scrolls Online, so I tried it on my Mac. It stutters every few seconds, like it’s texture thrashing, and I thought, well, Bethesda just didn’t optimize it for the Vega, and that’s too bad. But then I saw it running on a friend’s 2020 MBP, with only integrated graphics, and it runs… pretty well, actually! So I spent an extra $750 upgrading to the best GPU I could get, and it actually made gaming on the Mac worse for me. So I continue to play ESO on a twelve-year-old PC with an Athlon64 and a nVidia 9xx-series GPU. The fact that this rig plays the game pretty well only adds salt to the wound that my expensive MBP basically can’t play it at all.

The new MacBook Pro’s look perfect, and base models start out about half the price of this one. Ouch. If I had just waited a couple of years, and given up on the stupid idea that gaming on a Mac is ever going to be a thing, I’d be in computing nirvana now.

Whatever “power” they may put in the thing, I just don’t see gaming companies supporting it. Bethesda has already said that will not be porting ESO to M1. This isn’t surprising. I mean, there were only a handful of AAA titles ported to Mac when they were running Intel CPU’s and AMD GPU’s. Now that both halves of the whole are completely different architectures than their PC brethren, I don’t see any gaming companies making the effort.

Mac for programming. Playstation for gaming. Windows for ESO. God, I wish I could cut Windows completely out of my life. I’ve been tempted to move to PS for ESO, but I can’t give up my investment, and I couldn’t live without a whole slew of mods I rely on. I started playing ESO again because I’ve been shut in with health problems for a long time. Once I get better, if I would stop playing ESO again, I could put the PC back in the closet.

P.S. It’s so great to see Apple responding to clamorous and sustained criticisms of their MBP hardware from power users in places like Hacker News. (Including last night’s update to the Monterey public beta, which restores proper tabs in Safari.) It gives me hope that the platform will continue to be a good one for developers, and not be morphed into a mobile-like experience.

P.P.S. World of Warcraft has been ported to native M1. Maybe I should just switch MMO’s. I wonder what New Worlds’ situation is… Oh. Bootcamp. Nevermind. I didn’t buy a Mac to run Windows. I dual booted my PC’s between Linux for work and Windows for gaming for decades. No more. I think you should just buy a PC laptop if you’re going to do that.

Ah… Windows, My Old “Friend”

I didn’t want to be here again. I swore I was done with Windows. But, here I am.

Years ago, I picked up Skyrim on a Steam sale, and immediately fell in love with it. I got pretty far along with it. I think I was getting to level 70 or so, but memory fades.

Then I discovered modding, and nexusmods.com.

By the time I was done, my character was so OP, and my save files so jumbled, that I lost interest, and started playing other things.

Then Windows 10 came along, and I got caught up in the hype. Since we had an Xbox 360 and an Xbox One, I thought it would be neat to get everything together, and make a Microsoft “family” unit, like you can do in with Apple gear. I upgraded all 3 of my family PC’s, hoping to be able to limit my kids’ screen time through it. Then Windows 10 went crazy, with its adverts and “push ware.” And Microsoft’s “family” thing was a complete fiasco for me. Despite six hours on the phone with Microsoft, I couldn’t join one of my kid’s Xbox account to the family unit. On top of this, the time limits for his new account didn’t work at all. So I downgraded all 3 PC’s back to 7.

Then I bought a PS4, gave my monster game rig to my son, retired the other 2 PC’s, gave away the 360, and washed my hands of Microsoft, and Office.

Skyrim went on sale on the Playstation store, and I thought, “Hey, there won’t be a way for me to break the game with the mods available in the Creators Club.” Turns out I was wrong on that point… but I avoided the OP ones, and I started playing again, just concentrating on the main quest. I got to about level 30 again, and just kept getting bogged down by the slowness, and the controls, the lack of SkyUI for inventory management, and the inability to “fudge” the rules a little, from time to time.

Like, really, I hauled 100 pounds of dwarven scrap metal back from some ruins, to craft thousands of dwarven arrows from it, and level up smithing very quickly. I’m not spending literal hours of real time, chopping firewood for this. I’m going to open the console, and type player.additem 6f993 100, and just get on with it.

So I quit playing.

Then I got a bright idea. Skyrim is an old game, right? It should run on old hardware just fine, right? I still had the old PC’s lying around. Could they run the game better than the console?… I put a 760 in one machine, and quickly found that it would “hitch” every few seconds. I started digging into the problem, and discovered that the machine was so old that it had a Core 2 Duo, and that’s actually below even the modest Skyrim SE minimum requirements.

Another old PC had a Phenom II X6, which wasn’t a bad chip. That was enough to run Skyrim, but the power supply in that machine didn’t have enough juice to run the 760, so I was left with using some 5970 piece of junk. It wouldn’t run the game at all, because it was stuck at DX 9.

Time passed.

Parallels advertised that their latest version supports DX 12. Like a fool, I paid good many to upgrade, only to prove that running Skyrim under Parallels is also a hitch-ridden exercise. If someone has figured out how to make this work well, I’d love to hear about it. It doesn’t seem to be accessing the texture memory of the GPU on the Mac. I don’t know if that’s an architecture limitation or a configuration problem. I couldn’t find anything about this from searching.

Time passed.

I got the itch to play Skyrim again, so I took another look at my Phenom-based computer. I started looking into the detailed power requirements, and thought, you know what? They’re probably just being safe. I could probably run the 760 with the power supply I have, if I just adapt some of the power leads to hook into it. So I ordered what I needed.

Then I thought, hey, let me double check my junk pile. Lo and behold! I had a power supply that could run on the Phenom-based computer, and comfortably power the 760! I had totally forgotten that I had helped a friend with some home networking stuff, and he had given me the thing because he didn’t need it any more. I noticed that it needed one power adapter to plug into the motherboard, so I ordered it too. And then I noticed that I didn’t need the adapter. So I installed it, and got the game loaded, and found that it ran great!

And now I have 3 power adapter cords that I don’t need.

The only niggle now was that I had a lot of noise in the audio line. And it got worse when I actually ran the game. I was just using the baked-in sound card, so I installed a spare Creative XFi card. That didn’t fix it. Then I figured out that the noise was coming from the HDMI line. So I muted it. Then I disabled it. Then I pulled the audio feed from my monitor out of my mixer entirely.

I’ve been using HDMI audio on my PS4 all along, but it has an optical output jack… And I’ve since bought a Thunderbolt 3 dock for my MBP which also has an optical output jack… So I took the opportunity to buy a cheap digital audio switch, and swap out everything for TOSLINK audio.

By now, the game is playing so much better on the PC than the console, there’s no going back. So I did the last step. I bought an SSD, and cloned the HDD onto it. Even on this 10-year-old PC, Skyrim is playing like butter at the 60Hz monitor frame limit, inventory management is a breeze, the controls work well, and load times are, like, half a second.

Skyrim. I can’t believe how much effort this game has caused me to expend. This time, for sure, whatever else happens, I’m finishing the main quest, and putting it to bed. But the whole exercise reminded me of why I have always been drawn to this hobby. Hacking stuff together and figuring out the solutions to all the problems along the way is interesting to me, and I guess I’ve kind of missed it.

Operating System “Ecology”

Back in my days of playing AD&D, each month, Dragon Magazine would feature an “The Ecology of…” some mythical beast. The article would read like a National Geographic treatment of what the creature eats, what places they inhabited, and so on. (The one that sticks with me was about the beholder, which is a uniquely characteristic example.) I still think about the word, “ecology,” a lot, because it neatly captures the immediate surroundings of a particular thing. I suppose talking about the “ecology” of an operating system is taking things a bit too far, but hear me out.

As I type this, I’m cloning a spinning-media hard drive to a solid-state hard drive. It’s already 33% done, so I’m going to have to hurry. To do this, I searched for “clone hdd to ssd”, and read the results. The first several, including a prominent LifeHacker article, talked about using EaseUS Backup to do the job.

Fine. I download software, and install it, and try to use it. Along the way, I’m prompted five times to upgrade to the paid version. Each time, I sidestep the upsell, because LifeHacker has assured me that the free edition is all I need. When I finally get to the actual button that does the thing, I see that this is no longer true.

Fine. Times change, and they felt the need to start charging for this. I get it. I don’t begrudge them. If all else fails, I’ll find a way to do this with Linux, because it’s always possible to do things like this with Linux, and do it for free, if you’re willing to learn the flags of some arcane commands.

But I take another look at the search results, and there’s another possibility: Macrium Reflect. Ah! That’s right. I did this for another computer over a year ago, and that’s what I used, I now recall.

Fine. I download this new program. I have to sign up with an email address to get the downloader. Fine. I register. I get my email. I download the downloader. I run the downloader. I enter my email. I get the downloader running. It downloads the program, installs it, and I’m copying the drive right now. The UI is very efficient, and there’s no annoying upsell come-ons. But I’ve had to click about 25 times to get to the point of doing the thing.

People who’ve never actually lived in macOS, and think that Windows is just great (thank you very much) never see it from our side. In the ecology of Macs, if you want some software, it’s usually quite clear that what you want is either free or paid, and installing consists of downloading a file, opening it, and dragging an icon. That’s it. The difference in the two operating system “ecologies,” in terms of friction and user-hostility, is pretty stark. Window users who have never tried Mac: you have no idea how much nicer life can be.

Aaand the clone is done. Let’s see how much faster Civ V starts up now…

Far Cry 4 Humor

I’ve been playing through Far Cry 4 again, just because it’s one of my favorite games ever, and I need a break from RDR2 and Witcher 3. I had to stop and note how funny it can be.

In one of the convoy escort missions, you’re supposedly protecting a truck full of books, bound for a library. When you accept the mission, Ajay says, “The pen is mightier than the sword, right?” And the person giving you the mission says, “Sure, but not as mighty as a rocket launcher. Now…” Then, when you meet the truck and driver, she says, “Hurry up, we have places to be, and people to shoot.” She also asks Ajay if he’s read Sun Tzu’s Art of War, among other books, and then concludes that it’s fine, as long as he’s reading. Along the route, she keeps saying things, like, “Knowledge is power, and knowing is half the battle.” The whole thing had me cracking up.

Also, right before this, I opened a loot chest, and got a “user manual” as the treasure, so I was already laughing.

And don’t even get me started about Hurk in Far Cry 5.