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Old Nov 3, 2012, 08:57 PM   #1
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Join Date: Nov 2012
Location: Chicago, IL
Skyrim 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro benchmarks (Boot Camp)

Hey folks,

So I waffled on buying a Retina MacBook Pro for a few months, but lurking on these forums was very helpful in helping me decide. I'm a creative professional who needs a portable, professional looking laptop but I love gaming in my spare time. However, one thing that was lacking, I felt, were totally comprehensive gaming benchmarks.

I just got my laptop this weekend, and I'm doing benchmarks at various settings in a scientific manner (playing through the same sequence the same way each time) so other folks considering buying can have the resource I couldn't find. I'm starting with Skyrim, and the results are below for anyone to whom they'd be useful.

I have a number of other games (listed at the bottom) so if anyone would like to request the new game for me to hit, let me know and I'll try to oblige. I plan to get to most of them eventually.

UPDATE: Battlefield 3, Diablo 3, Deus Ex Human Revolution, and Guild Wars 2 tests further down in the thread!

System specs
2012 15-inch Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display
2.6 GHz Intel Core i7
16 GB of RAM
512 MB on-board solid state storage
NVIDIA GeForce 650M 1 GB
2880 x 1800-pixel display
NVIDIA driver version 306.97
Windows 8 via Boot Camp


I used the Fraps benchmark tool to repeat an identical test at all settings.

Except in the case of the no-AA 2880 tests and the Console Quality test, I used stock settings provided by the developers. In an unusual choice, the developers tied the AA setting to the overall detail setting: no AA for Low, 4x FSAA for Medium, and 8x FSAA for High and Ultra.

On Ultra, I performed additional tests with no AA because at the laptop's native resolution of 2880 x 1800, anti-aliasing is barely noticeable and in most cases if you're trying to play at the native resolution, disabling it is your best bet for making a game playable with minimal impact to visual fidelity.

I chose to test at four resolutions:

- 2880 x 1800 because it is the display's native resolution
- 1920 x 1200 because it is the native resolution of most external gaming displays and the standard resolution for modern PC games
- 1440 x 900 because it is the default native resolution of the standard/old MacBook Pro, the most common resolution for 15-inch displays, and exactly half the native resolution of this machine's display
- 1280 x 800 because it is the closest native aspect ratio equivalent to the 1280 x 720 resolution used by consoles. I tested this one in only one test -- one meant to approximate the graphics and resolution settings of the console version of the game.

The test performed was a 60-second walking speed stroll down the main road of Riverwood from one gate to the other with clear skies at 9 AM while all the NPCs are out in the streets walking to work. Stop halfway to look up at river and mountains. Executed the same way each time.

I chose Riverwood because it is one of the more GPU-taxing areas in the game.

Other notes

For some unknown reason the current NVIDIA drivers do not support 1440 x 900 resolution by default on the retina MacBook Pro in Windows 8, even though it is exactly half the native resolution and a very common one at that. To test at this resolution, I added it as a custom resolution in the NVIDIA control panel. It's easy to do, and it makes the resolution appear as an option in all Windows applications.

Additionally, Skyrim has V-Sync enabled by default with no way to turn it off. You can, however, force it to disable in the NVIDIA control panel. However, I chose to leave it on in all tests, which is why all the reported framerates are capped at 63fps. I'm sure turning it off would net 2-4 additional frames per second in many circumstances, and would allow lower settings to significantly exceed reporting 60fps, however my attitude is that V-Sync is non-negotiable in a first-person action game like Skyrim, so I decided there was no point in testing without. If you want a specific test sans V-Sync, let me know.

In the results below, results colored red consistently dip below 30fps and are therefore judged unplayable. Results in green are consistently above 30fps and are therefore judged playable. Results in black are usually at or above 30 fps, but dip severely enough on occasion to not merit a green rating -- in other words, folks who aren't sticklers will be fine this way (these are comparable to console version performance, actually) but hardcore PC gamers accustomed to desktop-level performance would consider black rating results unplayable.

2880 x 1800 Ultra (8X AA)
Min FPS: 0
Max: 23
Avg: 16.6

2880 x 1800 Ultra (No AA)
Min FPS: 18
Max: 28
Avg: 22

2880 x 1800 High (8X AA)
Min FPS: 17
Max: 27
Avg: 20.1

2880 x 1800 High (No AA)
Min FPS: 21
Max: 36
Avg: 27.9

2880 x 1800 Medium (4X AA)
Min FPS: 14
Max: 31
Avg: 23.1

2880 x 1800 Medium (No AA)
Min FPS: 15
Max: 38
Avg: 26.1

2880 x 1800 Low (No AA)
Min FPS: 23
Max: 47
Avg: 34.6

1920 x 1200 Ultra (8x AA)
Min FPS: 23
Max: 42
Avg: 31

1920 x 1200 High (8x AA)
Min FPS: 32
Max: 51
Avg: 39.6

1920 x 1200 Medium (4x AA)
Min FPS: 25
Max: 61
Avg: 44.8

1920 x 1200 Low (No AA)
Min FPS: 44
Max: 63
Avg: 59.503

1440 x 900 Ultra (8x AA)
Min FPS: 28
Max: 49
Avg: 36.3

1440 x 900 High (8x AA)
Min FPS: 41
Max: 63
Avg: 50.6

1440 x 900 Medium (4x AA)
Min FPS: 36
Max: 63
Avg: 59.4

1440 x 900 Low (No AA)
Min FPS: 43
Max: 62
Avg: 59.8

Console Quality: 1280 x 800 High/Medium mix (4x AA)
Min FPS: 57
Max: 63
Avg: 60


Recommended for 30-40fps: 1920 x 1200 on High with 4X AA
Recommended for 50-60fps: 1680 x 1050 on High with FXAA
Minimum playable setting at native resolution: Low with no AA, if that

Skyrim is a great game for benchmarking machines because it represents about the average demand on modern video cards. Some games (Battlefield 3, XCOM Enemy Unknown, and DayZ for example) are much more demanding and others (Portal 2, World of Warcraft, Minecraft) are far less, but Skyrim based on my early tests lands right in the middle, so it's a good indicator of the machine's gaming capabilities.

The verdict for Skyrim seems similar to what I'm getting with less thorough tests on dozens of other current games: It won't run at an acceptable framerate the native resolution, but that's okay because it runs just fine on High (not Ultra) settings at 1920 x 1200.

That means you can easily play games on an external 23-inch display or on an HDTV. However, I'd advise against running it on Medium at any resolution: The way medium handles streaming of new characters and objects entering the scene actually results in frequent stutters, which explains the low minimum FPS results at that setting at all resolutions despite the expected averages.

And most notably, I think this is critical to mention: The scaling to non-native resolutions, even in Windows, is phenomenal on this machine. It was the biggest issue holding me back from purchasing it: I was afraid there would be terrible artifacting, horrible fuzz, and loss of contrast, color balance, etc. when scaling to sub-native resolutions.

This is a serious issue with my 2011 iMac and the 2009 MacBook Pro this laptop replaced: Playing at non-native resolutions introduces serious flaws in visual fidelity far beyond the raw mathematical loss of pixels.

I think the most pleasing thing about the retina MacBook Pro as a gaming machine is that as far down as 1680 x 1050 or maybe 1440 x 900 (and certainly 1920 x 1200) the non-native resolutions are almost indistinguishable from the native one beyond the simple reduction in pixel count. Almost no fuzzing, no artifacts, no color imbalance. If you're looking for it very, very hard, you'll see it, but it's maybe 5-10% as bad as it was on previous Mac displays.

That means that you can play games at 1920 x 1200 breezily and happily. I'm very impressed.

Additional games available for testing

World of Warcraft
Diablo 3
StarCraft 2
Civilization V
Battlefield 3
Borderlands 2
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
Portal 2
Team Fortress 2
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Far Cry 2
Guild Wars 2
Just Cause 2
Torchlight 2
Unreal Tournament 3
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Deus Ex Human Revolution
Tropico 4
League of Legends
Grand Theft Auto 4
Crysis 2
Dragon Age Origins
Mass Effect 1 or 2
Orcs Must Die 2
Fallout 3
Fallout New Vegas
Half-Life 2
Dead Island
Dead Space 2
Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2
Tribes Ascend
Assassin's Creed 1, 2, or Brotherhood

Check out my streaming and downloadable TV, music, and games news and features at http://theinteractive.com/

Last edited by TheInteractive; Nov 12, 2012 at 11:01 PM. Reason: Added sig, added details about medium results, corrected typo in framerates
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