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MMOS X: How does Psystar affect Mac gaming?

Mark Crump

Fair warning: this week's column is light on the MMO and heavy on the hardware.

A month or so ago, Psystar shocked the Mac world by announcing they were selling low-cost computers pre-installed with Apple's Leopard Operating System. This begat discussion of whether this marked a new chapter in the clone wars. Macworld's recent benchmarking placed the Psystar between the Mac Mini and the low-end iMac, which makes sense given that's where it falls price wise. However, Macworld is reporting the Psystar computer placed better than the iMac in Quake 4 tests.

Now, I'm not advocating you go out and buy one of these things. Even if the thin ice they are on legally with Apple is solid enough to avoid litigation, there's the not-so-minor detail that Apple could simply render the OS unusable via a software update. If you don't think Apple will do this, ask how people who unlocked their iPhones made out after that first software upgrade. Psystar is working on making updates available, but really, do you want to trust a 3rd party for your OS upgrades?

What I'm hoping is Apple sees the demand for the Psystar and releases a headless Mac with some teeth. Because, for me, the Psystar is exactly what I want in a Mac. I've got a Dell widescreen TV that acts as my monitor. My Macbook, PC, and Xbox all feed into it. While an iMac would do me well, I don't have the room for it on my desk. I'm long overdue for a PC upgrade, and I'm hoping next year a Mac replaces my PC. I'm not dropping $2700 on a Mac Pro, tho. That's crazy money. So, what's likely to happen is I'll drop the two grand on a new Macbook Pro and upgrade my Macbook and PC at the same time. I'd get the Mini, but for gaming it's the same horror show my Macbook is.

But, roughly a thousand dollars for a PC that can run Windows and OS X without having to do a do-it-myself Hackintosh is damn tempting. Which is why I'm praying Steve Jobs announces a non-Pro Macintosh at this year's WWDC. Oh, I know that'll never happen -- this year's jobsnote is going to be all about the iPhone 2.0 and the App Store (truthfully, as an iPhone user, I'm really looking forward to App Store).

To me, a headless Macintosh with the same specs as the Open Computing system is a no-brainer. Frankly, though, I doubt we'll ever see one. Apple doesn't often publicly acknowledge the Mini even exists, usually rolling out updates to it in the dead of the night. My guess is they won't release such a beast because it'll introduce some consumer confusion. Looking at the Apple product line, there aren't too many models in the same line close to each other in prices. For instance, while the Macbook and iMac are close to each other price-wise, the Macbook and Macbook Pro are separated by a decent price gap (I'm taking out the equation different price points of the individual models). I doubt we'll see a thousand dollar headless Mac for two reasons: Apple is afraid it'll be too close in price to the iMac, and Apple doesn't want to compete in that price range. With Apple accounting for 66% of sales of computers costing $1000 or more, they are comfortable in that price point.

Even more damning evidence that Apple won't release a low-cost headless Mac is this quote by Jobs from the Q&A session last August, "But there's some stuff in our industry that we wouldn't be proud to ship. And we just can't do it. We can't ship junk."

That tells me we'll never see what some would call a "gamer's mac." I'd be disappointed, but other than hauling an EA executive out every now and then at a keynote, Apple really has done little to support gaming on the Mac. Even the ATI 2600 on the higher-end iMacs is solidly "meh" for gaming.

I don't know if gaming on the Mac is a vicious circle where developers don't release games because of the hardware and Apple doesn't do much with the hardware because there aren't any games. Right now, gaming hardware on the Mac is like that night I had a dream I was in a hot tub with Minka Kelly, only to wake up to find out the source of the warm wet was my cat forgetting where its litter box was.

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